h1

Runner’s World Magazine: 50 Years Of Running The Publishing Marathon With No Signs Of Slowing Down Now – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With David Willey, Editor In Chief, & Jessica Murphy, Managing Director, Runner’s World Magazine…

November 18, 2016

“And I do think that there is a lot more disruption coming, 2017 is going to be just as disruptive as the past two years have been, especially for television, in particular. I don’t think the disruption will ever stop, but once things start to normalize, quality journalism is going to be a key differentiator. We’ve seen that in the election, with all of the fake news and some of the other controversies around how news stories are elevated on social media, like Facebook. And maybe I’m idealistic, but I really do think that people will demand and choose high quality information, entertainment, storytelling and journalism. And that’s going to be the key to our success going forward.” David Willey…

rw1116_cov_70s_kevin_hi

“I feel like Runner’s World.com serves a much more utilitarian purpose. A lot of times people come to search and they’re looking for very specific information, such as on an injury or training or they’re coming through social because they’ve seen a very specific piece that they’re interested in. There is still joy in magazines where it’s very purposefully put together by an edit team and that magazine may serve you a piece of content that you weren’t expecting. So, even though print publishing is challenged, we still believe in the value of the medium; we just may be using it in different ways so it balances with all of our other digital channels.” Jessica Murphy…

Recently, I have been celebrating the milestone anniversaries that many, many magazines are seeing these days. Print has a way of outlasting most any other medium of information that I know of. And Runner’s World magazine is no exception to that rule as the magazine is observing and extolling its 50th year of publishing nationally and globally its highly runner-engaging journalism. And I use the word “journalism” instead of content because I happen to agree with Runner’s World’s Editor in Chief, David Willey, when he said, “I’m optimistic actually that the business models will emerge and that quality journalism, and I’m using that word instead of the buzzword “content,” which I’m so sick of; it’s so commoditized and I think it doesn’t actually do us any favors to talk about what we do in a commoditized way. What we do is make great journalism and that takes many forms. That can be service journalism; it can be storytelling; it can be investigative reporting; and I think that’s what we as an industry do and do very, very well.”

Mr. Magazine™ couldn’t have said it better himself. And while David said that in no way was he saying that people who use the word content are in opposition to journalism, he does feel as though it’s a catch-all term. But in a world of newsfeeds, notifications and any number of other disruptive distractions; Mr. Magazine™ would agree that at the end of the day magazine makers are journalists and they produce journalism. And the journalism that Runner’s World creates is unparalleled in the world of running.

rw1116_cov_70s_alexi_hi

I spoke recently with David and the newest member of the staff, Managing Director, Jessica Murphy, and we talked about this milestone 50th anniversary the magazine is celebrating. In addition to the quality journalism the magazine produces, the Runner’s World brand also has many tracks that lead to its compelling information and storytelling, including great events, one being the very recent International Shoe Summit which was held in the magazine’s New York office. The event hosts teams from all 20 global editions and industry executives from companies such as Nike, Brooks Running and New Balance. Following this event, the brand celebrated its 50th Anniversary at the Robert at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC and announced this year’s International Shoe Awards.

The Runner’s World brand has evolved many times over the 50 years it has been publishing, but as David and Jessica both agree, while in today’s world, evolvement is necessary, the root quality and mission of this brand’s journalism needs no evolution. Storytelling, reporting and great design and photography bring the magazine’s readers the addictiveness they require to keep coming back for another 50 years.

So, I hope that you enjoy this very “sole-ful” (sorry, but Mr. Magazine’s™ sense of humor, you’ll have to admit, does have “traction”) interview with two people who know a thing or two about running and the world of marathons, David Willey, editor in chief, & Jessica Murphy, managing director, Runner’s World magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the magazine turning 50 years old (David Willey): It’s never been lost on me that Runner’s World has been around for five decades and has been such an important part of our readers’ lives. It’s done certain things very well and it’s really reflected the times that we’ve lived in. And running has changed so much. It’s been really interesting with this anniversary to look back and see how the magazine over the years has reflected the eras in which it was living.

On Jessica Murphy’s (the new managing director) plans for the next 50 years (Jessica Murphy): I’m extremely honored and excited to be a part of the brand. I’ve been a fan of the magazine for as long as I’ve been a runner myself. My first training program, I obsessed over the magazines’ and the websites’ content as I trained for my first marathon. I think what gets me excited is the strength of the brand and knowing that as we evolve into new channels that also stay true to who we’ve been for the past 50 years, and even though there are a lot of new plans in the space as the running industry has grown and also as the number of runners that are running around the world has increased, no one can duplicate the authenticity and the heritage of the brand.

On her prime focus for the future (Jessica Murphy):
There are a couple of pieces; one is taking a look at our print and digital business and seeing how we can innovate there. And then there’s also a big focus for us to really understand what Runner’s World means when it comes to events. We obviously have our own Runner’s World Half & Festival, which we launched five years ago, but the number of events has increased across the country and across the globe, as running participation has increased. And we’ve really not has as solid or robust of a strategy when it comes to thinking about what Runner’s World means at these events.

On why he thinks it took the magazine industry as a whole many years to realize that magazine media can exist on all platforms and it’s not print versus digital or this versus that (David Willey): That’s a good question that probably has a complicated answer, but I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that for decades we had this perfect business model of distributing this product, a print magazine, and people loved print and the primacy of print was certainly much higher over those decades and there were these two beautiful revenue streams; you had advertisers that wanted to reach the audience, and the audience was actually also paying to have this very high quality product delivered to them every week or every month, or they were buying it on the newsstand. I think as an industry we got very comfortable and maybe even a little bit spoiled by that amazing business model.

David Willey

David Willey



On whether he thinks his job as editor in chief is easier or harder today than it was before he had infinite space (David Willey):
I think it’s become harder. I think all editors in chief have harder jobs than they had a decade ago. It’s been so interesting to be in this field and to have this career for the past 20 years or so, because it really has coincided with the digital revolution and the evolution of the Smartphone and the tablet; all of these things. I’ve been fortunate enough to live through, and actually work through these things.

On whether she feels she could do her job if the print component did not exist (Jessica Murphy):
I don’t see a time for Runner’s World where the magazine does not exist, because it is such a vital storytelling channel. We are spending time making sure the magazine does what it does best, which is bring to life stories in immersive ways that make the reading experience fundamentally different if you were to read the content online. We’re probably spending even more time thinking that through because yes, you can read a lot of the magazine pieces online, but how do we create this feeling with our readers where they cannot wait to get the magazine every month? And when they read it the magazine feels like it’s a reflection of them and David’s thing is that he wants people to read Runner’s World and feel inspired to go for a run immediately after.

On the concrete difference between being in the journalism business and the content business (David Willey): I would say that we’re in both. I think a lot of people just use content as an umbrella term and I don’t necessarily mean to suggest that people who use the word content are in opposition to journalism. I think it’s just sort of a catch-all term. But I do think there are differences, at least in my mind. And I think content includes things like training plans and it includes different mediums like video and audio. And it includes tips about topics that we know our audience comes to us for, such as training and nutrition; injury prevention and running shoe reviews. All of that stuff is content for sure. And we used to make the best stuff and put it out there and wait for people to go get it. And that model is gone, or nearly gone. So, what that means is today as journalists we still need to think every day about making the best stuff, but we need to be just as good at getting that stuff directly under people’s noses or the first part doesn’t matter nearly as much, the first part being making it in the first place.

On the recently named “Best Shoe in the World” by Runner’s World and whether they’re the only qualified brand in the world to name that honor (David Willey): The answer is yes, no question that Runner’s World really is the only brand, media property, magazine; whatever word you want to use; no one else can do that. And that’s for a few reasons. Number one: and Jessica just touched on this, one of the first things I did when I started this job was set up what we call the “Shoe Lab.” And it’s a big investment every year, and we conduct mechanical tests on hundreds of shoes every year that, to be honest, most shoe companies don’t even do. It’s very rigorous; we’re tearing shoes apart; we’re pounding and prodding them; we’re getting amazing amounts of objective, scientific data. And then we’re combining that with the human runner feedback; the subjective data that we get from the 300 or 400 wear-testers that we have around the country.

On anything either of them would like to add (Jessica Murphy): I think overall I’ve been here just under three months and I’ve had a really great experience learning the team and getting an understanding of how we operate, and I feel like everyone is inspired and excited to do some new and exciting things, and so my job will be identifying where it makes sense for Runner’s World to play and finding the right place for us to intersect our brand with helping runners get better and better, whether that’s losing weight or staying fit; running to destress; just whatever their needs are.

Jessica Murphy

Jessica Murphy



On anything either of them would like to add (David Willey):
I’ll add a couple of thoughts. Back to your question about what goes on in my brain; one thing that’s interesting about this brand and something that I want everyone to be aware of is we are a dual gender audience. We’re pretty much straight up, 50/50, male/female and that shifts a little bit with every MRI study; maybe we’re a little bit more female in one reporting period, a little less, but basically we’re 50/50. That’s pretty rare these days.

On what someone would find them doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at either of their homes (Jessica Murphy): In my downtime I do a lot of running, no surprise there, but that normally happens in the mornings. So, at night I’m relaxing pretty well, because I wake up early to run. I love to cook, so when I have time I’ll be at home cooking and I do spend time binge-watching something on Netflix. I’m a big fan of House of Cards, but I actually have recently read a book about trying to get better sleep to improve your health, which involves turning off the screens before bedtime, so I am trying to get more into listening to Podcasts at night and also reading books.

On what someone would find them doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at either of their homes (David Willey):
My wife and I have three kids and our life is quite an adventure. We have a teenaged daughter and two boys, 12 and 7-years-old. So, I spend as much time as I possibly can with them in the evenings. And I’m very conscious about not having screens around when I’m with them. I put the phone away; I put the iPad away; and on a good night we eat dinner together. That happens a couple times per week. Often we’re outside, especially the boys. They’re still at the age where they want to throw the football in the backyard with their dad. And do stuff like that.

On what keeps them up at night (Jessica Murphy):
I’m still fairly new at my job, so we’re obviously in our 2017 planning season, and I think I’m in information overload. I have had back-to-back meetings with so many people and I see the potential and the opportunities here and I just want everything to happen right away. So, what keeps me up at night is I want to develop the right plan to make sure that we can have the right process in place to implement change and making sure that we can move fast enough for the industry.

On what keeps them up at night (David Willey):
One of the great things about being a runner and training for things like triathlons and marathons is that I’m pretty damned tired at night. Every now and then I’ll wake up in the middle of the night because of something stressful going on at work or just uncertainty about our business and our industry. This field that I got into a couple of decades ago because I loved it so much; there’s a small part of me that’s definitely sad. I don’t think it’s dying, but it’s certainly changing.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Willey, editor in chief, & Jessica Murphy, managing director, Runner’s World magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on turning 50 years young in 2016. That’s quite a milestone.

David Willey: Thank you. I can accept those well wishes as the editor of Runner’s World and I can also accept them personally because I turn 50-years-old next year, so I’m roughly the same age as the magazine. (Laughs) I actually wrote something in my editor’s letter in the anniversary issue about this. I am simultaneously amused and humbled in a very cool way by the knowledge that this magazine was born a year or so before I was. And I’ve been here about 13½ years now and I’ve always thought of my job as being a sort of caretaker of this institution that’s been around for a long time and really one that hasn’t had that many editors in chief. Amby Burfoot preceded me here and he’s been associated with the magazine for almost 30 years.

So, it’s never been lost on me that Runner’s World has been around for five decades and has been such an important part of our readers’ lives. It’s done certain things very well and it’s really reflected the times that we’ve lived in. And running has changed so much. It’s been really interesting with this anniversary to look back and see how the magazine over the years has reflected the eras in which it was living.

But it’s also not lost on me that we’re in a different place now. The media space is very different and we need to change; we need to evolve. And it’s been a secondary reminder when we were looking back at five decades of issues, that’s what Runner’s World has always done. It started with a completely different name; it started with the name Distance Running News, and then evolved into The Runner’s World. The word “the” was dropped and then the magazine was sold to Rodale and it was combined with another magazine called The Runner, so it has always evolved. It has never been the same thing for five decades.

And that’s been very encouraging because we know that we need to continually reach new audiences and make sure that the brand Runner’s World is expressing itself in the best possible way today. And the brand is a print magazine, and of course, it’s a website, but it’s lots of other things as well, including video, audio, social media, products and events. And I feel like we’re really well-positioned to continue to serve this amazing audience that we have in all of these new ways. We can be wherever they need us and want us to be.

It can be hard for a brand that’s 50-years-old to be in that position, but I think we’re pretty unique in that way. I’m actually more encouraged that we have this heritage than I am worried that we’re wedded to the past.

Samir Husni: Jessica, let me ask you as the new managing director, you have a major brand that’s been thrown into your lap, one that’s globally known; what’s the plan for the next 50 years?
Jessica Murphy: I’m extremely honored and excited to be a part of the brand. I’ve been a fan of the magazine for as long as I’ve been a runner myself. My first training program, I obsessed over the magazines’ and the websites’ content as I trained for my first marathon. I think what gets me excited is the strength of the brand and knowing that as we evolve into new channels that also stay true to who we’ve been for the past 50 years, and even though there are a lot of new plans in the space as the running industry has grown and also as the number of runners that are running around the world has increased, no one can duplicate the authenticity and the heritage of the brand. And we have to lean into that while also evolving where we stand.

runners-world_december-2016-cover-eileen

Samir Husni: If we’re sitting down and having this interview again in one year; what would you hope to tell me? From your 50th anniversary, which we’re discussing now, what are your future expectations for the magazine now that you’re onboard?

Jessica Murphy: There are a couple of pieces; one is taking a look at our print and digital business and seeing how we can innovate there. And then there’s also a big focus for us to really understand what Runner’s World means when it comes to events. We obviously have our own Runner’s World Half & Festival, which we launched five years ago, but the number of events has increased across the country and across the globe, as running participation has increased. And we’ve really not has as solid or robust of a strategy when it comes to thinking about what Runner’s World means at these events.

And we know races are so important to runners; it’s where they see the culmination of all of their hard work and dedication, so it’s a very important interaction for us to understand. And then we need to think about how events can scale into those places.

And the other piece is training. As I mentioned, my first marathon training program was a Runner’s World training plan, but obviously there are a lot more players in the space, and the way people approach training is a lot different than they used to.

For us, I think it will be evolving training beyond just what it is right now, which is kind of like your basic training program telling you what miles to run and how fast to run them, without thinking through the whole approach. So, that’s my other big project. And again, all of these I think are at the core of what Runner’s World needs as a brand and will come to life in ways that go beyond what you see now, which is the magazine and the website.

Samir Husni: And David, the brand is on every platform that has so far been invented. You can find Runner’s World in print, digital, events; you name it. Why do you think it took the magazine industry as a whole five to six years before they recognized that we can exist on all platforms; it’s not print versus digital or this versus that?

David Willey: That’s a good question that probably has a complicated answer, but I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that for decades we had this perfect business model of distributing this product, a print magazine, and people loved print and the primacy of print was certainly much higher over those decades and there were these two beautiful revenue streams; you had advertisers that wanted to reach the audience, and the audience was actually also paying to have this very high quality product delivered to them every week or every month, or they were buying it on the newsstand. I think as an industry we got very comfortable and maybe even a little bit spoiled by that amazing business model.

And I don’t mean that to sound overly critical; I think this industry is full of incredibly creative and innovative people. And a lot of it was just because that became kind of our core business; the creation and distribution of this certain kind of product in a certain kind of way that became very efficient and was really a very successful model for a long, long time.

It can be really hard to evolve away from something like that, especially in an environment where it’s not so clear that the audience is willing to pay for content in these new ways. And if they are willing to pay, they’re probably not willing to pay the kinds of prices that they’re used to paying for print. And it’s not entirely clear that advertisers necessarily want to pay the same kinds of CPMs (cost per thousand); they don’t have to in the digital realm, where it’s much more driven by programmatic buying and lower CPMs and all the rest. So, suddenly, these two unassailable revenue streams, at least they were unassailable for decades, have become quite vulnerable.

So, suddenly as an industry I don’t think we were operating from a position of strength from a business model standpoint. And we’re still probably reckoning with the decision we all made individually a decade or so ago, but sort of as an industry too, that we would give away a lot of content on the web for free, and it’s harder to move from that toward charging for quality content now digitally.

And of course, there has been the evolution of the Smartphone, which is really becoming THE number one way that people consume all kinds of content, whether it’s print, or video, and increasingly audio. It’s a small screen and it’s a platform that’s really dominated by the big tech companies like Apple, and it’s not entirely clear where the publisher’s place is in that ecosystem. So, I think it’s taken us a long time because it’s been very hard and there has been so much disruption, both in people’s habits and also in the new players that are kind of dominating the media sphere, some of whom didn’t even exist a decade ago.

Again, I think there are a lot of very innovative and creative people in our business and I’m optimistic actually that the business models will emerge and that quality journalism, and I’m using that word instead of the buzzword “content,” which I’m so sick of; it’s so commoditized and I think it doesn’t actually do us any favors to talk about what we do in a commoditized way. What we do is make great journalism and that takes many forms. That can be service journalism; it can be storytelling; it can be investigative reporting; and I think that’s what we as an industry do and do very, very well.

And I do think that there is a lot more disruption coming, 2017 is going to be just as disruptive as the past two years have been, especially for television, in particular. I don’t think the disruption will ever stop, but once things start to normalize, quality journalism is going to be a key differentiator. We’ve seen that in the election, with all of the fake news and some of the other controversies around how news stories are elevated on social media, like Facebook. And maybe I’m idealistic, but I really do think that people will demand and choose high quality information, entertainment, storytelling and journalism. And that’s going to be the key to our success going forward.

runners-world_december-2016-cover-josh

Samir Husni: This is the first time that I’ve heard someone differentiate between content and journalism. I was reading a lecture from one of my professors from Missouri recently that was written in 1970, and he was talking about the demise and decline of journalism. And in one of his quotes he said, “The minute a journalist starts commenting on the news, he or she is no longer a journalist.” So, I love that differentiation between content and journalism, and you being the ex-president of ASME (American Society of Magazine Editors) and very involved with the industry as a whole, besides just Runner’s World; if I go inside your mind, how do you decide what’s great for the magazine or mobile or the web? Has your job become harder or easier because of the infinite space now available?

David Willey: (Laughs) I think it’s become harder. I think all editors in chief have harder jobs than they had a decade ago. It’s been so interesting to be in this field and to have this career for the past 20 years or so, because it really has coincided with the digital revolution and the evolution of the Smartphone and the tablet; all of these things. I’ve been fortunate enough to live through, and actually work through these things.

When I started here, really my only job was to make the best magazine that we could make every 30 days. If we had a national partner we communicated with them a bit, and we had a website, but it was sort of managed by a couple of other people who sat – well, I’m not even sure where they sat. I had nothing to do with the early website; it really was just make a magazine, the best magazine you can; that is our business. And now that’s just a sliver of what my job is and what my team’s job is.

Let me give you an example that I hope will answer your question and it’s a very good question. Over the summer, and I’m sure you remember that there were those three murders of female runners within nine days of each other. They were unrelated, and the stories were national news. Of course, they brought a lot of commentary from the mainstream media about how running can be dangerous and what female runners in particular need to do or not do to stay safe. And we had an editorial meeting to talk about all of these things and to discuss what, if anything, we felt like we should publish about these murders and the commentary that surrounded them.

In that meeting I learned from some of my female staffers that being abducted or attacked or God forbid, murdered, was fortunately incredibly rare, something like that rarely, rarely happens to runners. But what is incredibly common for female runners is to be harassed while they’re running. And I was totally unaware of that and I even asked, “What do you mean harassed? What kind of harassment?”

And several members of my staff started talking about how pretty much every time they went out running by themselves or with other women, they would get catcalls and propositioned and even followed sometimes. And it was clear that this wasn’t just annoying to them, although it is annoying, I’m sure. It can also be really frightening. So, this was clearly a story that wasn’t being talked about and it hadn’t been reported anywhere before, so we immediately started a print story, but it was also immediately a web story because we put a survey up on our website to ask our own readers about this topic and we received over 4,500 responses. It was really overwhelming. And we produced a very strong print piece that because of timelines and lineups and all of the rest, we weren’t able to publish until our December issue.

But I pretty much knew going in that we were going to lead with this story online. And we were actually going to publish our work on our website before anyone saw it in print. And I also pretty much knew that we were going to create some audio content on this for one of our podcasts So, 10 years ago this story would have taken much longer to do because we wouldn’t have been able to get so much response from our readers as quickly as we did. It would have gone into a print issue that would have been shipped on a certain date and read by the audience two to three months later. And now we’re at a time where the print schedule still happens, but we have the opportunity to publish it in real time; we have the opportunity to publish multimedia around this and make it a much more immersive and impactful and emotional kind of story.

So, that’s harder on one hand, because there’s more work to do and it’s more complex; the planning is more complex. You need to have the talent on your staff that can do all of that, but it’s also great to feel that you have that kind of versatility as a journalist and a storyteller to be as relevant as quickly as you can and to be as impactful as you can possibly be using all of these different tools.

Samir Husni: Jessica, can you do what you’re doing, in terms of your role at the magazine, if you do not have that print component?

Jessica Murphy: I don’t see a time for Runner’s World where the magazine does not exist, because it is such a vital storytelling channel. We are spending time making sure the magazine does what it does best, which is bring to life stories in immersive ways that make the reading experience fundamentally different if you were to read the content online. We’re probably spending even more time thinking that through because yes, you can read a lot of the magazine pieces online, but how do we create this feeling with our readers where they cannot wait to get the magazine every month? And when they read it the magazine feels like it’s a reflection of them and David’s thing is that he wants people to read Runner’s World and feel inspired to go for a run immediately after.

I feel like Runner’s World.com serves a much more utilitarian purpose. A lot of times people come to search and they’re looking for very specific information, such as on an injury or training or they’re coming through social because they’ve seen a very specific piece that they’re interested in. There is still joy in magazines where it’s very purposefully put together by an edit team and that magazine may serve you a piece of content that you weren’t expecting. So, even though print publishing is challenged, we still believe in the value of the medium; we just may be using it in different ways so it balances with all of our other digital channels.

And I actually think as we accelerate our innovation on our digital channels, the website and social; it will invite even more people to the magazine, because there are still millions of runners out there who aren’t subscribing to the magazine and I think as we increase our exposure to them on digital and social, that will invite them into the brand.

Samir Husni: David, I want to expand a little on that differentiation between doing journalism and doing content, because I’ve heard from a few folks in the industry, including some CEOs, who have said that we’re in the content business, but you’re telling me that you’re in the journalism business. Can you give me a little more concrete difference between the two?

David Willey: Yes, although I would say that we’re in both. I think a lot of people just use content as an umbrella term and I don’t necessarily mean to suggest that people who use the word content are in opposition to journalism. I think it’s just sort of a catch-all term.

But I do think there are differences, at least in my mind. And I think content includes things like training plans and it includes different mediums like video and audio. And it includes tips about topics that we know our audience comes to us for, such as training and nutrition; injury prevention and running shoe reviews. All of that stuff is content for sure. And we need to be great at producing it and we need to be just as good, and this is another key difference in my job and really any editor’s job; we still focus everyday on making the best stuff.

And we used to make the best stuff and put it out there and wait for people to go get it. And that model is gone, or nearly gone. So, what that means is today as journalists we still need to think every day about making the best stuff, but we need to be just as good at getting that stuff directly under people’s noses or the first part doesn’t matter nearly as much, the first part being making it in the first place. We have to make it and we need to get it under people’s noses. And that’s part of our job as journalists.

So, I’m not opposed to the term content, but when I think the difference between content and journalism really matters is when it comes to things like long form storytelling; and investigative reporting; and great graphic design; and memorable, high-impact photography; those elements that take time, skill and take investment in the form of money and talent, often get lost or go by the wayside when people are building and sort of thinking of themselves as content factories.

I guess what I’m talking about is quality and a commitment to quality and a commitment to not necessarily knowing that what it is you’re working on is already guaranteed to be clicked on by your audience.

Jessica Murphy: I would also add that our shoe guides are a great example of the quality journalism produced by Runner’s World, because there are a lot of newer outlets that will review shoes, but not in the same rigor or process that we do at Runner’s World. The number of different types of runners who will test the shoe, or own shoe lab; so to me that’s a perfect example of what we’re known for, one of our most important facets of the brand. And why we’re so different from other outlets that do it, that may be producing content and writing about the shoe, but the process in which they go about it is much different.

David Willey: I think one of the things that I object to with the term content, and again, I don’t mean to impugn people across the board, but sometimes in the digital sphere particularly, content just means words and pictures. And words and pictures are pretty much anywhere. We can get words and pictures from our audience. Entire companies have been founded and gone bankrupt on the model of user-generated content.

And as a journalist what I have been heartened to see is that I think there is a realization now that content is not easy. Content is actually hard. It’s not just words and pictures and an article template and a social media post. It’s actually judgement and reporting skill; the talent that goes into finding stories that aren’t right there on the surface; and it’s surprising and delighting people in ways that they don’t expect. And that doesn’t show up in their algorithms and the cookies that everybody has attached to them as they move around the Internet.

So, I think it’s important to do both; I really do. I don’t want to sound overly high-minded about this. It’s an important job at Runner’s World to deliver the quick hits of advice and training plans, and a lot of people would consider that content, but I think that if that’s all we do, then we’re going to be in trouble. It goes back to creating a feeling and hitting on our audience’s emotions and their practical needs, but also their heart and soul. I think Runner’s World as a brand needs to be tools and tips, but it also has to have heart and soul.

Samir Husni: Recently you announced the “Best Shoe in the World” and it involved all 20 of your editors in the global editions of Runner’s World. Do you see that as something only Runner’s World can do, not only the best shoe in the United States, but the best shoe in the world?

David Willey: (Laughs) The answer is yes, no question that Runner’s World really is the only brand, media property, magazine; whatever word you want to use; no one else can do that. And that’s for a few reasons. Number one: and Jessica just touched on this, one of the first things I did when I started this job was set up what we call the “Shoe Lab.” And it’s a big investment every year, and we conduct mechanical tests on hundreds of shoes every year that, to be honest, most shoe companies don’t even do. It’s very rigorous; we’re tearing shoes apart; we’re pounding and prodding them; we’re getting amazing amounts of objective, scientific data. And then we’re combining that with the human runner feedback; the subjective data that we get from the 300 or 400 wear-testers that we have around the country.

We put these shoes on their feet and they give us regular feedback and it’s those two channels that really inform our shoe reviews. And nobody else does that; there is no other magazine or brand that does that.

And then the second piece is as you said earlier in the conversation, we have editions in 20 countries now. So, for the “Best Shoe in the World” it’s sort of like the crème de la crème; it’s a subset of the best shoes we can test throughout the year here in the Shoe Lab and then we get together with the experts in our international editions, and they’re factoring in their opinions of the shoe and what they’re hearing from their audience, and sort of narrowing it down into one overall winner. It’s pretty good branding. The “Best Shoe in the World,” it’s pretty clear and unassailable and it’s cool to be able to do it that way.

And again, I just want to emphasize this isn’t opinion or we’re not going from press releases; we feel like we’re able to kind of stand up and say something so declarative because of what we put into our testing process.

kevin_covers_3

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

Jessica Murphy: I think overall I’ve been here just under three months and I’ve had a really great experience learning the team and getting an understanding of how we operate, and I feel like everyone is inspired and excited to do some new and exciting things, and so my job will be identifying where it makes sense for Runner’s World to play and finding the right place for us to intersect our brand with helping runners get better and better, whether that’s losing weight or staying fit; running to destress; just whatever their needs are.

I think on top of the publishing industry and the media industry becoming so complex, runners have also gotten more complex. Ten years ago most people running, there was a smaller universe of runners who were a lot more likeminded and tended to be a more competitive runner. And now the running industry has boomed so much, you have a lot of people who are running for fun or running for charity; it’s amazing. So, we’ve had to kind of think about how we serve all of these new people, which is great, but also challenging on top of the channel mix that we’ve already discussed.

Overall, for the future of Runner’s World, I think we have a lot of opportunity and hopefully in another year we’ll be talking about all of these exciting new things we’re doing.

David Willey: I’ll add a couple of thoughts. Back to your question about what goes on in my brain; one thing that’s interesting about this brand and something that I want everyone to be aware of is we are a dual gender audience. We’re pretty much straight up, 50/50, male/female and that shifts a little bit with every MRI study; maybe we’re a little bit more female in one reporting period, a little less, but basically we’re 50/50. That’s pretty rare these days.

And we think about that every time we’re making the magazine; we think about it in terms of the visual; we make sure that we feel like every issue of the magazine speaks to all runners. But of course, you can’t do that on every, single page. But whether you’re a man or a woman or a new runner who isn’t even sure how to get started or someone who has been running marathons for 20 years, Runner’s World is for all runners. And that can be complicated when you’re thinking about dual gender and different stages of running experience. But it’s also a lot of fun.

And the other thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is others. Again, going back to this model that we’ve had for so long; the newsstand appears to be kind of going the way of the telephone booth, quite literally. I was in New York for a week for the marathon recently and I lived in New York for 13 years; and just walking around the City, I literally, several times, would stop and think to myself that there used to be a newsstand where I had stopped. And it was gone.

Just in the way when I lived in New York City in the early ‘90s, I used to walk around and there were pay phones there. There are fewer newsstands than there has been, and there will probably be even fewer a year from now. And the newsstands that are still around are carrying fewer magazines. They’re carrying more iPhone chargers and neck pillows and other high-margin knickknacks.

As an editor I think the question is what is the job of a magazine cover in 2016 and going forward? I’m not saying that I don’t want to sell copies on newsstands, of course I do, but I think a magazine cover’s job is more diverse and complicated than it used to be. It’s equally about share-ability on social media; it’s equally about saying something about your brand and reaching new audiences, while trying to speak to your core audience as well.

We had a really, really fun month right around our November, 50th anniversary issue, with the covers that we did, with Kevin Hart and Alexi Pappas, and the throwback covers. It was certainly a departure for us to do them in that way, but appropriate for a 50th anniversary. And the way that we went about it was we wanted to produce something that delighted people, both new runners and also our current readers. And that flew around the Internet with energy and enthusiasm and maybe got Runner’s World noticed by people who weren’t really paying attention to it to begin with.

Is that going to be our bestseller on newsstand? No, I can tell you that with utter certainty. But was it a successful cover? I think yes, it was. Again, because of the way that we editors need to think in a more complex way about what our covers are supposed to do in this media age.

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

Jessica Murphy: In my downtime I do a lot of running, no surprise there, but that normally happens in the mornings. So, at night I’m relaxing pretty well, because I wake up early to run. I love to cook, so when I have time I’ll be at home cooking and I do spend time binge-watching something on Netflix. I’m a big fan of House of Cards, but I actually have recently read a book about trying to get better sleep to improve your health, which involves turning off the screens before bedtime, so I am trying to get more into listening to Podcasts at night and also reading books.

David Willey: My wife and I have three kids and our life is quite an adventure. We have a teenaged daughter and two boys, 12 and 7-years-old. So, I spend as much time as I possibly can with them in the evenings. And I’m very conscious about not having screens around when I’m with them. I put the phone away; I put the iPad away; and on a good night we eat dinner together. That happens a couple times per week. Often we’re outside, especially the boys. They’re still at the age where they want to throw the football in the backyard with their dad. And do stuff like that.

And then once everybody is fed and in bed and that usually doesn’t all get accomplished until 9:00 p.m. or so, you’ll see a lot of books in my house. I love to read and I try to read as much fiction as I can, because my days are so consumed with journalism. Fiction really is a great way to unwind and sort of get lost in stories. And I love print books; I don’t like reading books onscreen. In my house, you would see some overstuffed bookshelves. I think I must have over 1,000 books in my house.

And believe it or not, I try to get to bed at a decent hour. On a good night I’m actually asleep before 11:00 p.m. I’ve been known to binge-watch some shows, certainly. But the problem with binge-watching is, I’ve also been known to start watching one show at 9:30 p.m. and it’s so easy to just say, “OK, I’ll just watch that next episode.” And Netflix and Amazon have gotten so good at making it so seamless and frictionless to just keep going. I’ve been downstairs at 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday night having just watched my third episode of House of Cards and I think how ridiculous that is. (Laughs) So, I actually binge-watch less now during the week than I used to and I’m up by 6:00 a.m. And I try to find the time to get a run or a bike ride or a workout in, either in the morning or during the day sometime. Kind of boring, but again, I’m a nearing-50-year-old dad who has a fun and crazy job. At the end of each day and at the end of each week, what I’m kind of going for is balance.

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

Jessica Murphy: I’m still fairly new at my job, so we’re obviously in our 2017 planning season, and I think I’m in information overload. I have had back-to-back meetings with so many people and I see the potential and the opportunities here and I just want everything to happen right away. So, what keeps me up at night is I want to develop the right plan to make sure that we can have the right process in place to implement change and making sure that we can move fast enough for the industry. That is something I have tried to push out of my brain for the last couple of weeks because I see the things that need to happen and I want them to happen right away, but I know these things take time. Really good quality takes time.

David Willey: One of the great things about being a runner and training for things like triathlons and marathons is that I’m pretty damned tired at night. Every now and then I’ll wake up in the middle of the night because of something stressful going on at work or just uncertainty about our business and our industry. This field that I got into a couple of decades ago because I loved it so much; there’s a small part of me that’s definitely sad. I don’t think it’s dying, but it’s certainly changing. And I think that there are some of the things that I value about t that aren’t as valued as they used to be by our readers. And stuff like that bothers me and occasionally it wakes me up at night, but a combination of being tired from running hard that day and grabbing one of those books off of the top of my stack next to my bed; in 10 or 15 minutes I’m good. I can sleep again.

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: