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Stephen Orr, Editor in Chief, Better Homes & Gardens to “Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Magazine Media World, Particularly In Print, And In Digital And Video Too, Has Been Needing To Dismantle Old Ways That Are Based On The Past.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

April 13, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (11)

“This crisis forces our hand to do things in new ways that’s current with media consumption habits of our next generation audience, who are used to more offhand, casual Snapchat, TikTok, DIY content.” Stephen Orr on his views on moving forward…

 “But you’re right, now, during this period, they have much more time to read or flip through a magazine. And I believe people are enjoying those slow joys more, and it’s up to the future to decide how much that will continue.” Stephen Orr on readers engaging with print during the pandemic…

Bringing people joy and giving readers the content they want even before they know they want it; according to Stephen Orr, editor in chief, Better Homes & Gardens, this is what makes for good editors and what makes a service journalism magazine relevant during these uncertain times.

I spoke with Stephen recently and we talked about publishing during this pandemic and about how the differences in producing magazines today versus just a few months ago can be challenging, the process can also be reenergizing, causing innovation and creativity to jump to the forefront.

Staying upbeat, positive and delivering the same joyful content that Better Homes & Gardens has always created is something that Stephen and his team continue to do, even in the face of a pandemic.

For it’s a given the world needs joy now more than ever and magazines always come through.

And now for the eleventh installment in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic, in the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stephen Orr, editor in chief, Better Homes & Gardens.

But first the sound-bites:

On what he believes the role of service journalism magazines are during this pandemic: Meredith has a range of titles, and as editor in chief of Better Homes & Gardens and overseeing about 12 of our brands  we’re in the business of inspiring people, lifting them up and educating them in a very positive manner. We’re not all covering hard-hitting, investigative stories that are about troubling things. Some brands do amazing investigative journalism about subjects. PEOPLE, for instance, comes to mind. But for the most part, magazines like BH&G  are service journalism, and we are in the business of trying to make people happy.

On his message for his audience when they read his editorial in the May issue of BH&G: When I thought of my neighbors as I wrote that editorial, and I was thinking about them obviously as I walked by, it touched my heart because I can imagine all of those families; all of those single people; all of those couples; all of those elderly people, doing the things that made them happy. We’re quarantined here in New York and every day I’m doing things that make me happy. We all have our own repertoire of activities that we do to make us happy, hopefully. That’s one way to combat certain aspects of feeling down.

On what makes BH&G more wanted during a pandemic: I love cooking. For me, I can rest on cooking very easily, and I don’t use many recipes. In my ordinary pre-Covid life, I didn’t use recipes, unless I was baking. Now I find that I’m looking for recipes more because I’m tired of my way of doing it. I’m cooking three meals a day, and I’m looking for new ideas. That’s what we’re bringing people… the newness and the novelty. The surprises of things that you didn’t think of yourself.

On how BH&G is operating during the pandemic: The Better Homes & Gardens team has been  awesome, and all the editors that I work with and their teams have been amazing too, especially about realizing that it’s a new day, at least for now. We don’t know about forever. But something positive that forces our hand is that we’ve been needing to work in new ways for a long time. The magazine media world, particularly in print, and in digital and video too, has been needing to dismantle old ways that are based on the past. Perhaps, you might say, the glory days of the New York magazine scene. And the efforts, money and budgets that went into that. This crisis forces our hand to do things in new ways that’s current with media consumption habits of our next generation audience, who are used to more offhand, casual Snapchat, TikTok, DIY content.

On whether he thinks after this pandemic we’ll see a time when readers are hungrier for a print magazine:  I’m a big fan of multiplatform content, the multiplatform brand, and how that works across each  channel, but you’re exactly right. Humans are social creatures; we’re that way, we’ve had good success as a species because of that, and even though we drive each other nuts, we work together. To borrow a Joni Mitchell line: “Don’t it always seem to go. That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”. And that’s what this crisis is doing. It’s making everyone reevaluate priorities; it’s making people reevaluate their previous lives when it comes to what they put their efforts into. And it’s making people reconnect.

On his overall message to his BH&G readers during these uncertain times: Be optimistic, because we have to be optimistic. Even though right now it’s extremely  challenging, especially in New York City; it gets more challenging by the minute and the news is frightening. We all have to find ways to be happy and some days it takes more effort than not, but I’m very happy I’m in the business of bringing people joy.

On anything he’d like to add: One thing I have not done but is on my to-do list for the next couple of days is, we have an online archive and I’m going to look at how Better Homes & Gardens, which is nearly 100 years old, handled times of extended crisis in the past. I’m going to look at what we did after Pearl Harbor; how we handled the wars; how we handled 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and all sorts of things that predate me here. And I believe that will be inspiring. We’ve done this before in various versions, so I think media will do it again.

 On what keeps him up at night: What is worrisome to me is the future of creating content and visual content, meaning photography. Photo shoots right now are incredibly hard because of the physical proximity of unrelated people. That’s  what we’re working on right now, and  even with that, we have viable solutions coming up where people are shooting at home; people are working with teams, it might be a husband and wife team, where she’s a stylist and he’s a photographer or vice versa.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stephen Orr, editor in chief, Better Homes and Gardens.

Samir Husni: I read your editorial in the May issue of Better Homes & Gardens, which included a lot of hopeful and encouraging words to your audience, so during this pandemic, what’s the role of a service journalism magazine? How are you shedding some light for your readers on this tragic topic?

Stephen Orr: Meredith has a range of titles, and as editor in chief of Better Homes & Gardens and overseeing about 12 of our brands  we’re in the business of inspiring people, lifting them up and educating them in a very positive manner. We’re not all covering hard-hitting, investigative stories that are about troubling things. Some brands do amazing investigative journalism about subjects. PEOPLE, for instance, comes to mind. But for the most part, magazines like BH&G  are service journalism, and we are in the business of trying to make people happy.

We’ve always done that and now with all the uncertainty and anxiety that just floats through the air so thickly, it’s even more important than ever to inspire people and make them happy.

Samir Husni: What is the message you have for your audience when they read your editorial in the May issue or pick up any one of your magazines? What are you trying to tell them?

Stephen Orr: When I thought of my neighbors as I wrote that editorial, and I was thinking about them obviously as I walked by, it touched my heart because I can imagine all of those families; all of those single people; all of those couples; all of those elderly people, doing the things that made them happy. We’re quarantined here in New York and every day I’m doing things that make me happy. We all have our own repertoire of activities that we do to make us happy, hopefully. That’s one way to combat certain aspects of feeling down.

On the other hand, you run out of those activities and projects, and that’s why media in all its forms, and particularly magazines, are providing inspiration for something new. Magazines serve the function of giving people fresh content and keeping them happy, because surprise and delight is the goal of all of our magazine brands at Meredith.

Samir Husni: As you’re trying to surprise and delight your audience, it’s been said that nobody needs a magazine, you have to make people want it. What makes Better Homes & Gardens more wanted during this pandemic?

Stephen Orr: I love cooking. For me, I can rest on cooking very easily, and I don’t use many recipes. In my ordinary pre-Covid life, I didn’t use recipes, unless I was baking. Now I find that I’m looking for recipes more because I’m tired of my way of doing it. I’m cooking three meals a day, and I’m looking for new ideas. That’s what we’re bringing people… the newness and the novelty. The surprises of things that you didn’t think of yourself.

When I can pop into a search bar on Google and look for what I need, I’ll get it, but I’ve said it before, the best editors give their readers  what they want before they know they want it. And being slightly ahead is helpful. It’s hard right now to give people what they want in advance because the future is uncertain, so that is a challenge for content creators like myself. We want to hit in the right spot, and as I wrote in my ed-letter, we’re planning content a year out and we don’t know what that future looks like. So, that’s a big challenge for all  of us right now. And that’s why digital and video are very important. We can be immediate on those platforms.

Samir Husni: How are you operating everything during this pandemic?

Stephen Orr: The Better Homes & Gardens team has been  awesome, and all the editors that I work with and their teams have been amazing too, especially about realizing that it’s a new day, at least for now. We don’t know about forever. But something positive that forces our hand is that we’ve been needing to work in new ways for a long time. The magazine media world, particularly in print, and in digital and video too, has been needing to dismantle old ways that are based on the past. Perhaps, you might say, the glory days of the New York magazine scene. And the efforts, money and budgets that went into that. This crisis forces our hand to do things in new ways that’s current with media consumption habits of our next generation audience, who are used to more offhand, casual Snapchat, TikTok, DIY content.

Our editors, producers, and everyone working remotely, are making their own videos. I’m going to be making one that announces the launch of  BH&G’s “America’s Best Front Yard” contest.. You just have to jump in and do it yourself. And it makes a product look different. Just watching newscasters from home these days, it’s interesting and not that strange to look at. In the old days we would have thought  that was crazy, but now we’re used to it because we’re all doing Zoom meetings regularly.

Our expectations have changed and needed to change, and it will give content creation a much-needed rattle to start working in those new ways we’ve talked about.

Samir Husni: One thing that has surprised me during this quarantine/social distancing directive is I texted my 127 students and 120 of them answered me back and said what they miss the most during this pandemic is the personal interaction between classmates, walking on campus, being physically present. And this is the generation that most would think would treasure today’s “isolated connectivity.” But because it’s no longer a choice, they seem to miss the old ways. Do you think that we’ll see a day where people are truly hungrier for the printed magazine? Or will it be all digital from now on?

Stephen Orr: I’m a big fan of multiplatform content, the multiplatform brand, and how that works across each  channel, but you’re exactly right. Humans are social creatures; we’re that way, we’ve had good success as a species because of that, and even though we drive each other nuts, we work together. To borrow a Joni Mitchell line: “Don’t it always seem to go. That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”. And that’s what this crisis is doing. It’s making everyone reevaluate priorities; it’s making people reevaluate their previous lives when it comes to what they put their efforts into. And it’s making people reconnect.

It also exposes a lot of social problems, a lot of inequities. It exposes problems people have in their home lives, for better or for worse. This is  a transformational event for our global society. And media plays a big part in that , from the hard-hitting investigative journalism of the highest order to the everyday joy, inspiration  and lifestyle service that our Meredith magazines bring every month to readers  and the content they access  on all the platforms we offer. They can have it; however and whenever they want.

But you’re right, now, during this period, they have much more time to read or flip through a magazine. And I believe people are enjoying those slow joys more, and it’s up to the future to decide how much that will continue.

Samir Husni: What’s your message to the millions of readers that Better Homes & Gardens has, both in print and digital? If you had one thing to tell them, what would that message be?

Stephen Orr: Be optimistic, because we have to be optimistic. Even though right now it’s extremely  challenging, especially in New York City; it gets more challenging by the minute and the news is frightening. We all have to find ways to be happy and some days it takes more effort than not, but I’m very happy I’m in the business of bringing people joy.

I recognize that even in my own neighborhood there are people who have lost their jobs, who will lose their jobs; there are people who are struggling with their housing situation; there are beloved restaurants closed. I urge people to look for ways to help. If I complained about anything, my parents would take my head and literally point it toward someone who needed help. That’s how I was raised.

One way that Meredith  is trying to help is by bringing everyday joy to people and now all of us are trying to get behind causes that are beginning to emerge during this crisis and  mobilize our audiences to help others. That’s one of the socially human things that we do so well; we want to help. And that’s what I think is important: optimism and our natural tendency to help.

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

Stephen Orr: One thing I have not done but is on my to-do list for the next couple of days is, we have an online archive and I’m going to look at how Better Homes & Gardens, which is nearly 100 years old, handled times of extended crisis in the past. I’m going to look at what we did after Pearl Harbor; how we handled the wars; how we handled 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and all sorts of things that predate me here. And I believe that will be inspiring. We’ve done this before in various versions, so I think media will do it again.

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

Stephen Orr: I have been so impressed with the nimbleness of our teams. Our teams in Des Moines, Iowa, where I’m normally based, but I’m now here in my previous home in New York under quarantine until who knows, and I deeply value the teams in Des Moines, the teams in New York City, the teams in Vermont, the teams in Birmingham, Ala. Everybody is figuring it out on their own, they’re not waiting for someone to tell them what to do. They’re figuring out the best solutions for their brands and jumping in and solving that. So, that’s been great.

We are producing our magazine seamlessly at Better Homes & Gardens, because we have talented, resourceful and tenacious editors in production and the art department, and everybody is just moving pages every day. I closed the magazine on my cell phone. I did it all with PDF’s and that worked great.

What is worrisome to me is the future of creating content and visual content, meaning photography. Photo shoots right now are incredibly hard because of the physical proximity of unrelated people. That’s  what we’re working on right now, and  even with that, we have viable solutions coming up where people are shooting at home; people are working with teams, it might be a husband and wife team, where she’s a stylist and he’s a photographer or vice versa.

That’s what’s keeping me up at night  a little bit, though I know that we’re going to solve that problem. We just need to be flexible; we need to compromise; and we need to keep the quality up, and we have to solve that problem first and foremost in the coming months. Getting the new imagery together for all platforms: video, digital and print. I know we’ll do it. It’s inspiring to see people solve that problem.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

One comment

  1. July 2020 edition p. 48
    The fern identified as an asparagus fern, is not this fern is a fox tail fern.



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