Josh Tyrangiel, Editor of the New Bloomberg Businessweek: Make a Great Magazine and You’ve Got a Great Future. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.April 26, 2010
Armed with a hefty dose of knowledge about the web and print and the way people use both media (from his days at Time.com), Josh Tyrangiel, Bloomberg Businessweek editor knows the web in and out and knows what the web can and can’t do. So, when he started planning the new ink on paper edition of the reinvented former Business Week magazine and turning in into Blommberg Businessweek, he knew that he needed “to be very conscious of the strengths of each medium.”
“What the web is good at is grazing, “ he told me in a phone interview. “Where magazines have made a mistake in the past couple years was going with really tiny short webby style stories and headlines. When you make a decision to open a magazine, you actually make a decision to shut out the rest of the world. You have a person’s focus in a way that you don’t online. You need to capitalize on that.”
Mr. Tyrangiel wants to create a magazine that can actually prepare people “to compete every week. You read our magazine on the weekend and you go into the office and you’re covered on a diversity of subjects. On top of that, in addition to being comprehensive, it’s a seductive magazine.”
What about the future of print, I asked. Mr. Tyrangiel answer, “I think the future of print is very bright for people who make great magazines and great newspapers, but the bar has been raised.”
Samir Husni: Congratulations on a job well done. It feels like you’ve created a monthly on a weekly basis.
Josh Tyrangiel: You know what? It feels like that. It’s a lot of work, but I really appreciate it.
SH: How are you going to follow up with issue two and three and four? Is it going to be that simple to create a monthly on a weekly basis?
JT: I’ll tell you, one thing that I have told the staff since day one about where we were headed is that it was going to be awfully hard work and that it was going to require us to think in ways that were slightly different to the ways magazines have been created before. You have to think not just about stories, but you have to think visually, you have to think about story mix. We have to really pack it full of things. Everybody has responded. We talk much more about story than we ever have before. The integration between the edit and the art department is much better than it’s ever been and that’s the way it has to be. There aren’t multiple ways to make this particular kind of magazine. It’s very difficult and I want to keep everybody focused. If I can do that, then the payoff is that (the magazine) feels like a really rich reading experience.
SH: Can it be done on a weekly basis? From a reader’s prospective, is it too much?
JT: I think it’s just right. Over the past five, ten years, one of the secular challenges we have is that we haven’t invested in our product particularly well. Paper stock got thin, more white space crept into the layout, story count went down and the price of the issue and the subscription went up. To me the value proposition was just off. What we’re trying to say here is, “We’re worth the money.” One of the ways you do that is being genuinely comprehensive so that you know you pick up this magazine, it arrives on your mailbox on a Friday, you read it and you covered for the week ahead. I would love for people to read the magazine front to back, every single word, but you and I both know that’s not necessarily how people interact with the book. But, for those who do, they’re going to be completely covered. For those who pick and choose, we’ll still give them enough coverage about the areas they care about that they feel like the magazine has an indispensability to it.
SH: Your cover reminds me so much of the front pages of The Guardian and The Observer, the UK papers. The cover has the look of a daily. Yet, once you go inside, it has the look of a monthly. What was the intention behind that cover design?
JT: Remember that this is only one issue and that the consistent aspects of the magazine are inside and that this is our first cover. The idea was to convey some urgency. This is a weekly magazine and one of the reasons that people stopped subscribing to weekly magazines is that they get piled up. My goal is to make sure our subscribers, on the walk from the mailbox to the front door, open this magazine. I want them to engage with it right away. No one expects us to tell them the future, but I think they expect us to be on the news. So, I want our covers to convey urgency. I want them to have enough stuff in those rooflines so that people always find something they’re interested in on those 20 steps from the mailbox to the front door.
SH: One of the things that caught my attention is that you are trying to ensure a future for print in a digital age. Whether you are enhancing the print quality, adding pages, using heavier paper weight, etc. But, so many others have done that before and six months later, we’re back to where we were before that. What’s the long term plan? Somebody just remarked to me today, “Are they going to drop “week” from “business”?” Is it going to be “Bloomberg Business” like Nissan did with Datsun? What’s the plan six months from now?
JT: We have the benefit of being privately owned and having tremendous support from our company. The plan six months from now is to keep growing and to keep doing work, week in and week out. Bloomberg has faith in journalism. The company has faith that if you put out a great product, people will come. So, that’s the plan. The plan is to make a great weekly magazine every week.
SH: Fortune just redesigned. Forbes will probably redesign. The three of you have always been looked at as the cornerstones for business journalism in this country. Besides the frequency, what can you tell your readers, “This is what you need Bloomberg Businessweek for, this is what you need Fortune for, and this is what you need Forbes for?”
JT: I can’t do the work of telling them what they need Fortune and Forbes for, but I can tell them, beyond just the frequency and periodicity, we’re packed with stories and packed with information. We can actually prepare for you to compete every week. You read our magazine on the weekend and you go into the office, you’re covered and you’re covered on a diversity of subjects. On top of that, in addition to being comprehensive, it’s a seductive magazine. There’s lots of stuff we’re telling people that they don’t know and taking them on journeys to meet people, to hear new ideas, to discover new companies they can impact their business lives. I think that’s something we can do uniquely and again, I don’t want to offer positioning statements for Forbes or Fortune, I think they’re both good magazine, but I think we’re in a kind of different category just based on what we’re trying to do.
SH: Sometime back, I think as far as the mid 1980s, some folks were saying the news weeklies are dying and that there is no room for weeklies. All of a sudden we are seeing a great emergence of the weeklies and all are trying to reinvent themselves. What are you doing in this digital age to ensure a print future?
JT: I think you have to be very conscious of the strengths of each medium. I’ve worked on both (mediums) for a long time now and what the web is good at is grazing. People use the web peculiarly for news between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. They’re sitting at their desks, they’re eating lunch, the voicemail light is on and they’re looking for just a little bit of a break. Stories have to be pretty short, headlines have to be written a certain way, and the immediacy of those stories is the capital. In a magazine, you’re getting people in a different frame of mind. You need to recognize that. Where magazines have made a mistake in the past couple years was going with really tiny short webby style stories and headlines. When you make a decision to open a magazine, you actually make a decision to shut out the rest of the world. You have a person’s focus in a way that you don’t online. You need to capitalize on that. You need to think through some one in that frame of mind actually wants from their reading experience. I think there are some people who have done it very well and that is something I think about a whole lot when we redesigned and it’s something I think about with every story. What’s the frame of mind of our reader? What do they want from this? How can we deliver on that?
SH: I remember the first time I met you at Time when you told me about that 11 to 2 timeframe for the web.
JT: You’re running into vacant space. That’s the thing. One the weekend, if you’ve got a magazine, you’re running into prime time.
SH: What is the weakest link in this issue? After this issue came out, what was it that made you say, “I wish we did not do that.”
JT: That’s very funny. I’m going to give you a very honest answer. I just wish it wasn’t all so awesome. I’m going to go back, and part of the culture here, is that we do very brutal post-mortems. I want us to be our own toughest critic, but that’s why I’m really really happy with our issue.
SH: That negates my second question, which is what is your most proud moment in this issue?
JT: My most proud moment is how awesome it all was? Same answer? No, I proud of the fact that it feels original. People have been making magazines for a long time and it’s a beloved format, but I think there are things in here that feel genuinely original and I feel proud of that.
SH: Every time one of our weeklies change someone says, “it’s going to be like The Economist, or they are trying to be like The Economist.” Are you?
JT: No! We’re trying to be like Bloomberg Businessweek. The fact is that I certainly think The Economist is good magazine, but I read everything. On my desk right now is The Economist, People magazine, New York Review of Books, Spectator. I read a lot of stuff, but I just feel like our mission is a unique mission. I’m not trying to be like anybody else. That’s why I said I’m proudest of the fact that it feels original. We have a unique mission, we have readers who are unique and they’re asking for us to deliver to them something they haven’t see before and something that’s useful. So, I’m not trying to be like anybody else at all. I want our magazine to feel different.
SH: One final question, how do you see the future of print?
JT: I think the future of print is very bright for people who make great magazines and great newspapers, but the bar has been raised. Part of our problem is that there was way too much competition and not a lot of it was very good. There are many things that failed, that sadly probably should have. The medium itself is still very strong and has tremendous promise, but our reader and our advertisers are demanding great product. So, make a great product and you’ve got a great future. My own personal belief is that great things rarely fail. So, make a great thing and worry about the rest after you’ve done that first.
SH: Thank you.