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Bob Guccione Jr. on journalism, the future, innovation, newspapers and the return of creativity in the magazine world: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

October 16, 2009

The Mr. Magazine™ Interview
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni interviews Bob Guccione, Jr., founder of Spin and Gear magazines

bobgBIGIt there is one word that describes the founder of Spin and Gear magazines Bob Guccione, Jr. , that word would be PASSION. I have met hundreds of magazine publishers and editors, but never saw such a passion for our business as I saw the evening I had dinner with Bob in New York City. I met him in person for the first time after years of reading and following his journalism career. From the prototype of Spin to the prototype of Gear, from his days at Discover to his work at Prestige, Bob wasas I always felt, and after my meeting and interview with him confirmed, is my counter-part in the magazine world in the professional domain. My domain is and will continue to be academia, but both of our work is and will continue to be aimed at an industry we both cherish and love.

Bob discovered magazines and his love to magazines at an early age. He was quick to take the lead and venture into magazine publishing when he was still in his twenties. Spin changed the music publishing scene, and Gear offered a different kind of men’s magazine. However, Bob’s love to magazines and print is not limited to ink on paper or pixels on a screen. His love is to our profession, to journalism and the preservation of its future.

We were so engaged in our discussion at dinner that after almost four hours we felt that the conversation was just beginning. So we agreed to follow up with a phone interview and than with a visit from Bob to the campus of The University of Mississippi to visit its newly created Magazine Innovation Center and speak to the journalism students at the School of Journalism and New Media.

What follows is my interview with Bob Guccione, Jr. starting with the sound bites first and then, in the usual Mr. Magazine™ Interview style, my lightly, and lengthy, edited conversation with Bob.

The Sound Bites:

On newspapers: There is no escaping the fact that the product of a newspaper is and has been – since the 1600s – unchanged. Effectively, completely and in every way, they have to change.

On good content and the internet: The Internet allows for any level of content to take up space along side. So, you can have inferior, inadequate content on the same footing as the most superb, superior content. That is the problem with the Internet, and, ultimately, it will lead to a deflation of the Internet’s commercial value, as people realize that a lot of what they’re reading is not really worthwhile, while the natural competitiveness of traditional media, due to the limit of space, brings in a quality that is traditional media’s great advantage.

On the changing landscape of the industry:
Our destiny is in our own hands. There’s no doubt, and I don’t think anybody will disagree with that. There will be a Darwinism of traditional media that’s a healthy thing, sort of like a forest fire.

On the wakeup call for the traditional media: The wakeup call has already come and some people slept through it. The wakeup call has come in that the absorption of technology into households is so mainstream that it is no longer the oddity of those kids in the corner.

On the solution to our problems: The solution is startlingly simple, incredibly simple. It is to turn the telescope around. We are looking through the wrong end. We are seeing everything in miniature, rather than everything large, because we’re looking at it the wrong way. Instead of being intimidated by this great beast that is the new technological world, we must tame that beast.

On brand expansions:
People have to be realistic about their channel. I often refer to what I think is the DNA of a given magazine. Once you understand the DNA, the appeal to the magazine’s audience, then you understand how to market more products, whether books, special issues, new magazines, spin-offs or television shows that are from the same ideology. Obviously, the website is supposed to have the spirit of the publication.

On the role of journalists:
Journalists must first and foremost understand their obligation and their vocation the same way a priest does. A priest can be confronted with all the different ways of delivering a sermon, but a priest must remember that his first obligation is to serve people and to try to help them wherever possible.

On humans and the technology:
We are three-dimensional. I believe we like to hold and read products. We like the tactile feeling of a product. It’s just the way we are. It’s human nature. It’s part of us. It’s not a judgment for or against traditional media and technology. It’s simply a comment that things are often overlooked. If technology really was such an apocalyptic event in traditional media, there wouldn’t be any traditional media left.

On the role of individuals in the media business: I think this is a great time for an entrepreneur. I think it’s a great time for a creative person. I think we are entering into an age, when media will once again be dominated by creative people. It’s a pendulum, simple as that. Creative people started it. It drifted into being dominated by financial and corporate people. Now, the pendulum has swung to the outer edge, where private equity investors, who are actually uncomfortable with ownership, dominate it. You could say the process has devalued creative talent.

On print today:
For me, print today is like the gold rush in the early days of northern California. These are all wonderful assets, well not all, the ones I’m looking at are wonderful assets that are prone to benefit tremendously from all the forms of new media available. If this isn’t a time that calls for passion in all walks of life, then what is?

On innovation and creativity:
The problem will really be solved by innovations we cannot imagine today that will be the products of great creative people, great collaborations and great aggregations of innovation. I have nothing but faith.

On the problems with journalism today:
They think readers want sex, gossip, cooking, and tips to flatten their stomachs. That’s when publishing is sort of descended into this blandness of just being ink and paper.

On what’s missing from today’s journalism:
The biggest thing missing today in media is romance. Who are the romantics? You have to have a romantic notion that what you do is worthwhile, and the people you’re doing it for are worthwhile.

On journalism students and degrees:
I don’t think any journalist should leave your school without making a pledge that they individually are going to change the world. They should have to cite a pledge, put their hand on their heart and say, “I intend to change the world.” Then you say, “Fine, here’s your diploma.” That should be the last thing a student journalist does.

And now for the full interview…

SH: Let us start with the easy question: Is there a future for newspapers and print in general?

BG: The problem with newspapers is also part of their charm. They’re tradition soaked. The generation that succeeded the previous generation was taught by that generation, so the increment of differences is very small. It’s like the Vatican. The new pope is conditioned, trained in and molded in the ideology of the guy he succeeds, so he can bring very little free thought and free movement to the church. It is the same with newspapers. In the 70s and 80s, newspaper editors would say to me, “How do we get your generation to read papers?” I used to say, “You’ve got to make it interesting.” I think one of the problems is that they haven’t made it interesting to young people. They have not made it relevant. They are literally anachronistic. Until they accept and realize that, they cannot begin the treatment that will save them. Many will not come to that realization. They will not allow themselves to accept that, they will not get treatment, and they will die. It is clear. There is no escaping the fact that the product of a newspaper is and has been – since the 1600s – unchanged. Effectively, completely and in every way, they have to change. The debate is not whether Twitter undoes the newspaper or Google replaces the newspaper. That debate is not going to happen. Google has its monopoly of classifieds and other like services, and Twitter will be the fastest way, at this point, for people to convey the breaking news on things that are not that interesting with reports that are not that interesting.

What newspapers and traditional print media have had is a natural inherited survival advantage. It is a competitiveness that’s Darwinian. In traditional media, whether it’s a television network, a magazine or a newspaper, there’s competition – a natural competition – between the people who create the content, the writers, and the editors over who will get the jobs. There are many people who would like to write articles in magazines, and not that many are good enough to compete for the best slots in the best magazines. Competitiveness weans out the best, and the cream rises to the top. As a result of that, they have honed the skills to make their product very worthwhile, at the top end. The best writers create the best product. The lowest end of that is passable, or maybe just below passable. The Internet allows for any level of content to take up space along side. So, you can have inferior, inadequate content on the same footing as the most superb, superior content. That is the problem with the Internet, and, ultimately, it will lead to a deflation of the Internet’s commercial value, as people realize that a lot of what they’re reading is not really worthwhile, while the natural competitiveness of traditional media, due to the limit of space, brings in a quality that is traditional media’s great advantage.

Traditional media have been so scared and traumatized by the advance of technology and new media that they have forgotten their strengths. They have not lost them. They have forgotten them, and I think that’s a massive difference. It’s like somebody making me a car for $500. It just isn’t as good as a car for $12,000. People are selling cars for $500. But, they aren’t good enough, they aren’t as good. They’re shopping carts, they’re golf carts, they’re beach buggies, it’s not the same thing. I think traditional media has forgotten and lost sense of their power.

We have descended into a debate, and this is beyond newspapers. It goes to all media and certainly all print media. We have descended into a debate, which is really the wrong one. It’s one of “us or them?” “Who’s going to survive because the internet is going to fail?” It’s not true. The internet isn’t going to fail. It’s going to have gyrations. Tectonic plates are going to move. It’s going to have earthquakes, and these are going to create lakes. They’re going to create arid mountains and deserts. It’s going to have its own geological life so to speak. It isn’t going to go away. It is, however, going to change, and I think people’s perception of it is going to change. I also think people’s consumption of it is going to change. We’ve already seen that. People’s relationship with it will change. Those are the things I absolutely predict assuredly.

Our destiny is in our own hands. There’s no doubt, and I don’t think anybody will disagree with that. There will be a Darwinism of traditional media that’s a healthy thing, sort of like a forest fire. A lot of what will go away is not exclusively a bad thing. If not then, it might look good in hindsight. We’ll look back and say, “Well that wasn’t the greatest thing.” We’re starting to see magazines go away. We’re starting to see newspapers close. Are they really great products? I have yet to see a really great magazine that has closed. A big magazine was Domino. They aren’t my cup of tea, but I understand from the people who love it that it was amazing. That may have been purely an economical decision at home.

I think that the destiny of traditional media is in it’s own hands and we have to evaluate whether or not we are putting out the best product. I would like to say that a magazine that sells subscriptions for $7.99 like Esquire, which I think it’s a very tedious and dull product, has brought the problems they have on themselves.

SH: What’s the solution? Should we just continue to watch those who are supposed to be the cream of the crop, creative people, freeze in this technological black hole and wither away? What should be the wakeup call?

BG: Two good questions. The wakeup call has already come and some people slept through it. The wakeup call has come in that the absorption of technology into households is so mainstream that it is no longer the oddity of those kids in the corner. It’s logical, it’s here, and it has changed the world as profoundly as the telephone changed the world. We no longer share news with each other via writing letters and putting them on the back of old steam trains. We use the telephone and the Internet. The world is dramatically changed, that was the wakeup call, and it came in 1990, a long time ago.

The solution is startlingly simple, incredibly simple. It is to turn the telescope around. We are looking through the wrong end. We are seeing everything in miniature, rather than everything large, because we’re looking at it the wrong way. Instead of being intimidated by this great beast that is the new technological world, we must tame that beast. I look at the Internet, and I look at the ability of mobile phones to become media centers, as great opportunities and great tools for myself as a media entrepreneur to learn how to use, and then produce more product to extend, increase and expand my business.

To me, this is marvelous. I can’t wait for more of these technological breakthroughs. I don’t know what is left, but I couldn’t have foreseen what came already. It looks very exciting and very useful. I couldn’t have foreseen the VCR. I thought when the VCR came out that it was as good as the moon landing. I know that sounds silly today, but I thought it was just unbelievable. What an idea. I am easily startled. I’m easily impressed. But each time I say, “Wow, what can we do with that?” I think the problem is that too many people in traditional print media are not taking the time. They are probably not allowed to take time by their corporate bosses in many cases, or their experience has been so long ingrained in this one way of thinking that they’re not taking the time to look at this vast great wave that looks like it’s about to land on the shore and say how do we use that? How do we harness that? How do we tame this force so that it becomes useful to us? If this were to happen, they might say that there is plenty I can do with this. Certainly, it is not going to consume my world, it has it’s own problems, and it’s not actually going to change human nature. But it may change human behavior a little bit. So, the things repeated yesterday are going to be repeated tomorrow. They may have to change a little cosmetically. It has to be more modern and current. But if people still like science, they’re going to like science magazines. They’re not going to quit liking those things. So, if you took this time and said, “Oh, this doesn’t necessarily signal the end of my world of magazines. It may increase the breadth of my world as I know it if I handle this right.” I don’t think enough people are doing that. The result is that there is great fear, great panic in traditional media, which is paralyzing. If there wasn’t that great fear and that great panic and if there was more rational reasoning of the situation, I think more people would say that this helps.

An analogy is that it is similar to the time when color printing first came in and an awful lot of people thought, “Oh, we don’t need this.” Then people said, “It may be more expensive but, you know what, it actually produces a better product.” So, they accepted it. They accepted it in dimensions, going from one dimension to more dimensions. It is a weak analogy, but anyway, I think there’s a truth there!

It’s been said over and over. Every new media form that came along was supposed to crush the life out of existing media and nothing did. Radio didn’t, TV didn’t, DVD’s didn’t, VCR’s didn’t, and the internet hasn’t and inevitably won’t. All that is true. I’d also like to add that, with each iteration of new media, the totality of media has expanded. I believe that even in this recession that is true. Although ad spending and the economy are down – this is a dip we’re in – when we come up from the other side of that bowl I think you’ll find there is actually more media, more consumption of media by individuals, more advertising will be spent against it, and more revenue in general will be generated by it. Media is merely expanding.

When we’re in anything, we can only see our immediate environment in the immediate moment. I think we look at “Oh, circulation is down, Oh, revenues are down, advertising agency fees are down, and advertising pages are down. The world is over.” It’s not. It’s a moment. When a boat makes a sea crossing, it isn’t like rowing a boat across a placid smooth lake. It’s a big sea given to many iterations at any given time. When you make that sea crossing, you will in fact come across several of those violent changes, and, at times, your boat is going to get rocked like mad and some boats sink. It doesn’t mean you should not make sea crossings. The best captains make it through the rough weather and rough water. A good sailor knows what speed to go, what precautions to take, what is safe and what isn’t, and they get through it. It’s not pleasant. No one comes out of it saying that it was fun. But you have to in the course of your career. A sea crossing is the trajectory of ones career. You’re going to have some real bad weather, and it’s down to the skill of the captain to get through it. I’m a great believer that the solution is that you just have to first stop and say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t the enemy. Technology isn’t the enemy. This isn’t like an accidental nuclear explosion, and we’re all going to die from radiation.” This is merely a fantastic tool and energy source that you can use.

Another part of the solution is that people have to be realistic about their channel. I often refer to what I think is the DNA of a given magazine. Once you understand the DNA, the appeal to the magazine’s audience, then you understand how to market more products, whether books, special issues, new magazines, spin-offs or television shows that are from the same ideology. Obviously, the website is supposed to have the spirit of the publication. Once you understand the DNA of your product, your magazine, then I think you understand also how to create things of interest within the parameters of your audience. What happens is, in my experience, magazines do a website, and all of a sudden they want to be Perez Hilton-size. They don’t realize that they’re not those products. They don’t flow in those channels. No one seriously thinks that Perez Hilton creates a better product than Scientific American. Without knowing the exact numbers, I am pretty sure Perez Hilton has more unique viewers than Scientific American. Scientific American has to understand the channel in which it operates, the channel in which it flows, and it has to be realistic about who are its true followers and not try to blow it up to 10 million uniques. It’s not important. What is important is to find as many of the people who are attracted to your product as you can and serve them, contain them and inform them. That is how you build a healthy business. I think the part of the solution is to recognize what you’re not doing right, and what expectations you have maybe irrational. Expectations have to be rational and sober, and your focus has to be clear. You just keep doing what you do well. If you make a good magazine, you probably have lots and lots of ideas of how to entertain your audience. So, you stay on that path, and you use each media, whether it’s a website or television or a mobile telephone. Each medium should be used for what people use that medium for, so your media content is appropriate to that medium, rather than just being weak carbon copies of what you do in print.

SH: You’ll be coming to speak to my students in a two weeks. How can you translate this message and this solution to future journalism students? What should they be concentrating on, and what should they be learning? What type of curriculum prepares them for this new age?

BG: First of all, journalist students have two things to consider. One is the media that they will be conveyed on. Those media are now more varied and vastly different than when you and I were breaking into the business. Secondly, they have to understand the unchanged and unchanging obligations of journalism, which are to by whatever road possible and with all best efforts find the truth. This is the single most important thing of journalism. It’s not being faster than somebody else. It’s not, can you put emoticons on your blog post. It’s not do you blog more times a day than your competitor. Journalism is valuable and patronized, because people seek the truth. Journalists inform us and they bring us to discovery, whether it’s news, or it’s profiling. An obituary can be as informative as breaking news. Journalists must first and foremost understand their obligation and their vocation the same way a priest does. A priest can be confronted with all the different ways of delivering a sermon, but a priest must remember that his first obligation is to serve people and to try to help them wherever possible. You can get confused by the plethora of new media and the various upgrades and technology, but you must understand that the prime objective is to seek and tell the truth. Then your students have to concentrate on the hardest thing, the skills to be the best. That is not merely to get all the facts, but to develop a voice that is attractive enough to get attention and to convey something provocatively.

It is scientifically understood that the human brain responds best to visual imagery. That’s sort of one of the byproducts of technology, that we get so much more visual imagery. Whether it’s visual, oral or written, when we read it, we are discovering. We want discovery. Journalists write about the Haldron Collider in a science magazine, they write about the passing of Walter Cronkite, they write about the intricate politics of Libya and England, or what’s going on this week with Iran and the UN. They have to learn and find the truth and sort through the crap. Hopefully, they will develop the skills to be the most evocative and to create images we can best understand, allowing us to have the best and fullest understanding of the issues. I’m sorry for the long-winded answers.

SH: Sometimes we as educators, we get lost in this technological dilemma. When you and I went to journalism schools, nobody taught us how to type. Nobody taught us how to make paper. Nobody taught us how to make ink. Do we teach the technology? Do we teach how to develop a website? Is that journalism or is seeking truth and telling the story more important than the delivery or the channel, as you said?

BG: I would absolutely say the answer is no. They must be taught to tell true stories well.

SH: That’s the biggest thing going on in journalism schools now. What do we teach?

BG: It’s bullshit. I hate to say bullshit, but it is to say journalism departments are lost. Everybody is confused by this giant wave out at sea that looks like a tsunami that’s going to crush you. I say it’s not. I say it’s a fantastic energy that is going to nourish us, fuel us to do better jobs. It’s not going to hurt us. We should learn to harness the portion of energy we can use and need to use. In many ways it’s kind of like after the first atom bomb, when everybody was terrified by nuclear technology. Then people started to say this will power submarines, power boats, power electrical grids for entire cities and is actually a wonderful thing. We went from being completely paralyzed by fear of the genie out of the bottle to saying this is a very helpful genie to have around the house. I think media will do that too. We’ll say, “Oh my God, we’re all doomed” to “Wow, what a fantastic multi-dimensional advancement it has been for us.” We just happened to be trapped in the snapshot of the moment, where media is recognizing that we have to change. It’s like that snapshot, where your mouth is agape and eyes are wide open. That’s not the way you spend your entire life, the moment the snapshot is taken. We are in that moment of amazement and recognition that we have to change. That passes and then starts the process of understanding how to bridle that change.

We’re teaching journalism students. First of all, you’ve got to teach them what journalism is. I know you’re doing this Samir. I’ve been in classes and they’ve asked me questions about this [learning how to use video and computer programs], and I don’t know. I don’t care. I could care less. I look at my profession very philosophically, and, as much as possible, I look at it in context of what was here before, and what is coming as much as we can imagine it, and always in terms of human nature. We are a species that reacts three-dimensionally. We don’t react the same way two-dimensionally. We really react three-dimensionally. We go to the Grand Canyon to see it when in fact IMAX does a better job of showing it to us. We’ll see more detail, more breadth and more of it if we go to an IMAX theater. But we go to the Grand Canyon, and we peer over it with our limited eyesight. We look at it and go, “Wow!” We still go to Tuscany to look at it. We don’t look at the beautiful photographs and beautiful books. That’s not satisfying. We are three-dimensional. I believe we like to hold and read products. We like the tactile feeling of a product. It’s just the way we are. It’s human nature. It’s part of us. It’s not a judgment for or against traditional media and technology. It’s simply a comment that things are often overlooked. If technology really was such an apocalyptic event in traditional media, there wouldn’t be any traditional media left. How long does it take for the apocalypse? Slow apocalypse…

I think we’re in that period of transition, that moment of amazement and recognition. That’s part of the process, which we will come out with a certainly changed media landscape. In many ways a hybrid landscape and in many, many ways, one we can’t even imagine today, which I think is positive.

SH: What is Bob Guccione doing now? What is your next project? I know you can’t sit still.

BG: Except for this interview. I’m sitting very still. Happily so. No, I love our chats. I mean our dinner went on for four hours. We can talk you and I. I enjoy that very much. I enjoy this friendship. One thing I’m looking at, I can’t name the titles that I would like, but I’m looking at a couple of magazine companies. One is a single title with spinoff titles. I’m very interested in the regional magazine field. I’m interested in the shelter field. I’m looking at four different things in the publishing field any and all of which I’d be very delighted to be able to buy. I would happily buy more than one. The plan in any of those iterations would be to acquire them as soon as possible. I think this is a great time for an entrepreneur. I think it’s a great time for a creative person. I think we are entering into an age, when media will once again be dominated by creative people. It’s a pendulum, simple as that. Creative people started it. It drifted into being dominated by financial and corporate people. Now, the pendulum has swung to the outer edge, where private equity investors, who are actually uncomfortable with ownership, dominate it. You could say the process has devalued creative talent. It’s been replaced by very shrewd business managers, who, perhaps, have lost some of the innovation essential for the change of the environment. So, now the pendulum is on the down swing. When it hits that sweet spot in the middle as it comes back up, the other side is where we are now I think. That’s the time of creative people. They’ll be innovative, they’ll be imaginative, and they’ll welcome with wide stretched arms all forms of technology, because they will feel it’s all the more colors for their palette. That’s how I look at it personally and I’m not alone. I’m aware I’m not alone, and there’s a lot more creative people out there already doing what I’m saying. I can only speak for myself. I think we’re entering this era of the creative and innovative person being an essential lifeblood to the media. I’m very excited by this time that’s coming. On top of that, being an entrepreneur who’s ineffably optimistic and tirelessly self-believing, it’s a perfect time to be out prospecting. For me, print today is like the gold rush in the early days of northern California. These are all wonderful assets, well not all, the ones I’m looking at are wonderful assets that are prone to benefit tremendously from all the forms of new media available. If this isn’t a time that calls for passion in all walks of life, then what is?

SH: I love the way you phrase it, that the creative torrent will come back to the ownership, rather than the financial people. More than the Internet, more than technology, more than the economy, what hurt our business most is the financial folks running the business as something that has to answer to shareholders rather than to customers.

BG: Exactly. It’s like anything else. There’s a certain percentage of this that is wonderfully natural. It improves and expands the business and too much of it drowns it. What happens is, in too many instances, financial people back middle or higher-level management, corporate management. There was a swelling where administrators and business managers only ran ownership. They had disproportionately replaced creative people and what happened was the perceived value of creative people declined. So, it made things more generic and more repetitious. In the most extreme case, they became dull, empty and lifeless. We then began to think of magazines more as ink and paper than the words and pictures on that paper. We’ve obviously got a problem. So, I think that ‘s definitely happened. The private equity guys will say, “All we can do is back the right people.” And sometimes they back the wrong people. The proportions will change in that creative people have to come in. It requires that skill now. Believe me, as creative people take over, there’s going to be corporate management coming in to give it more structure. In the meantime, I think there’s going to be a golden age where creative people, very innovative people, will make very innovative media. And that will solve all the problems that you read about in Ad Age, which is “how are we going to do this, how are we going to modernize that, is advertizing dead, is advertising not dead, is it all two dollar CPM’s online now, and is everything fragmented to death?” The problem will really be solved by innovations we cannot imagine today that will be the products of great creative people, great collaborations and great aggregations of innovation. I have nothing but faith.

SH: Just two days ago, somebody was telling me how, in the “good old days”, folks like your dad and Hugh Hefner used to spend so much money without even thinking about the money on trying to defend the First Amendment and doing things that had no financial return, but just to pursue that creative aspect of what your are doing. He said now the corporate owners would not even spend a penny in that, because they don’t see an immediate return on investment. They don’t see the big picture anymore, they see the stock options.

BG: Right, it’s so sad. They really don’t care because they have no life-blood there. My father, it was his mission in life to create Penthouse Magazine and it was his mission to adhere to principles and freedom of speech, which he manifested far more in attacking the Nixon administration and going after Jimmy Carter, Reagan, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA, much more so than breaking any nudity barrier. That was a pretty simple barrier to break. It was broken, end of game, move on. For years he did fantastic investigative reporting, which is really why he had so many enemies. Those enemies chose to chase him and Hefner on the obscenity issue, but what they were really trying to do was silence the voice that was irritating to them. To take this a little further, how much money is spent on investigative journalism? People think, what the hell, why spend it? They think readers want sex, gossip, cooking, and tips to flatten their stomachs. That’s when publishing is sort of descended into this blandness of just being ink and paper. The thing that was never boring was that it told you stories you didn’t know. It surprised you. I’m sorry, I love food magazines, but I want to startle. A recipe for risotto isn’t going to surprise anybody, yet an article exposing what this or that administration is doing to deprive us of our rights and our lifestyles, that’s something that’s worth reading.

I think the perspective has to change so that what we do is worthwhile. That’s what I start with. If it wasn’t worthwhile, I’d open a restaurant and live in Italy. When I’m retired, that’s what I want to do, go live on a vineyard in Italy. In the meantime, I believe what’s worthwhile is words, the images and the balls to stand by them. I stood up for an awful lot of issues at SPIN and Gear and received some of the same harassment and some of the same enemies, powerful corporate enemies in the drug industry because of our AIDS coverage in SPIN. But I did that, because I thought that it was worthwhile. I didn’t back off. I think what’s missing today, in a lot of assessments of young people, is the sense that they’re aware enough, smart enough and sensitive enough to care about the world as a whole. The idea of, “Hey, you’re a kid, and you must love music. Hey, well here’s an article about your favorite long faced new musician.” It’s like patting them on the head and treating a 21 year old like they’re a Sesame Street kid. You have to have more faith. Your instincts say, “Hey, I know you’re 21, and that your hormones are raging. I know all you do is listen to music all day long and dream about having sex. But, I also know that inside of you is a curious, evolving human being. I think you might also find interest in this article on AIDS, this article on politics and this article on how this works. I think you might find an interview with this scientist as interesting as this interview with this musician, because we’ve discovered this scientist is very interesting.” You can be panoramic, but you have to have faith in the audience. A lot of that is missing. I think too much media is run by people who didn’t start the businesses and who didn’t start with that romance. The biggest thing missing today in media is romance. Who are the romantics? I’m clearly one of them, but there aren’t enough.

You have to have a romantic notion that what you do is worthwhile, and the people you’re doing it for are worthwhile. They’re not merely clicks of a turnstile. These are thoughtful individuals, who honored you by paying you a number of dollars for your product. I think you owe it to them to take them seriously too. I really passionately feel that, and I want to convey that to your students. I want them to change within themselves. I want them to realize they’re not merely video camera operators, so they can go online an hour later and post their video blog. That has about as much ambition as being a bus driver. You have the ambition to be a journalist, accept the glorious dimensional romance to what that means. I don’t think any journalist should leave your school without making a pledge that they individually are going to change the world. They should have to cite a pledge, put their hand on their heart and say, “I intend to change the world.” Then you say, “Fine, here’s your diploma.” That should be the last thing a student journalist does.

SH: That’s an excellent ending. Thank you.

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5 comments

  1. [...] Bensimon, Alex McCord, Ramona Singer and Jill Zarin, come two new entitled recruits – [...] Bob Guccione Jr. on journalism, the future, innovation, newspapers and the return of creativity in t… – mrmagazine.wordpress.com 10/16/2009 The Mr. Magazine™ Interview Samir “Mr. [...]


  2. I am always pleased when people like Samir Husni and Bob Guccione repeat the truth that magazines can and will survive, but they’ve got to do what magazines’ do well and with quality, and let the internet do what it does well. Spend money on the journalism and the quality presentation. Give your readers a reason to buy the magazine, and they will do so (and they will spend money on it).

    Thanks for the interview.


  3. Great interview and it’s so good to hear from Bob Guccione Jr.! He may not remember me but I was the “color separator” for Spin in the early days. What mad days they were – and Bob, ever the visionary, kept everyone on their best. We were all younger then and it’s great to see Bob’s idealism has stuck with him. Today I publish Cape May Magazine, now in our 4th year and it’s been a growth experience, even for an old salt like me.


  4. I read the Bob Guccione interview last night, and it was fantastic – I love his analogies! I share his sentiments regarding what publishers need to do; and the part about the role of journalists truly resonated with me. The problems right now are publishers do not want to take any risk or spend money – it’s hard doing reporting from your living room; and they’ve fallen out of touch with what made them great to begin with. On the writers side, because pubs aren’t accepting the 4,000-word reported piece, and with the economy, we’re stuck (at least I am) accepting any assignment, even if it’s an underpaid one. I wish I can turn things down, but I can’t. I love this industry and it’s filled with tremendous talent, however, we’re all being caged in because private equity firms have no patience.


  5. [...] Still, elite story telling survives. Surfing that wave is the new breed – programmers building worlds with profound and powerful new tools. Without a doubt we are at the very beginning of the shift, but one thing is already crystal clear – if you’re concern is “seeking truth and telling the story” you will have to know how to code. Clipped from mrmagazine.wordpress.com [...]



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