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Bella Magazine’s CEO & Editor In Chief, Vanessa Coppes, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Print Is Important Because Print Makes Something Permanent.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

August 11, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic 38

“It’s [Print] what our readers want from us. A magazine is a response to human behavior. Our reader is a reader that either walks into a bookstore or orders the publication online, which is what we’ve done over the past few months because of the pandemic.” Vanessa Coppes…

“Print is like nothing else. It’s like a great book. It’s literally nestling on a couch with a cup of coffee or some hot cocoa and your magazine. It’s learning about different people and places. Right now everything is aspirational; we’re not getting on planes for a while, but at least on the pages of Bella you can look through beautiful images of different parts of the country and the world and still stay connected to people, places and things.” Vanessa Coppes…

Vanessa Coppes is a social entrepreneur, an author, blogger, and now CEO and editor in chief of Bella Magazine. With the new tagline “Life Is Bella!” Vanessa is bringing more compassion, empathy and social relevance to the brand’s content. Bella Magazine is a national subscription- and newsstand-based lifestyle publication offering a curated guide to fashion, beauty, health, philanthropy, arts and culture, cuisine, celebrities, and entertainment. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, the newsstand distribution has been somewhat curtailed with Barnes & Noble unable to receive any new orders.

But with the same passion as her brand, that didn’t stop Vanessa. I spoke with Vanessa recently and we talked about how the magazine is being offered online and now has an apparel line associated with it, which has brought in any entirely new infusion of revenue and interest. With the monumental movement “Black Lives Matter” and the pandemic engulfing the world in a new normal that no one was even remotely ready for, Vanessa has taken the content of Bella to a new level, turning each themed issue into its own unique experience and bringing thoughtful stories to life within the magazine’s pages.

And now the 38th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Vanessa Coppes, CEO and editor in chief, Bella Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she acquired Bella instead of starting her own brand from scratch: I have always loved telling stories and that creative process of connecting with a person. Maybe get them to share their story in a way that can help and support someone else in something that they may be going through. I had been working with the previous owners since its inception. We were friends and had connected. And when they decided to sell, I don’t even know what triggered, it was like a kneejerk reaction to jump on the opportunity because I have always been a very creative person and I just felt that maybe this was my time to tell these stories from my perspective. And hopefully help other people see the world as I see it, but not just as I see it, but as my team sees it.

On whether the combination of the pandemic and other milestone events that have happened since she took over Bella have hindered or helped her elevate the brand’s content: By nature, I am a very spiritual person. I operate from a place of spirituality and integrity; I pray a lot; I meditate; I practice yoga three times per week. So I come from that world of energy. And everything that goes into each issue is literally prayed about; it’s thought out; it’s meant to be intentional. So to your point, I knew in my gut that a lot had to change for this magazine to stay relevant.

On any challenges she has faced along the way during her magazine journey: The challenges are there when you see them as “challenges,” because my team has quite frankly learned to navigate, especially now during this pandemic and this racial divide that we’re in; we work from our hearts. We operate out of love and compassion. We want to tell stories of people who are doing amazing things, not just here, but in the world. And the support that we’ve received has been great, I have literally cried. I haven’t had to furlough or let go of anyone on my team. That’s a true testament of commitment on one part from each of them, but also love for what they do.

On why she thinks print is important to the Bella brand today: It’s what our readers want from us. A magazine is a response to human behavior. Our reader is a reader that either walks into a bookstore or orders the publication online, which is what we’ve done over the past few months because of the pandemic. Our distribution has changed a little bit; Barnes & Noble completely stopped receiving new orders, which was our distribution outlet.

On anything she’d like to add: One thing that people ask me is what’s in the future. We are, as I’m sure everyone is, taking it one day at a time with regards to the world and the times we’re living in. We’re super-proud and excited for the future, because regardless of what’s happening, we’re still here. People are still buying the publication, subscribing to it; we’re signing on new brand partners. It still has its place. And I think it’s because of those minor changes that we’ve made, content-wise.

On what keeps her up at night: The fate of our future because I am a hopeless optimist. I really do believe in compassion and empathy. I always pray that we all be a little kinder and a little more gracious to each other, because if we find ourselves in a difficult situation we would want to be afforded that same courtesy. Not to say I’m perfect, I’m far from it, but I think that we are all in need of a little bit more love and compassion and understanding from each other so that we can get ourselves out of this mess.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vanessa Coppes, CEO and editor in chief, Bella Magazine.

Samir Husni: Why did you acquire Bella instead of starting your brand own from scratch and what’s your concept of Bella today?

Vanessa Coppes: I have always loved telling stories and that creative process of connecting with a person. Maybe get them to share their story in a way that can help and support someone else in something that they may be going through. I had been working with the previous owners since its inception. We were friends and had connected.

I remember receiving the first issue of Bella almost 10 years ago and I just loved it. You had trends, fashion and beauty, but there was always substance. And as a person of substance that I like to believe I am, I connected with the content. And so I definitely wanted to be involved. I had been writing since I was a young girl, and I actually came up with my column that I wrote for Bella almost seven years ago.

And when they decided to sell, I don’t even know what triggered, it was like a kneejerk reaction to jump on the opportunity because I have always been a very creative person and I just felt that maybe this was my time to tell these stories from my perspective. And hopefully help other people see the world as I see it, but not just as I see it, but as my team sees it.

I have a very diverse team and I don’t say that to peg myself into the trends of diversity and inclusion, I just really have a very diverse team. People from different cultures, different backgrounds, and it’s such a beautiful thing to have all of these creative people come together. Because at the end of the day each issue tells a story in itself and everything is connected one to the other. And I try not to disrupt anyone’s creative process, because as a creative person I know that always kills the process itself. Everybody is free to share their ideas and share their concepts and based on the theme of the issue, what comes out of it is truly phenomenal.

I think the biggest compliment that I’ve received, especially over the past year, is just how the magazine has elevated how the content has been elevated to really be reflective, not just of the team, but also of the times that we’re living in. I always felt like that was missing a little bit. There are so many fashion/beauty publications and when we decided to be in the space of lifestyle, I asked what does the Bella lifestyle actually look like? And it’s really trying to live a beautiful life from the inside and outside. The reality is not everyone looks the same. The world that we live in isn’t a reflection of size two models and blonde women. It’s an array of beautiful people who come in different shapes and sizes. So, let’s be reflective of that.

I even changed the tagline this year to be reflective of that. It’s “Life is Bella!” because life is beautiful when you decide to look at it from that lens.

Samir Husni: Since you took over the magazine, you’ve had to deal with the pandemic first and foremost, then along came the milestone movement of Black Lives Matter; do you think the gods are working with you or against you to elevate the content of Bella?

Vanessa Coppes: By nature, I am a very spiritual person. I operate from a place of spirituality and integrity; I pray a lot; I meditate; I practice yoga three times per week. So I come from that world of energy. And everything that goes into each issue is literally prayed about; it’s thought out; it’s meant to be intentional. So to your point, I knew in my gut that a lot had to change for this magazine to stay relevant.

I don’t want to say a lot in the sense of the covers themselves had to change, it was more the stories that we were focusing our attention on, so that they could be more reflective of the reality of the world that we are living in. In the beginning, one of our popular issues had always been the “Hollywood Issue,” which was the Jan./Feb. issue and things revolved around awards season. And I like the awards; I like the fashion, but that’s not really what I wanted to focus the content on, because it’s like the running joke, when we’re writing about beauty and fashion, it isn’t brain surgery. It’s fluff to a certain extent.

People that wanted to pick up the publication, especially after I took it over, were people that wanted to read about women who were building businesses, or the person in another country who was helping to feed the hungry; it was more human interest stories, fashion-conscious companies that were sourcing ethically or organically. Things again, made of substance. It all goes back to substance.

Again, I’ve always listened to the universe, have always been opened to receiving and allowing for this to take the form that it’s intended to take. My team, for the most part, operates from that same space. Again, the stories that we were telling were just reflective of what we were feeling and what was happening around us.

I also felt that it would be completely unethical on our part to not take a stand and to not be another voice to add to the movement of Black Lives Matter, with me myself being a person of color. I think I would have been denying part of my identity had I not done that.

The magazine has never been self-serving. We have weekly meetings editorially to dig through the topics that people really want to know about. What is of interest to our readers; what do people want to explore; what should we be expanding on? And that’s really want we’re focused on.

Quite honestly, the response has been truly a blessing, because as you know and everyone knows, magazines have completely shut down and have had to lay off a ton of workers. This whole working from home concept isn’t new to my team, because we’ve been doing it for years. So, we just adapted. Today I’m home because there’s no power in my office, which is 10 minutes from my house, but I go to my office because I have smaller children and I need the peace. (Laughs) But this isn’t new to the team.

No one really wants to know about the latest lipstick right now. However, we do want to know how people are cooking, how they’re working out from home, how they’re keeping their sanity. What are a few things that I can do to brighten up my mood, because it felt like Ground Hog Day every day for a while. We felt like we were living the same thing over and over.

I’m not going to lie, once the pandemic hit it was very difficult. We lost clients and I looked at my husband and asked him what did we get ourselves into with this? But I think that the way we adapted and responded to the crises was the true blessing. We found other ways to keep money coming in, which was we created an apparel line with the brand. Who knew that people wanted a T-shirt with the Bella logo on it? I knew, because I had been saying it for years. We put that plan into action and attached the philanthropic work that we’ve always done. I always like to think of myself as a social entrepreneur, where yes, we need to make money, but how is this impacting our helping another group of people.

So, we attached the apparel line to several causes and people got behind it. And honestly, that’s a reflection of the work that we’re doing to this day. I’ll sit somedays and say, we’re here. People clearly still want to read this. We’re producing and working content every single day. It has honestly been a blessing. So, yes, the gods have been working with us. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: The magazine industry is still, for the most part, lily-white. You’re one of the few people of color who actually own and produce a magazine that I know. Has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or have there been challenges along the way?

Vanessa Coppes: Here’s what I have found to be true from the moment I took over. Ultimately, the person at the top is the one that makes the decisions. We know this from other companies and businesses; it always comes from the top. And that is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. Meaning I am the one who ultimately decides who’s going to be on the cover; who’s going to be featured; who’s going to be in the book. I have to say kudos to my team, who are all very opinionated and will speak up and speak out.

We did a really big campaign for Pride, which was something that hadn’t been done in the publication itself in past years, however I made it a point myself because I have team members who are a part of the LGBTQ community. And again, I felt it would be unethical for me to not hold space for them. I even told my team members that I wanted it to feel like their birthday every day that month, because I wanted them to feel celebrated for who they are.

That kind of compassion and humility has been what has driven me as a person and as editor in chief of this publication. I’m always the one to ask how something will impact our readers; what is the ultimate goal that we want to reach? What is it we’re trying to relay and what story are we trying to tell?

With the content we’re publishing, I always say that I want my nieces who are 11, 12 and 16, when they pick up this publication, I want them to be able to see themselves in the stories. And that’s very important, because I remember being 12 or 16 and wanting to starve myself because I couldn’t fit into what I saw in the publications.

But to your point, the challenges are there when you see them as “challenges,” because my team has quite frankly learned to navigate, especially now during this pandemic and this racial divide that we’re in; we work from our hearts. We operate out of love and compassion. We want to tell stories of people who are doing amazing things, not just here, but in the world. And the support that we’ve received has been great, I have literally cried. I haven’t had to furlough or let go of anyone on my team. That’s a true testament of commitment on one part from each of them, but also love for what they do.

These stories have to be told, because we also have responsibilities to our clients who are still onboard. But everyone has worked as a team and has vocalized. When an issue arises, my team are the first to state their opinions. So, it’s only a challenge if you view it as a challenge. We’ve been very adamant about trying to do the right thing at all times.

Samir Husni: While you’ve seen some magazines fold or decrease their frequencies, you continue to publish during the pandemic, every other month, a bimonthly frequency. Why do you think print is important to the Bella brand today?

Vanessa Coppes: It’s what our readers want from us. A magazine is a response to human behavior. Our reader is a reader that either walks into a bookstore or orders the publication online, which is what we’ve done over the past few months because of the pandemic. Our distribution has changed a little bit; Barnes & Noble completely stopped receiving new orders, which was our distribution outlet.

Print is important because print makes something permanent. And the acknowledgement that you receive from seeing your stories on a printed page is something that’s quite literally indescribable. It’s like getting to the top of the mountain. Before all of this, my first article in print I literally cried. It became real to me. It just felt like I had gotten to a part of where I wanted to go.

We have readers who have collected every copy of the magazine because each one is just very unique, especially this year. We’ve elevated even the paper that we print on, the quality has increased tremendously. I felt like since our distribution was not the same, our prices have gone up, people are willing to pay for it, therefore we have to give them something that they will continue to want to pay for. And I get texts and emails from people who tell me that each issue is better than the last. It’s really quite beautiful. And we’re very proud of that.

Print is like nothing else. It’s like a great book. It’s literally nestling on a couch with a cup of coffee or some hot cocoa and your magazine. It’s learning about different people and places. Right now everything is aspirational; we’re not getting on planes for a while, but at least on the pages of Bella you can look through beautiful images of different parts of the country and the world and still stay connected to people, places and things.

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

Vanessa Coppes: One thing that people ask me is what’s in the future. We are, as I’m sure everyone is, taking it one day at a time with regards to the world and the times we’re living in. We’re super-proud and excited for the future, because regardless of what’s happening, we’re still here. People are still buying the publication, subscribing to it; we’re signing on new brand partners. It still has its place. And I think it’s because of those minor changes that we’ve made, content-wise.

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

Vanessa Coppes: The fate of our future because I am a hopeless optimist. I really do believe in compassion and empathy. I always pray that we all be a little kinder and a little more gracious to each other, because if we find ourselves in a difficult situation we would want to be afforded that same courtesy. Not to say I’m perfect, I’m far from it, but I think that we are all in need of a little bit more love and compassion and understanding from each other so that we can get ourselves out of this mess.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Roaring Weeklies. The Magazines And I. Chapter Three, Part Two

August 9, 2020

Chapter Three, Part Two

The Roaring Weeklies… is the third chapter from the book I am writing on the magazines of 1953, specifically March 1953, the month I was born.  This is chapter three, part two.  Feel free to back track for chapters one and two in previous blogs.  Enjoy.

The Heavy-Duty Political Weeklies

The biggies when it came to news and political coverage in 1953 were: Time, Life, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Time and Life were published by the same company, Time Inc, and were the two dominant titles in that era. The focus of those weeklies was a mix of politics, society, religion and news, with many similarities between the two.

The particular conversations in news and politics that could be overheard on the world’s stage in March 1953 centered around the death of Joseph Stalin and the changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union and what was happening with the Red Army and the Cold War. The evil that even Stalin’s name conjured up and what his death meant to the Soviet people came alive on the pages of weeklies such as Life.

The importance of these weeklies was known from Buckingham Palace to the White House. The editorial pages of these magazines held more than the words of the editors, often publishing or republishing announcements from presidents, such as in the March 2, 1953 issue of Life when former President Harry S. Truman’s memoirs were about to be written. Life believed in the makers of history, as they called the former president. And as a believer and publisher of history in the making, the magazine reprinted the Associated Press bulletin where Truman had written that he had selected Life to “handle all rights in the memoirs.” The magazine’s importance was established.

And Truman wasn’t the only notable leader that Life had published. There was Winston Churchill, Omar Bradley, the Duke of Windsor, and the list goes on. Between the excellent writing and the inimitable photography, Life magazine was one of the most esteemed publications in the country at that time.

In fact, Life was known for its excellent, and often poignant photography. For example, if you look at the March 16, 1953 issue of the magazine, right after Stalin died, the coverage of this world event was incredible. Joseph Stalin and Georgy Malenkov graced the cover of that issue and the entire story was put together from 50,000 photos that the staff had collected. The result was a picture-rich article that amazed.

Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report also had coverage of world events, such as Stalin’s death, but it was a softer, less epic visual experience. While in March 1953, Time focused on Korea, Stalin and Russia throughout that month, Newsweek focused on classical musicians, Edward R. Murrow and Speaker of the House Joe Martin, so it had more of a lighter approach when it came to coverage of the information. In fact, Newsweek featured Edward R. Murrow on one of its covers, talking about how presenting the news on television is very different from radio. Television was becoming big news in 1953.

Also in that era, Look magazine and Cowles Media decided to publish a newsweekly too, a pocket-sized magazine that covered everything. If newsweeklies were the Internet of 1953, Quick magazine, was the iPhone of 1953. From 1949 to 1953, the pocket-sized publication was jam-packed with information from one end of the spectrum to another. There was art, sex, business, crime, education and entertainment. People were encouraged to carry it in their pockets or their purses so they could access the information on-the-go. The magazine provided what would be called today the “Tweets” of the news, tidbits of information about everything. The name itself reflected the tone of the magazine: Quick.

Quick enabled pop culture to fit easily into purses and pockets. The covers were spot-on for the times. From the real-life Rocky Marciano and a story on why some boxers don’t box anymore, to actress Piper Laurie and a collection of Easter Bonnet portraits, Quick magazine was the social media of 1953. The  posts – snippets of information, comments and pictures were all there on their own little platform. Just whip the magazine out of your pocket and you had Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in one convenient package.

 The High-Brow Literary Weeklies

Saturday Review and The New Yorker fit into this category, with The New Yorker magazine’s founding editor Harold Ross once famously describing his publication (founded in 1925) as being, “not for the little old lady in Dubuque.” Distinguished by their obvious literary prominence, both magazines were reviews of many things. From movies to books, the theatre to museums, these two magazines had their fingers on the pulse of American culture in 1953 from a literary point of view.

The New Yorker had its own iconic covers, becoming an entity unto themselves, with their smart and timely illustrations depicting political satire, the images of the city itself, and many other environmental and social issues of the times.

At that time in the magazine’s history, the front of the magazine was devoted to “The Goings On About Town,” which as you can imagine, was filled with all the fun and exciting things New York City had to offer, from Broadway to art sales offering everything from lithographs and etchings by Pissarro to the showing of paintings and drawings at the Whitney Museum.

As you moved farther inward through the magazine, The New Yorker presented “The Talk Of The Town,” of course, not without first passing some of the most savvy and smart advertisements ever created. “Talk Of The Town” was a place where announcements of varying topics could be discussed, often ones that were on the edge of being dubious, such as the March 21, 1953 issue where a bus company in Yonkers was making plans to install radios in its buses. The problem with that was many thought it was a way for the bus company to raise revenue by selling the attention of all the passengers with only the consent of some, according to The New Yorker’s “The Talk Of The Town.”  Of course, The New Yorker couldn’t stand behind that and let it be known, yet again proving the importance and influence of these weekly magazines.

Saturday Review was very widely read by music and theatre critics and others who thrived on literary journals. The magazine shared the “Good News” in the front of the book, by utilizing that space to talk about many things such as in the March 7, 1953 issue where they wrote about “proof that Americans spend their time in places other than sport stadiums,” as apparently the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City had exceeded the two million mark in visitors for the previous year.

The literary weeklies were more than hoity-toity titles that carried themselves around town with an upturned nose. They were important magazines that people in 1953 relied on to give them honest and factual information about the topics they covered.

News, Television & Weekly Magazines

Not only was 1953 a time when audiences could not get enough information about what was going on in the world they lived in, but it was also a time when weekly magazines actually provided the best coverage of those stories.

While television networks such as CBS and NBC were airing 15 minute newscasts and many stations only did five minutes total of local news right before 5:00 p.m. (TV Guide, Washington-Baltimore area, March 27-April 2), the weekly magazines were filling their pages with informative and relevant information.

But the television magazines were gaining steam, there were TV Guides, TV Forecasts, TV Digests and TV Guides & Forecasts for every part of the country, showcasing this new medium. And the television magazines began predicting things that interested readers, such as who would win that year’s Academy Award.

While Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and Life dealt with foreign affairs and political topics, TV Guide became the escape vehicle for readers who wanted to travel away from facts and the actual news of the day, to the fun and frolic the celebrities were having. And the TV weeklies began reflecting that.

 TV Guide and other television titles of March 1953 took note of people’s fascination with the prominent actors and other celebrities on the screen of the new medium known as television. In fact, so much so, that the magazines’ covers were suddenly flooded with their images.

From the March 13-19, 1953 issue of TV Guide, which featured Janette Davis from Arthur Godfrey and His Friends, a highly popular variety show from that era, to “TV’s Lady-Killers” TV Guide cover from March 27-April 2, 1953, featuring Charlton Heston, John Newland, John Forsythe and John Baragrey, celebrities were the content of choice when it came to the covers of these magazines. Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, George Burns and his wife Gracie, were just a few of the other famous folk who appeared on covers of the TV weeklies.

Needless to say, when the Academy Awards were first televised on March 19, 1953, the television magazines were thrilled to feature all the stars and their stories.

Your Weekly Magazine Inside A Newspaper

Supplements in newspapers had a rich history by the time 1953 came along. From inserts inside Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in the late 1800s, to Women’s Home Journal and Sunday American Magazine, which later became The American Weekly, inside William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal,  these magazine-formatted publications became another resource for information.

The American Weekly was a successor to the Sunday magazine and the artwork was created by some of the best artists of that time, such as Lee Conrey and Howard Chandler Christy. There were great stories and, as in the February 22, 1953 issue of the magazine, which had the magazine’s first annual Auto Section, some of the most colorful and inviting illustrations and ads that you could find anywhere.

Parade was another insert that really became an entity all on its own. The Sunday newspaper magazine was founded in 1941 and was originally a supplement for its creator’s own newspaper, the Chicago Sun. But over the years the insert with the humble beginnings is now nationwide and still retains a circulation of 18 million. Renowned authors such as Ernest Hemingway (who sent in reports from the Far East), Ben Hecht (author of “the Front Page”), Dr. Carl Sagan (who provided his first report on Nuclear Winter), James Thurber, Herman Wouk, Norman Mailer, John Cheever and Alex Haley, among many others, have been published between its covers.

In the March 15, 1953 issue, Parade (this particular copy from The Wichita Sunday Eagle) the Norman Rockwell ads, combined with helpful tips and delicious-looking recipes, show just why this entertaining, yet informative magazine is still around.

Grafic Magazine, an insert in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, was much like its Parade counterpart, published on Sunday and highlighting home tips and entertainment features.These great additions to Sunday newspapers is a tradition that carries on even in the 21st century.

Getting News & Entertainment In “Weekly Time”

Today we experience real time. A family faces down a giant black bear and we watch the fingernail-biting moments while they unfold. But in 1953 that wasn’t an option. Instead, the people got their news a little less instantaneously. With TV newscasts so brief, they may as well not have happened, the American public relied strictly on print. Ink on paper was the internet of the 1950s and a technology that couldn’t be beaten.

So when those daily newspapers and weekly magazines came calling, people couldn’t wait to answer their front doors. Craving information and missing the bells and whistles and notifications of today, they relished these weekly visits from the magazine friends that they loved and trusted.

The Roaring Weeklies

When we look at the roaring weeklies of 1953, we see why they could be called the Internet of 1953, because each magazine gave you a little bit of everything. If you subscribed to Life, not only did someone get 144 pages of great photography, great writing, great stories, but also great advertising with very skillful marketing. People discovered the latest automobile, the latest fashion, the latest everything. It was all there between the pages. People could read about religion, sports, modern living, fashion, science… just a composite of topics. So, the magazines were the Google of the 1953 Internet, with any topic one could imagine available.

Weeklies To The Right, Please…And The Left

Mr. Magazine™  explored his vault extensively to bring you this chapter on the great weeklies of 1953. Looking to the right and to the left, he walked the halls and rooms and searched out the precise magazines talked about here. The experience was most satisfying. While there were lesser-known weeklies alive in 1953, the ones elaborated about in Chapter Three were the major players of that year.

And Next…

The Vault is endless and the doors many. Let us check out the next room… look, it’s the Women’s Magazine sanctuary. Come in and Mr. Magazine™ will introduce you to the Seven Sisters and many of their friends, cousins, and relatives…

To be continued…

 

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The Roaring Weeklies. The Magazines And I. Chapter Three. Part One.

August 6, 2020

Chapter Three, Part One

The Roaring Weeklies… is the third chapter from the book I am writing on the magazines of 1953, specifically March 1953, the month I was born.  This is chapter three, part one.  Feel free to back track for chapters one and two in previous blogs.  Enjoy.

The Ink On Paper Internet

In 1953, magazines played two essential roles in  the world of media: the distribution of information and the marketing of products and goods. In fact, they were the leading national media that collected information for people in the east, west, north and south and distributed it accordingly. They were basically the Internet of the era. And weekly magazines brought that aggregated content to readers on a more regular basis than the monthlies, be it politics, entertainment or any number of other topics of interest, weekly magazines were the go-to source for current information quick.

And just as we want instantaneous information today, the people of 1953 wanted it as well. Their instantaneous sources were the weekly magazines. While the need and desire of weekly titles has dissipated today, due entirely to the Internet, in 1953 the urgency for current content was palpable. And while television was on the rise and promised to give the weekly magazines a run for their money, the time wasn’t ripe yet for screens; the time still belonged to ink on paper.

Television’s Infancy

The year 1953 had some significant television moments, but as far as news broadcasts and news programs, that really wasn’t the case. On March 19, 1953, the 25th Academy Awards were broadcast by NBC, becoming the first Academy Awards ceremony to be televised. However, many people awaited their favorite weekly magazine to get all the juicy details about the stars’ fashion choices and the behind-the-scenes gossip.

Then on April 3 of that year, TV Guide was published for the first time in the United States, with 10 editions and a circulation of 1,562,000. But as television was just finding its footing, weekly magazines still delivered more information about niche subjects than the infant TV Guide did.

In 1953, television stations only provided local news programs one to two times each evening for 15 minutes and usually these programs aired as supplements to network-supplied evening news, before their primetime programming. So, where today we can get the story of a family facing down an angry bear in real time, in 1953 news was not so plentiful. The weekly magazine could put that story vividly in your hand to read, complete with powerful images.

Weekly magazines were without a doubt the ink on paper internet of the 1953. And by covering such diverse topics, they connected people in a way that newspapers and TV couldn’t: they put the stories of the week in the same hands of the farmer in Iowa and the celebrity in Hollywood.  They delivered captivating storytelling and hardcore news to one and all on a weekly basis.

The Time of the Season

The 1950s were a time of affluence in America as the United States became an economic leader on the global stage and the morality of the country became one that everyone admired. But underneath that shiny facade, things were changing as shifting gender roles challenged that picturesque image of dad smoking his pipe in his easy chair while mom brought him his slippers. The Feminist Movement was just around the corner. As was the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

And weekly magazines were coming into their own, educating and liberating people with new ideas and information that opened their minds to unique and larger possibilities.

Taking a Peek at the Internet of 1953

What information did people seek after in 1953? What stories held them captivated and what weekly magazines had them addicted? The weeklies of that era can be divided into three categories:

The Feel-Good weeklies led by The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.

The Heavy-Duty political weeklies led by Time, Life and Newsweek.

The High-Brow literary weeklies led by The New Yorker and Saturday Review.

These magazines were the heavy hitters of their time. And they proved it every week. As a sidebar, four of these seven titles are still being published today.

If you entered an American home in March 1953, chances are you would have probably found people who subscribed to some or all of these magazines. But what were these people getting? What was the conversations centered around?

The Feel-Good Weeklies

The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s were two heavy hitters in 1953 that made the audience feel good. They showcased life in Postwar America with a positive and upbeat tenor, providing  stories of hope and goodwill. People who subscribed to these magazines were interested in being uplifted and refreshed.

The Saturday Evening Post’s covers mirrored those simpler times: sandlot baseball, kids watching black and white westerns, jungle gyms and little girls playing mommy. Some of the illustrators for The Post, people such as Norman Rockwell and George Hughes, were sticklers for details and accuracy when it came to their renditions of the covers, setting a precedent for collecting among fans of the magazine.

Collier’s also had illustrated covers and was known for the prolific talent that contributed to the entire magazine. Short fiction was one of Collier’s most prominent features and the illustrations that accompanied the stories were phenomenal. In both Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, the cover lines were kept away from the drawings so that cover collectors weren’t disappointed.

In Collier’s March 14, 1953 issue, space exploration was prominent in the magazine. The cover depicts how the crew of a fast-moving rocket ship might handle an alert situation in space, such as being prepared for any emergency that might crop up. Of course, this was before the first manned aircraft rocketed toward the great unknown, but people were already getting ready for that exciting day. And Collier’s content was anticipating it. While people were still talking about how to avoid nuclear war with Russia, space was the fascinating topic no one could ignore. And the race between countries, like America and Russia, to get there first was a watercooler moment waiting to happen.

The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s depicted the American Dream with content and illustrations that were total Americana in print. Even when the magazines were covering something much darker, they did it with a positive spin. If it was war, the magazines brought in experts on how good could come out of bad; there was always light in the dark.

To be continued…

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The Year Was 1953. The Magazines And I. Chapter Two, Part Three.

July 30, 2020

The Political Front

In the March 16, 1953 issue of Life magazine the cover had Joseph Stalin and Georgy Malenkov, who briefly succeeded Stalin after his death, super-imposed side-by-side in a very striking image. The writer of the cover story was the British author Edward Crankshaw, who was and is known for his writings about Soviet affairs.

Stalin had recently died and Malenkov was preparing to step into the powerful shoes of the deceased leader. Crankshaw had a flair for the dark and conspiratorial atmosphere that surrounded the Kremlin. From the “poisoning doctors” he writes about to the violence and suspicion that encompassed Stalin’s shadow, the author could set the tone and mood of the actual state of affairs in Russia at that time perfectly.

This beautifully done article that mysteriously weaves the historical story of Stalin’s death and life behind the fearful walls of the Kremlin, is a masterpiece typical of the type of authors and stories that Life gave its readers. Stories of substance, images that could take your breath away. As we delve into this fascinating year 1953, we begin to see the importance of magazines throughout that time. There was no Internet and television was just beginning to find its footing to become what it is today, but magazines could take readers on a journey to Russia to get up close and personal with the body of the prone Stalin. Magazines could transport a secretary in Gary, Indiana smackdab into the middle of the Kremlin. It was a magical time for ink on paper.

When Advertising Was King         

Chapter Two, Part Three

During that momentous time, it wasn’t just the content that could be called an influencer, the ads in the magazines were just as important and amazing. With the end of the Korean war and a new president and first lady in the White House, people in 1953 were ready to start spending money and what better way to grab those dollars than advertising in magazines. The time was right and the possibilities unlimited and magazines were the best way to get a product before the eyes of the country.

Lucky Strike cigarettes, where nothing beat better taste, could fill the back cover of a major magazine, tempting people to find out why they had better taste. A full-page ad for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer made people realize how thirsty for yeast and hops they were, and because busy people paused for Coke, Coca-Cola became everyone’s drink of choice, busy or not.

It was an advertiser’s dream come true. The ads worked because there were no taboos, cigarettes and beer were the norm for that era. Health and consequences hadn’t even been thought of yet when it came to smoking and drinking.

But it wasn’t just beer and tobacco products that reigned supreme. There were airline ads, hotel ads, automobile ads, tire ads; you name it. Soon, people were driving new cars, flying everywhere and staying in the best hotels. Advertisements in magazines were raking in money, making publications thrive and educating people about the latest and greatest products and trends.

The Dissemination of Information

Getting magazines in the hand of subscribers has always been vitally important to publishers, and in 1953 that statement was no less true.

Congress legislated postage rates until 1970, keeping magazines and newspapers extremely low, allowing them to travel where they were going very reasonably. In 1953, a first-class postage stamp cost $0.03, but it was only $0.02 to send out a magazine, so getting informational content out to a mass audience was not only cost-efficient, it was necessary.

Magazines For The Readers

Even the United Nations had its own magazine United Nations World that was founded in 1947, redesigned in 1950, and once again went through another revamping in March 1953. The publisher introduced those changes by stating:

United Nations World appears in your home and on your newsstand this month wearing a new dress. As you notice, we have completely redesigned our cover in order to make it modern, distinctive and – we hope – strikingly attractive.

 It is fitting that our “cover girl” for this issue should be Elizabeth II. However, the new design was not created by our artists solely as a setting for beauty and queenly dignity. The format you see will be a permanent one.

 The editors have been experimenting for a long time to find a cover which would reflect the spirit and the contents of UN World. On this page, you will find reproduced a few of the previous covers we have used. We feel that the new design is superior to the others but, of course, we are not unprejudiced. So, since this magazine is published for its readers, we are eager to hear what you think. Will you write and tell us?

 Roger S. Phillips

Publisher

 Reflecting – it appears everyone knows what magazines are excellent at, especially the weeklies of that era… They reflected and ruled the space as the Internet of the 1950s, as we’ll see in chapter three.

Coming soon: Chapter Three

 

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The Year Was 1953… The Magazines And I. Chapter Two, Part Two.

July 28, 2020

Chapter Two, Part Two

The 3-D Movement In Magazines

Magazines have always captured trends and movements as though they had a golden net of what would be important and significant to readers. The 3-D movement was something that became very prominent in the movie industry in the 1950s, so, of course, magazines seized their own part of this lucrative medium, with content such as 3-D movie titles, 3-D comics, and just a variety of 3-D entertainment.

Many 3-D buffs consider the 1950s the “Golden Era” of 3-D, simply because some form of the medium has been around for generations. But in the ‘50s, the art took on a different, more vibrant role with the release of the first color stereoscopic feature. It was an amazing process that the public latched onto and loved. And of course, magazines didn’t waste any time in seeing the unique value of this latest trend. Even today that famous picture from Life magazine, the iconic image of a crowded theater with everyone watching a movie wearing 3-D eyeglasses, is a creative piece that is still shown and of interest to people.

Suddenly, the marketplace was consumed with 3-D magazines: 3-D Movie Magazine, 3-D Dimension, 3-D Pinups and 3-D Screen, even Superman himself appeared in his own 3-D magazine in 1953. Magazine publishers knew a great wave when they saw one, and they could ride it better than anything out there.

In December 1953, Harvey Famous Name Comics put out the first issue of True 3D . On the inside page of the front cover of the magazine, the editors announced their excitement in bringing “the most startling magazine produced in three dimensional illustration by our own exclusive process.” Harvey Comics even had a written statement from two optometrists about the visual benefits of reading the 3-D magazine, which came with its own “magic specs.”

Magazines have truly always been ahead of their time in the way they approach the world around us. And in 1953 in particular, 3-D was a vibrant and lucrative way to entertain readers and moviegoers alike, and magazines embraced this old (movies), but new (3-D) technology.

Magazines: The Internet of The 1950s

From Time to Newsweek, the newsweeklies were flourishing; the general interest titles, such as Life and Look were inimitable in their classy style. All of these magazines from 1953 were so dominant and their content so mesmerizing and the designs so stylish, that one couldn’t help but believe the world of magazines was omnipotent in what it did.

And while television (still referred to as the talking piece of furniture in some ads and articles)  was still in its infancy, magazines were really the Internet of 1953, of the 1950s in general. Magazines connected the entire United States and the world. No matter what your interests were, from fiction to science fiction, true crime to celebrity gossip, magazines covered it, no Google necessary.

The Taboo & The Forbidden

At a time when being gay was not something talked about openly, magazines were still exploring their parameters. Disguised as men’s health or fitness magazines, titles such as Muscle Power and Muscle Man, were, for the most part, gay magazines. The readers were primarily gay men who enjoyed looking at the physiques of other men, but because of the times, publishers gave consumers what they wanted in the form of bodybuilding.

And then in January 1953, the first widely distributed publication for homosexuals in the United States published its first issue. One magazine was born during a time when being openly gay was unheard of. A group from Los Angeles, the Mattachine Society, formed by Communist and labor activist Harry Hay and a group of his friends, was determined to protect and improve the rights of gay men. So, in November 1952 they formed ONE Inc. and began publishing the magazine in the new year.

Being a nonprofit organization, ONE Inc. depended on volunteers for its magazine and asked for different variants, such as circulation and advertising representatives, from each city to which the magazine found its way. The magazine paved the way for the OUTs and The Advocates of today.

One ceased publication in 1967 but lives on today thanks to the University of Southern California, where the ONE Archives Foundation—an institution that researches, curates and collects items of importance to the LGBT world resides just off campus.

The magazine reached many landmarks during its existence, including a United States Supreme Court decision for LGBT rights in the United States with One, Inc. v. Olesen in 1958, which was the first time the Court had ever dealt with a homosexual ruling. The Court reversed a lower court decision that declared One magazine had violated obscenity laws. So, for the first time ever there was constitutional protection for pro-homosexual writing. Magazines have never played around when it comes to standing up for themselves.

And when it came to men’s magazines for the heterosexual male, a woman’s naked body was usually described as art or exposed for health reasons. Magazines such as Health and Efficiency, which was touted as the world’s leading naturist journal, and Sunshine & Health were purported to be totally created for health and wellness reasons, but would have naked women on the cover. That is until Playboy came along in December 1953. Hefner pulled no punches, transforming the idea of looking at naked women as artistic into something erotic.

Of course, times were different in 1953, people had different interests and the world, in general, from politics to the politically correct, was totally distinctive from today. But magazines were there to keep the public informed and entertained, just as they are today.

To be continued…

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The Year Was 1953. The Magazines And I. Chapter Two. Part One

July 13, 2020

Chapter Two, Part One

The Year Was 1953…

Change Was the Only Constant

The year was 1953 and it was indeed a pivotal year in history. And while it was certainly a pivotal time for Mr. Magazine™, after all it was the year of his birth – as far as the world goes, the importance of 1953 had more to do with all of the changes that were taking place around the globe, rather than Mr. Magazine’s™ first breath.

In the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 34th president and in the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II assumed her crown on June 2 following the death of her father, King George VI the previous year, making her one of the youngest queens in history. In the Soviet Union, after over 30 years of ruling with an iron fist, Joseph Stalin died, initiating major changes for that country as well. The Korean War would end that year, and everyone from the East to the West, would witness constant change.

The Societal Mirror Image of Magazines & Their Impact

In the midst of all of these transitions, magazines were reflecting the times perfectly and succinctly. The emergence of a much more dominant type of magazine hit the market in 1953. Two titles that were very important and became a large part of the American magazine scene were TV Guide (April 1953) and Playboy (December 1953). The impact of those magazines was apparent: TV Guide reached a circulation of 18 million, and Playboy 7.4 million.

Niche Has Always Been the Name of The Game                 

However, while those two titles were game changers in the marketplace, taking a look at the many different categories and niche titles that were out there in 1953 is very important and essential, because contrary to popular belief, specialization in magazines started decades before most think it did. With the birth of cable TV in the 1980s, many think niche magazines didn’t actually become prevalent until that decade, due to the many options that cable gave audiences. To combat that choice power the customer suddenly had, publishers realized they could offer the same type of power for readers, so magazines of every genre and subject began to hit newsstands. But that had already happened at least three decades before, maybe even from their inception.

But looking at the magazines of 1953, and specifically from March of that year (the month that Mr. Magazine™ was born) you can see magazines ranging in content from the pure men’s adventure  magazines to the women’s service magazines, to the more specialized titles for gun enthusiasts, motorcyclists, or woodsmen. If there was a topic of interest that people had, there was a magazine on the market for it, even in 1953.

Categories Galore                            

On today’s newsstands, there seems to be a surplus of niche or special interest magazines. Everything from raising chickens in urban settings to the psychological wellbeing of your dog. But special interest titles are far from a new idea. In 1953, there were as many, if not more, special interest magazines in the marketplace as there are today, in the 21stcentury. Titles such as American Woodsman, Modern Airplane News, American Cinematographer, and the list goes on and on. The significant point about this is magazines have known no boundaries when it comes to topics of interest for decades, whatever the reader wants is what you’ll find staring back at you from newsstands, be that a niche genre of information or your more traditional categories of knowledge.

Speaking of traditional categories in 1953, there were women’s service magazines, men’s service magazines, political titles… categories that included science, music, entertainment, both movies and television, children’s magazines, sports magazines, pets, regional titles, every imaginable category that we have today was represented then, along with all of the special interest topics. In fact there were magazines from A (Action) to Z (Zane Grey’s Western) and every thing in between.

Yesterday’s content is as relevant now as it was then simply because it’s still being created today in its current form. The style and the actual information may be different, but the umbrella it sits under is exactly the same. Serving the audience, be it male or female; entertaining children, either through vintage cartoon characters or the latest video games; magazines that bring you the information and fun that you want, whether in yesteryear or the present, cannot be replicated. The words from 1953 are still attainable due to the forever technology of print, and that will be something that people generations from now will be very grateful for, because print will never go away as long as there are human beings around to create it.

Today’s magazine and magazine media industry would be served well if a priority for them consisted of learning from the past. How can you know where you’re going if you don’t understand where you’ve been? This is a question I have long posed.

The Power of a Magazine Introduction

Magazines continued to play that reflective role in society, mirroring all of the changes that were taking place. Whether it was by introducing special issues or covers for notables like President Eisenhower, Queen Elizabeth II, or introducing celebrities and their families, such as the up and coming Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, nothing could or can compare to the effect magazines had and still have on our perception of the world. Magazines interpret, inform and entertain.

To be continued…

 

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Woman’s Day Magazine’s Content Director, Meaghan Murphy, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Our Job Is To Be A Beacon Of Positivity.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

July 8, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (37)

“I wanted to make the magazine a destination celebration, a place where no holiday is left behind, from Taco Tuesday to Christmas, where we celebrate and find the joy in every single day of our lives. I know the magazine is called “Woman’s Day,” but I want us to think of it as “Woman’s Yay.” Everybody got very excited about that vision for the magazine. I mean, Woman’s Day was doing a ton of things right, but I really wanted to surface the joy and the happiness. What I said to the team was let’s just put everything through a fun filter, anything we’re doing let’s put it through that fun filter and make sure there’s joy, discovery and excitement and energy on every page.” … Meaghan Murphy

“We’re definitely finding the “Yay” across all platforms, but the print edition – when you see this first issue, it’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put on your coffee table and by your bed. The images are beautiful and happy and it feels like a big sunshiny hug. It is a really bright, colorful, happy magazine. And I think people are really going to be excited about it. I’m very excited about it and I can’t wait to share it.” … Meaghan Murphy

High energy and upbeat. Two descriptions that fit the content director of Woman’s Day magazine to a perfect T. Meaghan Murphy has been at the helm of the brand since right before the pandemic hit, but she was executive editor at Good Housekeeping for years and has a very long and successful career in service journalism, such as her time as the deputy editor and fitness director of Self at Condé Nast.

I spoke with Meaghan recently and we talked about the infusion of joy and happiness that she and her team are bringing to the magazine. Woman’s Day is a legacy brand that has undergone a bit of a change and revitalization, all during a pandemic. But  Meaghan’s energetic and upbeat nature didn’t let a global pandemic stop her, she looked at it as a challenge that would hone the magazine and bring out all the talents her creative team and she had to make Woman’s Day even better.

And now the 37th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Meaghan Murphy, content director, Woman’s Day.

But first the sound-bites:

On reinventing a magazine with the legacy of Woman’s Day during a pandemic: Maybe it’s the okayest of times. (Laughs) I’m going to take the middle road. It was incredibly challenging, but also incredibly fun.

On whether the reinvention started before or during the pandemic: It’s pretty surreal. I got the job right before quarantine, so I was just in the midst of wrapping my head around what Woman’s Day was and what I wanted it to be. I was putting together a team, and the next thing I knew I had my new art director and my new team. I hired someone virtually, from my kitchen table, as my deputy.

On how she approached her new team in that first Zoom meeting with her new ideas for the magazine: I think I just explained that I wanted to make the magazine a destination celebration, a place where no holiday is left behind, from Taco Tuesday to Christmas, where we celebrate and find the joy in every single day of our lives. Everybody got very excited about that vision for the magazine.

On the new message from the reinvented Woman’s Day to its readers and advertisers: I think the message is that there is joy and goodness in every day. And we want the good to be louder, especially in tough times. We want to give you tiny moments of celebration on a daily basis. We have a section of the magazine called the “Smile File” and it’s really based on national days. So, if it’s “National S’mores Day” we’re going to give you an epic new S’mores recipe.

 On what role she thinks print plays in helping people find escape and happiness: We’re definitely finding the “Yay” across all platforms, but the print edition – when you see this first issue, it’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put on your coffee table and by your bed. The images are beautiful and happy and it feels like a big sunshiny hug. It is a really bright, colorful, happy magazine. And I think people are really going to be excited about it. I’m very excited about it and I can’t wait to share it.

On what role spirituality will play in the new vision for the magazine: It’s very interesting because one of the first things people asked me when I took on this position was if the Bible verse was going away? And I said why would it? It’s something that people love. We have a faith-based readership and it’s something they really care about. So, instead of putting a little Bible verse on the table of contents or by the masthead, I wanted us to really stand for it. Now is a time people really need to have faith more than ever.

On whether the last four months as she planned for this new issue during a pandemic was a walk in a rose garden or there were some challenges along the way: Yes, there were challenges. First of all, I have three kids, a nine, eight and six-year-old. My husband works full-time and I work full-time. We had no help for the first three months, our babysitter wasn’t able to come into the house, so trying to homeschool, build a new team, finish a book, I have a book coming out in February, doing my podcast; I was juggling three jobs and three homeschool educations.

On whether she thinks the changes the pandemic brought about will remain in place even when it’s behind us: It’s the new “new.” I love the scrappiness of it. I get such a jolt at how scrappy we’ve had to be. Our new cover with our fruit rainbow was created in a garage in the Poconos with fruit from a grocery delivery. And it’s epic.

On how Woman’s Day can bring that message of hope and joy to its readers during these troubling and uncertain times: I think we all have this natural negativity bias and you could watch the news all day and feel like crap all day. And I don’t think that’s healthy. We have to have time for that reality every day and then we need to have more time for the opposite of that for our mental health and our sanity. And I don’t think we need to feel guilty about also finding the joy and having fun, just looking at the flip side of all that stuff.

On anything she’s like to add: I’m super excited about the magazine. We have a small and amazing team. I also have a book coming out in February, which I’m really passionate about. It’s called “The Fully Charged Life” and it’s a radically simple guide to having endless energy and filling every day with Yay. And it’s based in positive psychology. It looks at the signs of  positive psychology within different charges of your life and it gives action-packed tips based on my 25 years as a service journalist in magazines.

On what keeps her up at night: One of my superpowers is a shut-off button. I have an ability to power down at the end of the day and just zone out. It might be because I move at a 150 MPH and just wear myself out, but I do think one of my superpowers is an ability to let it go; just to shut off. And then to pick back up the next morning. So, I don’t lose a lot of sleep.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Meaghan Murphy, editor in chief, Woman’s Day.

Samir Husni: We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Is this the best of times or the worst of times to reinvent a magazine, especially a magazine with a legacy such as Woman’s Day?

Meaghan Murphy: Maybe it’s the okayest of times. (Laughs) I’m going to take the middle road. It was incredibly challenging, but also incredibly fun.

Samir Husni: Did the reinvention start before or during the pandemic? Did you say, what the heck, I have a new job so let’s the start the magazine over from scratch?

Meaghan Murphy: It’s pretty surreal. I got the job right before quarantine, so I was just in the midst of wrapping my head around what Woman’s Day was and what I wanted it to be. I was putting together a team, and the next thing I knew I had my new art director and my new team. I hired someone virtually, from my kitchen table, as my deputy. So, it was a very crazy process. As magazine editors we’re used to throwing up inspiring visuals on the wall, but this was more Zoom calls. And we had the built-in excuse that if it failed, it was the pandemic. (Laughs)

I made this magazine from my kitchen table. I went into it pretty fearless, realizing that it was the most insane circumstances under which to take on a new job and to reinvent a legacy brand. So, I said what the heck, I have absolutely nothing to lose, it’s a crazy scenario.

Samir Husni: How did you approach your new team during that first Zoom meeting? New leader, new ideas – how did that go?

Meaghan Murphy: I think I just explained that I wanted to make the magazine a destination celebration, a place where no holiday is left behind, from Taco Tuesday to Christmas, where we celebrate and find the joy in every single day of our lives. I know the magazine is called “Woman’s Day,” but I want us to think of it as “Woman’s Yay.” Everybody got very excited about that vision for the magazine. I mean, Woman’s Day was doing a ton of things right, but I really wanted to surface the joy and the happiness. What I said to the team was let’s just put everything through a fun filter, anything we’re doing let’s put it through that fun filter and make sure there’s joy, discovery and excitement and energy on every page.

My team had already seen me dancing around the hallways as the executive editor of Good Housekeeping, so they knew my energy. And knew that I wanted to bring that energy to the magazine. Woman’s Day was doing a great job, but I wanted to give it a little lightning bolt zap and fully recharge it. That’s kind of what I’m known for.

Yay is my favorite word. I do something called the “Yay List” which is like a virtual gratitude item, asking people to find the good in everything. So, I wanted to bring that Yay to “Woman’s Yay.”

Samir Husni:  What is the new message from the reinvented Woman’s Day to your readers and advertisers?

Meaghan Murphy: I think the message is that there is joy and goodness in every day. And we want the good to be louder, especially in tough times. We want to give you tiny moments of celebration on a daily basis. We have a section of the magazine called the “Smile File” and it’s really based on national days. So, if it’s “National S’mores Day” we’re going to give you an epic new S’mores recipe. If it’s “National Swimming Pool Day” and we know you can’t get to a swimming pool, we’re going to give you the coolest sprinkler for your backyard to make that more fun.

On “National Junk Food Day” we’re going to ask you to match the celebrity to their favorite junk food. On “National Book Lover’s Day” we’re going to give you the ultimate beach reading list. It’s really about realizing that every day, every second, you have a choice to find the good and to celebrate life. We lead with love and we look at the world through that fun filter. And I really want Woman’s Day to be an escape for people. A place where you can go to feel happy and excited; to forget for a second everything that’s going on in the world and everything that could be bringing you down. To escape the news cycle.

Samir Husni: What role do you think print plays in helping people to escape and find that happiness and joy?

Meaghan Murphy: We’re definitely finding the “Yay” across all platforms, but the print edition – when you see this first issue, it’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put on your coffee table and by your bed. The images are beautiful and happy and it feels like a big sunshiny hug. It is a really bright, colorful, happy magazine. And I think people are really going to be excited about it. I’m very excited about it and I can’t wait to share it.

Samir Husni: I’ve heard that you’re also adding a chief spiritual editor; there’s been a Bible verse by the masthead in every issue since the magazine started. What role will spirituality play in the new vision of the magazine?

Meaghan Murphy: It’s very interesting because one of the first things people asked me when I took on this position was if the Bible verse was going away? And I said why would it? It’s something that people love. We have a faith-based readership and it’s something they really care about. So, instead of putting a little Bible verse on the table of contents or by the masthead, I wanted us to really stand for it. Now is a time people really need to have faith more than ever.

So, I tapped my friend  Candace Cameron Bure, who is someone I’ve always admired for her strong faith and her commitment to her family. I told her that I would love to give her an opportunity every month to share a Bible passage that was meaningful to her and to talk about how it shaped her life, then invite other people into that conversation.

Some of the things that do incredibly well for us digitally are our Bible verses. Bible verses for hope in trying times; Bible verses for love. So, it was something that I felt was very important to stand for and to shine a light on. And to bring it further into the conversation versus a small Bible verse kind of buried in the front of the book. If this matters to our readers, I want to make it louder. Candace was honored and incredibly thrilled to be able to have this platform to speak about her faith because it is so important to her.

Samir Husni: Have the last four months, as you planned for this first new issue during a pandemic, been a walk in a rose garden for you or were there some challenges along the way?

Meaghan Murphy: Yes, there were challenges. First of all, I have three kids, a nine, eight and six-year-old. My husband works full-time and I work full-time. We had no help for the first three months, our babysitter wasn’t able to come into the house, so trying to homeschool, build a new team, finish a book, I have a book coming out in February, doing my podcast; I was juggling three jobs and three homeschool educations. My husband is amazing, he cooks dinner and that’s our secret sauce because I don’t do any cooking, but I will share great recipes in Woman’s Day for my husband to make.

So, there were endless challenges. It’s almost laughable. I’d think how did I do that? That was nuts! It’s really been a surreal trajectory, but I’m also really grateful for the new perspective. I realize that I don’t need to commute to the city five days a week to make a killer magazine. I think it will forever change the way that I work, even when we’re back in the Tower. I don’t see myself commuting five days a week. We’ve done an incredible job remotely. We’ve been a very nimble, small, but mighty team.

And I’m really grateful for the time I’ve gained with my family. Family dinners weren’t something that we were able to have every night before this, because I was commuting from the city, my husband was commuting home from Princeton. But now Taco Tuesday is a national holiday at Team Murphy house. Every Taco Tuesday since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve added a decoration, just other elements, to it. I have many sombreros for the night. We have taco napkins and plates; my daughter made garland. We made our own placemats. My kids are always saying when the pandemic is over, we can never walk away from Taco Tuesday again. And I say don’t worry we won’t.

It’s also sort of informal the way I’m making the magazines. In our recipe section “What’s For Dinner Tonight?” we still have the amazing 20-minute meals that you can put on the table, but we added an element that became incredibly important to me, with the eye-opening experience of the pandemic and the return to family. We have “Table Talk.” You’re eating with people and you’re engaging and communicating. It’s these moments of family and connection and engagement that are really going to get us all over these tough times.

Samir Husni: What are your expectations for the future? Do you think that the changes that the pandemic has brought about will remain in place even when it’s behind us?

Meaghan Murphy: So, it’s the new “new.” I love the scrappiness of it. I get such a jolt at how scrappy we’ve had to be. Our new cover with our fruit rainbow was created in a garage in the Poconos with fruit from a grocery delivery. And it’s epic.

I’m so proud of this magazine. We did it and we wouldn’t have gotten that same sense of accomplishment if it had been easy. When things are hard, it just makes it that much more awesome when you succeed. And we even changed the logo. It’s just so exciting. I can’t wait to frame it in my office. We looked back at the 1950s and some old iterations of Woman’s Day and did some of that.

And my favorite thing about the magazine is there are little moments of discovery on every page. You’ll notice a little flag that reads “Yay” on a watermelon. There are these little moments of joy throughout. My other favorite section is called “Hello, That’s Adorable.” It’s the wreath of the month on a front door. And because it’s a front door, every month it says “Knock, knock, we’ve got a joke for you.” And there’s a joke on the door. The wreath is a flamingo and we made it in quarantine and shot it somehow. And we asked what’s the opposite of a flamingo? A fla-ming-stop. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: How can Woman’s Day bring that message of hope and joy to your readers during these troubling and uncertain times?

Meaghan Murphy: I think we all have this natural negativity bias and you could watch the news all day and feel like crap all day. And I don’t think that’s healthy. We have to have time for that reality every day and then we need to have more time for the opposite of that for our mental health and our sanity. And I don’t think we need to feel guilty about also finding the joy and having fun, just looking at the flip side of all that stuff. There is a lot that sucks right now; there’s a lot that’s tough and hard. And if that’s all you dwell on and you just live in that place, you’re going to be miserable. And miserable people don’t change the world.

It’s okay to be positive and it’s okay to find moments of joy and to celebrate. Celebrations are good for our mental and physical health. We cannot allow ourselves to only be sucked into that negative vortex. It’s so easy to find the bad right now because the bad is so very loud. Our job is to be a beacon of positivity and to give people moments of reprieve from that.

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

Meaghan Murphy: I’m super excited about the magazine. We have a small and amazing team. I also have a book coming out in February, which I’m really passionate about. It’s called “The Fully Charged Life” and it’s a radically simple guide to having endless energy and filling every day with Yay. And it’s based in positive psychology. It looks at the signs of  positive psychology within different charges of your life and it gives action-packed tips based on my 25 years as a service journalist in magazines.

It all spring boarded from an article I wrote for Cosmo called “The Seven Secrets of Happiness” many years ago that finally flipped a switch for me that happiness is a choice and there are exercises and things that we can do to move toward happiness. That book and the tips and strategies in there have 100 percent informed everything that I’m doing with my team. When I’m coaching them through tough days and when we’re weathering some tough storms. It’s not easy to work remotely with everyone having different challenges. I’m using all those tips and strategies to do this. And it really does inform where Woman’s Day has come.

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

Meaghan Murphy: One of my superpowers is a shut-off button. I have an ability to power down at the end of the day and just zone out. It might be because I move at a 150 MPH and just wear myself out, but I do think one of my superpowers is an ability to let it go; just to shut off. And then to pick back up the next morning. So, I don’t lose a lot of sleep.

That’s not to say I don’t have worries during the day and I’m not fully aware of the challenges that life is bombarding us with right now, but I have found an ability to say it’s time to let go and recharge and pick it back up in the morning.  I sleep like a baby.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Magazines And I… Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part Three…

July 2, 2020

My Family Roots

Yep, that’s me at two and a half years of age.

There were five children in my family, my older sister, my three brothers and I. My eldest brother, who was three years older than me, died in 1999 of multiple sclerosis. He was the pride of the family and carried my grandfather’s name – Khalil, like Kahlil Gibran, but spelled correctly. He was the first one in our entire family to have a Ph.D. – it was in English Literature and from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. My sister and my two younger brothers are still in Lebanon. I am the poor, misunderstood middle child and maybe that explains my tendencies to be different from what my family deems “normal.” My wife, Marie, is also the middle child. Possibly the reason we understand each other so very well.

My father was Presbyterian and my mother was Greek Orthodox. They moved from the village called Hakour 20 miles to the north of the big city of Tripoli so my dad could find work. My grandfather was the mouhtar of the village, and we had olive groves and an olive mill to make olive oil. When my parents married, my mom was 14 and my dad was 20. It took my mom five years until she had her first child. It was always looked upon as wrong if you didn’t have a child. My dad was the only son, and he had six sisters. My mom had no brothers. So I had no uncles – just aunts.

Dad found work at the Iraqi Petroleum Company, which was owned by the British. He worked in shifts, and whenever there was a holiday they paid him double. When I was born in 1953, Tripoli was the second largest city in Lebanon. Tripoli comes from the word Tri-po-lis, which goes back to Greek or Roman days, and means the tri-city. The city flooded in 1955 when the river, Abu Ali, overflowed. For some reason, I can remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and walking in the mud. I was only two, but I recall that he was wearing rubber boots and the mud was high. We lived on the first floor, of the apartment building nd the entire floor was filled with mud.

Our family of seven lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Mom and Dad had a room and the rest of us shared a room. Being Presbyterian, we kids were sent to a Presbyterian school started by American missionaries. From the first day that you start school at age three, you learned to speak, read, and write Arabic and English at the American school or Arabic and French at the French school. If you were Presbyterian, you went to the American school.

We had two American schools: the boys’ school and the girls’ school, run by Presbyterian missionaries. It wasn’t until 1958 that the missionaries gave the schools to the Presbyterian Senate in Lebanon and Syria to be run by locals. The American boys’ school was a good walk away on a hilltop, and the girls’ school was closer to our house, so that’s where I went, the girl’s school, until the third grade.

They were actually called Tripoli Boys School (TBS) and Tripoli Girls School (TGS), but everybody referred to them as American Schools. Today they are combined and called Tripoli Evangelical School (TES). After third grade, the boys and girls went to separate schools. That was the environment that I grew up in.

Words of Wisdom

My grandfather Khalil.

My dad Afif.

From an early age, my dad used to give me what he thought the principles of life were that any employed man should live by: comb your hair, keep your clothes clean and shine your shoes. Simple as that. Before school, he’d shine our shoes. Or if he was busy, he’d get somebody to do it for him. He was so adamant about this, and neither he nor my mom even had a high school education. They did their best to study English on their own because most of his employers were British. Because of this, my parents recognized the importance of education early on, and invested in private schools.

Names carry heavy meaning with them in middle eastern culture. All children carry their father’s first name as their middle name. First born sons have the privilege of naming their own first born sons after their fathers. So after my brother was diagnosed with MS and before his death in 1999, he gave me his blessing and his privilege of naming any son that I might have after my dad, “Afif” (Afif is the French spelling that we Americanized to Afeef, the English spelling for easier pronunciation), because he would never have the opportunity to do so. Sometime after that, when my wife was pregnant with my son, I was on the phone with my father and he asked me when he was going to have his “Afeef.” Until that point, we had not truly considered calling our son Afeef. After that, we knew we had to honor my brother’s memory and my father’s wishes and give him a namesake. When my son, Afeef, was born, Dad said he could die in peace.

That’s why a name is so important – it’s a commitment, a culmination of all things past and present that make up a deeper meaning for all who hear it. Some people have asked me why I would call my son a difficult name like Afeef in America. People don’t understand the importance of that name. My dad’s name was Afif, which means pure, and my mom’s name is Afifi, which is exactly the same thing, just feminine. They were not related, just pure coincidence. In Arab culture, often times people can distinguish what religion you are based on your name. All of the names of the children in my family were genuine Arabic names, not named after any particular saint or prophet. My grandfather used to say all the time that people should know your religion by deeds, not by what you tell them, not by what they call you. Myth has it, or what I heard growing up, that if you are Presbyterian and you appear in court, you don’t have to swear on the Bible because Presbyterians don’t swear. Only one percent of Lebanon is Presbyterian.

The True Beginning

In the ninth grade, I started calling and harassing editors and complaining to them. That was about the time I started creating my own small magazines. Because at that age, we would visit my grandparent’s village in the summer where there were no magazines. I felt like I had magazine asthma without my ink on paper. I started making my own as an idea to kill time. I would borrow my grandfather’s transistor radio and all day I would sit down and create my own little daily. I’d use candles from my grandmother’s house, rubbing the candles on paper and then rubbing the paper back on old newspapers to get pictures. I’m not sure how I knew to do that, how I knew that images could be lifted in that way, but I did. And I was ecstatic.

That was when I discovered the concept of what I now believe in wholeheartedly. It’s what I preach, teach and consult about: the audience of one.

In those early publications of mine, I was the editor, designer, reporter, and the publisher. At the end of the day, I’d sit down and read my own creations. This whole concept of one theory was both an epiphany and also unbelievable to me. I made my magazines for me, to my specifications. Those may have been some of the first niche productions. At that point in time, without really realizing it, I had targeted an audience: myself.

The First Byline

But the breakthrough in my childhood magazine career happened when I had the opportunity to visit Beirut in 1969 and tour some actual magazine publications. I met the publisher of a magazine called Happy Homes, and I told him how much I loved the magazine. On the day I left Beirut, his wife called me and asked if I wanted to be the correspondent from the north for the magazine. I said absolutely.

My first assignments consisted of sending actual reports from our area of the country back to Beirut. It wasn’t long until I was doing “News from the North” with my byline. I would include items like “so and so died or so and so got married.” I actually still have a copy of that. My cousin sent me a copy because I wrote a piece about her when she was christened and included her picture. The combination of doing my own writing and starting to buy every issue I could get my hands on changed my approach to things in junior high and later in high school. At that time the number of titles flooding the marketplace continued to grow, names like Superman, Tarzan, Batman, and even an Egyptian magazine called Magic Carpet, with the title characters Mickey and Samir.

Even having a magazine with my name it continuously didn’t satisfy me. I wanted all magazines in general. During that time period, I was very involved with my church. It was not an option for us growing up. If it was Sunday, that meant Sunday school and church. I remember spending my Sunday allowance, which my dad gave me 50 cents, one quarter for Sunday school and one for a piece of cake from the pastry store next to the church. One time, on my way to church, I lost one of the quarters. It was a big debate. Did I lose the Sunday school quarter or the pastry quarter? I made up my mind. God can see everything. That was his quarter and he knew where it was. My parents didn’t seem to agree. I don’t think my parents ever really understood my magazine obsession. Their dream was for me to either go to seminary because I was so involved with the church and become a preacher, or become a dentist- both noble professions in their eyes.

Math Meets Magazines

In 2018 I went back to Tripoli to visit my high school which is now renovated and used as a public school. TBS merged with TGS to form Tripoli Evangelical
School for Boys and
Girls and is located outside the city limits of Tripoli.

Tripoli Boys School, better known as the American School. An archive picture from TBS Facebook page.

In Lebanon, once you reach the tenth grade, you declare an education concentration: science or literary. And if you are going to dental school, you have to go with science and take classes like physics, geometry and calculus. If you want to study languages, you do literary.

It was a struggle. I had to listen to my dad. I went with the scientific orientation. I’d be sitting in the geometry class, which I was never good at because I never had any patience to sit down and find the area of a triangle or a circle; I’d find myself sitting in class relating the triangles and circles to magazines. What would I create? My entire notebook had more magazine covers than any geometry problems.

I was an average student in high school, but that fascination was always with me. It led me to daydream a lot about this business. Triangles and circles became magazines. And of course, I discovered how this business worked. I learned about wholesalers, distribution, which day they would go on sale, etc. I worked my way from the newsstand sellers to the wholesalers. I tracked the line backwards from how the magazine came to the consumer.

It was at that time that I became acquainted with the wholesale distribution house in Tripoli, which was owned by a family called Jarrous. And because the man had told me to start coming at night so that I could see the magazines before anyone else, I became a fixture there. The distribution house was in an alley near the old center of Tripoli. I remember the first time before he offered me the see-before-anyone opportunity, I would stand sheepishly by the door because I didn’t want them to scream at me. The magazines were unloaded and people from newsstands came to collect them. One day I got the guts to go in and ask the guy if I could take a look. A few days later, I talked to him and he began to explain how distribution worked. It was so fascinating to me that he’d let me see magazines before they were on the newsstands. It was on one of those days when Mr. Jarrous asked me if I wanted to come the night before and he’d let me take whatever magazines I wanted so I wouldn’t be late for school. I would have magazines in my hand before anybody else in the entire city. I don’t think I slept that night.

All the while I stayed on the scientific course I had set for myself. I loved algebra and loved statistics, but I hated geometry. When I took the national test, the math exam was all on geometry. I flunked it badly. But when things were tough, I fell back on my hobby, when things were dark, I’d start dreaming, and when things were light, I kept on going.

The Success of Failure

Since that time, I have thought about one defining fact in my life, if I hadn’t flunked that year, my whole academic career would have ended one year earlier. My life would have been tragically different. I would have graduated before the Civil War in Lebanon began. I wouldn’t have met my wife and I wouldn’t have had a job at the newspaper. So many things would have been different. But there is a reason for everything, I truly believe.

When I was repeating that year, my youth director came to me one day and said, “Samir what have you decided you want to do?” I said that I didn’t know – my parents wanted me to go to seminary or dental school. He looked me in the eye and said he knew it wasn’t his place to disagree with my parents, but, “If you do anything in your life besides journalism, you are disregarding the gift that God has given you.  You don’t have to be a preacher to tell people about God and his love. You don’t have to be a dentist and spend the whole day looking in people’s mouths. God has given you this gift called journalism, and that’s what you need to do.” That year I passed the exam because it was mainly algebra and statistics, and I told my parents that I was going to journalism school.

I had built up these expectations that they were going to be angry. But amazingly, they were resigned to the fact that this was going to be my chosen path. I realized that this was it. What I had been dreaming of the last decade from age 10 to 19 was about to become a reality. I was going to journalism school.  And they said okay. So in 1978, I packed up my life and my wife, and I traveled to the United States of America to pursue that dream where my moniker Mr. Magazine™ was born in May of 1986.

And now, I have the opportunity to share that dream with the entire world and reflect on life in magazines during the month and year in which I was born: March 1953. Please join me in viewing a snapshot of American magazine history that neither Google nor internet search engine can provide.  Those memories are alive and well on these pages.

Chapter Two coming soon… The Year Was 1953

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The Magazines And I: Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part Two…

June 30, 2020

Chapter One, Part Two

It is Physical

I soon realized that it was the actual, physical presence of the magazine itself that grabbed me more than the content of what I was reading. Even at that young age, I knew there was more to it than just Superman. I felt that no matter how much I loved the Man of Steel, I loved the idea of the magazine more, holding it, reading the story, flipping the pages incessantly. Because I was really not as fascinated by the superhero himself as all my friends were, it was very easy for me to move on from getting every issue of Superman to getting other new magazines. I began to buy first issues of others. At that stage, it was still all comics.

Once I had a little more allowance, if I saw a magazine that I liked, I would buy it. In junior high, I used to watch my friends buying a Pepsi and a piece of cake during recess, but I would hold my 50 cents because I wasn’t going to waste it on Pepsi. I could at least buy something lasting, a magazine. That fascination was always there. I became obsessed with buying first editions. It was like some higher power put me on this track, one issue at a time. And it’s funny, when I remember sitting down to compare and evaluate those magazines, I would compare all those first editions and daydream about cover stories and what they were going to be. At that time, I was completely convinced that what I had found was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Along with my magazine addiction, I also revered education. I remember my early childhood, crying at the door, wanting to go to school with my sister and brother. I still remember on my own first day, I ran out of my new class trying to find my sister’s class. I was fascinated by the idea of school, but even more fascinated with creating my own imaginary class. I would create exams and tests for imaginary students that I would grade. I would create grade books for those imaginary students. I would lecture about different topics, and I would hold discussions with students on how they could enhance their grade.

Today, those childhood practices seem eerily familiar.

So it begins

Leading a youth group meeting at my church, Tripoli Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in Lebanon.

When I finally came to the realization that I could not buy every magazine because I didn’t have the funds, I started trying to find little jobs. In high school, I even befriended the wholesaler in town, so I could see the magazines before they were distributed that morning.

One day the wholesaler said, “Kid, why don’t you go on to school and start coming here in the evenings? I will let you see what magazines we are going to distribute in the morning and I’ll let you buy them from here.”

I was like a kid in a candy store. To be able to get the magazines before anybody else in town, the night before, regardless of the magazine, was utopia to me.

I have also always had a deep fascination for seeing my name in print. I think I was in the eighth grade when I wrote my first short story and sent it to a magazine. I used to send letters to the publications. Any new magazine that came out, I would send them a letter, with my full name, because I wanted them to publish the letters in the “letters to the editor” section.

Magazines and seeing my name in print became the main reasons I drew breath each and every day. I held firm to the belief that God had paved the road before me and I was determined to follow it. I still believe that today. Although I personally feel that my religious beliefs were very solid, some of the content that my magazines contained could often put me at odds with those beliefs.

One day my sister found a stash of magazines with semi-naked people on the pages.  She asked me, “Why are you hiding these magazines?”

I tried to explain to her how I didn’t want to put them out there for everybody to see due to the content.

I’ll never forget the fierce emotion that I saw in her eyes and the words she spoke to me were just as impenetrable, “If you really believe in those magazines, you don’t need to hide them. If you’re going to hide them, you don’t need to buy them at all.”

But even with my sister’s convictions ringing in my ears, I still had conflicting emotions when it came to the magazines that, at the time, I deemed contradictory to my religious beliefs.

It Was Not a Walk in a Rose Garden

Fast forward to 1980, I remember when I bought my first issue of Playgirl. Well, let me rephrase that, when I had my first issue bought for me. There was no way I was going to walk up to the newsstand and buy Playgirl. That was just beyond the pale. It took a lot of convincing to get my wife to stand in front of me and pretend that she was the one buying it, and of course, she’d never forgive me if I reminded her of it. I could foresee a lot of apologizing in my immediate future once she reads this book. It was during that time period when I became more interested in the creative aspect of magazines. With that mindset, I could justify looking at magazines that were somewhat adverse to my Christian beliefs and be able to critique and enjoy them from a different perspective than simply writing them off as unacceptable.

No amount of fortune telling would have predicted my journey with magazines, my destiny.

But not only did I want to look at the magazines, I wanted to create them. I started my own tiny magazines and my own daily newspapers, creating them from scratch, by listening to radio stations and absorbing all of the media outlets available to me at that time. No matter who I became involved with – scouts, Sunday school, youth groups – any organization that I was a part of, I convinced them to start a magazine. I would call long distance to Beirut, which was expensive, but call I would, and ask all the magazines questions. It was a lot of fun, the whole experience of creating magazines, of getting involved in any way I could, and there was always the chance I would see my name in print. I loved that possibility. I wouldn’t change the childhood I enjoyed for anything.

Needless to say, not everyone thought my fascination for ink on paper was as incredibly wonderful as I did… my mother, for example, was a naysayer. I was the kid that she would always yell at asking me, “Why don’t you go outside like the normal kids and play?”

My mom, until her last breath, felt that I am spending too much money on magazines.

Even until her death, my mom thought I was wasting all of my money on “just paper”. A lot of my relatives still don’t know what I do. They think I just read magazines. It frustrates my wife to no end when she tries to explain it.

I still have some of my magazine collection in an apartment in Lebanon. I moved them there after my mother’s death. I still vividly remember Mom’s voice every time I visited, always ask me if it’s all right if she gave the magazines away. I would ask her, “Mom are they really bothering you? They’ve been sitting in the attic for years.” But she definitely worried about them, whether their presence really annoyed her or not. One time there was some mold on some of the magazines, so she washed them. The mold had to go. The memory still makes me smile.

From There to Here

Sometimes I wonder if the people I work with on a daily basis even understand exactly what I do. I remember one time here at the University of Mississippi, which has been my academic home for 35 years now; the Arab Student Association had a reception for then Chancellor Robert Khayat because he was of Lebanese descent. I was sitting on the Chancellor’s right and the Director of the Natural Pharmacy center was on his left. The good director was also in charge of the marijuana fields that are grown for research purposes here at the university. When Dr. Khayat stood up to make his speech, I’ll never forget what he said:

“I might be the only chancellor in the country that can say that sitting on my left is a man who grows marijuana and tells me he’s doing his job, and sitting on my right is a man who sits in his office all day reading Hustler magazine and tells me he’s doing his job.”

Of course, I know the Chancellor was joking; however, I’m sure there are those who wonder about me and my job, and the director of the marijuana fields. After all, the name Samir in Arabic means the jester or entertainer of kings. Personally, I’d rather go with entertainer of kings, but either way Samir is the person who entertains you and humors you throughout the days and nights. Something to think about. Something so appropriate for a magazine.

To be continued…

In case you missed part one from Chapter One, click here.

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The Magazines And I: Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part One…

June 23, 2020

The Beginning

Addictions can manifest in many shapes and forms. They take over your life. They can start at any age. Imagine being a 10-year-old junkie. Addicted to something with no control. If you can’t imagine it, allow me to step into your mind and help you envision it.

In order to help you fully understand, I have to start at the very beginning. I was born and raised in Tripoli, Lebanon. I can vividly recall the two things that really impacted my young life: my dad’s storytelling from the Bible and my grandpa’s reading from it. It’s the only book I ever remember my father telling me stories from, and it made a definite impression on me and how I viewed my life. It was my first interaction with ink on paper and the power it possessed. 

The Box of Wonders

In those times, it was safe to go out in the neighborhood and play with friends for hours. We would interact with all sorts of people in the city. One of those people was a peddler who used to ply his wares on the streets of Tripoli. He had a container that was referred to as the “viewer’s box.” It was this big, giant viewfinder, the kind you can still buy today in the toy department at Wal-Mart, only a much, much larger version. The peddler would go around the streets of the city with a monkey sitting on top of his shoulder, and when he came into our neighborhood he would call to my friends and me to “look” into the box. He would have around ten strips inside that would tell a story. The viewer was 3D and had three openings where you could place your eyes to watch, and as we watched the slides click by, the man would verbally unfold the riveting tale while we watched.

The box of wonders (picture from Google images)

After the short show, we would laugh and clap with delight as the monkey would come out and collect the money the man charged for the afternoon diversion.

These small glimpses, teases, into a world of visual and verbal stimulation, would be a slight spark in a very young boy’s life that would grow to an inferno when that boy became a man.

Remembering that long-ago afternoon with the peddler’s homemade viewfinder now, I realize that that was the moment in time when I learned that the visuals can make the story. The entire tale he shared with us was based upon the pictures.

And I suppose that was the very beginning, the first pebble that would put me on the road to my destiny.

The Man of Steel

In 1962, we had just gotten our first television set. It was a large brown box with an oval-shaped screen that only showed pictures in black and white. In the 1960s, television in Lebanon was not available 24 hours a day. The first programming started at 6:30 p.m.  The first hour was reserved for children’s programming and then the rest of the programming was for adults, and went until 10:30 or 11:00 pm. By no means did television rule or dictate your day.

What mainly attracted us (my friends and I) to the children’s programming, were these characters: Mighty Mouse, Popeye, and Casper. Then, when I was 10 years old, we started seeing advertising touting the phrase: “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Superman.”

It was a new magazine. Back then, in Lebanon, we called all the comic books magazines. The combination of the ad and the storyline was so fascinating. It made all the kids where I lived – in a 10-apartment complex – say, “Wow, I need to see this!”

The first issue of the Arabic Superman published in Lebanon. Image courtesy of Henry Matthews

The day the magazine hit the newsstands, I knew I had to have it. Back then, my allowance was 40 cents a week. The magazine cost 40 cents. It was fate.

When I held the magazine in my hands for the first time, ran the pads of my fingers across the shiny cover, I felt an indescribable sensation that felt similar to an adrenaline rush. At that moment, I truly believe I was ordained, my life’s path had been chosen before I was born and at the age of 10, I was at last privy to a glimpse of my future; that day, my heart stopped pumping blood and began to pump ink.

The most important facet of the “Superman” transformation to me was the fact that it was my magazine. Mine. It wasn’t borrowed. No one was going to read it to me and not finish it. I would be able to absorb it, cover to cover, at my leisure. That was what was mesmerizingly unbelievable to me.

Without even knowing where all this would lead, or even what it really meant at the age of 10, I began the journey. I think the transformation unwittingly molded me into the person I am now as an adult: one of those people who believe it’s not as important to see the end destination as it is to be on the right track. You have to be on the right track, even if the bright path before you narrows into a dark, small tunnel. If you are, then God will make sure your end destination is beyond your wildest dreams.

And I think that’s what put me on the right track – the fascination that suddenly I was in control of the show and tell, of the story, of the imagination, of everything. 

The Art of Show & Tell

At Tripoli Boys School, better known as The American School, in Tripoli, Lebanon

Before too long, I was designing and creating content for my own little creations. Crayon and marker magazines that became my escape into a world foreign, yet so vivid and familiar, it was as though I had known it from the womb.

Little did I know that addiction starts out this way, it was such an extreme that I would get so immersed in reading that I could not even eat without a magazine at the table next to me. I could not drink without a magazine next to me. That is, until I got married and the magazine was banned from the breakfast table or the lunch table.

I was always reading. If I was on a bus, I was reading a magazine. If I was walking down the sidewalk, I was reading a magazine. It was as though I couldn’t function normally if a magazine wasn’t with me. Addiction at its best (or worst, however you might look at it).

A funny story – I don’t know if it was funny at the time – but my dad used to be a foreman in a refinery in Tripoli, Lebanon,  and there was a private beach on the Mediterranean for the employees’ children. Every summer, a bus would run hourly and collect the employees’ children and their friends, and then bring them back home in the evening. It was approximately a 15-minute ride to the beach. One time, on the way home from the beach, I was so engrossed in reading a magazine that I was paying no attention to my surroundings and assumed that the bus had reached our apartment. Unlike the U.S., buses operated with their doors open and without seatbelts of any kind, this was the 1960s after all. As I continued reading my magazine, I stepped off the bus at what I believed to be my apartment stop. The problem was it was not my apartment stop and the bus was still in motion when I stepped off.

Addiction or Fascination

At age 11 (left), the summer of 1964, with my sister Janet and brother Shukri.

I remember the incident vividly, as if it were yesterday, it was like something was restraining me, pressing back against my body and then fast and hard, it pushed me all the way down against the asphalt. Boom, gone. I woke up in the hospital. I saw my mom and the first thing I asked for was my magazine. I don’t know if the accident messed up my brain that day, but it seemed a good sign that the obsession, the addiction, the gift, or whatever you want to call it, clearly was in full force by that age.

I wish I could say that after I grew up I changed my habits, but I remember as an adult, driving from my office when I was working at a newspaper, reading and flipping through a magazine that was lying on the seat next to me, not paying any attention until the sounds of car horns alerted me to look up and I realized that I had almost driven into a utility pole. At that point, I promised myself I’d never again read a magazine when I was driving. I started putting the magazines on the back seat instead of the front, but like any promises an addict makes to himself, it only lasted a week or two.

After the first issue of Superman came out, everyone was fascinated with the “Man of Steel” and the flying cape. Still to this day, I remember hearing rumors of people trying to jump out of windows when Superman first appeared on the scene. There saving grace was that they lived on the first floors of their buildings.

The cover of issue 19 of
Superman with the Superman emblem gift. Image courtesy of Henry Matthews

As Superman became more popular, it also increased in price. And something major happened 19 weeks later when issue 19 came out on June 11, 1964. It came with a gift – a Superman emblem that you could stitch to your shirt. But as with most magazines, when something like that happens, the price is increased. The price for that issue was 70 piasters, and of course, my allowance was 40 piasters. I could not buy the magazine immediately. I asked my dad for another 30 piasters. I told him it was to buy my Superman magazine and he said he wasn’t going to give me money to waste on paper, and that I didn’t need that “stuff”; little did he know that I needed that stuff very badly. Nothing can stand between an addict and his addiction, much less a little thing like money.

In Lebanon, there were grocery stores on the corner every few blocks, one of which was located directly across the street from my apartment. You could buy sugar, milk, coffee, magazines, newspapers, and other items on a daily basis – it wasn’t a time when you could do all your shopping for the week at once. The owner of the store kept a little notebook where he would compile a tab of your family’s groceries that you would settle with him at the end of every month. One afternoon as I entered the store, my pockets 30 cents shy of the amount I needed for the issue, I wondered how in the world I was going to get that special copy without the rest of the money. I walked up to the owner.

“I would like my Superman magazine, please,” I told him, my mind churning with ideas on how I was going to pull this one off.

“The price for this issue is almost double, 70 ,” the owner said.

“Just put it on my dad’s tab,” I told him.

The minute the words flew out of my mouth, I knew there was no taking them back. And I didn’t even want to. I had to have that issue.

Needless to say, my dad saw the cost of the copy on his bill at the end of the month and I got punished with a good spanking. But…I still got my magazine.

To be continued…

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