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Active Interest Media’s Chief Innovation Officer, Jonathan (Jon) Dorn to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Challenges In The Industry Demand A Higher Degree Of Decision-Making And Being In Focus. I Want To Move Faster… I Want To Make Change Happen Faster.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 15, 2019

“In the case of Yoga Journal, what we’ve really been trying to do there in print for the last year and a half or so is lead conversations that are complex and meaty enough that they can’t play out in an effective way in social or in digital. Two issues ago we had a big cover story on new diversifications in the yoga teaching community. We talked about the ways in which diversity is enhancing leadership in the yoga community. That was a story that we devoted about 15 pages to and it had huge resonance from the social following and the social reaction to it. That’s a conversation that can only happen in print, I think. It’s one that makes print relevant in a very unique way.” Jon Dorn (On the role of print in a digital age)…

As one of the world’s largest enthusiast media companies, Active Interest Media (AIM) produces leading consumer and trade events, websites, magazines, and films and TV shows that reach 40 million readers, fans, and attendees in 85 countries. From its Active Living Group, Home Group, Marine Group, Outdoor Group, and Equine Group, AIM reaches a diverse group of readers, viewers and users with its various brands, whether through print, digital, social, mobile, or events.

Chief Innovation Officer Jonathan (Jon) Dorn recently announced the addition and promotion of individuals to the Active Living Group, which Jon was named president of recently. While other magazine and magazine media companies are cutting back on staff, AIM is pushing forth with new visions and innovations for its business and adding talent to its already vibrant pool of people.

I spoke with Jon recently and we talked about the profitability that allows AIM to continue growing and diversifying its interests, even to the point of selectively hiring and promoting staff. From collecting data to targeting Alexa as a potential platform to reach its readers where they are, Jon says AIM is not afraid to forge ahead and if he has his way, the company will do it adeptly and swiftly, not holding back as technology moves so rapidly, media companies must do the same to keep up. It was a lively and energetic conversation with a man who participates in Iron Man Triathlons to stay in touch with his own potential, and sips Scotch in a nice hot tub afterward to unwind.

Not a bad way to relax, if Mr. Magazine™ might say so himself.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jon Dorn, chief innovation office, Active Interest Media.

But first the sound-bites:

On why Active Interest Media is hiring new people while many other magazine and magazine media companies are firing or laying people off: As a company we continue to be profitable to a degree that allows us to invest in adventures and innovations that we see giving us opportunity to continue growing and diversifying our interests. We’re not hiring in every department, but we are being selective and bringing in strong talents in areas where we do see those growth opportunities.

On moving from an editor of a single title to what he is doing today as Chief Innovation Officer: It’s interesting, from the moment I came to AIM from Rodale in 2007, Andy (Clurman) started challenging me to do a lot of different things outside the editorial realm. They had a very clear vision of what the modern editor in chief role would be. And so from day one they included me in M&A discussions and they asked me to help and advise sales organizations. And then in 2010, they put me in a general manger role overseeing all aspects of our Outdoor Group, which at the time was Backpacker and two or three other titles. So, I was exposed and challenged to expand my skillset right out of the gate and given the opportunity to do that.

On the transformation from pure editor in chief to chief innovation office and whether he ever feels as though he has moved away from journalism and more toward the “other” side: There have certainly been times where I have stopped and questioned myself on that. And as a member of the ASME board I am very cognizant of, in some fashion, protecting the church and state line, even as where that line is drawn has shifted an awful lot overtime. What I’ve always tried to operate by is a bit of a Golden Rule around, ultimately at the end of the day, what’s good for our readers and customers? In making the decision to go and help sell a program that includes custom content, am I doing something that is going to trick or deceive or in some way ruin the good that we’re doing for the readers of our titles?

On whether he attempts to define the role of each of the platforms and how they relate to the audience: We do attempt to define all the channels. For instance one of my priorities right now, we’re working on Alexa, and the ways that we bring content to smart speakers and smart viewers. It’s recognizing and embracing the changing ways that people are consuming content in their homes and the ways in which they’re using technology. And to me that is fundamentally still a content experience, but it’s one that is delivered in a very different way and that has a very different interaction model, but is a direct descendant of a service department in a magazine, but delivered through a different medium.

On what role he believes print plays in this digital age: The more immersive, in depth reading experience. In the case of Backpacker, it’s going to be big adventure narratives, interviews with folks who are doing the most extreme trips, conservation issues. In the case of the Yoga Journal, what we’ve really been trying to do there in print for the last year and a half or so is lead conversations that are complex and meaty enough that they can’t play out in an effective way in social or in digital.

On how he is utilizing data in the creation of the brands: I wouldn’t say that we’re experts or have mastered the use of data, but it’s something that we started looking really hard at three or four years ago. And frankly, it was kind of a response to market demand, where we had in categories like the marine industry and the luxury home industry, both of which we have significant business in, partners coming to us and saying that people weren’t buying yachts the way they used to; people weren’t buying vacation homes the way they used to. And the partners were saying to us that what they needed our help with as their media partner was in understanding and seeing them through data and through data capture so that we have some sense of what they’re reacting to and what they’re leaning toward in terms of purchase. So, we made an investment in that case in a better data base and in regeneration expertise by bringing in two people from the B2B world, where there is, I think, a lot more expertise and regeneration.

On whether he sometimes feels he is getting too much information about his audience and invading their privacy or that he needs this personalized information to serve them better: I’m definitely in the latter camp and that’s probably because I see the data that we have, maybe not by an individual basis, but overall. And I don’t see information in our data base that I would, as a customer of a company like ours, not want us to have. We have been approached by some data capture firms that say they can do X Y or Z with Facebook information for instance, that we’ve backed off from. So, we have made some choices not to do some things that felt uncomfortable. But I think what we’re capturing now; I don’t think we’re overstepping privacy or anything close to that.

On anything he’d like to add: Actually, I’m going to follow up on that data question. I was having a very interesting conversation recently with a gentleman who runs a large and growing digital company. And we were talking about data and the reality that because of the way people protect themselves nowadays from exposing too much data, there are really only about 20 million online users in this country at any given time who are really known. And that’s known, in the sense of anybody being able to connect their online or email behavior back to a known name or a known email address or physical address or a known mobile number.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him:
(Laughs) I suppose it would be disingenuous of me to say handsome, friendly and funny. But as that relates to media, I’ll tell you what I love most and if people think this about me that’s great. I love most the challenge that requires asymmetrical thinking.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: That’s a good question. I do find that a lot of people still picture me as the Backpacker editor, and maybe he’s still that guy who’s primarily an editor. And the reality is that for the last 10 years I’ve been doing so many other things beyond that print starting point that I had.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Typically, you would probably find me on my bike, training for an Iron Man Triathlon. And I do an awful lot of my workout late in the evening after work, so I might get home at seven and go for a two-hour bike ride. Once that’s done, if you stuck around, I would invite you to join me in the hot tub, where I end most days with a glass of Scotch.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s pace, whether we’re moving fast enough. I have reached a point in my career where I think that the challenges in the industry that we’re seeing demand a higher degree of decision-making and being in focus. I want to move faster. I want to get the decisions faster. I want to make change happen faster. I’m a fifty-two-year-old, I suppose that’s some form of middle age and the clock ticking. But also when you look at the evolution of technology, I don’t think we have as media companies the luxury of taking two years to decide whether to move on product development. I want to get it done now or maybe in the next three to six months.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jon Dorn, chief innovation officer, Active Interest Media (AIM).

Samir Husni: Other magazine media companies are firing people and letting people go and you recently sent out a press release saying that you had hired new people. So, what’s going on over at Active Interest Media (AIM)?

Jon Dorn: As a company we continue to be profitable to a degree that allows us to invest in adventures and innovations that we see giving us opportunity to continue growing and diversifying our interests. We’re not hiring in every department, but we are being selective and bringing in strong talents in areas where we do see those growth opportunities.

Over the last couple of years we have expanded our in-studio video team, which includes, going back three or four years now, starting from zero and moving up to about eight people on our online education team. And of course, I think you’re familiar with the story of Catapult, our marketing agency, that was also something that didn’t exist three and a half years ago and now the team is about seven.

So, I think because the company has had continued success to the bottom line because of the diversity that we have through events and other channels, that’s why we selectively continue recruiting pretty strongly.

Samir Husni: How was it for you specifically, moving from an editor of a single title, from the days of Backpacker magazine, to what you’re doing today as Chief Innovation Officer? With today’s ever-changing role of editor, was it like a walk in a rose garden for you?

Jon Dorn: (Laughs) It’s interesting, from the moment I came to AIM from Rodale in 2007, Andy (Clurman) started challenging me to do a lot of different things outside the editorial realm. They had a very clear vision of what the modern editor in chief role would be. And so from day one they included me in M&A discussions and they asked me to help and advise sales organizations. And then in 2010, they put me in a general manger role overseeing all aspects of our Outdoor Group, which at the time was Backpacker and two or three other titles. So, I was exposed and challenged to expand my skillset right out of the gate and given the opportunity to do that.

So, I wouldn’t say it’s been a walk in a rose garden, it’s been more of maybe a trial by fire. I’ve had the opportunity to take on one challenge or task after another, and sort of incrementally absorb my own portfolio. I have found, and I think Andy has found along the way, that some of the things that make me a half decent editor also make me capable at other types of product development throughout the company. And that has in some ways become a specialty for me with launching Online Education, with creating our film studio, and launching Catapult Creative Labs. Just starting with an idea, putting together a great plan and then executing it, that sort of project management, product development lifecycle.

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Samir Husni: During that transformation from a pure editor in chief to the general manager to the chief innovation officer to the president of this group, have you at any given moment ever felt as though you were leaving your journalistic background and crossing over to the “other” side?

Jon Dorn: To the dark side? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too) Yes.

Jon Dorn: There have certainly been times where I have stopped and questioned myself on that. And as a member of the ASME board I am very cognizant of, in some fashion, protecting the church and state line, even as where that line is drawn has shifted an awful lot overtime. What I’ve always tried to operate by is a bit of a Golden Rule around, ultimately at the end of the day, what’s good for our readers and customers? In making the decision to go and help sell a program that includes custom content, am I doing something that is going to trick or deceive or in some way ruin the good that we’re doing for the readers of our titles?

There have certainly been times where we have had opportunities that I have pulled back from, but I think as many editors have and frankly many general managers have over the last five or ten years, we’ve been trying to evolve the way that media companies act and understand around issues of editorial independence and integrity, in such a way that they reflect the way the business has fundamentally changed. Twenty years ago when I started in editorial, I think it was much easier to draw a black and white line around what was okay and what wasn’t. But as we have gotten into things like native content, not that it’s fuzzy, but I think there isn’t as much black and white clarity as there used to be.

Samir Husni: As the Chief Innovation Officer, do you have a clear vision of what print can do today; what digital can do today; what the events and the Online Education platform can do? Do you attempt to define the role of each of the platforms and how they relate to the audience?

Jon Dorn: We do attempt to define all the channels. For instance one of my priorities right now, we’re working on Alexa, and the ways that we bring content to smart speakers and smart viewers. It’s recognizing and embracing the changing ways that people are consuming content in their homes and the ways in which they’re using technology. And to me that is fundamentally still a content experience, but it’s one that is delivered in a very different way and that has a very different interaction model, but is a direct descendant of a service department in a magazine, but delivered through a different medium.

Let me give you an example, in Yoga Journal, 60 percent of all yoga practice happens in the home. And if people maybe don’t live close to a yoga studio or just want to do a quick 10 or 15 minute practice when they wake up in the morning, or have children and they can’t make it out to a studio, we look at all of the poses and sequences and yoga instruction that we do in print and in digital and in video, and recognize that there are an awful lot of yoga enthusiasts now who absolutely use and consume that type of content through a home speaker. They might get up in the morning and say – hey Alexa, I’d like to do a 20 minute meditation. I’ve got my yoga mat and I’m ready to go. So, that’s something that we’re starting to look at – programming that as an additional channel where we meet our readers and enthusiasts where they are.

Samir Husni: So, you’re hoping when they ask Alexa, the answer will be that the experts at Yoga Journal say do this or do that?

Jon Dorn: Right. We would hope to get in the same fashion that the Yoga Journal has about 4.5 or 5 million social followers, we would hope to have a very strong number of followers for Alexa as that ecosystem continues to attract more and more customers. When somebody goes to Alexa thinking of meditation or a yoga sequence, our brand is top of mind and widely followed.

Samir Husni: Talking about the print channel, what role does the printed version of your magazines, such as the Yoga Journal of Backpacker, what role do they play in this digital age?

Jon Dorn: The more immersive, in depth reading experience. In the case of Backpacker, it’s going to be big adventure narratives, interviews with folks who are doing the most extreme trips, conservation issues. In the case of the Yoga Journal, what we’ve really been trying to do there in print for the last year and a half or so is lead conversations that are complex and meaty enough that they can’t play out in an effective way in social or in digital.

Two issues ago we had a big cover story on new diversifications in the yoga teaching community. We talked about the ways in which diversity is enhancing leadership in the yoga community. That was a story that we devoted about 15 pages to and it had huge resonance from the social following and the social reaction to it. That’s a conversation that can only happen in print, I think. It’s one that makes print relevant in a very unique way.

Samir Husni: If you look at all of the channels that are out there now, and if I look at some of the resumes of the people you just hired, how important to you is mining or knowing more about your audience and about your audience’s needs, wants and desires? How are you utilizing that data in the creation of the brands?

Jon Dorn: On a scale of one to ten, when it comes to the importance of knowing our audience, I’d say 10. And I wouldn’t say that we’re experts or have mastered the use of data, but it’s something that we started looking really hard at three or four years ago. And frankly, it was kind of a response to market demand, where we had in categories like the marine industry and the luxury home industry, both of which we have significant business in, partners coming to us and saying that people weren’t buying yachts the way they used to; people weren’t buying vacation homes the way they used to. We used to be able to see them a long way off, as they were going through the sale cycle and considering a purchase of a $2 million yacht or a $5 million home or a $20 million yacht.

And the partners were saying to us that what they needed our help with as their media partner was in understanding and seeing them through data and through data capture so that we have some sense of what they’re reacting to and what they’re leaning toward in terms of purchase. So, we made an investment in that case in a better data base and in regeneration expertise by bringing in two people from the B2B world, where there is, I think, a lot more expertise and regeneration. And we really tried to put more effort into capturing, through a variety of content marketing tactics, capturing more data on those types of consumers that are in our audience.

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So, where we’re starting really is, of course, with the high net worth individuals who follow Yachts International or Power & Motoryacht or Log Home Living or Timber Home Living, four of our highest possible income titles. From there we started moving toward a more general population audience who reads our other titles and to generalize very broadly through smarter use of continuity, marketing, and cookies, understand not only what people are looking at on our sites, but when they’re looking at it and the right content.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that there is some divide in you, that journalist who thinks you’re getting too much information about those people and invading their privacy or on the other hand you need this personalization so that you can provide them with better information?

Jon Dorn: I’m definitely in the latter camp and that’s probably because I see the data that we have, maybe not by an individual basis, but overall. And I don’t see information in our data base that I would, as a customer of a company like ours, not want us to have. We have been approached by some data capture firms that say they can do X Y or Z with Facebook information for instance, that we’ve backed off from. So, we have made some choices not to do some things that felt uncomfortable. But I think what we’re capturing now; I don’t think we’re overstepping privacy or anything close to that.

We’re not the world’s best at data mining at this point (Laughs), but I would characterize us as a media company still trying to understand data, rather than a data company doing media.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Jon Dorn: Actually, I’m going to follow up on that data question. I was having a very interesting conversation recently with a gentleman who runs a large and growing digital company. And we were talking about data and the reality that because of the way people protect themselves nowadays from exposing too much data, there are really only about 20 million online users in this country at any given time who are really known. And that’s known, in the sense of anybody being able to connect their online or email behavior back to a known name or a known email address or physical address or a known mobile number.

And much of what the advertising industry is aiming at or fighting over is this fraction of people who exist, the 20 to 30 million people who are not including their cookies, not using ad blockers, not using browsers that allow them to remain hidden. I thought that was a really interesting insight about what the actual data could be for some people.

Of course, the other 290 million people out there, their data is being viewed and analyzed in aggregate to suggest behavioral and purchasing trends. But as the gentleman was telling me, it’s really not possible for anybody, for that 80 percent that are not known, to be able to go back and identify those individuals personally and market them correctly.

I could talk to you for an hour about data. In some respects, data appeals to me for the efficiency of it. I don’t mind giving up some degree of my privacy if it means that I’m getting a better service of some sort. And frankly, I wonder if 10 or 20 years from now we’re going to be talking about a post-privacy world. I don’t favor that idea, but to some degree it almost feels like an inevitable march toward sort of redefining what it means to have privacy as individuals.

And I also want to add a plug for IMAG. I hope that anyone who reads this knows that IMAG is an incredible hub for innovative thinking in the media space, and it’s a conference, so I wouldn’t miss it with the role that I have.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Jon Dorn: (Laughs) I suppose it would be disingenuous of me to say handsome, friendly and funny. But as that relates to media, I’ll tell you what I love most and if people think this about me that’s great. I love most the challenge that requires asymmetrical thinking.

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you?

Jon Dorn: That’s a good question. I do find that a lot of people still picture me as the Backpacker editor, and maybe he’s still that guy who’s primarily an editor. And the reality is that for the last 10 years I’ve been doing so many other things beyond that print starting point that I had.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; backpacking on a walk in the woods; or something else? How do you unwind?

Jon Dorn: Typically, you would probably find me on my bike, training for an Iron Man Triathlon. And I do an awful lot of my workout late in the evening after work, so I might get home at seven and go for a two-hour bike ride. Once that’s done, if you stuck around, I would invite you to join me in the hot tub, where I end most days with a glass of Scotch.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Jon Dorn: It’s pace, whether we’re moving fast enough. I have reached a point in my career where I think that the challenges in the industry that we’re seeing demand a higher degree of decision-making and being in focus. I want to move faster. I want to get the decisions faster. I want to make change happen faster. I’m a fifty-two-year-old, I suppose that’s some form of middle age and the clock ticking. But also when you look at the evolution of technology, I don’t think we have as media companies the luxury of taking two years to decide whether to move on product development. I want to get it done now or maybe in the next three to six months.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Magazine Innovation Center Presents: The ACT 9 Experience — Print Smart Digital Proud! April 23, 24, & 25, 2019

March 14, 2019

Don’t miss the magazine experience of a lifetime taking place this Spring, April 23-25, on the beautiful University of Mississippi campus in Oxford, Miss. The Magazine Innovation Center and Mr. Magazine™ present the ACT 9 Experience, where industry leaders and future industry leaders will meet once again to Amplify (A), Clarify (C), and Testify (T) about the power of print in a digital age.

Daniel Dejan
Print Creative Manager, North America, Sappi Paper

Linda Thomas Brooks
President & CEO
MPA: The Association of Magazine Media


For nine years, the Magazine Innovation Center has brought industry leaders together for a two and a half day think-and-do experience. However, there is one major difference between the ACT Experience and other magazine and magazine media conferences: student involvement. For those two and a half days students from across campus can connect and engage with magazine media CEO’s, publishers, editors and many other media professionals. There are one-on-one connections, group sessions and just overall camaraderie between these future industry leaders and the people who rock the magazine and magazine media world today. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have all of these professionals under one roof together, connecting with students and connecting with each other to share inspiration and ideas about the future of magazines and magazine media.

The South in the springtime is magical in and of itself, but when you get all of these creative minds together, the mental chemistry dial is set to enchantment! Along with three days of magazine informational bliss, there is a trip to the Mississippi Delta, for Blues & Barbeque such as you have never experienced, a Fish Fry Extraordinaire, set up right onsite for a traditional Southern take on catfish, hush puppies & all the fixins’.

And on top of the great food and great ambience, the ACT 9 Experience has some of the most prestigious people in the industry sharing their time and wisdom with everyone and is shaping up to be the most exciting magazine event of the year!

Jo Packham
Creator/Editor In Chief
Where Women Create Series

Stephen Orr
Vice President/Group Editorial Director, Meredith Corporation, Editor In Chief, Better Homes & Gardens


The confirmed speakers so far are (in alphabetical order):

David Adler: CEO & Founder, BizBash Media

Donnyale (Doni) Ambrosine: Founder & Publisher, Culturs Magazine & Faculty Staff Member At Colorado State University

Jay Annis: Vice President, Business Manager, Hello & Hola Media, Inc.

Marta Ariño Barrera: CEO, Zinet Media, Spain

Nicole Bowman: Founder and principal of Bowman Circulation Marketing

Linda Thomas Brooks: President & CEO, MPA: The Association of Magazine Media

Andréa Butler: Founder & Editor In Chief, Sesi Magazine

Daniel Dejan: Print Creative Manager for North America, Sappi Paper

Jimmy Dean: Southeast U.S. Sales Representative, Trend

Jim Elliott: President, James G. Elliott Co.

Alan English: Vice President, Communications, Military Officers Association of America

Will Estell: Chief Creative Officer, Travel South Media LLC, Editor In Chief, Beaches Resorts, & Parks Magazine

Dennis Hecht: Vice President for Business Intelligence, Farm Journal magazine

Dan Heffernan: Vice President, Sales, Marketing & Product Planning, Advantage CS

James Hewes: President & CEO, FIPP

Rob Hewitt: Founder, Oh-So Magazine

Mona Hidayet: Executive Director, Clients & Products, Advantage CS

Samir Husni: Founder and Director, Magazine Innovation Center

Joe Hyrkin: CEO, Issuu

Michael Kusek: Publisher, Different Leaf Magazine

Jeremy Leslie: Founder & Curator, MagCulture, The United Kingdom

Jerry Lynch: President, Magazine & Books Retail Association

Michael Marchesano: Managing Director, Connectiv/SIIA/AM&P

John Mennell: Founder, Magazine Literacy

William Michalopoulos: Vice President, Retail, Sales & Marketing, PubWorX

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: Founder & Publisher, Tom Tom Magazine

Lori Oglesbee: Former Journalism Instructor, Prosper High School

Will Norton: Dean, School of Journalism and New Media

Stephen Orr: Vice President/Group Editorial Director, Meredith Corporation, Editor In Chief, Better Homes & Gardens

Jo Packham: Creator/Editor In Chief, Where Women Create, Where Women Cook, Where Women Create Work, & What Women Create Magazines

Monique Reidy: Publisher & Editor In Chief, Southern California Life Magazine & Weekend Escapes Magazine

Bo Sacks: President, Precision Media

Darren Sanefski: Associate Director, Magazine Innovation Center

Kevin Shirin: Media Publishing, Focus on the Family

Tony Silber: President, Long Hill Media

John Walters: Editor, Eye Magazine, The United Kingdom

Noel Wilkin: Provost, University of Mississippi

Pam Woody: Editor In Chief, Brio Magazine

A must attend event for those in the magazine and magazine media industry and for those who plan to be in the magazine and magazine media industry!

Register today. Click here to register. Registration is limited to 100 guests only! Do it today!

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Oh-So Magazine: From The Dreams Of A Daughter To The Pages Of A Magazine, One Father Creates The “Oh-So” Perfect Skateboarding Magazine Dedicated To The Females Of The Sport – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Rob Hewitt, Founder, Oh-So Magazine…

March 12, 2019

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

“I feel like on Instagram and on the web, and I’m sure a lot of people will shake their heads and that’s fine, you kind of move so quickly and you forget so quickly about what it is exactly you’re documenting in the back of your brain, where a true visual and visceral experience, especially with skateboarding where there is so much movement that you hardly get to reflect on the person’s face and personality because it’s all about the trick and what’s being done on the board, I really wanted to slow that down and pull back a little bit. And it’s intentional that you don’t see so many tricks in this magazine; it’s more about the females who are in the sport and their experiences and their journeys. And hopefully, whoever sees it; it gets them to slow down and reflect on the fact that they may have seen so much stuff on Instagram, but barely remember any of it.” Rob Hewitt (On why he chose print instead of digital-only for Oh-So magazine)…

When Rob Hewitt discovered that his daughter Amelia had an affinity for skateboarding, he and the animated seven-year-old went on the hunt for a publication that was made for her and her age group. Her tastes ran toward the sparkly, emoji-filled dreams of a little girl who loved to have fun, but who also wanted to learn more about other girls who loved her newfound sport. Disappointed with what they found on the newsstands about females and the sport of skateboarding, Rob decided to create a magazine just for Amelia. And Oh-So was born.

From the fun and energetic design to the fantastic illustrations and stories that fill its pages, Oh-So definitely lives up to its name: it’s oh-so engaging and informative. And with the tagline “Celebrating The Female Skateboarding Community,” the magazine shows the renegade spirit and talents of the female skateboarder, but also tells the story of their individual journeys. And it shows the passion of a true graphic artist, Rob Hewitt.

Aside from being an entrepreneurial magazine maker, Rob is also creative director for Dwell magazine, among other creative endeavors, and his passion for design is only overshadowed by his love for his daughter, which he has poured into this publishing project. And if Mr. Magazine™ may be so bold as to say – it is “Oh-So” delightful. So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Rob Hewitt, founder, Oh-So magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On creating a magazine about skateboarding for his daughter when he could find nothing already in the marketplace that spoke to her: Through the years, as a designer I’ve always had my eye on typography and graphic design in general. And a few years ago, I actually purchased a skateboard deck without the wheels or the trucks that was in celebration of a typeface and they just put the typeface on the skateboard deck. I have that still. And my wife and I got a couple of boards because we’re in Manhattan and we would sort of cruise up the West Side Highway, and this was again maybe five or six years ago. There were literally a couple of skateboards sitting around and my daughter found one and brought it into the house and was cruising up and down the hallway. And I found it really interesting, because this was not on my radar; I hadn’t thought about skateboarding at all.

On how typography and Instagram brought him to skateboarding and how that turned into Oh-So magazine: The visual part of it came a little bit later. This was purely an intuitive process, because it was just me reflecting on needs and figuring out I how I could use what I do and what I know, which is visual thinking and visual problem-solving, how could I use that in a way that would be interesting to, first and foremost, females. And my daughter may be secondary a little, because she can read, but she’s not as fluent at seven as most of the girls out there skateboarding. And from that, what sort of ingredients do I need to do that?

On why he chose print in this digital age: My background was a huge part of it. I am so passionate about graphic design in general. And I absolutely love print. It’s probably the wrong thing to say, but I refuse to give up on the power of print. One thing that I really found in this journey of creating this publication, it occurred to me that everything is documented on Instagram or in video and there is a publication for men called Thrasher, which has been around for a long time, but they don’t really call too much attention to the female skate world. I think they’re trying to now, but in recent years they haven’t.

On bringing in Robert Priest and Grace Lee (8×8 magazine) to help with the magazine: I’m grateful to Robert, he actually gave me my first job in New York and I’m thankful that we’ve remained friends after all this time. When I had the idea for this magazine and I had maybe 15 pages of bad layouts and three or four covers, I went and visited their studio to really just get raw feedback from them because I really respect Robert and Grace for what they’ve done in the industry and what they’re currently doing with their magazine. And I straight-up said to them, you guys have inspired this because you’ve created a product that has turned soccer/football magazines on their heads.

On having the first issue done and what’s next: What’s next is working on the second issue. I’m very excited, there is some really good stuff. I don’t want to jinx it but Issue One has been received really well, and I honestly don’t know what to think because I entered into this thinking that I had nothing to lose, it could just disappear and that’s fine, I need to stay true to my journey and my focus. And I’ve done that. And people have reached out and said great things.

On his daughter’s reaction when she first saw the magazine: Actually, the printouts were on the floor and on the table and I would invite her over to look at them, because she’s seven and her world consists literally of emoji’s and bright colors and fun things. And I asked her what she thought about the magazine and she would just point at things and say that’s fun or I like that or I don’t know what that is. And I thought they were some good reactions from her.

On anything he’d like to add: If people pick it up, there are a few articles in there, especially one about Atita Verghese, who is the first pro female out of India, and she is an incredible spokesperson for equality in India, especially for girls. I think it’s a really important thing. And she’s kind of doing it by herself. I try to get people to that article more than some of the others because it really is so raw and her message is so powerful. If I had to highlight only one person it would be her; she is a force. I have so much respect for her.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Probably watching something on Netflix. I tend to binge watch and I tend to get stuck on certain theories. And believe it or not, I will watch them multiple times.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I’m a very shy person and I consider myself an introvert. And knowing that I’m not very outspoken in public or in groups, I think sometimes that comes off as aloof. But I think I’m actually the complete opposite of that. Unfortunately, the nature of being quiet and being more of an observer sometimes comes across as aloof.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Hopefully that I tried my best and tried to do the right thing. In my career in general, I’ve always loved the idea of the design problem and what is the right solution for that problem. And when I say that I tried my best, I like to think that in my work, and Oh-So in general, I really try to solve the problem in a way that is an emotional reaction visually. And I try to get it right.

On what keeps him up at night: Right now, Oh-So keeps me up at night, my kids keep me up at night; I think I’m a worrier, I worry about a lot of things. I worry about things in the world that I have no control over. I worry about messaging that I have no control over. And I worry about a lot of stuff for my kids. There are things that you see and hear, a lot of disturbing stuff, and unfortunately because I’m a dad, I worry about that stuff.


And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Rob Hewitt, Founder, Oh-So magazine.

Samir Husni: In the introduction of Oh-So magazine, you write that you saw your daughter’s interest in skateboarding escalating, but could find nothing in the marketplace that spoke to her, so you created a magazine for her.

Rob Hewitt: It literally started with me being a graphic designer. I skateboarded a little bit when I was a kid, using the Bones Brigade boards and the Tony Hawk boards, but by no means did I pursue it professionally or anything like that. It was more like there’s a board, I’m going to jump on it and skate.

So, through the years, as a designer I’ve always had my eye on typography and graphic design in general. And a few years ago, I actually purchased a skateboard deck without the wheels or the trucks that was in celebration of a typeface and they just put the typeface on the skateboard deck. I have that still. And my wife and I got a couple of boards because we’re in Manhattan and we would sort of cruise up the West Side Highway, and this was again maybe five or six years ago.

There were literally a couple of skateboards sitting around and my daughter found one and brought it into the house and was cruising up and down the hallway. And I found it really interesting, because this was not on my radar; I hadn’t thought about skateboarding at all. (Laughs) I just kind of looked at her and asked was she having fun? And she said yes, that she could go fast and get from here to there really quickly. We decided to go and see if there was something that appealed to her, because my board was clearly more masculine and frankly quite blind to what her needs were.

We went to a skate shop and looked around. I didn’t initiate or push anything and she just said there was no pink, no emoji’s, no unicorns; there was nothing sparkly there for her. And this was this past summer, mid to late summer. And it really sparked the question: my daughter has taken an interest in something and there wasn’t anything out there that she felt comfortable with.

So, it was as though the muse appeared and we grabbed on and went on this journey. It was crazy because in a matter of a few weeks, that movie by the Skate Kitchen crew was literally just coming out and I hadn’t heard anything about them, they’re this crew in New York, they’re amateur skateboarders and they skate for fun. And I was like wait a minute, there are other people out there doing this, let’s look further.

I was searching online and on Instagram and just reached out to some people and this conversation started. And it went from there. And there were some stops and starts because I didn’t know if I should really try and make a publication out of this. I have a good friend who is an illustrator and he had done an illustration and that was one thing. And then on Instagram I found a photographer in New York who had taken these beautiful photos, which were in the issue of Chelsea Piers Skatepark and it was like okay, there is something. And then the Skate Kitchen segment, there was something else.

And on Instagram, the doors just began to open up quickly and I certainly began to see that there were a lot of females doing this professionally, as well as amateurs and just for fun. So, it just started to happen. I just followed it. And while it was happening I really just wanted to stay true to, and maybe this sounds cliché or a bit of a stereotype, but stay true to what my daughter would experience if she did this. And how could I provide her with a little bit of knowledge and education so that she felt like she knew what she was getting into, because there didn’t really feel like there was a lot of it.

Samir Husni: How old is your daughter?

Rob Hewitt: She’s seven.

Samir Husni: Typography brought you to skateboarding and Instagram brought you to global skateboarding. How did those two combinations create Oh-So magazine?

Rob Hewitt: The visual part of it came a little bit later. This was purely an intuitive process, because it was just me reflecting on needs and figuring out I how I could use what I do and what I know, which is visual thinking and visual problem-solving, how could I use that in a way that would be interesting to, first and foremost, females. And my daughter may be secondary a little, because she can read, but she’s not as fluent at seven as most of the girls out there skateboarding. And from that, what sort of ingredients do I need to do that?

Again, through Instagram, the cover appeared really quickly. I found it and thought, this is a great image. And I took stock of that. Around the same time, I hadn’t found the primary typeface that’s in the magazine, I was actually using a completely different typeface, but then by late summer I stumbled upon work by Corita Kent, and I knew her work, she was an activist in the ‘60s who did those very powerful feminine-driven posters, and I had always loved her work. And she had done a lot of this work typography in the ‘60s. So, I thought here was another ingredient that felt like what this vernacular was, because it’s all about movement. They do not stop, it’s continuous motion. Corita Kent’s posters had that energy.

I was reading an interview with Corita Kent, and I kid you not, in the interview she said she was doing some work and it felt “oh-so” cool. I was like, wait a minute, oh-so and the way that she used it with an action word behind it, made this seem like – I don’t really know, but it just felt right. I literally looked at my wife and said what about “Oh-So” and she said it was interesting, but what does it mean? I said it’s just a nice way to segue into it, being that skateboarding is “oh-so” cool or “oh-so” equal or “oh-so” raw. All of these things just started to churn.

But we sat on it for a little while, asked a couple of people what they would think of that for a name for a female skateboarding magazine. And the reception was pretty good. And that was one thing that was banked.

Then starting to do layouts, I stumbled across the primary typeface that you see, and again, it just seemed to fit because it’s like three typefaces in one, as though each character can go three different ways. And it was interesting because I could use this typeface in a way that wasn’t just set. Yes, there is the true Sans Serif that’s used, which is the one used for the actual articles, but then the display stuff and some of the big letters and numbers has an energy that just felt right, because there was a lot of curves and free form, in a way. It reminded me of Corita Kent and her work. So, the bubble was being created and all of these things were in there.

There were so many times when I just second-guessed if it was right. (Laughs) And asked myself should I even keep going with this? It was just me and I kept wondering was I doing the right thing for a publication. And I just really had to trust that I was going to do it right. For me it felt good and at the end of the day it was a great feeling to see my daughter involved and excited. And I believe there is a philosophy to what I did here and what I tried to accomplish. It was education and filling a need that females didn’t have when it came to knowledge in the sport. Or even just knowing what other girls are going through at the skate parks. And the editorial felt as though it was serving a true purpose.

Samir Husni: Why did you feel in this digital age that Oh-So magazine would be better-served as a print publication?

Rob Hewitt: My background was a huge part of it. I am so passionate about graphic design in general. And I absolutely love print. It’s probably the wrong thing to say, but I refuse to give up on the power of print. One thing that I really found in this journey of creating this publication, it occurred to me that everything is documented on Instagram or in video and there is a publication for men called Thrasher, which has been around for a long time, but they don’t really call too much attention to the female skate world. I think they’re trying to now, but in recent years they haven’t.

So, why couldn’t there be a magazine for girls, and there are a couple of others out there, but they have a different sort of message, why couldn’t there be a magazine for girls where everyone can join in and learn about this sport and what the girls go through? And in a weird way, why couldn’t it be a documentation of what is happening now, a lot like Corita Kent was documenting and making poetry on movement in the sixties for feminists, and she was reacting to those movements. So, why couldn’t it exist?

I feel like on Instagram and on the web, and I’m sure a lot of people will shake their heads and that’s fine, you kind of move so quickly and you forget so quickly about what it is exactly you’re documenting in the back of your brain, where a true visual and visceral experience, especially with skateboarding where there is so much movement that you hardly get to reflect on the person’s face and personality because it’s all about the trick and what’s being done on the board, I really wanted to slow that down and pull back a little bit. And it’s intentional that you don’t see so many tricks in this magazine; it’s more about the females who are in the sport and their experiences and their journeys. And hopefully, whoever sees it; it gets them to slow down and reflect on the fact that they may have seen so much stuff on Instagram, but barely remember any of it.

Samir Husni: I interviewed the editor of Mindful magazine recently and she referred to the print magazine as slow-food in an age of fast-food, there’s a big difference in sitting at a restaurant and having a three-course meal versus grabbing a burger through a drive-thru.

Rob Hewitt: I agree. There are so many amazing independent print magazines out there and there is such a great attention to detail, and I just wanted to try and do that too. And I wanted to try and do it for the small market that doesn’t have that. And be loud for them as well and get them excited about what they’re doing in skateboarding.

Samir Husni: I see you brought in some big guns to help with this magazine, Robert Priest and Grace Lee, who have their own magazine, 8×8, among other things that they have done.

Rob Hewitt: I’m grateful to Robert, he actually gave me my first job in New York and I’m thankful that we’ve remained friends after all this time. When I had the idea for this magazine and I had maybe 15 pages of bad layouts and three or four covers, I went and visited their studio to really just get raw feedback from them because I really respect Robert and Grace for what they’ve done in the industry and what they’re currently doing with their magazine. And I straight-up said to them, you guys have inspired this because you’ve created a product that has turned soccer/football magazines on their heads.

Getting their response and feedback was great, because they didn’t hold back and they were honest and that’s what it needed. It’s just great to be able to talk to people like them and to have them as a sounding board. I’ve talked to Grace so many times about mailings and the size of the magazine and where there might be some speed bumps. And they’ve been immensely helpful, so much gratitude to them as well, for sure.

Samir Husni: The first issue is now in the history books, what next?

Rob Hewitt: What’s next is working on the second issue. I’m very excited, there is some really good stuff. I don’t want to jinx it but Issue One has been received really well, and I honestly don’t know what to think because I entered into this thinking that I had nothing to lose, it could just disappear and that’s fine, I need to stay true to my journey and my focus. And I’ve done that. And people have reached out and said great things.

You mentioned Jeremy Leslie when we were speaking right before the interview, he has been incredibly supportive and he was the first person to carry it in a store. Since then, there have been small victories almost every week that make me feel like I need to keep going. So, we’re going to do a second issue. And it’s just trying to keep it true to its focus and keep it light. I actually feel more stress with the second issue, (Laughs) because I’m really trying so hard to keep it focused. The reception has been incredibly positive and it’s overwhelming to know that you can touch people in this way. And with print, you send it to people and people pick it up and there is a true reaction. It’s really amazing. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: What was your daughter’s reaction when you showed her the first copy of the magazine? Did she say it was “oh-so” cool?

Rob Hewitt: (Laughs) She did. Actually, the printouts were on the floor and on the table and I would invite her over to look at them, because she’s seven and her world consists literally of emoji’s and bright colors and fun things. And I asked her what she thought about the magazine and she would just point at things and say that’s fun or I like that or I don’t know what that is. And I thought they were some good reactions from her.

And back to the cover, I don’t mean to stress this point but there were three covers, and for me intuitively this felt like the right thing, because it kind of put skateboarding on a different level, not necessarily about what the trick was and how great it was, which that in and of itself deserves its own respect and appreciation, but one cover has this girl Lizzie, who is incredibly talented and has exposed herself in a way that is pure emotion.

And my daughter, Amelia, went to this particular cover without hesitation, she pointed to it and said that one. I asked her why that one and she said, “Because that girl looks pretty and she looks fun.” And that was a huge thing. This cover makes me really uncomfortable because it is a girl who has her eyes crossed and her tongue out and holding a skateboard. (Laughs) Was that the right thing? I don’t know. (Laughs again) But going with the message of equality in skateboarding, which is another underlying philosophy and theme to the issue, it just sort of helped.

And believe it or not, if you read the articles, out of everyone who has spoken, nine times out of ten they’re in skateboarding to have fun. And I thought that was really important. It’s still the underlying thing, especially with the girls in general. Yes, they’re competitive, but they’re not as competitive as the guys. They want to bring groups of girls together to the skate park, they want the energy to be in the moment, and they want to have fun with it.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Rob Hewitt: If people pick it up, there are a few articles in there, especially one about Atita Verghese, who is the first pro female out of India, and she is an incredible spokesperson for equality in India, especially for girls. I think it’s a really important thing. And she’s kind of doing it by herself. I try to get people to that article more than some of the others because it really is so raw and her message is so powerful. If I had to highlight only one person it would be her; she is a force. I have so much respect for her.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Rob Hewitt: (Laughs) Probably watching something on Netflix. I tend to binge watch and I tend to get stuck on certain theories. And believe it or not, I will watch them multiple times.

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you?

Rob Hewitt: I’m a very shy person and I consider myself an introvert. And knowing that I’m not very outspoken in public or in groups, I think sometimes that comes off as aloof. But I think I’m actually the complete opposite of that. Unfortunately, the nature of being quiet and being more of an observer sometimes comes across as aloof.

And one of the things with Oh-So is that it has taken me so far out of my comfort zone and it’s actually allowed, even with my being an introvert and sort of a deep diver, it’s allowed that wanting to get to know people, to come to the forefront. Like most people who are quiet, I think if you can talk to people one on one, you feel like you’re really engaged and getting a lot out of the conversation. And I’ve actually found with some of these girls that has happened. It’s almost like I’ve tapped into something and allowed some freedom and some escape from it. At events and things, I’m more of the fly on the wall, I have a hard time going up to people and talking to them in groups and things like that.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Rob Hewitt: Hopefully that I tried my best and tried to do the right thing. In my career in general, I’ve always loved the idea of the design problem and what is the right solution for that problem. And when I say that I tried my best, I like to think that in my work, and Oh-So in general, I really try to solve the problem in a way that is an emotional reaction visually. And I try to get it right.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Rob Hewitt: Right now, Oh-So keeps me up at night, my kids keep me up at night; I think I’m a worrier, I worry about a lot of things. I worry about things in the world that I have no control over. I worry about messaging that I have no control over. And I worry about a lot of stuff for my kids. There are things that you see and hear, a lot of disturbing stuff, and unfortunately because I’m a dad, I worry about that stuff.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Happy Birthday Mr. Magazine™…

March 7, 2019

Once a year March 8 arrives, and once a year Mr. Magazine™ celebrate his birthday. This year, Mr. Magazine™ decided to celebrate in a different way. Click the video below to join Mr. Magazine™ in celebrating his birthday.

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Print Can Do This; Digital Can Do That. The Eternal Relationship Between Print And Digital: A Manifesto From A 1964 TV Guide Magazine… From The Mr. Magazine™ Vault.

March 5, 2019

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

As I was doing some research for my upcoming presentation at The Sixth Floor (JFK) Museum in Dallas, Texas on the power of the magazine cover, I stumbled upon an article in a January 25-31, 1964 edition of TV Guide where they devoted a major section of the magazine, including an introduction by President Lyndon B. Johnson, to the four days following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Leading into that special section, the magazine editors created a wonderful one-page comparison between television and print back then and the power of each medium, noting the speed in which television could present something as tragic and moving as JFK’s funeral.

It’s amazing to me that what was true in 1964 is still true today, only using a different medium rather than television. Television in the 1960s was a powerful unification tool for the United States and the world, when 180 million people watched the funeral of President Kennedy on the then three TV networks, before the fragmentation of cable television wreaked havoc on the communal spirit of television and the United States of America. And after Cable came Satellite Television and then ultimately, the Internet, eliminating the community of television altogether.

The country moved from a melting pot, with those three television networks and the host of magazines that were out there, to what’s now more like a cafeteria style information buffet, where you can find any number of networks that will provide you information that’s not related to the country as a whole, but rather to one’s tiny areas of interest and in most cases areas that support one’s own beliefs and theories. That unifying aspect of television is no longer there.

Some may say the same thing is happening with magazines, with the degree of specializations in many current titles, but yet we continue to see the growth of magazine audiences through all of the many platforms that the brands utilize. Whether it’s the printed magazine or the continuous outreach from the brands through other social media and digital extensions, audience growth for magazines is flourishing. And as I wrote in an article a few years ago and recently republished on my blog: magazines were the original social media and they continue to be the original social media, one that creates community and permanency such as the 1964 TV Guide article referred to when talking about television.

Here are a few points from that editorial that would still hold up today, only with the Internet replacing Television’s role. You be the judge:

• Television’s greatest advantage as a news medium is responsible for its greatest disadvantage. (Substitute Television with the Internet)

• The medium’s (imagine Internet as the medium) speed cannot be beaten, for it can often tell and show its audience what is happening as it happens. There is no need to delay so that reporters can write their stories and photographers can develop their pictures. There is no need to wait so that the many editorial and mechanical tasks can be completed before presses can turn and trucks and trains and men can complete distribution – as they must for newspapers and magazines.

• Thus television (Internet) can report a story just about instantaneously. But the reporting is gone just as fast. It can be repeated by the broadcasters, but the consumer, the viewer, has nothing he can hold in his hand to reread or examine closely at his leisure. This is television’s disadvantage.

• All of us who stayed close to our sets during the tragic weekend last November became part of the drama that unfolded before our eyes. But once the weekend was over, the experience was gone. Newspapers and magazines that related the events in Dallas and Washington in special editions were, quite understandably, interested in reporting the chronology of events, and their meanings. ( Emphasis mine. Proving once again that permanence of print and its collectability aspect).

As I’ve said before, there is nothing new under the sun. What goes around comes around, just usually in a different guise. So, where the television of the “50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s unified us as a society, the television of the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond, divided us, along with that ever-reaching, never-ending, all-consuming thing we all call the Internet. Today we are such a fragmented information society that we do not know where or what to turn to, where to actually get, as the late, great Paul Harvey would say, “The Rest of the Story.”

But it’s out there…somewhere…among the fragments.

Until the next time…

See you at the newsstands…

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The Power Of The Magazine Cover… An “Animated Conversation” At The Sixth Floor (JFK) Museum.

March 4, 2019

Humbled and honored to be presenting and engaged in an “animated conversation” about the Power of the Magazine Cover at the Sixth Floor Museum (The John F. Kennedy museum in Dallas, Texas) in conjunction with the museum’s temporary exhibit “55 Years.” My presentation takes place on Monday March 25, at 7 pm.

Here is the invitation mailed by the museum to its members and friends:

Join us for an animated conversation with Dr. Samir Husni at this special program associated with the Museum’s temporary exhibit 55 years. Known as Mr. Magazine ™ and regarded as one of the nation’s foremost experts on print journalism, Dr. Husni will take us on a fascinating journey through the history of American magazines, including the role magazine covers played in cementing the enduring mystique and legacy of President Kennedy.

To register and attend the event March 25 at 7 pm, please click here.

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Body And Soul: Bernarr Macfadden’s Magazines Covered It All And Some More… From The Mr. Magazine™ Vault

March 4, 2019

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

In March 1939, 80 years ago, the first issue of Macfadden-published “Your Faith” magazine came out. The idea was “Why Not Try God?” In the first editorial by Bernarr Macfadden himself, he wrote: A Religious Uplift Brings Spiritual Happiness. He talks about solving the mysteries of the universe and the impossibility of that without God. The magazine is an important part of Macfadden’s view on society and another example of magazines reflecting culture.

Mr. Magazine™ discovered this little nugget from his vault and took note of the amazing difference this magazine had from Macfadden’s other physical fitness and “true-fiction” type publications. And on the 80th anniversary of Your Faith magazine, as Bernarr Macfadden said himself in the first issue: This is a magazine for all who have an ear to hear.

And hear, Macfadden did. Some are just not sure what exactly he was listening to. But as any good entrepreneur would, Mr. Magazine™ believes he was listening to his passions and his own gut feeling. You be the judge.

Bernarr Macfadden is known as the “Father of Physical Culture.” What is “Physical Culture” you might ask. In its simplest definition, Physical culture is a health and strength training movement that originated during the 19th century in Germany, England, and the United States. But how did this topic find its way into a Mr. Magazine™ Musing, you might also ask. And of course, the answer in its simplest form would be: magazines.

Macfadden himself was an American proponent of physical culture. He was the predecessor of Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne, and has been credited with beginning the culture of health and fitness in the United States.

But life was not always so kind to Mr. Macfadden. He changed his name from Bernard McFadden to “Bernarr Macfadden” in order to give himself an aura of strength and vitality. It seems that he was a very sickly and weak child who was an orphan by the time he was 11-years-old. But as fate would have it, Macfadden was placed with a farmer, leaving the life of an orphan behind, and soon began a regiment of hard work and wholesome food. His health improved and soon he became strong and hale again.

There is an entire website dedicated to the memory of this millionaire publisher, who many called a “kook” and a charlatan, and who Time Magazine referred to as “Body Love” for his lifelong advocacy of physical fitness, natural foods, outdoor exercise and the natural treatment of diseases.

In 1899, Macfadden, after a successful, national lecture tour and after founding Physical Culture “clubs” in several cities across the country, decided to publish a monthly magazine called “Physical Culture.” He tried unsuccessfully to find a publisher for his title and so decided to publish it himself, along with his own books about health and wellness (during his lifetime he wrote over 100 books). Physical Culture magazine remained in publication for over 50 years, and was the forerunner of today’s health and bodybuilding publications. Oh, and the magazine carried his name on the cover as well – the height of narcissism or just good business acumen? Either is possible.

Eventually Macfadden Publications was born and his company turned into an empire, with titles such as Liberty, True Detective, True Story, True Romances, Dream World, Ghost Stories, the once-familiar movie magazine, Photoplay, and the tabloid newspaper, The New York Graphic.

Macfadden even sought the Republican nomination for president in 1936, albeit losing the nomination to Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, who went on to lose to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the November election. But he was the first to propose that the President should have a National Secretary of Health on his cabinet ( he had originally wanted to be that person, but instead decided to run for office himself), all the while never giving up his love of physical health and his tendency to admire younger females, whether he was married or not.

Much of the basis of Physical Culture was religious in nature. And during his lifetime Macfadden also attempted to launch his own religion: Cosmotarianism, which combined physcultopathy with the Bible.

In an Esquire article written by Bruce Watson in 2013, Cosmotarianism was described as something that blended Macfadden’s bizarre theories on physical fitness with the Bible. Watson writes:

And some of his theories were, indeed, bizarre: convinced that baldness could be cured by tugging on one’s hair, he wore a towering pompadour; believing that physical contact with the “magnetic currents” of the earth could inspire feats of sexual prowess, he often went barefoot; furious at the fashion industry, he would wear his suits until they fell off his body.

Macfadden certainly seemed to fit the bill of an eccentric millionaire. Indeed, it’s a given. Bernarr Macfadden was an eccentric, a reputed womanizer, a multimillionaire publisher, a father of eight and a husband of four, a fitness guru who was before his time, who died in 1955 from a urinary tract infection that he refused to be medically treated for. And a part of American magazine history that should not be forgotten.

Until the next time…

See you at the newsstands…

Background information from:
http://money.com/money/4074103/wackiest-millionaire-ever-run-president/
http://www.bernarrmacfadden.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernarr_Macfadden
https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a23610/strange-tale-historic-fitness-guru-bernarr-macfadden/

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