Esquire At Its Best: David Granger, the Editor Behind the Magazine Talks About Print, Digital and the Future of Journalism. A Double Feature: The Mr. Magazine™ Minute and Interview with David Granger.September 25, 2013
With a tag line Man At His Best, Esquire magazine enters its 9th decade of life with much deserved fanfare. The printed magazine is having one of its best years, the Esquire Weekly has dawned on the tablets, the Esquire Black Book is a must have for men, and last but not least the new Esquire Network that launched on September 23. Esquire, was, is and still continues to cater to Man At His Best, but this year it sure is Esquire At Its Best.
And who knows more about Esquire At Its Best then the man behind the magazine and the brand: David Granger, Esquire’s editor in chief and one of the top advocates of the power of print at the same time that he enjoys having all kinds of fun with all the digital devices at our disposal in today’s magazine and magazine media marketplace.
I met David at the Esquire’s office on the 27th Floor of the Hearst Tower on the eve of the launch The Esquire Network. My interview with him is in two parts. First the Mr. Magazine™ Minute with David Granger followed by an in-depth interview about the magazine, the digital world, the future and of course, what keeps him up at night.
So first, here is the Mr. Magazine™ Minute with David Granger (followed by the transcript of the video)…
And here is the transcript of the above video…
Samir Husni: Today (September 23) you launch the Esquire Network. Esquire is man at its best — is this moment Esquire at its best?
David Granger: That’s such a hard question. I think this is one of the best moments in Esquire’s existence right now. We just have access to so many forms of expression and we’re trying to use them to the best of our ability. It’s not just the fact that we have a television network that uses our name and some of our ideas but it’s that we get to express ourselves in print primarily — and possibly most gratifyingly. But then we get to do like funny things for the iPad and do funny things on Esquire.com and comment on things in real time and bring to bear all our writers’ and editors’ knowledge in real time for Esquire.com and then give this moment in time just a little bit of thought for Esquire Weekly. We just have so many options when it comes to seeing the world through an Esquire lense that I think it has to be about the best time in the history of Esquire.
SH: You’ve been known to be a great advocate of print, yet you’re everywhere. You recognize that we live in a digital age but how do you differentiate print? What’s the value of print in this digital age?
DG: We live in a time when everything is so ephemeral. It comes and it goes. And lately I’ve been thinking about how I consume things in a new way. There are things that I consume qualitatively and there are things that I consume quantitatively. Quantitative is just all the stuff that gets referred to me. It gets referred to me by the 35 people that work with me. It gets referred to me by my writers. It gets referred to be by Digg or any of the other referral entities. And those things they just kind of bounce on and off of you and go on their way. But I try to make time for the qualitative things. I try to make time — 45 minutes at least — to read The New York Times. I try to take time to read the few magazines that I read. I make a lot of time for fiction, for reading novels because it makes me use my mind in a different way. So anyway, I think the value of print is that print encourages the production of qualitative experiences and I think that’s going to be the value that moves print forward and makes it become even more of a thing to be cherished.
And now for The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with David Granger, editor in chief, Esquire.
First the Sound-bites:
On how the role of editor has changed over the years: I think the editor’s role changed in a lot of ways so that I became a referee and an enabler. I had to coordinate our efforts in three realms for the benefit of all of those.
On whether brand expansion is possible to imagine without the print entity of Esquire: No, because we still and always will I think, create things for print Esquire that isn’t created for purely digital media.
On the power of print: The power of magazine design is something that people truly underestimate. I think that’s one of the true strengths of print magazines, is that we can do and package things in such a beautiful way.
On whether digital technology is helping or hurting journalism today: It hurts in one way that so many websites are just about reprocessing somebody else’s story by putting a headline or a slight spin on it rather than going out to do original thinking or original reporting.
On what keeps him up at night: Everything. I wake every morning between 2:30 and three worrying about absolutely everything. Whether it’s budgetary things or why haven’t I plotted out an editorial plan for 2013 or what am I going to wear in the morning.
And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ Interview with David Granger – Esquire Magazine…
Samir Husni: How has the role of the editor of a major magazine changed in the last five to 10 years?
David Granger: I was fortunate enough to demand change from my staff and my writers by saying eight years ago, when everybody was talking about how, of course, new media was going to destroy traditional media — of course everything was going digital — we deliberately set out to prove that print and particularly the magazine medium was the most exciting medium ever created. That led us to do crazy things.
First, we did this with the basics of our medium — paper, ink, photos, words and designs. We started messing with those combinations. Whether it was using the margins of the magazines differently or whether that was doing Origami with our covers. Or whether it was new kinds of fiction. We did reported fiction and we did fiction on napkins. We did all sorts of crazy things. We just tried to mess with our medium to call attention to it and prove to people that it was the most exciting medium that had ever been created.
That led us into experimenting with a digital cover, the first cover of print magazine where the words and images moved. That led us to augmented reality. And we were the first magazine that had an iPhone app. We were so ready to leap into all these other opportunities that have come our way that it seemed kind of natural and easy.
All of a sudden we were redesigning and reimagining the print magazine for the iPad. Before too long, we created Esquire weekly just to enhance our timeliness and give our iPad subscribers more. And then early on in the days of digital and websites, there was this inherent tension between the web operation and the print operation. That was because of the thought that one was going to eat and destroy the other.
But as soon as the iPad came along and there were three it became almost immediately apparent that we could use each other’s resources and use each other’s creative imagination for the benefit of all three and so it wasn’t like a push and pull and a struggle between two forms of media anymore. It became this combined effort on the part of all three and so I think the editor’s role changed in a lot of ways so that I became a referee and an enabler. I had to coordinate our efforts in three realms for the benefit of all of those.
So, I think the main thing that is required of an editor in the 21st century is just enthusiasm. You have to see opportunities and you have to find entertaining ways to take advantage of them.
SH: Without the print entity of Esquire, is it possible to imagine this brand expansion to the iPad weekly, to the network?
DG: No, because we still and always will I think, create things for print Esquire that isn’t created for purely digital media. I mean, everyone lionizes the idea of long-form journalism and lots of people read it on their devices. But most of the best of it is not created for a digital platform. It’s still created for first books and then for the 50 or 60 magazines that still care deeply about it.
I think there are more good feature writers in magazines than there’s ever been. So there are so many things we do in Esquire that are done because they are for a magazine. This thing we did for the 80th anniversary, The Life of Man, where we tried to create a portrait of the American man now — 80 photographs — one each of a man born every year of Esquire’s existence all by the same photographer. That was like a massive, ambitious project that I’m not sure somebody who works for a purely digital publication would think “We’re immediately going to get the traffic return” because it’s all about traffic.” With magazines there is still an appreciation on the part of both readers and advertisers for doing something great and I’m not sure that the purely digital media have matured to that degree yet.
SH: When I received the 80th anniversary issue, the first thing that came to my mind was that it won’t feel the same even on their own iPad edition. It won’t have the same collector’s value. It’s not something I could display on my coffee table and tell folks to take a look.
DG: One of the reasons for that is not just the heft of it and the tangibility of it — but it’s also design. When you’re flipping through that magazine and all of a sudden you come onto the spread of Bill Murray and Robin Williams next to each other or the spread of Dr. Dre and Steven Colbert next to each other or you see the weird combination of people of like Merle Haggard and Tom Brokaw and Senator Harry Reid and it’s just none of that was able to be caught in any of our digital expressions.
The power of magazine design is something that people truly underestimate. I think that’s one of the true strengths of print magazines, is that we can do and package things in such a beautiful way. I mean, we’ve been practicing it for hundreds of years, so we’ve gotten really good at making great magazine designs. I just think that’s the power of getting Esquire’s 80th anniversary issue in your hands. It’s a more satisfying experience.
You know, I have complete faith that we’ll get there and there are certain things with our digital expressions but we’re not quite there yet —though there are lots of fun things that we do on the iPad that we can’t do as effectively with paper.
SH: You’ve been known to say that the fundamentals of journalism have not changed. You need good reporters, good writers and good editors. Do you think digital technology is helping or hurting this?
DG: That’s a good question. Again, I think it’s a matter of maturation to some degree. It hurts in one way that so many websites are just about reprocessing somebody else’s story by putting a headline or a slight spin on it rather than going out to do original thinking or original reporting.
I’ve been talking lately to my writers and other groups about the thing that I think journalism needs more than anything right now and that’s to be more presumptuous. I mean I think there’s a reason that we’re called the Fourth Estate.
The reason that journalism is the Fourth Estate is because we are supposed to affect the course of events as much as the president, or the congress or the senate or anybody else in the United States of America. And I think we, as we’ve gone into the digital age, especially as journalism has gone into the digital age, has been trading access even more readily and giving away the ability to be skeptical and the ability to be critical. They’ve gained access but they’ve traded away influence and that’s something that I think we need to grab back. My hope is that — I mean The New York Times is still a miracle of journalism — and my hope is that with greater funding for institutions like the Washington Post and other bastions of great journalism we’ll be able to grab some of that presumption back.
SH: That’s an excellent point. It feels like journalism was much more powerful and had much more, say pre-digital.
DG: I mean imagine if Politico actually decided that they wanted to be a player. They squander too much of their capital by sort of putting out press releases on the behalf of politicians. When they decide they want to become a player, they’ll become massively influential.
SH: One of the things people like to say is that in this digital age that we’re living in you have to integrate print. And you’re a prime example of that.
DG: We didn’t do it because we had to — we did it because we wanted to.
SH: And because of the fun of it… Do you see a day when people will enjoy just sitting down and reading without interruption, without having to put my iPhone on the page, without having to do this or that?
DG: I still think that’s how most people read the magazine. I mean we created this Netpage app so you can experience some of the extras that we created for the iPad or for Esquire.com while you’re reading the print magazine.
But you know all the evidence is that most people are completely satisfied by the experience of sitting there and reading the print magazine and the same with our iPad edition. You don’t have to touch play at any point, but I do think people enjoy some of the fun things we do. Yeah, that’s why people read books. Everybody was talking about how books were going to become these highly interactive things — through the Kindle, you’d be able to touch and do all these things — but I think even when people are using their Kindle or iPad, they’re reading the book. So, I think there’s a great value, I hope, in immersing yourself in a great piece of writing and thinking.
SH: I noticed the covers of Esquire Weekly are sometimes a little more daring or different. Do you envision a different cover if it’s for print or a different cover if it’s for the iPad? Do you have more liberty with the iPad cover?
DG: With our iPad covers from the beginning we created something unique, which are these moving covers where the person who’s on the cover welcomes you to Esquire and they’ve become more elaborate as time has gone on.
But now in order to read it on the iPad you’ve got this library of all the Esquires you’ve bought. And first we wanted to differentiate the look of monthly Esquire from weekly Esquire. We also wanted weekly Esquire to like shout a little bit more. It’s like “Hey, hey we’re over here. You don’t know what we are, but here we are.” And so we try to be a little more different like the new one, which is based on a story from Syria. It’s a really dramatic cover — we took a big step forward with that cover. The design department just wanted to call attention to the things that we do.
With the weekly, we are going to shout a little bit. That was the whole idea with the monthly as well, especially on the actual newsstand. We’ve been doing the wall of type for like seven or eight years, where we’ve literally been trying to kind of yell at people a little bit. “Hey, we’re over here. Buy us!”
SH: My typical last question, what keeps David up at night?
DG: Everything. I wake every morning between 2:30 and three worrying about absolutely everything. Whether it’s budgetary things or why haven’t I plotted out an editorial plan for 2013 or what am I going to wear in the morning.
The greatest motivator for me is fear and as long as the fear doesn’t overwhelm you, but merely causes you to be impatient with what you’re doing so that you’re eager to change what it is you do, and then it’s a good thing. Worry and fear haven’t lapsed over into crippling paranoia, and when they do I should probably quit.
SH: Thank you.