h1

Pacific Standard Magazine – A Magazine Worth Printing With Stories That Matter – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Nick Jackson, Editor In Chief, Pacific Standard Magazine.

July 25, 2016

COD_PacificStandard_w_580“We had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else? And for us that are the stories that we’re going to put months of work into; we’re going to dedicate extra research toward, whether that’s through fact-checking, copyediting, or just research and report. Also, I think that as much as people have tried, you can’t really replicate the print experience in any other medium.” Nick Jackson

“I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.” Nick Jackson

 Making the worlds of research, media and public policy, not to mention academia and technology, engaging and compelling to the general populace is something that Pacific Standard’s new redesign is setting out to do.

Launched originally in 2008 as Miller-McCune magazine by Sara Miller McCune, the founder and head of Sage Publications, the name was changed to Pacific Standard in 2012. The magazine has always striven to publish stories that are important and matter, covering topics that are left untouched by many other publications.

However, today’s Pacific Standard, with its compelling new redesign, has taken the maelstrom of hot topics that are splashed across today’s mediums and featured them within the pages of the magazine to captivate readers with timely information in a new and deeper format that brings the art of long-form journalism back to the forefront.

Nick Jackson is editor in chief of Pacific Standard and has brought the brand into this redesign boldly and confidently, anxious to show readers the positive changes that have been made. Nick comes from a background that includes such giants in publishing as The Atlantic, Slate and Outside magazines. He knows his stuff and is proud to be cultivating stories that inform and change people’s lives.

I spoke with Nick recently and we talked about the magazine’s new look and more poignant perspective. It was an interview that was filled with focus for the brand’s future and excitement for its present, without discounting its esteemed past, recognizing the brilliance of Sara Miller McCune, founder of Sage Publications, who launched the magazine.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who is helping his brand to continue to raise the “standard” in today’s journalism, Nick Jackson, editor in chief, Pacific Standard magazine

But first the sound-bites:

08 Nick_PacificStandard_0817_webOn his definition of a magazine “worth printing” in 2016: We need to differentiate ourselves from what everybody else is doing. We have a pretty robust presence at this point. We’re not huge, but we’re up to the point where we’re publishing 10 to 12 original, non-aggregation pieces a day on our site. So, we had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else?

On how they’re using digital to enhance the printed product: I actually think that’s something that I’m proudest of. My background is almost exclusively in digital. I got my start at Slate and The Atlantic years ago. And we’ve really created a truly hybrid newsroom; it’s a small newsroom, but it really is platform agnostic and informs everything we do.

On how the brand is doubling its efforts to utilize more research and investigative reporting in both the printed magazine and on its website: I think first of all; we have to do that. There’s really sort of a mass versus class situation in publishing right now. We don’t really aspire to be a BuzzFeed or even a Vice or Vox. And so we thought that it was really important to double down on our mission, which I think is something that not a lot of other places are doing. It’s really a couple of different factors for us and part of that is the academic background. A lot of our work is informed by the latest research, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, rather than just relying on an anecdote.

COD_PacificStandard2_w_580On the redesign issue’s second cover: The other cover is Ralph Nader. We have special distribution on Capitol Hill, in airport lounges and a couple of other places. One of the things that we want to do is affect policy one way or another and I think that it helps for us to do hand delivery on Capitol Hill, where we thought Ralph Nader would resonate a little more strongly.

On whether the magazine’s targeted audience is shrinking or expanding in today’s world: For us, the audience is expanding. I don’t know what the larger groups of those sorts of people are; they’re difficult to reach. That’s the future. We were founded by Sara Miller McCune, whose background is in starting Sage Publications 50 years ago, which is an incredibly successful academic publisher, but that’s an entirely different business where you have to publish in those journals to go up for tenure.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face during the redesign and how he overcame it: It would probably be finding that balance. We’re more focused on our mission than we’ve ever been. And I’ve worked with a lot of people here on narrowing that down. Knowing that we want to reach our audience and ultimately everybody wants their stuff to get out in front of as large an audience as possible.

On what has been the most pleasant moment during the redesign: It’s hard to pick just one. It’s been a lot of fun. At its best, magazine making is just a really fun and collaborative project, and over the past year or so while we were remaking the magazine we were also building out a new office space that has more room for us to grow into. So, we were actually making the magazine, and I talk about meeting in coffee shops and other things in the editor’s letter, but that’s completely true. (Laughs) A lot of this was made on the fly around California while we were building this new office space, while we were getting ready to grow and expand.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: I’m probably reading a magazine. I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: It’s the magazine we’re putting out. As I said, I worked at The Atlantic, Slate and Outside, and I did a lot of work there that I’m really proud of. Those are incredible publishers doing great work today, but a big chunk of my time was thinking through things such as; I’m going to send someone to live on Everest and report on the plight of Sherpas there, which is something that we did when I was at Outside.

On what keeps him up at night: Fact-checking. (Laughs) Fact-checking headaches. We’re about to close a food issue and for us that’s a big feature on food safety; an issue that involves 46 or more government agencies. So, the headaches of closing a piece like that are many. But, they’re very exciting challenges to work through. But they’re still challenges. So, you’re constantly worried.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Nick Jackson, Editor In Chief, Pacific Standard Magazine.

 Samir Husni: Congratulations on the new and improved Pacific Standard magazine. You wrote in your editorial that you decided to actually create a magazine worth printing in 2016. How would you define a magazine “worth printing” in today’s digital age?

Nick Jackson: We need to differentiate ourselves from what everybody else is doing. We have a pretty robust presence at this point. We’re not huge, but we’re up to the point where we’re publishing 10 to 12 original, non-aggregation pieces a day on our site. So, we had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else?

And for us that are the stories that we’re going to put months of work into; we’re going to dedicate extra research toward, whether that’s through fact-checking, copyediting, or just research and report. Also, I think that as much as people have tried, you can’t really replicate the print experience in any other medium. So, we’ve put a lot more energy, resources, time and money into our art and photography and we’re really trying to create this object that people want to keep.

One thing that I’m constantly thinking about is what National Geographic was to people in the 1980s and 1990s, which was a magazine that lived on the newsstand, but was also a magazine that people kept and collected. We’re trying to capture some of that in 2016. We want to last more than just a moment. We don’t want to compete with newsweeklies or other printed products. We want to create something that you’re going to keep and share and pass around; something that you’re going to refer back to over and over again. Those are the kinds of things that you can do in print in a way that you can’t do online. So, that really began the whole discussion about redesigning the magazine.

Samir Husni: I was looking at the redesigned issue and reading your letter from the editor and saw the accompanying photo. In that picture you’re using digital devices as you create this magazine, so how are you using digital to enhance this new Pacific Standard magazine that you’re trying to create?

Nick Jackson: I actually think that’s something that I’m proudest of. My background is almost exclusively in digital. I got my start at Slate and The Atlantic years ago. And we’ve really created a truly hybrid newsroom; it’s a small newsroom, but it really is platform agnostic and informs everything we do. Being platform agnostic is something that everybody talks about and aspires to, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about industry wide for five or six years now. But every place that I’ve worked there’s still people who work in digital and people who work in print. And for some places that works very well. You can look at Hearst where they’ve completely split the two.

Every single person on my team is working on both and that’s made both products better. For us that means that if we have someone who is primarily responsible for assigning featured stories, they can say this story is going to benefit from a quick turnaround time; maybe there’s news pegged like the upcoming election that we want to push out online, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense in print because of the long lead time. So, we really have people who are able to, because they’re working across platforms; decide something works best here or there. This is the story that’s going to be better if we put a couple of months of editing into it for the print magazine.

And that’s also helping our website. We’re doing more fact-checking and copyediting and some of the more traditional print processes; we’re doing more of that online that a lot of places are, so it’s making our website better too.

letter from the editorSamir Husni: You mentioned that in both, the print and the PS mag.com that you’re doubling down on the mission to combine research with narrative and investigative reporting; give me some examples of how you’re doing that.

Nick Jackson: I think first of all; we have to do that. There’s really sort of a mass versus class situation in publishing right now. We don’t really aspire to be a BuzzFeed or even a Vice or Vox. And so we thought that it was really important to double down on our mission, which I think is something that not a lot of other places are doing.

It’s really a couple of different factors for us and part of that is the academic background. A lot of our work is informed by the latest research, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, rather than just relying on an anecdote.

Another differing factor is our core focus areas, where we focus on educational, economic and social justice, and the environment, which largely is a lot of climate change for us now. But you can see those in almost any story we do, so the new redesign issue’s cover for newsstands is “The Addicted Generation.” We had a separate cover for some of our special distribution, but that’s another conversation.

“The Addicted Generation,” which is a traditional magazine piece in that there was weeks’ worth of reporting and dozens of sources of people in their late 20s and early 30s, largely millennials who grew up on Ritalin and other ADHD drugs and who are now struggling, trying to get themselves off of it. They would consider themselves addicted, that’s a word that we don’t use lightly, but it comes up over and over again in our reporting on this.

But it’s more than just their stories. We actually in print and we struggled with this a little bit online, where you can see the packaging of print really is something special. We moved a lot of their individual and personal stories into sidebars, and ran them like “as told” and we focused the feature itself around what the research really told us about how people become dependent on these drugs or don’t become dependent; where’s the research at? The core of the feature is really written with the people studying this issue and the doctors at the heart of it, and then we moved the actual effected millennials into the sidebars.

So, that’s probably a slightly different approach than another magazine would have taken on this story, but I think it really sets us apart and offers something unique and important to our readers.

Samir Husni: You’ve piqued my interest by mentioning another cover; what’s the other cover?

Nick Jackson: The other cover is Ralph Nader. We have special distribution on Capitol Hill, in airport lounges and a couple of other places. One of the things that we want to do is affect policy one way or another and I think that it helps for us to do hand delivery on Capitol Hill, where we thought Ralph Nader would resonate a little more strongly.

I mentioned this in the editor’s letter too; in the redesign we opened up the feature well a little bit, we’re going to be running four features an issue instead of three and with some of that extra space we’re going to be doing more photo essays and more long-form interviews. So, Ralph Nader is our first long-form interview.

We’ve paired with Lydia DePillis, who used to be a labor reporter at the Washington Post and is now at the Houston Chronicle down in Texas. But she has a deep background in a lot of these issues that Ralph Nader’s been involved in for 40 or 50 years at this point. We paired them up and had them talk a lot about the election and what’s coming up. We thought the timing would do well, so he’s our first. And then we have a couple more in the works, but the long-form interview is something that I think we want to do more of and we’re hoping that opening up the feature well will allow us to do that.

That’s the first time that we’ve done a split cover, I don’t know if we’ll keep doing it, but we have been playing around a lot with covers lately. Even the previous issue, which was an entirely water-themed issue; we did a wraparound cover and because we’re a non-profit, we’re in a slightly different position than other places. That back page real estate is less important to us for advertisers and I think it really helps differentiate us. We’re going to try and do some more wraparound covers. I think it gives this thing more of a book quality than a traditional magazine.

back cover useSamir Husni: I love your insect and spider back cover. It’s been said that 55% of people in the Western Hemisphere start reading the magazine from the back.

Nick Jackson: Right. We’ve been working on this redesign while putting out the magazine for 9 or 10 months or so, and there are a lot of obvious things that we wanted to do: expand the feature well, bring more art and photography in, eliminate stock completely; probably the most difficult thing to come up with was what to do with that back page. Not the back cover, but that last page in the magazine. I think everybody in the industry talks about it, and I think only a few magazines have figured it out. You think about The New Yorker cartoon, or maybe the Proust Questionnaire at Vanity Fair, but it’s such a difficult piece of real estate.

Samir Husni: I think even with the prison tattoo; it’s a very captivating last page.

p useNick Jackson: Yes, we’re just going to try and keep it really bold and bright; just focus on a single object that’s related to some of our core coverage areas and tell a brief, little historical story about that object. It was fun, because we actually had someone create that prison tattoo gun before we shot it, so we have it here in the office. I talked about using it to maybe give myself a small Pacific Standard tattoo or something. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Let’s talk a little about your targeted audience. “You’re trying to reach civically engaged citizens interested in improving both private behavior and public policy to promote a more fair and equitable world.” I read that from your letter from the editor. Is that audience shrinking or is that audience expanding? Do we have such an audience in the country as we see it today?

Nick Jackson: For us, the audience is expanding. I don’t know what the larger groups of those sorts of people are; they’re difficult to reach. That’s the future. We were founded by Sara Miller McCune, whose background is in starting Sage Publications 50 years ago, which is an incredibly successful academic publisher, but that’s an entirely different business where you have to publish in those journals to go up for tenure.

We know that most academic papers are only read by three or four people and there’s really important work being done in the space, and that’s really why we put out this magazine, which is how do we take some of the best research happening today and package that in a way that gets people excited.

I just talked about Ralph Nader being our first big interview; we don’t do the big celebrity profile; we don’t do the extended service package; we don’t do a lot of the things that are easier sells to an audience for other people. We’re doing some pretty deeply investigative reporting. We’re doing a lot of scientific work; how do you package that in a way that gets people excited about it and engaged with it?

That’s really why we redesigned the magazine. We’re constantly thinking about how you get in front of those people; how do we stay true to our mission and reach them? So, we know that our audience is expanding.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face during this redesign and how did you overcome it?

Nick Jackson: It would probably be finding that balance. We’re more focused on our mission than we’ve ever been. And I’ve worked with a lot of people here on narrowing that down. Knowing that we want to reach our audience and ultimately everybody wants their stuff to get out in front of as large an audience as possible.

So, a lot of it was thinking, OK – we have this front-of-book that’s largely built around the academic work that is our foundation, but maybe it’s too academic in its presentation. We were doing a lot with citations to journals; we had a lot of departments named after things that hinted back at the university and the Ivory Tower. Maybe it was a little off-putting for just your general reader, which is really who you’re trying to expose with new information.

A lot of that we worked on, and I think we’ve landed in a place that we’re pretty comfortable with. We have pushed what used to be our prospector section, as a sort of short front-of-book stuff, with this new section called “Field Notes,” which is really our version of Talk of the Town. They’re very short, very fun pieces and they’re lighter on the research than a lot of the other stuff we do. So, trying to find that balance is always tricky for us.

But it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to stray from our mission too much and just do work to attract an audience, because if that’s what we wanted to do, we would work elsewhere. I worked at The Atlantic and Outside and at a bunch of big publishers and had a much larger audience than we do here, but the reason for me coming to Pacific Standard was that I wanted to do work that I felt was important. I wanted to do stories that mattered, which we make our tag on. And work that feels like it can make a difference, whether that’s affecting public policy like we talked about, even if it’s affecting private, individual behavior in some way.

Obviously, with everything going on now we’re doing a lot of work around the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence. If you can just use the latest social behavioral research to get people to think about their actions and maybe change them, instead of, I don’t know, creating some quiz or list or something that’s been done in the past, then that’s the most important thing, even if you’re not reaching a huge audience.

Trying to find that balance is always hard. I’ve got a lot of people who have left bigger and more well-known magazines to come out here and try to work on this, because they think everybody is excited about having some affect. So, you’re looking to give up the scale for the impact. Trying to measure impact and trying to figure out what the right equation is will always be tricky.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment during the redesign?

Nick Jackson: It’s hard to pick just one. It’s been a lot of fun. At its best, magazine making is just a really fun and collaborative project, and over the past year or so while we were remaking the magazine we were also building out a new office space that has more room for us to grow into. So, we were actually making the magazine, and I talk about meeting in coffee shops and other things in the editor’s letter, but that’s completely true. (Laughs) A lot of this was made on the fly around California while we were building this new office space, while we were getting ready to grow and expand.

And just getting this brain trust, this group of people who have come from all over the country to work together on this magazine, to think through things such as if we start from scratch, and there are a lot of things that have remained the same from previous iterations because they work, but let’s think about it as though we’re creating a magazine from scratch and we have the resources to do that; how do we make a magazine that we’re excited about putting out?

And it’s really the collaborative nature of magazine making that’s a great joy. The best part about it is that it doesn’t end when the redesign is ready and that’s a daily process. I’m in the middle of shift week right now and I have a lot of people huddled around, trying to put out the best thing they can on a timeline. And that’s always so much fun.

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

Nick Jackson: I’m probably reading a magazine. I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.

So, I’m probably reading a magazine; maybe I’m reading other stuff online. There’s very little I’m doing that’s not related to my work, which may sound sad to some people, I guess, but it’s how I found my way into this. I went to a boarding school for math and science geeks and thought I would become a physicist, and only decided to get into journalism and magazine making because it was sort of my hobby and my interest on the side. And I thought if I can make that a career, then that’s the way to go.

When your put in a position when you seem to have a clear trajectory in one direction and you shift from that because you’re so passionate about whatever it is that’s pulling you in another direction, then that shows in your work.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Nick Jackson: It’s the magazine we’re putting out. As I said, I worked at The Atlantic, Slate and Outside, and I did a lot of work there that I’m really proud of. Those are incredible publishers doing great work today, but a big chunk of my time was thinking through things such as; I’m going to send someone to live on Everest and report on the plight of Sherpas there, which is something that we did when I was at Outside.

But I also have to think about how do I put together a great service package for somebody? Or how do I grow the revenue streams on the website? And that’s something that we’re still sort of thinking about here, but most of our energy and focus goes into just putting out great stories, which I think is what everybody who gets into this business wants to do, but realizes at best that can only be a percentage of what they do. Here, it’s a much larger percentage than anywhere else.

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

Nick Jackson: Fact-checking. (Laughs) Fact-checking headaches. We’re about to close a food issue and for us that’s a big feature on food safety; an issue that involves 46 or more government agencies. So, the headaches of closing a piece like that are many. But, they’re very exciting challenges to work through. But they’re still challenges. So, you’re constantly worried. The difference with print over web is that I have a ship date that I have to meet; these stories have to be ready at a certain time. No matter what they have to be ready to go out the door. And that can be tricky.

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: