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The Spectator Magazine: The British Are Coming… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Freddy Gray, Editor, The Spectator, US Edition…

September 30, 2019

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“I think people like having The Spectator on their coffee tables at home, and I believe they like the physicality of a printed product. People are tired of looking at screens. You know, we used to talk about “lean back and lean forward” with publications. Lean forward with things like The Economist, lean back with things like Vanity Fair, but I’ve always thought The Spectator was both. We’re informative and we’re entertaining, something that you can read at home and relax with.”…Freddy Gray

The Spectator, one of the world’s oldest, continuously published magazines (since 1828), is launching a U.S. monthly print version of the magazine on October 1 after starting a U.S. digital presence last year. Freddy Gray is the editor of the new American edition, and deputy editor of its British bulwark, The Spectator, a weekly which  features politics, culture, and current affairs.

The Spectator’s brand of journalism is unique and doesn’t strive to have its readers agree with them. In fact, according to Freddy, he would prefer a little dissension between the content and the reader, it makes for a richer relationship.

I spoke with Freddy recently and we talked about this new American version of the British magazine that’s been around for almost two centuries. Freddy said the powers-that-be at The Spectator were very pleased with how the U.S. website had done here in the states in the year since it began. But why print? Well, the ink on paper magazine has performed excellently in the U.K. for the past three years, no reason to think it won’t here as well.

And while The Spectator is trying to do something unique, Freddy said if he had to compare it to another magazine here in the states, its competition, it would have to be a title like National Review, but they don’t really see themselves as strictly a political magazine, since they have a big focus on books and art, and life in the realm. “We have a whole life section, which is about living life. And I think that makes us unique,” Freddy shared.

His perspective is they aren’t publishing stories in order to tell readers how to think. They aren’t politics bores. They aren’t interested in shaping the conservative or any other movement. They are The Spectator: their highest priority is to provide readers with engaging, beautifully written and entertaining copy.

So, I hope that you enjoy this tale from across the pond that is landing on our American shores soon, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Freddy Gray, editor, The Spectator (U.S.).

But first the sound-bites:

On why he feels in this digital age there is a need for another print publication, especially one where there are conflicting opinions on the content: The reason we are encouraged by what The Spectator has done so far in the U.S., is that the website has done so well in the last year from scratch. And we know that print works for us in the U.K., it’s been doing really well for the last three years. And I think The Spectator’s USP is “don’t think alike.” We like to publish different opinions in the same magazine. In a world that’s increasingly tribal and polarized, I think people quite enjoy that. Readers like to be challenged.

On how the print edition will be different from the website: The print edition’s features will be more durable, obviously the website is a daily take on the passing scene, but the print edition is a monthly thing.

On what he feels will be the audience’s expectation after reading the first issue and what will be the “wow factor” making them want more: The idea is to challenge and entertain. The Spectator has kept a sense of fun, although I’m a great admirer of American magazines like the National Review and I used to work for The American Conservative. So, I think they’re all great magazines, but I think something that happened with American publications is they stopped having fun. And The Spectator has always kept a sense of humor and that is sorely lacking in these rather stiff and puritanical times.

On whether he feels working for The American Conservative magazine in the past will help him create this new political magazine now: Yes, I think so. The American Conservative is a very interesting publication and a very great publication, because it was set up to kind of oppose the war in Iraq when the rest of the conservative media were thundering toward the invasion of Iraq. It gave me an insight into the Conservative movement, such as it is, that perhaps other British people don’t quite have.

On the biggest challenge he thinks the magazine will have here in the States: The biggest challenge is going to be finding our audience, though we’re starting to do that now. I suppose the biggest challenge is in not falling into these sort of tribal impulses and the nature of these culture wars.

On the rather hefty subscription price of $24 per quarter after the initial first three months for $10: I think you’ll find a higher quality of writing and a higher quality of thinking. And that’s worth paying for.

On this combination of writing and thinking in The Spectator: I’m not exactly sure how much you know about The Spectator, but we’ve always published the greatest English writers. You can look back: Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and many more. We also published quite a few great American writers: Michael Lewis, for example, we published his first-ever piece in The Spectator. We’ve always had this ability to focus on good writing and good writing is a product of good thinking. And that’s something we specialize in.

On how he balances his job between being deputy editor of the mother ship, The Spectator, and editor of the newborn The Spectator in the U.S.: With great difficulty. (Laughs) My editor back in London has been extremely kind and generous and has allowed me to focus on this project, certainly for the last couple of months, almost exclusively. At the moment, I’m pretty much focused on the American title.

On who is his competition in America: I think we’re trying to do something unique, but I suppose the natural competition would be the other conservative magazines like National Review, but I think we’re actually trying to do something a bit different. We sort of see ourselves as not really a political magazine, everybody obsesses over politics in America, and it is fascinating; we’re fascinated by politics, but we also have a big focus on books and art, and life in the round. We have a whole life section, which is about living life. And I think that makes us unique.

On why he thinks, in this digital age, The Spectator has seen this resurgence in print in the U.K. for the last three years: There is a combination of things. I think people like having The Spectator on their coffee tables at home, and I believe they like the physicality of a printed product. People are tired of looking at screens. You know, we used to talk about “lean back and lean forward” with publications. Lean forward with things like The Economist, lean back with things like Vanity Fair, but I’ve always thought The Spectator was both. We’re informative and we’re entertaining, something that you can read at home and relax with.

On what he would hope to tell someone he had accomplished with the magazine in one year: We want to get a foothold in the American magazine market. And I’m confident that we’ll do that.

On whether they’re in it for the long run: We are in it for the long run, our owner is very supportive. And I think they’re going to back us.

On how he would introduce The Spectator to his American audience: The story I would tell people is when I was starting The Spectator there was a letter in it from a reader and it said, I’ve just read the latest issue of The Spectator and I agreed with every article, therefore I’d like to cancel my subscription. And I’ve always thought that’s the great appeal of The Spectator, is that every magazine should have something that you profoundly disagree with or something that irritates you. We can challenge you, but you have to read it and enter into our world, which is a world of challenging what you think and being amusing.

On his opinion of today’s journalism being a bit hard to pinpoint: I think there’s an interesting difference, isn’t there, between the American approach to journalism and the British approach. Americans tend to take journalism a bit too seriously, I think. And it can become a bit stiff and a sort of civic duty. The British probably have the reverse problem of not really caring what’s true and just banging out anything anyway. (Laughs) I think The Spectator is a happy medium between the two.

On anything he’d like to add: I don’t know if you’ve seen our first editorial about our link to America. I think the history of The Spectator in America is quite interesting. The fact that we supported the North in the Civil War and that the former editor was invited to the White House by Teddy Roosevelt when he came over to work on The Spectator. I can’t say that I’ve been offered the same hospitality. (Laughs) But I am happy to be here.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: (Laughs) I think there are many conceptions about Freddy Gray, so I don’t know if there are many misconceptions, I try not to talk about myself. (Laughs again) I suppose people might think that I’m a bit more rightwing than I am. I’d like to think that a bit like The Spectator, I’m quite heterodox, I have different opinions about different things. I’m not informed by one particular ideology. I like to think differently.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I would almost certainly be drinking a glass of wine and I like reading books, and seeing friends and family, that’s what I do most of the time.

On what keeps him up at night: The time difference between America and Britain. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Freddy Gray, editor, The Spectator.

Samir Husni: In the middle of everything that’s taking place in the magazine industry today, why do you feel there is a need for yet another publication, one where half of the readers may agree with the content and the other half may not?

Freddy Gray: The reason we are encouraged by what The Spectator has done so far in the U.S., is that the website has done so well in the last year from scratch. And we know that print works for us in the U.K., it’s been doing really well for the last three years. And I think The Spectator’s USP is “don’t think alike.” We like to publish different opinions in the same magazine. In a world that’s increasingly tribal and polarized, I think people quite enjoy that. Readers like to be challenged.

Samir Husni: How do you think the print edition will be different from what you’ve created on the web?

Freddy Gray: The print edition’s features will be more durable, obviously the website is a daily take on the passing scene, but the print edition is a monthly thing.

Samir Husni: Once I flip through that first issue, what is the expectation from the audience, whether they’re familiar with your website or not? What are you going to offer them and me that is going to wow us to want more?

Freddy Gray: The idea is to challenge and entertain. The Spectator has kept a sense of fun, although I’m a great admirer of American magazines like the National Review and I used to work for The American Conservative. So, I think they’re all great magazines, but I think something that happened with American publications is they stopped having fun. And The Spectator has always kept a sense of humor and that is sorely lacking in these rather stiff and puritanical times.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you worked at The American Conservative magazine, you were the literary editor there, do you think your background will help you create this new political magazine that has a bit of a twist, so to speak?

Freddy Gray: Yes, I think so. The American Conservative is a very interesting publication and a very great publication, because it was set up to kind of oppose the war in Iraq when the rest of the conservative media were thundering toward the invasion of Iraq. It gave me an insight into the Conservative movement, such as it is, that perhaps other British people don’t quite have.

Samir Husni: The first American issue of The Spectator is coming out on Tuesday, October 1. What do you think is going to be your biggest challenge?

Freddy Gray: The biggest challenge is going to be finding our audience, though we’re starting to do that now. I suppose the biggest challenge is in not falling into these sort of tribal impulses and the nature of these culture wars.

Samir Husni: I see that the magazine is going to be rather expensive, you can get the first three months for $10, but then it’s going to be $24 for every quarter after that. In comparison to most of the American magazines that’s a hefty price to pay. What’s the philosophy behind that?

Freddy Gray: I think you’ll find a higher quality of writing and a higher quality of thinking. And that’s worth paying for.

Samir Husni: Tell me more about that combination of the writing and the thinking.

Freddy Gray: I’m not exactly sure how much you know about The Spectator, but we’ve always published the greatest English writers. You can look back: Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and many more. We also published quite a few great American writers: Michael Lewis, for example, we published his first-ever piece in The Spectator. We’ve always had this ability to focus on good writing and good writing is a product of good thinking. And that’s something we specialize in.

Samir Husni: How do you balance your job between being deputy editor of the mother ship, The Spectator, and editor of the newborn The Spectator in the U.S.?

Freddy Gray: With great difficulty. (Laughs) My editor back in London has been extremely kind and generous and has allowed me to focus on this project, certainly for the last couple of months, almost exclusively. At the moment, I’m pretty much focused on the American title.

Samir Husni: Who’s your competition in America?

Freddy Gray: I think we’re trying to do something unique, but I suppose the natural competition would be the other conservative magazines like National Review, but I think we’re actually trying to do something a bit different. We sort of see ourselves as not really a political magazine, everybody obsesses over politics in America, and it is fascinating; we’re fascinated by politics, but we also have a big focus on books and art, and life in the round. We have a whole life section, which is about living life. And I think that makes us unique.

Samir Husni: You said that in the U.K. The Spectator has had great success in print for the last three years, and needless to say, it is one of the oldest, continuously published magazines in the world. Why do you think, in this digital age, it has seen this resurgence in print for the last three years?

Freddy Gray: There is a combination of things. I think people like having The Spectator on their coffee tables at home, and I believe they like the physicality of a printed product. People are tired of looking at screens. You know, we used to talk about “lean back and lean forward” with publications. Lean forward with things like The Economist, lean back with things like Vanity Fair, but I’ve always thought The Spectator was both. We’re informative and we’re entertaining, something that you can read at home and relax with.

 Samir Husni: Do you have any set goals? If you and I are having this conversation one year from now, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with The Spectator?

Freddy Gray: We want to get a foothold in the American magazine market. And I’m confident that we’ll do that.

Samir Husni: We both know it takes deep pockets to start a magazine. Is there a dedicated investor who is going to keep this going even if you hit some stumbling blocks along the way? Are you in it for the long run?

Freddy Gray: We are in it for the long run, our owner is very supportive. And I think they’re going to back us.

Samir Husni: How would you introduce The Spectator to your American audience? What’s your elevator pitch?

Freddy Gray: The story I would tell people is when I was starting The Spectator there was a letter in it from a reader and it said, I’ve just read the latest issue of The Spectator and I agreed with every article, therefore I’d like to cancel my subscription. And I’ve always thought that’s the great appeal of The Spectator, is that every magazine should have something that you profoundly disagree with or something that irritates you. We can challenge you, but you have to read it and enter into our world, which is a world of challenging what you think and being amusing.

Samir Husni: I’ve read your editorial about the uniqueness of the brand of journalism, and in this day and age, where even as a professor of journalism we are sometimes at a loss for what to teach students, is journalism good or bad…

Freddy Gray: I think there’s an interesting difference, isn’t there, between the American approach to journalism and the British approach. Americans tend to take journalism a bit too seriously, I think. And it can become a bit stiff and a sort of civic duty. The British probably have the reverse problem of not really caring what’s true and just banging out anything anyway. (Laughs) I think The Spectator is a happy medium between the two.

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

Freddy Gray: I don’t know if you’ve seen our first editorial about our link to America. I think the history of The Spectator in America is quite interesting. The fact that we supported the North in the Civil War and that the former editor was invited to the White House by Teddy Roosevelt when he came over to work on The Spectator. I can’t say that I’ve been offered the same hospitality. (Laughs) But I am happy to be here.

Samir Husni: As we look at the role of the journalist today, what do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Freddy Gray: (Laughs) I think there are many conceptions about Freddy Gray, so I don’t know if there are many misconceptions, I try not to talk about myself. (Laughs again) I suppose people might think that I’m a bit more rightwing than I am. I’d like to think that a bit like The Spectator, I’m quite heterodox, I have different opinions about different things. I’m not informed by one particular ideology. I like to think differently.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; gardening; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Freddy Gray: I would almost certainly be drinking a glass of wine and I like reading books, and seeing friends and family, that’s what I do most of the time.

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

Freddy Gray: The time difference between America and Britain. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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