h1

Tablet Magazine: Successfully Born Online & Now Available In Inimitable Print – Take Two “Tablets” For A More Robust Effect – The Mr. Magazine Interview With Jack Kliger, Publisher, & Alana Newhouse, Editor-In-Chief, Tablet Magazine.

December 21, 2015

“I think magazines are different; there’s a different creative concept; a different mix of text and graphics. Something that makes one plus one equal more than two and that’s something that maybe magazines can’t do as fast as electronic media can do, but there are things that magazines can do that aren’t just replicated online. And then there’s the more basic answer; you get better writing.” Jack Kliger


“I think that print has been wildly underestimated. The Internet came along and people imagined that it was a tool to be used for every single thing in their lives. But it’s not a tool for everything in their lives; it’s a tool for some very important things in our lives like news or information, information that we need for our daily lives, but I don’t necessarily know that the Internet is the right medium for deeper reads.” Alana Newhouse

TABLETcover When God gave his people the Ten Commandments they were etched onto stone tablets to read and follow, maybe it was no accident that you could conceivably consider that the original “printed” word.

And in 2009, when Tablet’s editor-in-chief, Alana Newhouse, originated the online entity that has since become a highly successful informational site, she’d had just that thought running through her mind, along with the idea that eventually she would love to expand the online experience into a more tangible and lasting conversation with its audience, and of course, follow God’s lead by doing that through a printed magazine.

Tablet Magazine was born from that idea and the passion that Alana has for its subject matter. And along with veteran media executive, Jack Kliger, who joined Alana as publisher and brought over 35 years of his own expertise to the magazine, they have set out to prove that when you really believe in the product you’re creating and the message being sent to your target audience, the printed word can be a Godsend.

I spoke with both Alana and Jack recently and we talked about what each of them hopes to accomplish with the new magazine. And about the community spirit that lives within its ink on paper pages and how they achieved that goal and many more.

It was an enlightening and inspiring conversation and one I know you will enjoy as much as Mr. Magazine™ did. And so without further hesitation, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jack Kliger, Publisher & Alana Newhouse, Editor-In-Chief, Tablet Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:


AN-credit-MichelleIshay On the idea that print suddenly seems to be the new media for everyone (Alana Newhouse):
I think that print has been wildly underestimated. The Internet came along and people imagined that it was a tool to be used for every single thing in their lives. But it’s not a tool for everything in their lives; it’s a tool for some very important things in our lives like news or information, information that we need for our daily lives, but I don’t necessarily know that the Internet is the right medium for deeper reads. The example that I’d like to give you is the invention of the phone, or a fork. The fork is a great utensil, but it’s not the only utensil that you need for everything in your life. And it’s the same thing when it comes to the Internet.

On the idea that suddenly print seems to be the new media for everyone (Jack Kliger):
Personally, I don’t think people stopped reading magazines. Maybe some people never started in this new generation; maybe some people did start, but to me printed magazines are as bad as the theatre is. I went to the theatre the other day and I said isn’t it amazing that this is a form of performance that William Shakespeare was writing for years ago, but I remember reading articles that said when movies came along and television came along, who would need theatre? I’ve gone to the theatre lately and there are things that happen there, in terms of seeing live performances, and three-dimensional experiences, that aren’t different. And I think magazines are different; there’s a different creative concept; a different mix of text and graphics.

On the Tablet reader (Alana Newhouse):
Increasingly for us, paper and the web is the way to go because for Tablet’s audience; we have a very big readership on the web and then we have a smaller audience of, I would say, hardcore Tablet readers, people who are our most engaged, most excited and most committed reader. And for them, they really want to take Tablet more fully into their lives. And the only way for them to really be able to bring Tablet completely into their lives is through print.

On the name Tablet (Alana Newhouse):
When we started we tried to think about a name for the magazine and one thing we thought about was what the very first platform was, at least in our tradition, right? The idea behind it was we wanted to imagine a new medium that could send a message that could be lasting.

On the conversational cover of the printed magazine (Alana Newhouse):
In terms of the armchair cover; the cover is a little bit of an inside joke for American Jews who were raised in the post-war years, but not only American Jews, also people who were raised around Jews; all of those people are who the magazine is for. Many of us were raised by immigrants or by children of immigrants. One of the funny phenomena of those homes was that they all had this plastic-covered furniture. And the reason why they had plastic-covered furniture was because the furniture was the only thing they had of value, or frequently one of the only things of value. And it was permanent. And they wanted to protect it, so many of us grew up in these homes with those particular chairs and couches.

On whether Alana was surprised that the name Tablet was available (Alana Newhouse):
I don’t think we were that surprised; we learned later that there are other Tablets. There are Tablet Hotels and many other things with that name. And of course, the digital device started being called tablet.

On how Jack became publisher of Tablet (Alana Newhouse): The truth is meeting Jack was our real good fortune. I’m sure there’s a biblical metaphor here of why he came onboard. (Everyone laughs). But that was a real stroke of luck for us. I had wanted to do a print magazine, but I could not figure out how to do it. And not only could I not figure out how to do it; I couldn’t find people in New York who thought I was anything other than a lunatic for wanting to do it. I couldn’t even find anyone who believed in it with me. So, Jack and I were introduced and one of the strokes of luck for me was actually having someone who was such a brilliant publisher who looked at me and never said I was crazy, first of all, and believed that there was a value proposition here.

jack kliger MPA photo On what made Jack want to be a part of Tablet Magazine (Jack Kliger): First of all, I’ve been fortunate in working with editors who are real visionaries and not functionaries. I mean, I work with functionaries too, but one of the things that obviously impressed me in the beginning with Alana is she had a really clear and strong perspective on what she wanted to create, but she also knew very well who she wanted to create it for.

On how it feels for him to create his first not-for-profit venture (Jack Kliger):
It feels great because this is one of the proudest efforts I’ve made, not only for my own personal reasons about wanting to create an informational platform that would help what I call millennial and 21st century American Jews understand their identity better, but it’s also a very talented and enthusiastic group of people led by Alana who are genuinely passionate and committed to what they’re doing.

On how Tablet, the magazine, creates the community spirit that is felt between its pages (Alana Newhouse):
The first thing that has to happen is that we have to start by mirroring the community. One of the problems with both certain Jewish organizations and also with certain magazines is that they forget the actual people they’re supposed to be speaking to. So suddenly they determine that this person is a Jew, that person is not a Jew; this person is inside the community, that person is not.

On anything either of them would like to add (Jack Kliger):
I would just like to say that the response from people that I have talked to since they started getting the magazine has been just wonderful. They just started getting the magazine in the past couple of weeks. As you know, it’s not easy to find on the newsstands. The fact of the matter is this magazine is going to be built with a core of subscribers that we think will be not only strongly committed and heavily renewing, but will also be part of a community and we think they will use Tablet as a proud bag.

On what motivates him to get out of the bed (Jack Kliger):
What gets me up in the morning is finding out how many subscriptions we’ve sold to date. (Laughs) I want to know on a daily basis. Energy comes from engagement. And there are a lot of things that can engage you.

On what keeps him up at night (Jack Kliger):
The problem is people all over the world now feel threatened because they don’t know who’s going to do what. Society has some very big challenges. We have people who want to go back to the Wild West. What keeps me up at night is what kind of world my grandchildren are going to live in.

On what keeps Alana up at night (Alana Newhouse):
I think that watching how fast the world changes and sharing that it’s incumbent upon me and my staff to try our best to cover it as smartly and as clearly and as non-hysterically as possible, but then also feeling at the end of the day that there’s more to be done. And that’s what keeps me up at night as well. And what happens next.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jack Kliger, Publisher, & Alana Newhouse, Editor-In-Chief, Tablet Magazine.

Samir Husni: The Columbia Journalism Review recently ran an article talking about print as the new media; what gives? What do you think has happened that suddenly many people are talking about print as the new media?

Jack Kliger: That’s a very good question. Alana, would you like to tackle that first?

Alana Newhouse: Sure. I think that print has been wildly underestimated. The Internet came along and people imagined that it was a tool to be used for every single thing in their lives. But it’s not a tool for everything in their lives; it’s a tool for some very important things in our lives like news or information, information that we need for our daily lives, but I don’t necessarily know that the Internet is the right medium for deeper reads.

In fact, I think the last 10 years have seen print be discarded by many people who assumed that they could get the same benefits that they always got from print, on the web. And I don’t think you can.

The example that I’d like to give you is the invention of the phone, or a fork. The fork is a great utensil, but it’s not the only utensil that you need for everything in your life. And it’s the same thing when it comes to the Internet. The Internet is a very valuable and a very important, and in some cases for many of us, one of the most important tools in our lives, but it’s not the only one.

So, I think that it’s understanding that print has always had a value that just needed to be rediscovered and I think that’s what the articles and the talk mean by that.

Jack Kliger: I would say Alana’s answer is a pretty good delineation. I would also say this, Samir; I’d rather talk about magazines as new media; it’s relatively broad and I can sit here and also talk about newspapers, but more specifically what we consider an art form called magazines. I’m one of those old horses that never thought magazines went away, they just have to morph in terms of a very differently dissected economic pie.

Personally, I don’t think people stopped reading magazines. Maybe some people never started in this new generation; maybe some people did start, but to me printed magazines are as bad as the theatre is. I went to the theatre the other day and I said isn’t it amazing that this is a form of performance that William Shakespeare was writing for years ago, but I remember reading articles that said when movies came along and television came along, who would need theatre? I’ve gone to the theatre lately and there are things that happen there, in terms of seeing live performances, and three-dimensional experiences, that aren’t different.

And I think magazines are different; there’s a different creative concept; a different mix of text and graphics. Something that makes one plus one equal more than two and that’s something that maybe magazines can’t do as fast as electronic media can do, but there are things that magazines can do that aren’t just replicated online. And then there’s the more basic answer; you get better writing. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too). And I agree with you. I’m the one that trademarked the phrase if it’s not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine.

TABLETtoc Jack Kliger: Exactly. That’s a great phrase. And mind you, we’re not thinking that digital or a website is a place to jump off of. Tablet started and is still doing very well as a website, but that’s a different thing from the magazine. We just think digital and print is better than digital or print.

Alana Newhouse: I would say that I don’t necessarily disagree with you as much as I definitely believe that we are running a magazine also on the web, because my original definition of a magazine was a publication that had a perspective. And it had a particular personality. And again, I’m not talking about general interest magazines; I’m talking about magazines that offered you a way of looking at the world.

And we try to do that online and I think that we do a very good job of it. I realized that you simply cannot transmit that perspective in the same way if it’s not on paper. And I think that right now Jack is right; increasingly for us, paper and the web is the way to go because for Tablet’s audience; we have a very big readership on the web and then we have a smaller audience of, I would say, hardcore Tablet readers, people who are our most engaged, most excited and most committed reader. And for them, they really want to take Tablet more fully into their lives. And the only way for them to really be able to bring Tablet completely into their lives is through print.

Samir Husni: You mentioned on the web that the experience of tuning the world out and losing yourself between the covers of a magazine is what you pushed you to actually bring the print edition to life. So, you’re talking about the experience; we’re not just about information; we’re experience makers. And the digital experience is completely different from the print experience.

Jack Kliger: I think what you’re saying is very true. Experience maker is a very interesting phrase.

TABLETcover Samir Husni: So tell me about the name Tablet and also about the cover; you have an armchair with text all over it that goes from, God never forgets Zion to ET, phone home. As you wrote in your Letter from the Editor, there’s seems to be a mix of fun, storytelling, along with the seriousness. Tell me about the name Tablet first and then about the DNA of the brand, from the web launch in 2009 to the print component that just came out.

Alana Newhouse: When we started we tried to think about a name for the magazine and one thing we thought about was what the very first platform was, at least in our tradition, right?

Jack Kliger: (Laughs). The first Jewish platform.

Alana Newhouse: In the Jewish story the very first media were the tablets. We came out before the tablets were known as iPads. It was earlier than that. But the idea behind it was we wanted to imagine a new medium that could send a message that could be lasting. And that’s where we came up with the name.

In terms of the armchair cover; the cover is a little bit of an inside joke for American Jews who were raised in the post-war years, but not only American Jews, also people who were raised around Jews; all of those people are who the magazine is for. Many of us were raised by immigrants or by children of immigrants.

One of the funny phenomena of those homes was that they all had this plastic-covered furniture. And the reason why they had plastic-covered furniture was because the furniture was the only thing they had of value, or frequently one of the only things of value. And it was permanent. And they wanted to protect it, so many of us grew up in these homes with those particular chairs and couches.

Jack Kliger: I didn’t know until I was 18 that chairs came without plastic. (Laughs)

TABLETmanga Alana Newhouse: Exactly. What we wanted to do was take the chair that was this sort of icon of the homes that we grew up in, and of the American Jewish experience in the post-war decades, and we wanted to use it as the basis for something. But then we also wanted to show what we were putting on it was our own. And we were going to sort of graffiti it with some of the elements of the Jewish inheritance that we feel is now ours to play with and also to save and to be stewards of.

There’s scripture, religion, faith, observance, literature, music and movies; it sort of runs the gamut of what we see as the wider American Jewish inheritance. But the idea was that it was being put on top of this chair as a way of expressing that we know what we’re sitting on. And we know our history and we know the foundation that we are on top of. And we also know that it’s important for us to respect it, and for us to use it as a basis for moving into the future.

Samir Husni: Were you surprised that the name Tablet wasn’t already taken?

Alana Newhouse: I don’t think we were that surprised; we learned later that there are other Tablets. There are Tablet Hotels and many other things with that name. And of course, the digital device started being called tablet.

Jack Kliger: I am surprised that seven years ago when Alana started it, it hadn’t yet been used. Every word in the vocabulary seems to have been used as a name for a magazine at one time or another. It was a pleasant surprise.

Alana Newhouse: Our blog is called The Scroll, and that’s the one I’m really surprised about. (Laughs) Think about it, right? That’s the one that has the great double meaning for now.

Samir Husni: This is one thing that I keep telling anyone who is willing to listen; the law of rejected simplicity. When we think something is so simple that there’s no way it will work, or someone has already done it, but yet everybody who heard that I was interviewing you both; when they heard the name Tablet, they knew exactly what I was talking about.

Jack Kliger: That’s great.

Samir Husni: As you said, it was the original form of communication.

Jack Kliger: The first platform.

Samir Husni: Take me through the journey of bringing Jack in, because Alana you were there from the beginning with the website. Then Jack came onboard to be the publisher.

Alana Newhouse: The truth is meeting Jack was our real good fortune. I’m sure there’s a biblical metaphor here of why he came onboard. (Everyone laughs). But that was a real stroke of luck for us. I had wanted to do a print magazine, but I could not figure out how to do it. And not only could I not figure out how to do it; I couldn’t find people in New York who thought I was anything other than a lunatic for wanting to do it. I couldn’t even find anyone who believed in it with me.

So, Jack and I were introduced and one of the strokes of luck for me was actually having someone who was such a brilliant publisher who looked at me and never said I was crazy, first of all, and believed that there was a value proposition here. And also on top of that to come in and say I’ll help you was a dream.

Jack Kliger: That’s very nice to hear.

Samir Husni: Jack, this isn’t the first time that you’ve worked with lunatics, right? (Laughs)

Jack Kliger: (Laughs too). No, I’ve made a career of working with lunatics. (Laughs)

Alana Newhouse: Thanks so much. (Laughs too)

Jack Kliger: First of all, I’ve been fortunate in working with editors who are real visionaries and not functionaries. I mean, I work with functionaries too, but one of the things that obviously impressed me in the beginning with Alana is she had a really clear and strong perspective on what she wanted to create, but she also knew very well who she wanted to create it for. And she had a seven year record of building an audience that was definable. But what struck me was when she described the reasons for creating a print magazine; it was really about what she felt could be produced in terms of the product, which was different from what was already being produced. But also what she wanted for the reader.

What I added to the mix was most people were advising her that it could be built on both a subscription and ad-driven model and I said it was going to be a predominately consumer-driven revenue product. It was going to have to be good enough to command a reasonable price and it was going to have to be good-looking enough to be something everybody is proud of. But it’ll never be large enough or broad enough to be substantially based on advertising revenue, nor should it be. That was another part of my recommendations for how to look at it.

Samir Husni: Jack, if I’m not mistaken this is your first not-for-profit publishing venture. How does that feel?

Jack Kliger: Yes. Well, it’s the first one that’s intentionally not-for-profit. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

TABLETratner Jack Kliger: It feels great because this is one of the proudest efforts I’ve made, not only for my own personal reasons about wanting to create an informational platform that would help what I call millennial and 21st century American Jews understand their identity better, but it’s also a very talented and enthusiastic group of people led by Alana who are genuinely passionate and committed to what they’re doing.

I have to tell you; one of the things that concerns me about the established media business, in particular I see this in magazines, is that many people who are working at magazines are just trying to hold on to their jobs and benefits and make it to retirement. Many times you go into places and you talk about change and people don’t want things to change

Here, it was an adverse change; here, after we went around a couple of times of coming up with what seemed like a reasonable way to execute, it was talking to a staff that you would assume didn’t believe in print because they were all young, digital hotshot kind of people. But it really wasn’t that hard because they believed in journalism and they believed in their audience. And they do know their audience.

I have come a long way in this business and I think frankly even though it’s a not-for-profit, I believe this product will be operationally profitable and I think that’s an important thing to target for in any case. Operationally, it’s a very important thing that we get enough revenue from our consumers to pay for the high quality of the product that we’re going to put out. That’s sometimes a radical notion in American magazine publishing, but it’s a basic notion for us.

Samir Husni: Alana, keeping that notion in mind, as I was reading the magazine and flipping through the pages; I felt that sense of community. From within the pages it felt like I was getting a letter from a friend just updating me on everything, those good old days when people used to write five, six, seven or eight page letters to friends. Tell me about that tribal sense that you talk about and that community sense and how Tablet, the magazine, actually creates that community spirit?

Alana Newhouse: The first thing that has to happen is that we have to start by mirroring the community. One of the problems with both certain Jewish organizations and also with certain magazines is that they forget the actual people they’re supposed to be speaking to. So suddenly they determine that this person is a Jew, that person is not a Jew; this person is inside the community, that person is not.

One of the things that I want to do to start with is to ask who wants to be a part of this community; raise your hand. I’m not asking any questions about who you are just yet. I just want to know who wants in. And if you want in and you’ve bought a subscription because you, for whatever reason, want to be a part of an American Jewish conversation, then the first step is I need to welcome you. And I need to invite you in and ask you to have a seat. Then my real job starts.

At that point, I need to say here’s the conversation. And if you pick up on the metaphor, sort of the cocktail party from my introduction, it’s essentially that. You open your doors, you say whoever wants to come in to my party, come in. I’m going to have a great meal; I’m going to serve you something fun. We’re going to have some nice wine and then we’re going to talk. I’m going to give you great stuff to talk about. I’m going to introduce you to some really interesting people and I’m also going to challenge some things. Maybe we’ll disagree and have some fights. As long as you don’t offend someone else in a way that I find inappropriate, then you’re in. So, let’s talk.

In some sense, my job with the magazine is to show people how interesting and fascinating I find the conversation about Jewish identity, both historically and in contemporary society as well. I want them to see that they can be a part of it. Those are the two legs of my job.

Jack Kliger: One thing that is very important in my mind is that with the American Jewish community in the 21st century is that it’s not a ghetto. It’s a community. And that’s a very important thing. One of the reasons that I’m very interested in that is that my parents were in ghettos and my kid is not. The American Jewish experience in this 21st century deserves a magazine and that’s what we’ve created, a 21st century media. So, I think print is certainly a part of the 21st century media. And we’re going to prove that.

Samir Husni: Is there anything that either of you would like to add?

Jack Kliger: I would just like to say that the response from people that I have talked to since they started getting the magazine has been just wonderful. They just started getting the magazine in the past couple of weeks. As you know, it’s not easy to find on the newsstands.

Samir Husni: And thank you for saving me my $10, although, I did try to find it. I went to every Barnes & Noble. (Laughs)

Jack Kliger: Oh, I know. We’re getting more of that. Who else but a Jewish group would launch a magazine at the time that you have the newsstand distributors blowing up? The fact of the matter is this magazine is going to be built with a core of subscribers that we think will be not only strongly committed and heavily renewing, but will also be part of a community and we think they will use Tablet as a proud bag. So, we think we have achievable, reasonable goals to get to a subscription level that will make us self-sustainable. And then I think you’re going to see a great new product on the American magazine scene, which I think is pretty cool.

Samir Husni: Jack, what motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Jack Kliger: My dog. (Laughs)

Alana Newhouse: And I was basically going to make the same joke and say my one and a half year old. (Everyone laughs).

Jack Kliger: What gets me up in the morning is finding out how many subscriptions we’ve sold to date. (Laughs) I want to know on a daily basis. Energy comes from engagement. And there are a lot of things that can engage you.

Samir Husni: Jack, my typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Jack Kliger: (Laughs) Frankly, what keeps me up at night is not a business question; it’s trying to figure out the crazy world we live in. What’s funny about this Tablet thing is one of the things that really motivated me was a book I read a year ago that talked about the challenge for Jews is we now live in an open society. We’re members of an open society. For generations we haven’t been, we’ve lived in ghettos and we’ve been threatened. There’s a generation of people now who aren’t threatened on a daily basis, afraid they’re going to be attacked just because of who they are.

The problem is people all over the world now feel threatened because they don’t know who’s going to do what. Society has some very big challenges. We have people who want to go back to the Wild West. What keeps me up at night is what kind of world my grandchildren are going to live in.

Samir Husni: Alana, what keeps you up at night?

Alana Newhouse: Well, what gets me out of bed in the mornings besides my child is the news. The truth is that the same thing that wakes me up puts me to bed. I believe that Jews have an obligation to themselves and also to others to try their best to understand the world and to try their best to understand how to organize the world to bring more safety and more justice and more potential for as many people as possible.

I think that watching how fast the world changes and sharing that it’s incumbent upon me and my staff to try our best to cover it as smartly and as clearly and as non-hysterically as possible, but then also feeling at the end of the day that there’s more to be done. And that’s what keeps me up at night as well. And what happens next.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: