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Fortune Magazine: Bringing Quality Journalism To Its Multimedia Franchise, Proving Print & Digital Can Complement Each Other Effortlessly – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Alan Murray, Editor, Fortune Magazine

April 11, 2016

“We live in a world right now where you have legacy brands trying to become smart digital operations and you have smart digital operations trying to build brand. I think in both cases the job is tough, but I actually think we have the better hand. In other words, it’s easier for a great brand to build a good digital organization than it is for a good digital organization to build a great brand.” Alan Murray

COV.W.04.01.16.Xmit.indd A legacy brand that has no misconceptions about the future of business in today’s digital world; Fortune magazine has established a deep footprint in both print, and as recently as two years, also digital. In March 2016, the brand’s website realized over its target of 20 million unique users, an amazing accomplishment, especially for a website that didn’t exist two years ago.

Alan Murray is editor of Fortune and has a clear vision for the brand and also a clarion view of business today and why there is renewed interest and resurgence in the world of business magazine media. It’s Alan’s belief that the millennials of today have turned back to the business world as disillusionment with Washington and all things political have set in over recent years. No longer do they feel they can impact society and the world in general through government, but have a better chance of doing good and realizing goals and dreams through the channel of business.

I spoke with Alan recently and we talked about the good “fortune” of the brand, and how for him and the Fortune team the realization of those 20 million unique web users wasn’t just a numbers game. He said a concerted effort to maintain and improve on the quality of their online journalism had been a prime goal, producing a steady stream of smart stories, exclusive scoops and authoritative analysis that Fortune’s readers value. In addition, subscribers to their newsletters – the brand’s most loyal and valuable readers – had grown to well over 200,000.

So, I hope that you enjoy this glimpse into the world of business magazine media with a man and a brand that knows the niche from the inside out and offers a renewed hope and excitement for all things “Fortune;” the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Alan Murray, Editor, Fortune Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

Alan Murray headshot 2013 On whether the hierarchy of politics first and business second from the days of Henry Luce still stands or there’s been a change in the audience’s attention: I think, particularly in an election season like this one, people are very interested in politics. And there are probably more people interested in politics than there are in business. But the fact that we’ve reached 20 million visitors in March suggests that there are quite a few people interested in business as well.

On whether he thinks there has been resurgence in business magazine media or there’s an uncaring-type attitude when it comes to the audience’s interest: No, we don’t get that. First of all, most people are employed by businesses, so I think people certainly care about their jobs. But I also think that we’re at this interesting moment where in the United States the government has failed us. And so people who really want to make a difference in the world more and more are turning to business rather than government.

On how he plans to incorporate his vison for the Fortune brand throughout the different platforms: Increasingly people are seeing business as a principle means of doing good in the world. We started something last September called the “Change the World,” which focuses on companies that are trying to address global social problems as a core part of their profit-making activities. Obviously that’s not every company, but you see more and more of that and that’s the motivation of a lot of young people going into business today. Our most popular franchise of Fortune is something that you may have seen called “100 Best Companies to Work For.” And that’s very popular with young people looking for jobs. They go there to see what companies share their values and will give them a chance to make an impact in the world.

On how he contrasts the website with the printed edition of Fortune: We’re trying to do great journalism both online and in the magazine. The difference is not so much about the quality of the journalism; it’s the way it’s consumed. When the magazine goes into people’s houses and they sit down on the weekend to spend 30 or 40 minutes flipping through it; that’s a very laid-back reading experience. With the website, you’re talking about people who have maybe three minutes to scramble through some information in the morning before they go to the office or they take a few minutes at lunch. I did research on this when I was at the Pew Research Center; people are reading more than ever before, but they’re reading in stops and starts on their mobile phones.

On whether his job as an editor today is easier or harder than in the past: I think it’s very hard. Let me give you a prime example from Fortune. Probably the best single story we did last year was a story on the Sony hack. It was written by Peter Elkind, a long-time Fortune writer, who spent six months of last year reporting and writing this story, and that’s all he did for us during those six months. Then on the other hand, you look at someone like Dan Primack, who writes “Term Sheet,” which is an incredibly respected newsletter for the private equity audience. Peter Elkind and Dan Primack are both great journalists and anybody you talk to that reads their work recognizes that, but they’re dealing in very different media. And it does make managing a news organization that cuts across those media more difficult.

On whether he misses the good-old-days of being an editor: No, I think journalism is more fun today than it’s ever been before because you have access to all of these different media, different ways of reaching people, because you can reach a broader audience than ever before. Fortune has never had the 20 million people who came to Fortune in March. It was the biggest audience by far, by orders of magnitude that Fortune has ever had.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: It’s a combination of the things that we’ve already talked about. One is that journalism is more fun and exciting; it’s changing more rapidly than it ever has before and change keeps you excited. I’ve been fortunate in my career to do just about everything that a journalist could do. I’ve hosted a TV show on CNBC for three years; I’ve written three different columns for the Wall Street Journal; I’ve written long-form and short-form, but the fact that the medium is constantly changing and evolving makes it fun.

COV.W.02.01.16.FINAL.indd On whether he can ever envision Fortune without a print edition: I think that someday print will go away, but I don’t think that it’s going to be in my lifetime. There are still too many people who love the print form. I suspect someday that we’ll figure out a way to imitate that in digital so that we don’t have to cut down all of the trees, but I don’t think that it’s going to happen in my lifetime. I think that print is going to be around a lot longer than people think it is.

On anything else he’d like to add: The only thing that I would say is this, we live in a world right now where you have legacy brands trying to become smart digital operations and you have smart digital operations trying to build brand. I think in both cases the job is tough, but I actually think we have the better hand. In other words, it’s easier for a great brand to build a good digital organization than it is for a good digital organization to build a great brand.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up at his house unexpectedly one evening: My wife works in Washington most of the week, so a lot of times I come home and I’m by myself, and at the very last hour of the day, I tend to watch TV. That’s the only time I watch TV. I watched all of “Mr. Robot,” for instance. I usually pick up an hour of TV right before I go to bed.

On what keeps him up at night: The rapid pace of change in the advertising market and the race to create other forms of revenue to make up for that, and whether we can do the second task enough to make up for the first. You can’t understate how important the conferences are to the Fortune brand. That’s such a critical part of our brand, the conferences that we do.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Alan Murray, Editor, Fortune Magazine.

Samir Husni: Almost nine decades ago when Henry Luce launched Fortune, it came after Time magazine, so we had the politics first and then the economics. Are we still in that same hierarchy when it comes to our audience’s attention? Is it still politics first and business second or have you felt a change in the country and in the audience?

Alan Murray: I think, particularly in an election season like this one, people are very interested in politics. And there are probably more people interested in politics than there are in business. But the fact that we’ve reached 20 million visitors in March suggests that there are quite a few people interested in business as well.

Samir Husni: Why do you think that is the case? Part of me feels like there has been a resurgence of the business magazine media and the other part of me wonders if sometimes there’s an uncaring attitude when it comes to business media by the audience.

Alan Murray: No, we don’t get that. First of all, most people are employed by businesses, so I think people certainly care about their jobs. But I also think that we’re at this interesting moment where in the United States the government has failed us. And so people who really want to make a difference in the world more and more are turning to business rather than government.

I know young people that I talk to who really want to make a difference and who two or three decades ago might have been dying to go to Washington, are now talking about starting their own business or joining a startup. So, I do think people increasingly see business as a way to make a difference in the world.

Samir Husni: And how do you take that and apply it to your vision for the Fortune brand, whether it’s print, online, or any of the available platforms? I know just in the last two years the brand has gained its own website, fortune.com, and has excelled with it, but how do you take that vision and incorporate it throughout the brand?

Alan Murray:COV.W.03.15.16.Xmit.indd We see two big trends driving interests in business right now. One is technology. Over the last two decades the excitement was about consumer technology; it’s now really moved into the workplace and transformed the way businesses operate in a profound way. That’s why we have doubled our technology reporting staff in the last year; we hired seven reporters from Gigo who focus on cloud computing and the Internet of things; artificial intelligence and all the technologies. They’re really transforming the way business is done. And it’s a huge issue for our readers.

We did a survey of Fortune 500 CEOs last year and we asked them what was the biggest challenge facing their business, and we gave them all kinds of options. Was it regulations; competition from China; was it their concerns about the economy? The number one reason they gave us; the number one challenge facing their businesses they responded, was the rapid pace of change in technology. So, that’s one thing driving this interest in business. And companies like Apple that used to be solely focused on consumers, are now focusing on the workplace.

The second thing that I believe is driving business is what we were just talking about: increasingly people are seeing business as a principle means of doing good in the world. We started something last September called the “Change the World,” which focuses on companies that are trying to address global social problems as a core part of their profit-making activities.

Obviously that’s not every company, but you see more and more of that and that’s the motivation of a lot of young people going into business today. Our most popular franchise of Fortune is something that you may have seen called “100 Best Companies to Work For.” And that’s very popular with young people looking for jobs. They go there to see what companies share their values and will give them a chance to make an impact in the world.

So, I think those two things together are driving the current interest in business and the current rise in interest in Fortune.

Samir Husni: How do you either differentiate or contrast Fortune.com with the print edition of the brand? Are you working overtime to make sure that what you give me in Fortune the printed magazine is different than what’s online, because I noticed in your press release that you’re paying much more attention to and creating some very serious journalism online?

Alan Murray: We’re trying to do great journalism both online and in the magazine. The difference is not so much about the quality of the journalism; it’s the way it’s consumed. When the magazine goes into people’s houses and they sit down on the weekend to spend 30 or 40 minutes flipping through it; that’s a very laid-back reading experience.

With the website, you’re talking about people who have maybe three minutes to scramble through some information in the morning before they go to the office or they take a few minutes at lunch. I did research on this when I was at the Pew Research Center; people are reading more than ever before, but they’re reading in stops and starts on their mobile phones. So, you have to create content that reaches them on their phones. How do we do that? Well, it has to be much shorter because it’s not 30 minutes in the armchair; it’s five minutes at the train station. You need to have headlines that will grab their attention; you need to aggressively work the social networks because a lot of people are taking their lead from friends or people that they follow on social media.

We now have six morning newsletters, including one that I do myself, that have close to 300,000 subscribers and very high open rates, so that’s a way of capturing people on their mobile phones. And we create over 100 stories per day. So, it’s really about creating content in a way that caters to the method that’s being used by the people consuming it.

Samir Husni: Does that make your job easier or harder? Is the job of an editor in chief today a heavier load than what it used to be and how are you juggling your time?

Alan Murray: I think it’s very hard. Let me give you a prime example from Fortune. Probably the best single story we did last year was a story on the Sony hack. It was written by Peter Elkind, a long-time Fortune writer, who spent six months of last year reporting and writing this story, and that’s all he did for us during those six months. And it was an incredible piece of journalism and probably one of the longest that we’ve ever run in the magazine that is already winning a lot of awards because it was done so well.

Then on the other hand, you look at someone like Dan Primack, who writes “Term Sheet,” which is an incredibly respected newsletter for the private equity audience. Dan writes a newsletter every single day and on top of that probably posts three stories per day to the website.

Peter Elkind and Dan Primack are both great journalists and anybody you talk to that reads their work recognizes that, but they’re dealing in very different media. And it does make managing a news organization that cuts across those media more difficult.

Samir Husni: Do you miss the good-old-days?

Alan Murray: No, I think journalism is more fun today than it’s ever been before because you have access to all of these different media, different ways of reaching people, because you can reach a broader audience than ever before. Fortune has never had the 20 million people who came to Fortune in March. It was the biggest audience by far, by orders of magnitude that Fortune has ever had.

So, you reach more people and you reach them in more diverse ways. You can do interesting things with video; you can interact with them on special networks. I think journalism is more fun than it’s ever been before in my lifetime.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and be excited about going to the office?

Alan Murray: It’s a combination of the things that we’ve already talked about. One is that journalism is more fun and exciting; it’s changing more rapidly than it ever has before and change keeps you excited. I’ve been fortunate in my career to do just about everything that a journalist could do. I’ve hosted a TV show on CNBC for three years; I’ve written three different columns for the Wall Street Journal; I’ve written long-form and short-form, but the fact that the medium is constantly changing and evolving makes it fun. So, that’s one.

And then two is the fact that the story is so interesting; we are in the middle of something that I believe is the equivalent to the industrial revolution. It’s forcing companies to rethink the fundamentals of how they do business and it’s forcing business leaders to rethink the way that they lead. And that’s very exciting and very interesting and Fortune is determined to lead the way.

Samir Husni: Can you ever envision Fortune without the print edition?

Alan Murray: I think that someday print will go away, but I don’t think that it’s going to be in my lifetime. There are still too many people who love the print form. I suspect someday that we’ll figure out a way to imitate that in digital so that we don’t have to cut down all of the trees, but I don’t think that it’s going to happen in my lifetime. I think that print is going to be around a lot longer than people think it is.

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

Alan Murray: The only thing that I would say is this, we live in a world right now where you have legacy brands trying to become smart digital operations and you have smart digital operations trying to build brand. I think in both cases the job is tough, but I actually think we have the better hand. In other words, it’s easier for a great brand to build a good digital organization than it is for a good digital organization to build a great brand.

It was true at the Wall Street Journal; it was true when I worked at the Pew Research Center, and it’s true at Fortune. Having a great brand is a powerful weapon and as long as you don’t screw it up, you can win, even if you’re late to the game.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, reading your iPad, watching television, or something else?

Alan Murray: My wife works in Washington most of the week, so a lot of times I come home and I’m by myself, and at the very last hour of the day, I tend to watch TV. That’s the only time I watch TV. I watched all of “Mr. Robot,” for instance. I usually pick up an hour of TV right before I go to bed.

Samir Husni: Who would be the best president for our economy from those that are still in the running now?

Alan Murray: I’ve been pretty straightforward about that. I’ve said that I don’t think there is a viable candidate left who would be good for business. And I think that’s the first time in my lifetime or my career that that has been the case. It shows that business is really on the political outs because I don’t think any of the candidates really provide what business needs.

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

Alan Murray: The rapid pace of change in the advertising market and the race to create other forms of revenue to make up for that, and whether we can do the second task enough to make up for the first. You can’t understate how important the conferences are to the Fortune brand. That’s such a critical part of our brand, the conferences that we do. And that’s part of the way that we keep from being totally dependent on digital advertisers.

It’s a three-legged stool, and in my mind, they’re of equal importance: our digital operation, the magazine, and the conferences.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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