Archive for the ‘Inside the Great Minds of Magazine Makers’ Category

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TYPE Magazine Presents A Conference That Looks At The Visual Side Of Rolling Stone & The People Who Contributed To That Legacy – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Roger Black, Editor In Chief, TYPE Magazine…

May 21, 2018

“I believe that’s the real problem and that’s the second part of what we’re going to talk about at this conference, what do we do; how do we recreate the magazine experience in the digital era? And how do we do it digitally? I will be the first to admit that I have not succeeded in figuring out digital formats for magazines that have the same compelling feeling, the same attraction, the same experience where you sit down with a good print magazine and you enjoy it. And then you get to a finish; you feel like you’ve completed it and you put it down. And that’s not true with the websites or the apps. They’re never finished. And it’s a very tangential and short experience. You dive in and read part of an article and you’re gone. You don’t even know where the article came from some of the time.” Roger Black…

“What I want to ask everyone (at the conference) is what they learned. What was the point? What is the value that we can impart? If you had a young designer today, what would you say to them? Or a young photography editor, what are the main guidelines? What is the meaning of Rolling Stone? What is the end result of all of this? And try to push that into not just an oral history, but actual analysis. And that’ll be fun to do. Andy Cowles, who was one of the designers who shook things up, who burned the brush, he is going to try and talk about how the brand was built and what that means now. And for the new owner, that may be what he paid for, the brand. What can you do with that?” Roger Black…

May 25, 2018 at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in New York, TYPE magazine will present “The Art of Rolling Stone,” exploring the impact art directors, illustrators, photographers, and visual creatives have had on the 50-year-old magazine.

Roger Black is editor in chief of TYPE and a typographer and designer in his own right. The stories and ‘lessons learned’ from the visual leaders of the magazine is the ultimate goal of this conference.

“And I want to get them to tell some of their funny stories, because they all have hilarious anecdotes,” Roger told me when I spoke to him recently. Each time I speak with Roger Black, I feel energized and learn something new with every conversation. This interview was no different. As a former art director for Rolling Stone, the magazine holds a special place in Roger’s heart as he told me during the interview, and he gives the musical icon total credit for putting him on the national map when it comes to design.

The conference, which will be held on May 25, 2018 at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in NYC, will pay tribute to the people who created a design legacy, from Rolling Stone’s first art director to its current one—plus photo editors and photographers who’ve immortalized a whole culture. As the magazine is at a turning point in its 50-year history, what better time to explore the impact of the visual aspects and ask the questions that deserve to be answered: what have we learned from something as influential and connective with its readers as Rolling Stone? And what’s next for the five-decades-old publication?

So, I hope you enjoy this very informative conversation with a man as knowledgeable about design and the magazine industry as a whole, as I have ever spoken with, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roger Black.

And for more info on “The Art of Rolling Stone” conference, please visit TYPE magazine’s website here: http://www.typemag.org/home/the-art-of-rolling-stone

But first the sound-bites:

On the conference TYPE magazine is presenting on Rolling Stone magazine: We really hear a lot more about Hunter Thompson and the writers than we do about Mike Salisbury or Fred Woodward. We started talking about doing this a few years ago, but by the time we got it organized it was 2018. (Laughs) Essentially, it’s a non-profit event. We have a nice bit of support from Rolling Stone, they’ve been very friendly about it. But at the same time, we’re really taking stock of what has Rolling Stone done on the visual side and who are the people who did that. So, to some degree they’re very proud of that and happy with the legacy, but they’re preoccupied with trying to figure out what to do next. So, at that level, it’s probably a good idea that we do this, because I don’t know when it would get done again.

On whether he can think of anyone other than Jann Wenner or Hugh Hefner who had 50-plus years as editor in chief at the same magazine: William Shawn, although he was not editor in chief of The New Yorker the whole time. He was there for 50 years, a ridiculously long time and he was an old man when he retired, but in some respects, it wasn’t his magazine, it was Harold Ross’s magazine; he inherited the mantle, so it isn’t quite the same.

On whether the move from the west coast to the east coast for Rolling Stone had an impact on the design or the brand: It’s difficult for me to sort out how much of it was because of New York and how much of it was because of the change in the business, because if you remember, that move coincided with the magazine’s heyday. That was a time when it was filled with ads and had everyone’s attention. It was very important at that moment. It was also past the 10-year mark and it was beginning to institutionalize; it was beginning to settle into patterns. If you look at, say, Fortune magazine, it was very experimental and very interesting from a design point of view in the early days. But then by the 50s it became almost formulaic, and I think Rolling Stone was settling into a formula, into its formula. Three features and one of them would be rock and roll, one would be personality and one would be politics, the front of the book and the back of the book. And a certain number of pages.

On bringing all of these art directors together at the conference and if he thinks it will be a “Clash of the Titans” or they’ll check their egos at the door: One thing that I’m trying to do, and we’ll see how successful I am, is to get everybody to focus, not so much on their portfolios, because with people like Fred Woodward, we know his portfolio. And we don’t need to see the history of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs again. It’s like going to a Picasso show, okay that’s the Blue Period, I get it. (Laughs) I want to get them to tell some of their funny stories, because they all have hilarious anecdotes. But I really want to find out what they learned.

On the collective art of print magazines: Yes, and that’s the fun part too, I think. We do have one session on the team at Rolling Stone, and none of the top art directors are there, but all of the people who are on the panel have gone on to become art directors. We’ve had more people who have become art directors from the 70s than anything else. Some of them went into advertising, there is Rich Silverstein in San Francisco, but there are people like Mick Stevens, The New Yorker cartoonist, he was a paste-up artist.

On why he’s always had a soft spot for Rolling Stone, even though he’s worked on many magazines: Well, I owe a lot to Rolling Stone. It taught me, because I never went to design school. I had already done some newspapers, tabloids. I had been the art director of a weekly in L.A. and then I had done some freelance work. I recently found the first issues of Cycle News that I did in 1973 or 1974. (Laughs) And they looked pretty good. And that was before Rolling Stone. So, I had learned a few things along the way, but Rolling Stone was a much more challenging environment. I had a year before I had to be the art director, so that was great training. And Jann had to be the most, he is a completely compulsive lunatic, but he’s a genius. He would come up with something in a split second that would electrify you and you’d have to move as fast as you could to keep up with him. And that was a wonderful experience.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roger Black, editor in chief, TYPE magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the conference that Type magazine is presenting about Rolling Stone.

Roger Black: Rolling Stone magazine is at a turning point and at a very interesting moment in its history. There was quite a lot of attention with the HBO special, and there was a very beautiful book put out, but very little about how the magazine was designed and how that visual style developed over the years and the people who contributed to that.

The book about the Rolling Stone covers is in its third edition, and this edition is called “Rolling Stone 50 Years of Covers,” and Jann (Wenner) has a nice introduction to that, where he gives due credit to the designers and the art directors and tells a few anecdotes about that.

But other than that, we really hear a lot more about Hunter Thompson and the writers than we do about Mike Salisbury or Fred Woodward. We started talking about doing this a few years ago, but by the time we got it organized it was 2018. (Laughs) Essentially, it’s a non-profit event. We have a nice bit of support from Rolling Stone, they’ve been very friendly about it.

But at the same time, we’re really taking stock of what has Rolling Stone done on the visual side and who are the people who did that. So, to some degree they’re very proud of that and happy with the legacy, but they’re preoccupied with trying to figure out what to do next. So, at that level, it’s probably a good idea that we do this, because I don’t know when it would get done again.

Samir Husni: When you really think about it, we had two magazines; we had Rolling Stone and Playboy, with the longest-serving editors; from the beginning of Playboy in 1953, Hugh Hefner was editor in chief, and the beginning of 1967, it was the same thing with Jann Wenner. When you look at the magazine industry as a whole, can you think of any other icons who lasted 50 years-plus?

Roger Black: William Shawn, although he was not editor in chief of The New Yorker the whole time. He was there for 50 years, a ridiculously long time and he was an old man when he retired, but in some respects, it wasn’t his magazine, it was Harold Ross’s magazine; he inherited the mantle, so it isn’t quite the same.

At Playboy there was someone else, Art Paul, who just passed. Art Paul did the magazine, when we were at Esquire or something, you’d look at Art Paul a little bit like you would look at Hugh Hefner; he did the magazine very sleek, with a love of chrome and velvet. And it was a little too rich and too polished for the kind of AIGA wisdom of what design is supposed to be. And it was much more eclectic; it wasn’t a powerhouse, modern design, despite the fact that he was in Chicago. It was much more fun. (Laughs)

A little later in the sixties, we saw people like William Holbert, the art director of Look, adapt that modern style in a much warmer way than say, the Germans had done it. But still, what Art Paul was doing was a little more like what Rolling Stone was doing, he was trying to create his own voice or the voice of the magazine, that had its own rich personality. It was what we call today “branding.” (Laughs) And incredibly successful. The paid circulation of Playboy was what, two million at one point? I don’t remember. But it was huge.

Samir Husni: Seven million at one point.

Roger Black: Seven million? There you go. And it wasn’t a discounted magazine either. Now, Rolling Stone never got to those kinds of numbers, but it held over a million for quite a few years; I’m not sure where it is now.

But it was the same kind of thing. Instead of being one art director, there was a series of art directors who all had a different take on the same voice. And I think Jann gets an enormous amount of the credit for pushing that and for also shaking it up from time to time. I don’t think he would be particularly surprised or disheartened by the changes that are very likely to be made today.

There are two things that we’re going to talk about at this conference with this group, and we do have the photography editors too, all of them, and that I’d say has more continuity than the art directors, but I’ll get to that in a minute. In the graphic design, in the format of the magazine, it started in a very restrained, very classical type of typographical style. I’ve said that it was trying to look like it was the entertainment section of The Times of London. (Laughs) Not even the Sunday Times. It was very sober.

And all of this was pushed back against the why of the illegible underground press, because right in San Francisco, you had all of the wonderful underground comic artists and illustrators. That whole underground look, which was rampant in the mid-sixties, by the time Jann got going, and actually in a way, it was inspired by what Warren Hinckle was doing at Ramparts, because Jann went to work at the Sunday Ramparts. All of this period is very nicely told in Joe Hagan’s book, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” which came out last year. The book’s account of the first 10 years is fun and interesting. How do they do this?

Actually, Steve Heller asked me recently in an interview for Print Mag, did we think Rolling Stone was going to be a long, enduring publication when it was in its first 10 years? And actually, by the time I arrived, which was year eight, I was so young that it didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t already a fixture. It seemed like it was a permanent institution. And your attitude is quite different about that from the hard travel underground, which I also knew from the 70s. There was a staff; there was machinery; everyone had fancy typewriters and we had a budget for editorial. So, we didn’t really think it was anything but something that was going to last a long time. We were building for success and we were building for a continuing style and idea that could be carried on.

And a lot of that has to do with the relationship a magazine has with its readers. I mentioned William Shawn; The New Yorker under keyed a fairly big visual change, but it still looks very much like The New Yorker. The cover idea, the style of illustration may have changed from time to time, but it’s still The New Yorker. You see a painting someplace or another picture and you say, that could be a New Yorker cover. And that’s an amazing thing.

Rolling Stone had that silly rock song, “Cover of the Rolling Stone” about it very early. It had already become a thing, a visual icon that people recognized. So, the first art director struggled with that and started this fairly straightforward, kind of an antidote, to the crazy underground that was unreliable and not very long-lived. Rolling Stone was setting itself up as the arbiter of the style and the culture and the politics. It was trying to give itself authority. And that was something that the underground was pushing against; they were pushing against authority.

So, that was a very interesting thought. For the first five years Jann worked with this fellow, John Williams, the first art director, and who is coming to our conference and who is never mentioned, someone Jann didn’t even know was still around. He’s been in San Francisco the whole time and he’s done very well and is in great shape. He’s done well as a designer, but he went away from publications. He’ll be at the conference and talk about those early days.

Robert Kingsbury, who is still alive, but unable to attend, was the second designer and actually Jann’s brother-in-law. The magazine started getting a little bit of money and hiring named illustrators and then Annie Leibovitz joined the staff. And all of that started the change. And he’s the one who first had Ralph Steadman in the magazine. He was an amazing guy. He was not part of the community of art directors; he was a sculptor and an artist that Jann pressed into service because he didn’t have much money. And he wanted to help. He was a very nice guy. Later, he did a lot of the book.

Then Jann turned to Mike Salisbury, who was a record company art director, fairly big-time and had done Surfer and Surfing magazines. He was a very lively and funny guy, kind of impetuous. It was difficult to have Jann and him in the same room at the same time. (Laughs)

He didn’t last that long, and then Tony Lane came in from a record company in the Bay area that had had some big hits. He was also a really polished art director with a big Rolodex, as we used to have in those days, filled with illustrators and photographers’ names. And he made a lot of amazing assignments. His typography was also superb. But he was also an extremely volatile customer, he and Jann were great friends for a while, then fell out.

I had been hired as the assistant and I came in and was there for about four years. I was the art director for almost three years and then my assistant, Mary Shanahan, took over. So, at that point, we had a certain kind of brand-building era. That was the first 10 years. Five art directors, Mary came in after the 10-year mark, she came in 1978. She went on to do GQ and French Vogue, and then Town & Country, not exactly the same kind of magazines, but she was very good, and the only female art director we’ve had at Rolling Stone for 50 years.

And at that point, when she left, Jann said, clear to the next, getting all so self-referential. And then he brought in Derek Ungless, a Brit, he had been Robert Priest’s cohort on “Weekend in Toronto.” And he took the Oxford rules off; he took the borders off the pages. (Laughs) So, that set up the cycle. Then Fred Woodward came in and he restored it all, put the Oxford rules back, and he was there for a long time. I think about 12 years.

Then another Brit came in and burned off the brush again. (Laughs) And then my friend, Amid Capeci, who is no longer alive and was a wonderful art director, came in and started doing the restoration, and Joe Hutchinson put the typefaces all back. And if you look at the last 10 years of the magazine, it’s very much Rolling Stone-looking. So, the obvious next step would be a big change, but we’ll see. It’s been reformed, has had a whole lot of brand-building, and has had a revival or shall we say, been reformed; radical change again and then revival. It’s very interesting to look at its 50-year history.

Samir Husni: It would make a nice case study, in terms of a conversation about brand-building and change.

Roger Black: Yes, and the amazing thing is people say that Rolling Stone isn’t what it used to be, but nothing is what it used to be. The culture is totally different and it has changed several times since. People say the magazine business is in convulsion and we haven’t figured out what we’re doing, and I think that’s fair. But if you talk to people in the music business, it’s morphing constantly They’re struggling to come up with new business models all of the time.

And the same thing with movies. Every two years, I’d say, there is a Variety or Hollywood Reporter headline that says, the studio system as we know it has collapsed. (Laughs) It’s all changing. And I don’t know what business doesn’t do that. But with the case of the long-form motion picture industry, with the kind of consolidation they’ve done and those huge franchises they’ve built, they’ve figured out how to make money, so there is a business model there.

Not so much with magazines. I believe that’s the real problem and that’s the second part of what we’re going to talk about at this conference, what do we do; how do we recreate the magazine experience in the digital era? And how do we do it digitally? I will be the first to admit that I have not succeeded in figuring out digital formats for magazines that have the same compelling feeling, the same attraction, the same experience where you sit down with a good print magazine and you enjoy it. And then you get to a finish; you feel like you’ve completed it and you put it down.

And that’s not true with the websites or the apps. They’re never finished. And it’s a very tangential and short experience. You dive in and read part of an article and you’re gone. You don’t even know where the article came from some of the time.

Samir Husni: Maybe that’s something that’s good. Maybe we should reconsider and say that if it’s not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine. You can call it anything you want, but it’s not a magazine.

Roger Black: Yes, I agree. It isn’t a magazine. I think that the apps, some of the news apps, particularly Financial Times and to some degree, The New York Times; the Financial Times actually still has an edition concept, you can look at live news or the edition, which is interesting. I guess the Brits are a little more conservative than we are. I can spend time in the morning with The New York Times’ app, I can spend 20 minutes without changing it, but the tendency nowadays is to immediately go to the Washington Post or the Financial Times or the L.A. Times or The Guardian; all have the same reading experience. Maybe some of us used to get five daily papers every morning, I remember at one time I got three at least. And I used to read The Wall Street Journal too.

So, there was some of that, but with a magazine, Esquire and The Atlantic, and at one moment in time, New York Magazine, there have been quite a few where you felt like when you needed something to do, you could just sit down and read the magazine. And that experience, the edition experience is unique.

Samir Husni: I’ve always had this question in the back of my mind, was there a difference in culture, design-wise, for Rolling Stone when it moved to the east coast from the west coast? Did that impact the design or the brand, or was it looked at as just a different location?

Roger Black: It’s difficult for me to sort out how much of it was because of New York and how much of it was because of the change in the business, because if you remember, that move coincided with the magazine’s heyday. That was a time when it was filled with ads and had everyone’s attention. It was very important at that moment. It was also past the 10-year mark and it was beginning to institutionalize; it was beginning to settle into patterns. If you look at, say, Fortune magazine, it was very experimental and very interesting from a design point of view in the early days. But then by the 50s it became almost formulaic, and I think Rolling Stone was settling into a formula, into its formula. Three features and one of them would be rock and roll, one would be personality and one would be politics, the front of the book and the back of the book. And a certain number of pages.

Now, from a design point of view, that was the year that the new design appeared, which was really a consolidation of what we had been working on for the last couple of years. There were particular typefaces and that morphed frequently, but it was still very recognizable and it’s still recognizable, if you look at the news section in the front of Rolling Stone, there’s a resemblance to what it did 40 years ago.

However, we did have access to a much bigger pool of talent visually. Annie (Leibovitz), at that time, was beginning to pull away from the magazine. She took a year’s leave and went off with the Rolling Stones band. And we had to find people who could do that kind of work. And Jann loved the kind of social side, so he got Richard Avedon to do that big issue, “The Family.” And he got Avedon’s old buddy, Hiro, the famous still-life photographer; he hired him and pretty much made his own assignment to cover the space shuttle series that Ed Zuckerman wrote. He took that picture that you later saw everywhere, it was a clothing rack with spacesuits hanging on it, so it was like ready-to-wear spacesuits, which was a symbol of the shuttle. Famous picture, and that was something that Annie never would have taken. She didn’t think that way.

We began to see a lot of other photography. We would send photojournalists like Nancy Moran to Panama with Jan Morris, things like that. So, it became much more big-time. Anybody would answer the phone. And that was a change from when I started in 1975; you’d call somebody in New York from San Francisco and they’d say, I don’t know, what are you going to pay? (Laughs) By 1977, you’d call New York and they’d seen all of the publicity and parties; we had an architectural review in The New York Times of our office, it was becoming very big-time, so you’d call somebody up then and they’d say yes before they heard any of the details. That was a big difference.

The other thing is, one of the big upsides of the early days of Rolling Stone was that it took a lot of risks and it wasn’t afraid of failure. It was actually part of the culture, sort of like a Silicon Valley culture, where you aim high and sometimes you fall flat on your face. But because we had a limited budget, we would just go ahead and print it. (Laughs) And by the time we got to New York, we started to understand that there was a kind of bottom, a threshold that we had to get over. We couldn’t print failures, we had to have a certain level of sophistication at the bottom. And that’s a difference.

So, if you look back at Mike Salisbury’s or my early magazines, there were things that seemed like a good idea at the time, and then two months later we’d ask, what were we thinking? (Laughs) And that also allowed the most extraordinarily wonderful layouts to appear.

And Jann was doing the same thing, his interest in space was very interesting. It was almost like he had become an Arthur C. Clarke fan. What was Rolling Stone covering space for? We did an astronomy piece called “The Odyssey and The Ecstasy” about Mars. And I did the “2001” look for that, very elegant and minimal. And that was a great layout. In a more formatted magazine, you would have to use all of the same typefaces for all of the stories, which is sort of the pattern today, but we were able to create things that were very individual.

Rolling Stone was big enough that you had a kind of “Rolling Stone World or Universe,” it was like a theme park. And you could have quite a lot of variety within that and you were still New York and Rolling Stone. Today, in publishing and in the media, particularly in digital media, the theme park is the whole Internet, it isn’t one brand. And so individual brands have to strive for consistency. I’ve heard designers criticize The New York Times for using different fonts in their magazine, so you’re going through the website and sort of randomly, you come up on a magazine article and because you’re not holding the magazine, people say that it doesn’t go with the brand. Give me a break, come on, why does everything have to be exactly the same? (Laughs)

And I think that was beginning to be lost in New York. It became more institutionalized, more establishment, more self-conscious. But nevertheless, look at what Fred Woodward did in his era. That was some of the most wonderful layouts in 20th century magazines. And that was quite a few years later.

Samir Husni: You are bringing all of these people together on May 25th. Is it going to be the Clash of the Titans? Are they going to check their egos outside the door before they come in? (Laughs)

Roger Black: (Laughs too). One thing that I’m trying to do, and we’ll see how successful I am, is to get everybody to focus, not so much on their portfolios, because with people like Fred Woodward, we know his portfolio. And we don’t need to see the history of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs again. It’s like going to a Picasso show, okay that’s the Blue Period, I get it. (Laughs) I want to get them to tell some of their funny stories, because they all have hilarious anecdotes. But I really want to find out what they learned.

We also have the three big photo editors. They were big in the industry, Karen Mullarkey, who I brought in. And then Laurie Kratochvil, who I had known from the 70s, and was photo editor for 15 years or so. And she hired Jodi Peckman, who has been there ever since. So, there is a 40-year span of photo editors that are going to be there too.

And what I want to ask everyone is what they learned. What was the point? What is the value that we can impart? If you had a young designer today, what would you say to them? Or a young photography editor, what are the main guidelines? What is the meaning of Rolling Stone? What is the end result of all of this? And try to push that into not just an oral history, but actual analysis. And that’ll be fun to do. Andy Cowles, who was one of the designers who shook things up, who burned the brush, he is going to try and talk about how the brand was built and what that means now. And for the new owner, that may be what he paid for, the brand. What can you do with that?

Samir Husni: As you talk about the integration of the design, the photography, the writers, you name it; don’t you think that’s what differentiates the creation of a magazine from any website? Anybody who thinks they can create a blog and they can have some magazine online, with the same person doing the writing and the editing, while you rarely find in the history of magazines, any of them done by one person. It’s always that collective art.

Roger Black: Yes, and that’s the fun part too, I think. We do have one session on the team at Rolling Stone, and none of the top art directors are there, but all of the people who are on the panel have gone on to become art directors. We’ve had more people who have become art directors from the 70s than anything else. Some of them went into advertising, there is Rich Silverstein in San Francisco, but there are people like Mick Stevens, The New Yorker cartoonist, he was a paste-up artist.

At the time they were there, they were part of a team. It was the hippie radical culture, a lot of people were doing the whole women’s movement that’s going on now; what was it like then, did women have equal pay and were they treated equally? Near as I can tell, we never even asked that question. If somebody was an art director, they all got the same pay. It wasn’t much, we weren’t paid a lot, but there was never any thought that you would pay a woman less. That didn’t make any sense.

In fact, we probably got better women at each grade because they were scrambling. They were willing to work for less. But I think if you look at the editorial department, it was all women. Harriet Fier, who just died this year, was a managing editor during that time. Sarah Lazin, who has gone on to become a fairly big-time book agent and Marianne Partridge were there. There was an enormous group of very great, very talented and wonderful editors who were all women. And that was interesting to me in the current context. It was the interaction between the team, now sometimes we had huge fights between editors and art directors, mostly over space. Jann actually agreed at one time that in the feature well, we do the following allocation, 50/50 solid text and everything else. So, art and white space, whatever you want to do with it. (Laughs)

But it was on the average of an issue, it wasn’t every article. So, we could have one very texty piece. But the idea of what the headlines were; how the actual picture worked within the sequence of the story, or the way the captions, how much spacing for captions; that was all done in a collaborative effort. And it was quite fun; it was a really great group.

We had moved on in that generation, the first 10 years of Rolling Stone, even though there were people like Mike or Tony, who were already fairly big-time art directors before they got there, unlike me, who nobody had ever heard of. There was never a feeling of the great master, there was none of that. We didn’t hand down sketches as art directors to a staff who implemented them. We sat down as a team and decided what would be best to do and who should do it.

By the time I got there, it wasn’t one art director designing everything, everybody in the art department, all of the designers anyway, contributed. They did layouts; they did covers. The job of the art director was to corral that group and get them to work together harder.

There is a fellow who will be at the conference on the team panel, Vincent Winter, who lived in Paris and is mostly a photographer now; we worked together subsequently on many projects. He had this brilliant idea of the way the typography should work at that moment in time, which was use modern construction, modern architecture, and use old-style typefaces. And it gave an enormous charge to the magazine. It became much more electric than previously. He went in and worked with Robert Priest at Esquire. In that early 80s period, Esquire got really exciting under Robert Priest. And I credit Vincent, maybe in the same way that we worked together, it was like he would challenge me and I would challenge him. And that created something that might have been better than you could create on your own.

And that was the wonderful thing about it. And I feel like they had that same camaraderie among the writers. It was an amazing group.

Samir Husni: You’ve worked on so many magazines, but from talking to you many times, I’ve always felt that you have a soft spot for Rolling Stone. Why?

Roger Black: Well, I owe a lot to Rolling Stone. It taught me, because I never went to design school. I had already done some newspapers, tabloids. I had been the art director of a weekly in L.A. and then I had done some freelance work. I recently found the first issues of Cycle News that I did in 1973 or 1974. (Laughs) And they looked pretty good. And that was before Rolling Stone. So, I had learned a few things along the way, but Rolling Stone was a much more challenging environment. I had a year before I had to be the art director, so that was great training. And Jann had to be the most, he is a completely compulsive lunatic, but he’s a genius. He would come up with something in a split second that would electrify you and you’d have to move as fast as you could to keep up with him. And that was a wonderful experience.

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some great editors. Terry McDonell, who did Smart and then we did Esquire together, that was really fun. He is going to be a moderator at this thing, so that’ll be nice. And of course, Abe Rosenthal at The New York Times, there is no greater New York Times editor in its history. And I got to be his art director and that was pretty amazing.

Before Rolling Stone, as I said, no one had ever heard of me. I had never done anything nationally, and then I was. And it was huge success. And we won all of the awards. That was a great moment in my life. For many, many years, I tried to push back and people would say he’s the guy who did Rolling Stone and I would say that I had done other things. (Laughs) But still, it was very important to me and it was a great moment in time, so I’m happy to use that as the center of my resume. (Laughs again)

I think there’s a whole other conversation, which we touched on, which is that experience online. I did this thing called Tree Saver, which was a web app for turning pages. And we never had a matching business model, so we could never really make that idea work. We did quite a few of them, but they never made us a business success from it.

The same thing with the PDF magazines that Condé Nast got so excited about. And I remember at the time being skeptical. I’m working on my own book and I found a quote that said, “The iPad is not a magic pony.” That’s something that I said in a trade paper.

But there are people at Condé Nast and elsewhere who thought that they had solved the digital magazine problem. Just take the PDF’s and cast them into that format and that’s it. We ended up with Texture, which I think Apple bought. But Texture itself promotes individual articles for their magazines. And it’s not even a really good experience. It certainly doesn’t work on an iPhone. It’s okay. I subscribe to Texture. I can read The New Yorker on Texture if I don’t have my copy. And that’s good, I like that. I can go to The New Yorker app too, it’s very convenient. There are things that I don’t subscribe to, that I don’t get in there.

So, how can we work on this experience? If we can find a business model, I think we can recreate some of these. There are some things working. I’m doing TYPE magazine, for example, which is now in its second issue. It’s very much for love and not money. But we’re getting support and it’s kind of a tripod of members, advertisers and patrons holding it up.

Then there’s the billionaire magazine, Alta, which is quite good. And if we can find a benefactor, maybe we can hold on long enough until we can find an actual business model. I keep finding people who love the printed magazine.

That’s the conversation: how do we keep it going? Whether it’s things that you can create online, and as you pointed out, that’s not a magazine, but what could it be?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Meredith’s Magazine President Doug Olson To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “In Its Simplest Form, My Elevator Pitch Is We’re Playing To Win Versus A Lot Of People Who Are Playing Not To Lose.” A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive First In-Depth Interview With Doug Olson.

March 10, 2018

A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive

“We’ve made a pretty big bet that magazines are not going out of style with our acquisition of the Time Inc. portfolio of brands. We continue to be very excited about the future of these brands in all platforms, whether it’s in print or digital or social. Allrecipes is a perfect example of one of the brands that we took from digital and turned it into print, so obviously it has a very large footprint in digital, but the print continues to grow.” Doug Olson…

“At the end of the day, I think the beauty of the new Meredith Corporation is that we understand there is some transitioning or shifting going on, but we believe we’re in a place to participate in that too. But at the end of the day, if you want to reach consumers in a very credible way, we also have these big brands that have lots of tentacles on them, including a very large print footprint. It’s really interesting to me that a lot of these social media people keep coming to us because they want to have a print presence, because it legitimizes their social standing. If they can see it in print, it confirms that they made it.” Doug Olson…

As a diversified, publicly-held company, Meredith Corporation encompasses a vast array of magazines and magazine media entities that vary from its female-oriented consumer brands, such as Allrecipes and Better Homes & Gardens, to its expanded reach through acquisitions and strategic partnerships, such as its recent purchase of Time Inc. Meredith is now the largest magazine media company in the country.

Meredith’s Magazine President Doug Olson, is excited about the incoming titles that Time Inc. brings to the table, and is ready to roll up his sleeves and get busy. The future looks very bright indeed for Meredith and the additional family members it has brought into the fold.

I spoke with Doug recently, for his first in-depth interview, and we talked about the Time Inc. acquisition and about the legacy Meredith and what this new endeavor could and would mean for the company. Doug is a firm believer in print, and he’s also an advocate for digital and all of its many extensions, from social media to online. And for the partnerships that pump new blood into the legacy company that keeps defying the odds and launching new print magazines, many of them from former digital-only entities. In Doug’s own words: “If they can see it in print, it confirms that they made it.” Print Proud Digital Smart, indeed.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a man who believes in his brands, all of his brands, both new and old, and believes in his company and says the differentiator between Meredith and many others is, Meredith doesn’t just play to not lose, Meredith plays to win – the Mr. Magazine™ exclusive interview with Meredith’s Magazine President Doug Olson.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether he thinks magazines are really going out of style or if there’s been a rebirth: Honestly, we’ve made a pretty big bet that they’re not going out of style with our acquisition of the Time Inc. portfolio of brands. We continue to be very excited about the future of these brands in all platforms, whether it’s in print or digital or social. Allrecipes is a perfect example of one of the brands that we took from digital and turned it into print. It obviously has a very large footprint in digital, but the print continues to grow. While the Magnolia Journal gets a lot of press these days, the Allrecipes brand has been very successful as well, especially given its origin within digital. It’s up to almost 1.3 million subscribers; it’s one of the brands that has been meeting its numbers every single year since we launched it.

On how he feels going into the marketplace knowing that Meredith is now the number one magazine media publisher in the United States: We think we’ve been the efficient operator in the marketplace for some time and that’s one of the reasons that we got the opportunity to own these great brands. But we understand our standing in the magazine world, if you will, has changed. It’s one that we embrace; we certainly respect it. But at the same time, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We think we do a lot of X’s and O’s, blocking and tackling, just back to the basics to help advertisers sell more products or get their brand messages out to consumers. And that’s what we’ve done since the beginning on this thing, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

On how it feels to be in charge of the largest group of magazines in the country: It feels great. There are really five of us that have worked on this for over five years. I was in the initial meetings when we tried to jar these great brands loose from Time Warner back in 2012. And we’ve stuck with it and now we’re here. Again, we respect how big the task is, but at the same time we’ve got great people at legacy Meredith and there are some really good talented people at the incoming Time Inc.’s stable of brands and its employee base. We think that together the combination will be dynamite.

On whether the titles of publisher and editor may be coming back to the newly acquired Time Inc. titles: We’re strong believers in that someone has to get up every single day and focus on the individual brand. At Meredith, everyone is an integrated seller, it’s just to what degree do they focus on print versus digital and some of the other advertising mediums that are out there now. So, we want to take the best of both organizations…there are some things at the incoming Time Inc. organization that were working pretty well in the marketplace. There were a lot of things, especially around People magazine, that have been very vibrant for them. They’ve done a great job of focusing on what really throws off a lot of revenue and a lot of profit for the old Time Inc..

On how it feels to have weeklies now, such as People magazine: It’s definitely different for us, but the great news is there is a lot of expertise on the weeklies that exist in the acquired organization and we’re clearly leveraging their expertise. We admire the People brand. Obviously, as you mentioned, it’s the largest in the U.S., probably the largest in the world, if you really get down to it. But we’ve also run a very large brand ourselves called Better Homes & Gardens, which has a lot of multiplatform tentacles hanging off of it; a huge licensing program at Walmart, and a very large special interest media stable of brands that we sell on the newsstand. We’ve got a very large digital presence, so we’re used to overseeing and managing very large brands, but clearly People is at the next level.

On recent comments CEO Tom Harty made about increasing rates, cutting frequencies and reducing circulation, mainly due to the postal service: We stand by his comments that if such a large increase is passed on to an industry in one fell swoop, especially the way they’re talking about it, then there’s going to be some kind of fallout. You can’t continue to do what you’ve been doing, business as usual, with such a large increase in your expenses.

On the rumors that Meredith wants to be purely a women’s magazine publishing company: First of all, I don’t think people understand that we actually have some other men’s titles within the legacy Meredith stable. Successful Farming actually started the company and is very much aimed at mostly males, although there are more and more females that are operators in that space these days. Wood Magazine is another one. We do a fair amount of custom printing things along the way for some male audiences as well.

On whether he feels Meredith and Hearst are in a race when it comes to new magazines or new partnerships: I think Hearst is a very formidable competitor. They have some great brands over there as well and some really good people. I would say that they have chosen a path and we’ve chosen a slightly different path. We think brands matter tremendously and I think they do too, but we’ve put our money on brands that are some of the biggest in the world, and they went after some smaller ones, what we would call tuck-in acquisitions. I think both strategies are good strategies. It’s great to have a strong competitor, to be honest with you. It makes us better if we have a strong competitor.

On whether this year will see a calmer Meredith after the Time Inc. acquisition or 2018 will be full-steam ahead: We’ve shared with our shareholders, our board and our leadership team that this is really a two-year journey. This is a big undertaking; we want to get it right and take our time. We want to get the cost structure in line with the realities in the marketplace, and we don’t think we can do that in one fell swoop. We have to be very iterative. We’re doing some things now that are going to give some clarity to the marketplace as to who is covering their account and who they need to talk to. And we have to make sure that we get all of our brands covered, so that there are not brands lost in the shuffle.

On whether Meredith doubled or tripled his salary with the all of the added responsibilities: (Laughs) I would love it if you would send an email with that in it to Tom Harty. (Laughs again)

We think that we’ve embraced the realities of the marketplace over the last few years. And we believe that we’re very competitive and we’re going to be an employer of choice when all is said and done here. And I think there’s a lot of people at the incoming Time Inc. who are looking forward to some really good, solid leadership. They have great career opportunities in front of them. We haven’t even talked about how awesomely the content generation mechanism of this organization is. The editorial and the content production that we do is second to none.

On whether he is spending a lot of time now shuttling between New York and Des Moines: Yes, we’re spending a lot of time on the new business, but at the same time we have our existing legacy Meredith business to also run. The great thing is I have really good people who work for me and throughout this organization. We’ve asked everybody to step up and do more. We want to learn as much as we can of what was happening in a real positive way at the old Time Inc. and not lose that in all of the things we do. But clearly there will be some changes, and we’re going to put the best possible team on the field to go out and deal with the new realities of this marketplace, which is a lot tougher than it used to be.

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 06: Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines accepting The Launch of the Year Award from Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni at the American Magazine Media Conference 2018 on February 6, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for The Association of Magazine Media)

On the biggest stumbling block they faced during this transition and how they overcame it: That’s a good question. We’re not past it yet, we’re in the early stages. The easy part is actually done. The hard part now is making sure that we execute it the way we drew up the plans. But I think the biggest stumbling block was just getting everyone to believe and see what we see. That we see some great brands, that print is still a very big piece of an advertiser’s success moving forward. All of these great platforms, that large digital business that we have now between the two organizations puts us at number six for all unduplicated, unique visitors in the country.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: With all of the traveling that I do, it’s probably talking to my wife with a glass of wine in hand. We like to record some TV shows. For example, I hope no one lights me up over this, but we like to watch The Voice. That and we’re huge sports enthusiasts, so we like to go watch basketball and hockey games, volleyball and football, obviously. Anything except baseball regular season. I can’t do that. I try to go to the playoff games, but I can’t watch regular season baseball. Anything else sports-wise, we’re in. We’re also big water people, so we do a lot of wakeboarding, skiing, boating and tubing, and things like that. Only in the summertime, of course, in Iowa.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I take this lead from my father who passed away last October. My dad always treated everybody the same. It didn’t matter if they were the CEO of the company or the person who was delivering the mail, he always treated people the same. And that’s what I try to do. So, I hope that people would say he was fair and treated everyone the same.

On what keeps him up at night: The biggest thing that keeps me up at night is the advertising marketplace. I struggle sometimes as to why advertisers put their money where they put it. We have all of the platforms and we feel really good that if an advertiser has a need, that we can help them solve whatever issue they’re trying to tackle. To me, some of this is all about attitude. The people who tend to work for us are very resilient; they’re very good at what they do. They get out there no matter what they’re told, even if they get a 15-minute meeting that was supposed to have been an hour and it gets shortened because of other commitments that the advertiser or agency has. They do their best to get the message out there. We can help sell more products and improve their brand.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, Meredith’s Magazine President.

Samir Husni: It was recently announced that Allrecipes has the fifth largest magazine media audience on a monthly average, 54 million. That’s double the number of people who watched the Oscars. As president of Meredith Magazines, what do you think the status of magazines is today? Are they really going out of style or has there been a rebirth; what’s going on?

Doug Olson: Honestly, we’ve made a pretty big bet that they’re not going out of style with our acquisition of the Time Inc. portfolio of brands. We continue to be very excited about the future of these brands in all platforms, whether it’s in print or digital or social. Allrecipes is a perfect example of one of the brands that we took from digital and turned it into print. It obviously has a very large footprint in digital, but the print continues to grow. While the Magnolia Journal gets a lot of press these days, the Allrecipes brand has been very successful as well, especially given its origin within digital. It’s up to almost 1.3 million subscribers; it’s one of the brands that has been meeting its numbers every single year since we launched it.

Samir Husni: Meredith’s chairman, Steve Lacy, told the Wall Street Journal that when he asked a reporter to guess how many Better Homes & Gardens printed 10 years ago versus how many it prints today…(Laughs) and we know of course, the answer is the same exact number.

Doug Olson: Yes, eight million.

Samir Husni: Eight million. So, when you go to the marketplace, and with Meredith now being the number one magazine media publisher in the United States, do you feel like the weight of magazine media is full on your shoulders or do you feel like you’re the defender of magazine media, or you’re just riding the wave?

Doug Olson: We think we’ve been the efficient operator in the marketplace for some time and that’s one of the reasons that we got the opportunity to own these great brands. But no, we understand our standing in the magazine world, has changed. It’s one that we embrace; we certainly respect it. But at the same time, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We think we do a lot of X’s and O’s, blocking and tackling, just back to the basics to help advertisers sell more products or get their brand messages out to consumers. That’s what we’ve done since the beginning, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

And from a consumer perspective, what you brought up; we still do an eight million print run of Better Homes & Gardens today just like we did 10 years ago. You can pretty much look across our portfolio and it’s the same thing. Newsstand clearly has been challenged in the industry, but we’re one of the publishers, until recently with the Time acquisition, that really hasn’t relied that heavily on newsstand. And so our consumer metrics have never been stronger when you look at it across the board.

Samir Husni: I know that Steve Lacy took about four or five years to buy Time Inc., but for you, as president of Meredith Magazines, did it feel like you went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning in charge of the largest group of magazines in the country? How does that feel?

Doug Olson: It feels great. There are really five of us that have worked on this for over five years. I was in the initial meetings when we tried to jar these great brands loose from Time Warner back in 2012. And we’ve stuck with it and now we’re here. Again, we respect how big the task is, but at the same time we’ve got great people at legacy Meredith and there are some really good talented people at the incoming Time Inc.’s stable of brands and their employee base. We think that together the combination will be dynamite.

We have to go through this period where we get our go-to-market messaging correct and we have to get the right team on the field. Basically, we’re pivoting to change the sales structure as we speak. We told the marketplace that in roughly 60 days it would be business as usual from when we closed on January 31. Toward the end of March people are expecting to hear from us again. We’re working really hard to pivot this large portfolio and this big sales force to capitalize on the market.

Samir Husni: With all of the changes that took place at Meredith and venturing from print to multiplatform to capturing the audience, the consumers, you’ve never changed the structure. You kept the publisher as the title of publisher; you kept the editor as the title of editor. There is some talk or some quotes from Tom Harty and maybe others that those titles are coming back to the newly acquired magazines.

Doug Olson: We’re strong believers in that somebody has to get up every single day and focus on the individual brand. At Meredith, everyone is an integrated seller, it’s just to what degree do they focus on print versus digital and some of the other advertising mediums that are out there now. So, we want to take the best of both organizations…there are some things at the incoming Time Inc. organization that were working pretty well in the marketplace. There were a lot of things, especially around People magazine, that have been very vibrant for them. They’ve done a great job of focusing on what really throws off a lot of revenue and a lot of profit for the old Time Inc..

We think that we do some things particularly well; we’ve really stuck to our X’s and O’s blocking and tackling, if you will, uncovering the market, while everybody else in the marketplace was going through some kind of change, we just stuck with it. And we believe our secret sauce is working together, regardless of how we’re organized. The people who work at the legacy Meredith Corporation understand that we’re going to work together. So, if we need someone who has a little more expertise in shopper marketing, we bring them in and utilize them. At the end of the day, I think the structure is important, but I don’t think structure should get in the way of your ability to be successful.

Samir Husni: You mentioned People magazine and of course, it’s the number one moneymaking magazine in our country, both from circulation and from advertising, or at least it used to be for years. How does it feel to suddenly have weeklies now?

Doug Olson: It’s definitely different for us, but the great news is there is a lot of expertise on the weeklies that exist in the acquired organization, and we’re clearly leveraging their expertise. We admire the People brand. Obviously, as you mentioned, it’s the largest in the U.S., probably the largest in the world, if you really get down to it. But we’ve also run a very large brand ourselves called Better Homes & Gardens, which has a lot of multiplatform tentacles hanging off of it; a huge licensing program at Walmart; a very large special interest media stable of brands that we sell on the newsstand. We’ve got a very large digital presence, so we’re used to overseeing and managing very large brands, but clearly People is at the next level.

Samir Husni: Recently, Tom Harty made comments about possibly increasing rates, cutting frequencies and reducing circulation, mainly due to the postal service, can you comment on that?

Doug Olson: We stand by his comments that if such a large increase is passed on to an industry in one fell swoop, especially the way they’re talking about it, there’s going to be some kind of fallout. You can’t continue to do what you’ve been doing, business as usual, with such a large increase in your expenses.

Samir Husni: The last time I spoke with Tom, he mentioned that, because a lot of the talk in the industry was that Meredith was going to sell whatever is not aimed at women, whatever isn’t a women’s title, and Tom told me that Meredith was going to look at everything: men’s, women’s; you name it, although your expertise is in women’s titles. Can you put those rumors to rest, that you’re not going to be just a pure women’s magazine company?

Doug Olson: First of all, I don’t think people understand that we actually have some other men’s titles within the legacy Meredith stable. Successful Farming started the company and is very much aimed at mostly males, although there are more and more females that are operators in that space these days. Wood Magazine is another one. We do a fair amount of custom printing things along the way for some male audiences as well.

What I would say is that we’re looking at everything, like Tom said. Five years ago there were a lot of rumors that we didn’t want to buy the news and sports business – because we didn’t. But a lot has changed in the last five years. Those businesses have really nice digital extensions now and big audiences. When we say we’re looking at the portfolio in totality, we have to, because we have so many great brands in this stable and we want to make sure we put our best foot forward when we go to market.

But we’re a publicly-traded organization and so anything that makes money, obviously is high on our list. We don’t run brands that are unprofitable very long, so when we look at the new realities in the marketplace, we’re looking at it from all angles. How important is the digital business on some of these brands? What does their print future look like? Rate base, frequencies; there’s a lot to look at. We haven’t come to any conclusions yet, because we’re right in the middle of the analysis.

Samir Husni: Meredith and Hearst have been bringing in a lot of new magazines and entering a lot of new partnerships. Just before you bought Time Inc. you launched Hungry Girl with a partnership with the Hungry Girl, Lisa Lillien. Do you feel that you’re in a race with Hearst or the two of you are just happy to be the number one and number two in the magazine media field?

Doug Olson: I think Hearst is a very formidable competitor. They have some great brands over there as well and some really good people. I would say that they have chosen a path and we’ve chosen a slightly different path. We think brands matter tremendously and I think they do too. But we’ve put our money on brands that are some of the biggest in the world and they’ve went after some smaller, what we would call tuck-in acquisitions. I think both strategies are good strategies. It’s great to have a strong competitor, to be honest with you. It makes us better if we have a strong competitor.

Samir Husni: You’ve been so busy with the acquisition and you said that you had 60 days before it was back to business as usual, so will we see a calmer Meredith this year while you gather all the pieces, or you’re still going to be full-steam ahead?

Doug Olson: We’ve shared with our shareholders, our board and our leadership team that this is really a two-year journey. This is a big undertaking; we want to get it right and take our time. We want to get the cost structure in line with the realities in the marketplace, and we don’t think we can do that in one fell swoop. We have to be very iterative, if you will. So, we’re doing some things now that are going to give some clarity to the marketplace as to who is covering their account and who they need to talk to. And how do we make sure that we get all of our brands covered, so that there are not brands lost in the shuffle.

We’re working really hard on our organizational structures and what that’s going to look like over time, and we are doing it in a very controlled and managed fashion. It’s not going to be 60 days and that’s it, and then move on to greener pastures. We have a lot of work to do. We have some trends that we need to reverse, mostly with advertising. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get back to those X’s and O’s, blocking and tackling, that we’ve been talking about. It all starts with clarity to the people that work in our organization and clarity to the marketplace.

Samir Husni: With the extra responsibilities that you have and the extra titles under your belt, and there was a lot of talk in the industry when Tom’s salary was revealed and how much less money it was compared to previous CEOs and other CEOs in the magazine business, because of all of these extra responsibilities, did Meredith double or triple your salary?

Doug Olson: (Laughs) I would love it if you would send an email with that in it to Tom Harty. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Doug Olson: We think that we’ve embraced the realities of the marketplace over the last few years. We believe that we’re very competitive and we’re going to be an employer of choice when all is said and done here. And I think there’s a lot of people at the incoming Time Inc. who are looking forward to some really good, solid leadership. They have great career opportunities in front of them. Like I said, everyone is an integrated seller.

We haven’t even talked about how awesomely the content generation mechanism of this organization is. The editorial and the content production that we do is second to none. It’s amazing. We cover a lot of different categories, readers’ patch and points. The people who create this great content every single day, as I meet more and more of them, are really tremendous resources and really good people.

We’re intentionally leaving the editorial alone for now and really focusing on the sales and marketing and some of the support organizations. We don’t want to get in the way of producing great content.

Samir Husni: Tell me how you’re spending your time now? Are you shuttling between downtown New York and Des Moines?

Doug Olson: Yes, we’re spending a lot of time on the new business, but at the same time we have our existing legacy Meredith business to also run. The great thing is I have really good people who work for me and throughout this organization. We’ve asked everybody to step up and do more. We want to learn as much as we can of what was happening in a real positive way at the old Time Inc. and not lose that in all of the changes. But clearly there will be some changes and we’re going to put the best possible team on the field to go out and deal with the new realities of this marketplace, which is a lot tougher than it used to be.

Samir Husni: If you had to pick one major stumbling block that faced this entire transition, what would that be and how did you overcome it?

Doug Olson: That’s a good question. We’re not past it yet, we’re in the early stages. The easy part is actually done. The hard part now is making sure that we execute it the way we drew up the plans. But I think the biggest stumbling block was just getting everyone to believe and see what we see. That we see some great brands, that print is still a very big piece of an advertiser’s success moving forward. All of these great platforms, that large digital business that we have now between the two organizations puts us at number six for all unduplicated unique visitors in the country.

Turning around advertising is huge for us. We need the entire portfolio to be more in line with what the legacy Meredith business is doing. Continuing to build digital is high on our list because six is great, but Facebook and Google at number one and number two, depending on which article you read, take anywhere from 65 to 80 percent off the top. And we have to continue to get scale and be innovative there so people want to turn to us at the same time they’re turning to Facebook and Google.

And when you’re doing all of these things at the same time, there are a lot of moving parts. I always describe it to my staff as we’re trying to change the tire on the car as we’re going 80 mph down the interstate.

Samir Husni: And if anyone can, Meredith can.

Doug Olson: We hope so. We’ve made a very large bet and the Meredith family has entrusted the management team and the board here has entrusted the management team to make this successful and we think we’re off to a good start. But like I said, it’s early days and a lot of work in front of us still.

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; watching TV; or something else?

Doug Olson: With all of the traveling that I do, it’s probably talking to my wife with a glass of wine in hand. We like to record some TV shows. For example, I hope no one lights me up over this, but we like to watch The Voice. That and we’re huge sports enthusiasts, so we like to go watch basketball and hockey games, volleyball and football, obviously. Anything except baseball regular season. I can’t do that. I try to go to the playoff games, but I can’t watch regular season baseball. Anything else sports-wise, we’re in. We’re also big water people, so we do a lot of wakeboarding, skiing, boating and tubing, and things like that. Only in the summertime, of course, in Iowa.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Doug Olson: I take this lead from my father who passed away last October. My dad always treated everybody the same. It didn’t matter if they were the CEO of the company or the person who was delivering the mail, he always treated people the same. And that’s what I try to do. So, I hope that people would say he was fair and treated everyone the same.

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

Doug Olson: The biggest thing that keeps me up at night is the advertising marketplace. I struggle sometimes as to why advertisers put their money where they put it. We have all of the platforms. We believe that if an advertiser has a need, we can help them solve whatever issue they’re trying to tackle. To me, some of this is all about attitude. The people who tend to work for us are very resilient; they’re very good at what they do. They get out there no matter what they’re told, even if they get a 15-minute meeting that was supposed to have been an hour gets shortened because of other commitments that the advertiser or agency has. They do their best to get the message out there. We can help sell more products and improve their brand.

We have this sales guarantee and it just always kind of blows my mind that more people don’t take advantage of that. We guarantee they will have more ROI if they put enough advertising into a national campaign. We can move the needle for them. They have a lot of choices, obviously, there’s a lot of experimentation, but I think there has been a lot of money put toward the things that really don’t move the needle. And I’m always struggling with why they don’t go back to what is proven. Whether it’s our digital or print, we’re going to stand behind it if they put a big enough campaign in the marketplace. Why would you not take a sure thing?

When people say, gee, my boss told me that we can’t do print anymore because print is dead, I don’t know what they’re really looking at to come to that conclusion. Other than a whole bunch of social media, which we know is not always exactly on point with the truth.
At the end of the day, I think the beauty of the new Meredith Corporation is that we understand there is some transitioning or shifting going on, but we believe we’re in a place to participate in that, too. If you want to reach consumers in a very credible way, we have these big brands that have lots of tentacles on them, including a very large print footprint. It’s really interesting to me that a lot of these social media people keep coming to us because they want to have a print presence, because it legitimizes their social standing. If they can see it in print, it confirms that they made it.

One of the things that’s important to me is that we’re playing to win. In its simplest form, my elevator pitch is we’re playing to win versus a lot of people are playing not to lose. You can use any sports analogy that you want on that sentence, but the people who play not to lose generally lose.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Adam Moss On Magazine Covers, Long-Form Journalism, Change, Print, Digital, And More Great Words Of Wisdom From The Longest Serving Editor-in-Chief Of New York Magazine. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 19, 2018

“The cover is no longer really to sell magazines on newsstand. As newsstands have become so much less important to all of us, the cover has a different function. It is basically the brand statement of what we make. It declares what we think is important or interesting; it declares our voice. Also, it’s an amazing document for the purposes of social media. Social media takes your cover and distributes it all over the place and it becomes an advertisement for the magazine that’s actually more important than it was originally meant to be when it was to stimulate newsstand sales.” Adam Moss…

“Before anyone was in this business at all, the New York Metro website was attracting a lot of people and it was attracting the sort of people who, if you were also an advertiser for a high-end luxury product, that was the only way you could reach them. So, from the very beginning, New York Magazine’s website was profitable, which was really unheard of. And what that meant was when the Wasserstein’s bought the magazine, and when I got here, the web wasn’t looked at as dangerous. The web wasn’t looked at as something that was going to steal business, the web was looked at as actually a way to build business. So, the logic of investing into the web, making our site a news site, was kind of obvious.” Adam Moss…

Being Print Proud Digital Smart isn’t just a mantra for showcasing a certain way of thinking when it comes to magazines and magazine media today. The phrase is much more than four words strung together in a random order that makes sense. It’s a vibrantly healthy way of doing business in today’s rapidly changing world of media publishing. New York Magazine and its very humble, and hard-working editor, Adam Moss, has a firm grip on this prescription for success. And why wouldn’t they? They have been looking at the web as a way to build business and not steal it from print years before anyone else had even heard of the word paywall, let alone knew what it meant.
 
And while the magazine’s editor in chief would never admit that he had a definitive hand in all of the success he and New York Magazine have seen, him earning Editor of the Year for Guiding the magazine’s election coverage in 2016 and the magazine winning the overall Magazine of the Year Award when ASME gave out the Ellie’s, it’s obvious to the naked eye that the two of them were made for each other. 
 
I spoke with Adam recently and we talked about many things, one of which was his celebrated abilities as an editor, yet his very un-celebrity type style when it comes to him presenting himself to the rest of the world. His response, and I paraphrase, he would rather his work speak for itself. And as the awards mount up and the magazine continues to buck the odds by making more revenue digitally than with its print component, Mr. Magazine™ would have to say his work definitely speaks for itself.  As does the Print Proud Digital Smart nature of the brand.
 
So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Adam Moss, a magazine editor that I have followed and observed since 1988 when he launched 7 Days magazine in New York City. It was a delight to talk with Adam, and I am delighted to bring you this most engaging conversation.

But first the sound-bites:

On why he is a “celebrated” editor but not a “celebrity” editor: I think the reason I’m not a celebrity editor is that a ‘celebrity” editor is a somewhat different thing than an editor. And I’ve just never been comfortable doing celebrity-like things. I do my job and I hope I do it well. The more performance aspects of being an editor were never something that I was especially well-suited for.

On his concept of editing and creating a magazine: Well, of course, it’s changed over the years. Early in my career, I was very lucky to have worked at Esquire when Phillip Moffitt was the editor. He was fairly new to editing, certainly brand new to editing when it came to a magazine the scale of Esquire. So, to help him he brought in all of these legendary magazine editors from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I was a junior editor at the time, and as he was being taught by this group of veterans, so was I.

On how he balances being Print Proud Digital Smart: By hiring good people who know things that you don’t know. And then you learn from them and try to help them think about things in a certain way, but essentially you let them do their jobs. As everything gets more complicated, the role of an editor is to hire specialists and let them do their thing.

On whether he feels more like a manager today rather than an editor: I certainly enjoy editing much more than I enjoy managing. (Laughs) But yes, inevitably, as the organizations that we run, in order to put out magazines and other content, get bigger, you have more and more the job of management, which is a necessary evil.

On his belief that an editor’s job is to know that great magazines are steeped in point of view, voice, and tone: Your main job is to understand what the point of view ought to be and to constantly evangelize it within your own organization, and try to coerce the organization to adapt and speak in that point of view. That’s an essential job.

On deciding what content goes where when it comes to the print and digital platforms: Well, you ask yourself where the audience is for an individual story. And the answer is usually obvious. But often, very often, you publish it in more than one place. Certainly, anything that is in the print magazine is then published on “Vulture” on “The Cut” or “Daily Intelligencer.” And often, something published on Daily Intelligencer also runs on The Cut because it’s of interest to The Cut reader; it’s of interest to the more politically-obsessed Daily Intelligencer reader. You just have this huge canvas now. And you use it in the most creative way that you can think of to reach the maximum audience that story might get.

On whether he thinks we are reaching a danger spot today, in terms of long-form journalism and storytelling in journalism: I think there are lots of threats to what we do, but I don’t believe long-form itself is in danger. In fact, because you can reach so many people through digital distribution, you can find readers for almost anything. And there’s a big, big audience out there for our longer stuff. Our longer stuff tends to do way better than the shorter stuff. It’s a good business to be in to make longer-form journalism. People really like stories and they like storytelling.

On the print platform now being biweekly, but the brand itself being by the hour or by the minute: By the minute, exactly. (Laughs too) When we went biweekly, the point that we were trying to make was that we were trying to adjust to the way in which people now read. They want an instant response to what is happening in the world and we provide that. And then they also want a deeper, more meditative content, not necessarily on a weekly schedule, which made us comfortable with having our stuff read on a biweekly basis.

On whether he thinks there is somehow a halo around a printed magazine cover that does not exist in digital: Probably. The cover is no longer really to sell magazines on newsstand. As newsstands have become so much less important to all of us, the cover has a different function. It is basically the brand statement of what we make. It declares what we think is important or interesting; it declares our voice. Also, it’s an amazing document for the purposes of social media. Social media takes your cover and distributes it all over the place and it becomes an advertisement for the magazine that’s actually more important than it was originally meant to be when it was to stimulate newsstand sales.

On whether he thinks this new idea of magazine covers is good or bad: I try not to think in those terms, because everything is both. Things change; there’s no fighting the things that change. And you just have to adjust to them and think of them as opportunities and not as problems. And I think basically most of the changes have been, not all, but most, have been for the better.

On being one of the few magazines that makes more money from digital than print: We’ve been at it for a very long time. We’ve been at it way longer than most, if not all, magazines. The story of New York and its digital incarnations have preceded me being here. It was kind of coincidence that the previous owners of this magazine went into a joint partnership with Cablevision in order to do their website. There was a website called New York Metro, and New York Metro had the magazine on it and it also had listings and that sort of thing. It was ahead of its time in that way, but it had one other thing that was crucially important, which is the reason that Cablevision wanted the partnership because they wanted to promote a fashion show that they had called “Full Frontal Fashion,” I believe. And what that meant was the promotional device was to run the runway pictures on the website. This was before any fashion designer had his/her own website. So, we were the only place you could get runway pictures, which meant that we got a lot of traffic from the very beginning.

On why he thinks magazine media created a welfare information society at the beginning of the digital age and offered for free the only product they created: It was similar to what almost all content fields did. The music business was famously very confused by the beginning of the digital age. People needed and wanted to get information for free and from the music side, it was easy to steal music. Everybody has been confused about how to make money off of digital habits. And I think the magazine business has been confused too. And it’s only now beginning to reckon with that in a serious way. That’s why you’re seeing paywalls and e-commerce, which we do here, actually very successfully. But also, our experience was that you could actually make advertising money off of the digital content. And so, we did that too.

On whether he feels the brand is a projection of himself: It’s a projection of a group think, and it’s the editor’s job to get the right group together to have that group think. So, it’s not because of me exactly, but it is a projection of a worldview that I’ve helped shape here. And it’s the product of a lot of people thinking. I can’t say that I’ve done anything particularly on purpose. The reason that I’m not out there giving parties and that sort of thing is because I can’t. (Laughs) Not because I willfully decided that was a bad tactic. I actually think it’s a good tactic. I think it’s often very helpful for places to have magazine editors with a higher profile. But for me, that’s just not the way that I work. For me, what it’s about is the work, and that’s what interests me.

On whether he is the longest-serving editor of New York Magazine so far: Yes, that is now true. It happened about two years ago that I passed Ed Kosner, who previously held that honor. I’ve been here almost twice as long as Clay Felker himself was here. I’ve been here forever.

On what we can expect in the next seven years from him and the magazine: I can’t even tell you what to expect tomorrow. (Laughs) This business changes so fast. And it’s a race to catch up to the changes in the business and also, of course, the changes in the world and what we cover.

On what piece of advice he would give upcoming editors or future industry leaders: Listen and watch. Don’t get too entrenched in your ways. Adapt. I think that, right now, is the most important thing an editor has to do, because the changes are so constant and profound. That said, at the same time, know who you are and know what your magazine or brand, if you will, is, and make sure that as things change, you’re true to the essence of what you’re making.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: He tried. (Laughs)

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Lately, I’ve gotten into drawing. (Laughs) So, I’m drawing madly when I go home. I watch TV and eat. I hang out with my friends and I also do work.

On what keeps him up at night: Everything, I can’t sleep.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Adam Moss, editor in chief, New York Magazine.

Samir Husni: Since 1988 when you launched 7 Days Magazine, I have followed your career, and 7 Days was a great magazine while it lasted, but you have continued the greatness. I was Googling your name, as I do with everyone I interview, and I was stunned that under your name on Google the only title you have is American editor. You are one of the most celebrated editors out there; were, in fact, named Editor of the Year, yet you aren’t a celebrity editor. Why is that?

Adam Moss: Why am I not a celebrity editor? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too) Yes, you are a “celebrated” editor, but you’re not a “celebrity” editor.

Adam Moss: Yes, I think the reason I’m not a celebrity editor is that a ‘celebrity” editor is a somewhat different thing than an editor. And I’ve just never been comfortable doing celebrity-like things. I do my job and I hope I do it well. The more performance aspects of being an editor were never something that I was especially well-suited for.

Samir Husni: You mentioned in your 50th anniversary issue of New York Magazine that you fell in love with the magazine’s cover, where the picture and the headline were in unison, and you never looked back. You knew you were going to be the editor of the magazine you fell in love with. Can you tell me a little bit about your concept of editing and creating a magazine?

Adam Moss: Well, of course, it’s changed over the years. Early in my career, I was very lucky to have worked at Esquire when Phillip Moffitt was the editor. He was fairly new to editing, certainly brand new to editing when it came to a magazine the scale of Esquire. So, to help him he brought in all of these legendary magazine editors from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I was a junior editor at the time, and as he was being taught by this group of veterans, so was I.

So, my original concept of being a magazine editor was being an editor of the type that proliferated, and what I still think of as the Golden Age of Magazines. That was a terrific learning experience. I have tried to bring those old values of magazines as a kind of theatre, really, to the work I’ve done in other later eras.

Now, being a magazine editor is something else entirely, because you’re not only dealing with the printed page, you’re dealing with material that gets read, consumed, viewed in all sorts of other ways. It’s a much more expansive role. And I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, as I think all editors have. I’ve learned how to adapt the original values of storytelling, and of interesting and sometimes exciting an audience into the modern era with material consumed in video and digitally, interactive digital and all of the other tools that are available right now.

Samir Husni: Needless to say, you ended up being an excellent student of all of these changes.

Adam Moss: (Laughs) Well, thank you.

Samir Husni: New York Magazine won the overall Magazine of the Year when ASME gave the Ellie Awards, in terms of both the digital and print. Your print magazine is now biweekly and yet, you create covers that people talk about. You give the feeling that you’re Print Proud Digital Smart. How do you balance that?

Adam Moss: By hiring good people who know things that you don’t know. And then you learn from them and try to help them think about things in a certain way, but essentially you let them do their jobs. As everything gets more complicated, the role of an editor is to hire specialists and let them do their thing.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that you’re now more of a manager, rather than an editor?

Adam Moss: I certainly enjoy editing much more than I enjoy managing. (Laughs) But yes, inevitably, as the organizations that we run, in order to put out magazines and other content, get bigger, you have more and more the job of management, which is a necessary evil.

Samir Husni: Yet, you as an editor, believes that great magazines are steeped in point of view, voice, and tone.

Adam Moss: Yes, and that’s your main job. Your main job is to understand what the point of view ought to be and to constantly evangelize it within your own organization, and try to coerce the organization to adapt and speak in that point of view. That’s an essential job.

Samir Husni: However, you’re no longer just ink on paper, you’re all over the platforms. How do you decide what content goes where? This is a great story for print and that is a great story for the web? Do you struggle with those types of decisions when you read a story? Or do you never ask yourself those kinds of questions?

Adam Moss: Well, you ask yourself where the audience is for an individual story. And the answer is usually obvious. But often, very often, you publish it in more than one place. Certainly, anything that is in the print magazine is then published on “Vulture” on “The Cut” or “Daily Intelligencer.” And often, something published on Daily Intelligencer also runs on The Cut because it’s of interest to The Cut reader; it’s of interest to the more politically-obsessed Daily Intelligencer reader. You just have this huge canvas now. And you use it in the most creative way that you can think of to reach the maximum audience that story might get.

One of the great things about magazines these days and their distribution digitally and the way that the magazine business has changed is that with any individual story or piece of content, you are reaching so many more people than you could ever have reached when magazines were just print.

Samir Husni: One of the more famous, or maybe infamous would be a better description, writers of our time by the name of Michael Wolff, wrote a profile about you in 1999. He wrote that when you started at The New York Times Magazine you were an anti-Times sort of figure in the middle of the Times, because you were more into storytelling. As we look at long-form journalism today, do you have any fears that between digital, social media, and a president who believes media is the enemy; are we reaching a danger spot, in terms of long-form journalism and storytelling in journalism?

Adam Moss: I think there are lots of threats to what we do, but I don’t believe long-form itself is in danger. In fact, because you can reach so many people through digital distribution, you can find readers for almost anything. And there’s a big, big audience out there for our longer stuff. Our longer stuff tends to do way better than the shorter stuff. It’s a good business to be in to make longer-form journalism. People really like stories and they like storytelling.

And so, we publish a lot of long-form and we publish way more long-form than we did when I first got here 14 years ago. We also publish a lot of shorter stuff definitely, but we publish a lot more material period. We’re publishing about 140 things per day, so that’s a big difference from when I first got here when we were publishing maybe 30 articles per week.

Samir Husni: So, while the printed platform is biweekly, the brand itself is now by the hour, by the minute, by the second…(Laughs)

Adam Moss: By the minute, exactly. (Laughs too) When we went biweekly, the point that we were trying to make was that we were trying to adjust to the way in which people now read. They want an instant response to what is happening in the world and we provide that. And then they also want a deeper, more meditative content, not necessarily on a weekly schedule, which made us comfortable with having our stuff read on a biweekly basis.

Samir Husni: During these 14 years that you’ve been at New York Magazine, you have laid the groundwork for so many imitators. Your cover designs, what you’ve done to the covers of New York have been imitated worldwide. Wherever I travel overseas, people are always referring to the covers of New York Magazine.

Adam Moss; That’s good to hear.

Samir Husni: Do you still feel that the cover of a printed magazine today makes an impact? Is there somehow a halo around a printed magazine cover that does not exist in digital?

Adam Moss: Probably. The cover is no longer really to sell magazines on newsstand. As newsstands have become so much less important to all of us, the cover has a different function. It is basically the brand statement of what we make. It declares what we think is important or interesting; it declares our voice. Also, it’s an amazing document for the purposes of social media. Social media takes your cover and distributes it all over the place and it becomes an advertisement for the magazine that’s actually more important than it was originally meant to be when it was to stimulate newsstand sales.

Samir Husni: And do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing?

Adam Moss: I try not to think in those terms, because everything is both. Things change; there’s no fighting the things that change. And you just have to adjust to them and think of them as opportunities and not as problems. And I think basically most of the changes have been, not all, but most, have been for the better.

Samir Husni: I heard your CEO last week in New York when she was talking about the revenue from digital; you’re one of the few magazines that is making more money from digital than print.

Adam Moss: Yes, we’ve been at it for a very long time. We’ve been at it way longer than most, if not all, magazines. The story of New York and its digital incarnations have preceded me being here. It was kind of coincidence that the previous owners of this magazine went into a joint partnership with Cablevision in order to do their website. There was a website called New York Metro, and New York Metro had the magazine on it and it also had listings and that sort of thing. It was ahead of its time in that way, but it had one other thing that was crucially important, which is the reason that Cablevision wanted the partnership because they wanted to promote a fashion show that they had called “Full Frontal Fashion,” I believe. And what that meant was the promotional device was to run the runway pictures on the website. This was before any fashion designer had his/her own website. So, we were the only place you could get runway pictures, which meant that we got a lot of traffic from the very beginning.

Before anyone was in this business at all, The New York Metro website was attracting a lot of people and it was attracting the sort of people who, if you were also an advertiser for a high-end luxury product, that was the only way you could reach them. So, from the very beginning, New York Magazine’s website was profitable, which was really unheard of.

And what that meant was when the Wasserstein’s bought the magazine, and when I got here, the web wasn’t looked at as dangerous. The web wasn’t looked at as something that was going to steal business, the web was looked at as actually a way to build business. So, the logic of investing into the web, making our site a news site, was kind of obvious. And so, we did that very early. It was successful and the way we were doing it was successful and was a sort of model, which we did it first with food and then entertainment, etc. That model was easy to just keep replicating. And we’ve built the modern digital New York Magazine from a position of strength.

Samir Husni: And now, you’ve been imitated on both sides. Sports Illustrated just moved to a biweekly schedule in their print edition. Wired is starting a paywall for their digital content; why do you think the majority of some of the “smartest people on the face of the Earth,” magazine editors and publishers, created this welfare information society and gave away the only thing that they actually create?

Adam Moss: It was similar to what almost all content fields did. The music business was famously very confused by the beginning of the digital age. People needed and wanted to get information for free and from the music side, it was easy to steal music. Everybody has been confused about how to make money off of digital habits. And I think the magazine business has been confused too. And it’s only now beginning to reckon with that in a serious way. That’s why you’re seeing paywalls and e-commerce, which we do here, actually very successfully. But also, our experience was that you could actually make advertising money off of the digital content. And so, we did that too.

It’s very confusing. I mean, the smartest people on earth, as you put it, (Laughs) have a lot of reason to be confused. And have had a lot of reason to be confused, because it’s confusing.

Samir Husni: Everyone I’ve talked to, once they found out I was interviewing you, had nothing but compliments to say about you, such as the most humble editor, a hardworking editor. And these words were from people who don’t pay compliments easily. So, you have this halo around you, yet as I stated in the beginning of this conversation, you’re not a “celebrity” editor. Do you thrive on letting your work become the celebrity, such as the cover of New York Magazine with the Bill Cosby accusers on it? Do you feel the brand is a projection of Adam Moss?

Adam Moss: It’s a projection of a group think, and it’s the editor’s job to get the right group together to have that group think. So, it’s not because of me exactly, but it is a projection of a worldview that I’ve helped shape here. And it’s the product of a lot of people thinking. I can’t say that I’ve done anything particularly on purpose. The reason that I’m not out there giving parties and that sort of thing is because I can’t. (Laughs) Not because I willfully decided that was a bad tactic. I actually think it’s a good tactic. I think it’s often very helpful for places to have magazine editors with a higher profile. But for me, that’s just not the way that I work. For me, what it’s about is the work, and that’s what interests me.

Samir Husni: And correct me if I’m mistaken, but aren’t you the longest-serving editor of New York Magazine so far?

Adam Moss: Yes, that is now true. It happened about two years ago that I passed Ed Kosner, who previously held that honor. I’ve been here almost twice as long as Clay Felker himself was here. I’ve been here forever.

Samir Husni: What can we expect in the next seven years, since we’re going in multiples of seven, you’ve been there 14 years now?

Adam Moss: I can’t even tell you what to expect tomorrow. (Laughs) This business changes so fast. And it’s a race to catch up to the changes in the business and also, of course, the changes in the world and what we cover.

Samir Husni: What piece of advice would you give upcoming magazine editors, future industry leaders? From somebody who has been there and done that, adapted to all of the changes; what piece of advice would you give them?

Adam Moss: Listen and watch. Don’t get too entrenched in your ways. Adapt. I think that, right now, is the most important thing an editor has to do, because the changes are so constant and profound. That said, at the same time, know who you are and know what your magazine or brand, if you will, is, and make sure that as things change, you’re true to the essence of what you’re making.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Adam Moss: He tried. (Laughs)

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; watching TV; or something else?

Adam Moss: Lately, I’ve gotten into drawing. (Laughs) So, I’m drawing madly when I go home. I watch TV and eat. I hang out with my friends and I also do work.

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

Adam Moss: Everything, I can’t sleep.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Two and a Half Days of Magazine and Magazine Media Bliss. An Invite to Attend the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 8 Experience April 17 to 19 in Oxford, Mississippi.

February 2, 2018

ACT 8 Experience is dedicated to the memory of Jennifer Reeder, VP of Sales at Democrat Printing and Lithography and a board member of the Magazine Innovation Center whose untimely death shocked all of us. May she rest in peace.

Welcome back, lovers of magazine and magazine media! I know you’ve all been lurking the blog to find out more information regarding our annual ACT Experience, the only Experience that we talk about nothing but magazines and magazine media. This year’s conference – ACT 8 Experience: Print Proud Digital Smart – is not for the faint-hearted. I can assure you we have an interesting lineup of professionals from all over the world. If you’re interested in marketing, journalism, digital or a combination of all, you need to attend this conference. It will be a wild ride of critiquing the current magazine industry and welcoming my magazine students who plan to change it for the better. Mark your calendars for April 17-19, because this will be the biggest and best ACT (Amplify, Clarify and Testify) to date.

For less than $400 you can attend and be part of this annual experience. ACT 8 Experience will be a chance for you to inspire industry leaders and future industry leaders to propel the world of magazines into a profitable future. I guarantee you will walk away with better connections and feel inspired about the magazine world outside your bubble.

This year we are welcoming several new faces including Linda Thomas Brooks, President & CEO of MPA, James Hewes, President and CEO of FIPP, the global media network based in the Untied KIngdom, Erik van Erp, Founder and Editor of Print Media News in The Netherlands, Bonnie Kintzer, President & CEO – Trusted Media Brands (formerly Reader’s Digest, and Newell Turner, Editorial Director of the Hearst Design Group.

You’ll have direct access to more than 10 editors and editorial directors, 9 presidents and CEO’s and a slew of marketers, designers and sales consultants. See the list of confirmed speakers so far at the end of this blog. A total of 33 magazine and magazine media makers sharing their knowledge and wisdom in the world of magazine and magazine media making.

Consider this a small vacation. Sit back and listen to prolific speakers tell their stories – their trials and tribulations we all rallied against to become the best writers, designers marketers and business people we could be.

Immerse yourself in the foothills of Mississippi by exploring the small but mighty town of Oxford. Take a step into southern past by strolling the streets in Clarksdale, Mississippi where the Delta Blues Museum and Morgan Freeman’s famous Ground Zero restaurant sit tucked into a humble downtown. Allow your creative juices to flow as you network with industry leaders.

I personally guarantee you will leave Oxford not only with a leg up on the industry but with a belly full of Mississippi fried catfish and an ear full of soothing, Delta blues. It’s a refreshing experience to slow down to the Mississippi pace of life. Enjoy a memorable ACT experience of learning, doing, seeing and living the Mississippi way.

Here is the link to register: http://maginnovation.org/act/register/. We only permit 100 attendees, so hop on now to reserve your spot. Join us this April for an (ACT) experience to remember!

Confirmed ACT 8 Experience Speakers (in Alpha Order) as of Feb. 1, 2018

Joseph Ballarini: Founder and Editor-in-Chief – Tail Fly Fishing magazine

Joe Berger: Publishers Marketing & Sales Consultant, Joseph Berger Associates
 
Linda Thomas Brooks: President & CEO – MPA: The Association of
Magazine Media
 
Deborah Corn: Principal, Chief Blogger, and Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse™ – Print Media Centr
 
Marisa Davis: Associate Director, Product Marketing – MNI Targeted Media
 
Daniel Dejan: North American ETC (Education, Consulting and Training),
Print Creative Manager – Sappi Fine Paper
 
Jim Elliott: President – The James G. Elliott Company. 

Erik van Erp: Founder and Editor, Print Media News, The Netherlands
 
John French: Co-Founder – French LLC

Tony Frost: Senior Vice President, TVGM LLC, TV Guide

Natashia Gregoire: Reputation Manager, Editor, Access magazine – Fed Ex

Abdulsalam Haykal: Founder and Publisher, Harvard Business Review Arabic, United Arab Emirates

James Hewes: President & CEO – FIPP: The Network For Global Media
 
Mona Hidayet: Executive Director, Clients & Products – Advantage CS

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Founder and Director, Magazine Innovation Center
 
Joe Hyrkin: CEO – issuu

Todd Krizelman: CEO – MEDIAradar
 
Bonnie Kintzer: President & CEO – Trusted Media Brands
 
Jerry Lynch: President – Magazine And Books, Retail Association
 
Daren Mazzucca: Vice President/Publisher – Martha Stewart Living

Mark Potts: Managing Editor – Alta The Journal of Alta California

Sebastian Raatz: Publisher/Co-founder – Centennial Media

Jen Ripple: Founder and Editor in Chief – DUN magazine

Monique de Ruiter: Former Editor Diversity magazine and VTWonen – The Netherlands

Bo Sacks: President, Precision Media Group

Ray Shaw: Executive Vice President/Managing Director – MagNet

Tony Silber: Former editor – Folio

Franska Stuy: Founder & Editor – Franska.NL, The Netherlands

John Thames: Founder & Publisher – Covey Rise Magazine
 
Newell Turner: Editorial Director – Hearst Design Group
 
Liz Vaccariello: Editor in Chief, Parents Magazine, and Content Director, Meredith Parents Network
 
Jeffrey Vitter: Chancellor – University of Mississippi
 
Thomas Whitney: President, Democrat Printing & Lithographing

Stay tuned as more speakers are added to the roster…

Don’t wait, register today. Registration is limited to the first 100 people. See you in April.

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William R. Hearst III to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: I Like To Feel That Our Readers Aren’t A Mailing List, That They Are An Actual Community. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With The Publisher & Editor Of Alta Journal Of Alta California…

January 29, 2018

“I wanted to deal with things that last a little bit longer. I was thinking about the people that I know: writers, photographers, editors; these are people who often write books, that take some time to write something. I was less interested in immediacy; I wanted things that had a lasting quality.” Will Hearst…

“We look at the advertising as the person who creates that product telling the story of their product. And if we believe that their product is good and their story is honest or amusing, then we induce them to advertise. In the long run, I think we’re going to make it or not make it on whether readers think we’re doing a good job and are willing to pay something. And if you look at the balance sheets of magazines and newspapers, what you’ll see is more revenue is coming from circulation, sometimes online circulation, sometimes print, and less revenue is coming from traditional advertising.” Will Hearst…

“Publishing magazines, to use a mathematical analogy; it’s an infinite, dimensional space. It’s not like there’s five niches and you have to pick one. There’s always something else; it’s always around the corner that there’s some originality. I believe in Michael Porter’s theory: Don’t compete to be the best at something that exists, compete to be different. Compete to find something that no one is doing and then do that better than anyone else does.” Will Hearst…

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch story…

William R. Hearst III (Will Hearst) is certainly no stranger to the world of publishing. From newspapers to magazines, he has ran the gamut of creating and guiding content for most of his life. Publishing to him, magazines in particular, is like facing an infinite, dimensional space, with the possibility of originality around every corner. Today, that originality comes in the form of a beautifully-done, large format title called “Alta Journal of Alta California.”

I spoke with Will recently and was fascinated by many of his ideas and suggestions when it came to business models, advertising, and the fact that he believes in Harvard’s Michael Porter’s theory that one shouldn’t compete to be the best at something that already exists, but instead, one should strive to compete to be different. Compete to find something that no one is doing and then do that better than anyone else does. Enter Alta. The magazine is dedicated to speaking to the local communities of the area that Will felt wasn’t being included in any conversation that already existed. So, being uniquely different was organic for the brand.

He is a firm believer in print, yet has a definitive desire to serve the online reader as well, and definitely represents the Print Proud Digital Smart model excellently. His staff gets full credit from him when it comes to editorial talent and factuality. In fact, he also follows mathematician, Don Knuth’s lead when it comes to monetarily rewarding readers for pointing out typos and factual errors in the editorial of the magazine. He has a penchant for exactness that in this age of “fake news” and “alternative facts” is greatly appreciated.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man whose greatest wish for his new publication is that he can make the experience of reading the magazine a little bit like the experience of actually living it, William R. Hearst III, editor and publisher, Alta Journal of Alta California.

But first the sound-bites:

On his idea of the new media model for Alta: My notion of the old media model is, and you can exaggerate here; the extreme of the old model is that you’re going to have a genius editor, William Shawn, or maybe you have Helen Gurley Brown, or somebody who is able to answer every question. And then the staff basically runs around executing that plan. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a complete, sort of blog community, every opinion is equal; you’re not really talking about facts; you have a comment section of the average website. And I thought there should be something in the middle where you had people who really wanted to work at being editors. I like to feel that our readers aren’t a mailing list, that it’s an actual community. And the community could disagree with us; the culture could change and we would need to change with it. So, I thought of a more dynamic, open model; a little more democratic, but not 100 percent democratic either.

On his challenge to readers that if a factual mistake or misstatement is found in the printed magazine, they will receive $10: I stole the idea from Don Knuth who wrote the print bible of software. He was writing technical articles where mistakes and typos meant that the software didn’t work or what was stated was wrong, but I just felt like we should challenge ourselves. And I worked for a guy when I was younger, the editor of the editorial page of The San Francisco Examiner, and his view was that there should be no typos on the editorial pages. There could be typos in the newspaper because you’re on deadline and you’re in a hurry, but in the things where you were really putting the brand of the owner on the page, there should be no typos.

On why he insisted on a print component for Alta: There are two reasons really and one of them is a content reason and one of them is a business reason. The content reason is that I wanted to deal with things that last a little bit longer. I was thinking about the people that I know: writers, photographers, editors; these are people who often write books, that take some time to write something. I was less interested in immediacy; I wanted things that had a lasting quality. And one reason print attracted me was I wouldn’t be yoked to the daily cycle of doing a website or a blog, because if you’re doing the Huffington Post or you’re doing these sites that have to be updated every 24 hours, you’re kind of forced to follow the news.

On whether he foresees a day without a print version: I don’t really. It’s like asking whether you think books will go away because there are books on Kindle? There’s a pace to writing a book. It just isn’t instant; it requires research, commitment, and digging deeper into a subject. And that’s the area in which I like to work, so I think that will persist. Maybe paper will go away, but I don’t think books will go away, and therefore I don’t think magazines and publishing will go away.

On what he would hope to say that he had accomplished with the brand one year from now: In your interviews, I was very struck by the guys from Garden & Gun magazine. This isn’t my demographic, but these guys really know what they’re doing. They know what kind of article fits in their magazine and what kind of article doesn’t. And they might have an article about hunting dogs that we would ever run, but for them it’s just right. They know their audience. And they’re regional, but they have the culture of their region in their blood. And that’s the kind of magazine that I’d like to be. I’d like to be favorably compared to those guys, in terms of writing quality and topical interest. If you live in that area; if you’re in my audience and in my community, I’d like you to feel this is your magazine. That’s what I’d like to say in a year.

On whether the editorial board and the inspirations that are credited in the magazine are his, Will Hearst’s, or Alta’s: They belong to the Journal of Alta California and we sort of rounded up the input of our staff and even wrote to a few people who told us we didn’t have enough women or people of other ethnicities, so we reedited the Inspiration Board to be a more complete history of our region. And less just people that “Will” liked to read. And we have our Board of Contributors, some of whom are active contributors and some of whom are on standby, because there are special topics where they have expertise.

On the 1970s-1980s magazine that tried to be the New York of California called “The New West”: They did a very good job, but I think they were to some degree yoked to this shorter cycle. They were modeled on New York Magazine, which was weekly, then bimonthly. But they had to keep up with events. A new politician comes onto the scene and they had to write about it. And new restaurants open.

On being both the editor and the publisher: Well, that’s another compromise. My title was originally going to be “proprietor.” I wanted people to think of the staff as the editorially creative talent, and I was there as a financial investor and as the owner; as the buck-stops-here. But I didn’t want to pretend that I would be doing everything, because you can’t do it all. The business is made out of people; it’s not made out of numbers.

On advertising and how he wants it to work in Alta: I wanted to follow the equation the way I think it’s moving, where readers have to be served well enough that you can begin to extract more revenue from them. They’re not going to pay for something that’s no good and they’re not going to overpay relative to competition. But my feeling is that good media will become more paid, and you’ve seen The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal start to charge for their websites. Kindle books are not free because there’s advertising in them. I think there’s a countertrend where readers have to pay a little more and advertisers are willing to pay more. And we wanted to anticipate that.

On advertising becoming less important over reader circulation revenue: Advertisers are more fickle than readers. Readers decide what they like and what they’re willing to pay for. Advertisers move in herds. And the herd is moving to online and the herd is moving to Facebook, and there may be good reasons to do that, but I think chasing the herd from the back is not a good business strategy.

On anything he’d like to add: Publishing magazines, to use a mathematical analogy; it’s an infinite, dimensional space. It’s not like there’s five niches and you have to pick one. There’s always something else; it’s always around the corner that there’s some originality. I believe in Michael Porter’s theory: Don’t compete to be the best at something that exists, compete to be different. Compete to find something that no one is doing and then do that better than anyone else does.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: We always had a great place to work; we always had fun and we were challenged.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: During the day, it’s probably reading or looking at manuscripts or calling people to see if I can cajole them into working with me. And at the end of the day, it could be a little bit of reading or it could be my kids. And once in a while, I like to solve math problems for fun.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is trying to make the experience of reading the magazine a little bit like the experience of living out here in the zone of arts and culture, technology and exploration. I’d like to do a little more environmental writing in the next year. I’d like to connect to that part of our history.


And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with William R. Hearst III, editor & publisher, Alta Journal of Alta California.

Samir Husni: In your second editorial of the magazine, you write that you’re not a big believer in the old media model, but rather you’re trying to create a new model; a community where subscribers, staff, everybody is curating the information. Can you expand a little bit on your understanding of the new model for Alta, Journal of Alta California?

William R. Hearst III: Like a lot of projects, this starts with an idea or sort of a notion. I didn’t wake up as a youngster thinking that I wanted to start a magazine someday. The notion was a certain uncovered coverage area of the West, and its arts and culture.

I like to read; I’m a voracious reader and I’m involved with a magazine company and a newspaper company. I’ve been a newspaper publisher, so I’m very comfortable with reading, but I just felt that there was this underserved community that had to do with experiences of people who live in the West. People who sort of see the world like that New Yorker cartoon, but from a different point of view. One where New York and Manhattan seem very faraway and the immediate foreground is the beach and surfing, the mountains and the environment, Hollywood and Silicon Valley; these are our local communities. And I felt that I wanted to do something to talk to those communities. Then the idea of a magazine came second.

My notion of the old media model is, and you can exaggerate here; the extreme of the old model is that you’re going to have a genius editor, William Shawn, or maybe you have Helen Gurley Brown, or somebody who is able to answer every question. And then the staff basically runs around executing that plan.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a complete, sort of blog community, every opinion is equal; you’re not really talking about facts; you have a comment section of the average website. And I thought there should be something in the middle where you had people who really wanted to work at being editors. Who would cultivate writers; look at pictures and put packages together, but also where some of the people who were writers would become editors, and some of the people who were readers would become writers, and not just in “Letters to the Editor.” So, there would be a much more fluid boundary between who the official staff people were and who the reader people were; who were the contributors and who were the advertisers.

I like to feel that our readers aren’t a mailing list, that it’s an actual community. And the community could disagree with us; the culture could change and we would need to change with it. So, I thought of a more dynamic, open model; a little more democratic, but not 100 percent democratic either.

Samir Husni: But you take this community one step further; this is probably one of the few times in my 40 years of following the magazine industry that I find an editor challenging readers, telling them that you will pay $10 if they find a mistake in the printed magazine.

Will Hearst: I stole the idea from Don Knuth who wrote the print bible of software. He was writing technical articles where mistakes and typos meant that the software didn’t work or what was stated was wrong, but I just felt like we should challenge ourselves. And I worked for a guy when I was younger, the editor of the editorial page of The San Francisco Examiner, and his view was that there should be no typos on the editorial pages. There could be typos in the newspaper because you’re on deadline and you’re in a hurry, but in the things where you were really putting the brand of the owner on the page, there should be no typos. So, I grew up in a culture where typos were, while maybe you couldn’t eliminate them; they were costly. And if you made a typo you had to apologize; you had to correct it and admit your mistake.

So, I stole this idea from Don Knuth that we would pay when people told us that we had a fact wrong, a reference that was incorrect, or we had a date wrong. There could be other kinds of mistakes that are more subject to interpretation, but when there are straightforward, factual mistakes or misstatements, or even gross errors of omission, we would make ourselves pay a fine to our readers who had found those things and we would honestly acknowledge them and move on.

Samir Husni: And…

Will Hearst: You’re dying to ask how much it has cost us so far, right? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: I was going to say that you’re either a very wealthy man or…(Laughs too)

Will Hearst: (Laughs again) No, we’ve paid out less than $100, but more than $10 since we put the policy in place.

Samir Husni: In this digital age, why did you insist on a print component for the Journal of Alta California?

Will Hearst: We get asked that question a lot and I think there are two reasons really and one of them is a content reason and one of them is a business reason. The content reason is that I wanted to deal with things that last a little bit longer. I was thinking about the people that I know: writers, photographers, editors; these are people who often write books, that take some time to write something. I was less interested in immediacy; I wanted things that had a lasting quality.

I remember when I was a newspaper editor and being surprised that more people go to museums than go to sporting events. More people attend cultural events than attend things that we consider to be pop culture. And so I thought there was a large audience of people who were interested in the arts and culture and technology and ideas, and that audience was really not interested in breaking news.

So, the people that I wanted to work with were working on a different schedule. And one reason print attracted me was I wouldn’t be yoked to the daily cycle of doing a website or a blog, because if you’re doing the Huffington Post or you’re doing these sites that have to be updated every 24 hours, you’re kind of forced to follow the news. Something happens and you have to react to it.

I wanted to break away from that and print seemed more natural to enforce that discipline on us and we would bore the crap out of people online if we only updated the site once a quarter or once a month, or once a week even was too slow. So, that was kind of the content reason. The things that we wanted to write about and the people that we wanted to work with were not naturally immediacy people, they were people who were more reflective.

And the second reason was just economics. If you’re trying to do a daily, you have to have a large staff and you have to have people constantly working on a short deadline. It was just too expensive to do that. So, for the topics that we wanted to cover, something that had a more leisurely pace was better-suited.

Now, I do feel, going back to the community idea, that we need to serve people who don’t want print or who want to access articles online or want to access an archive. So we’re trying to find ways to make the online archive and the online edition of the Journal of Alta California be very complete and no additional charge, where part of being a member is you get it all. You become a member and then you get everything.

And one of the things that I’m debating is whether we should put more things on the website. For example, we have a person who writes an article; he writes 2,000 words and we can run maybe 1,500. Well, maybe we should let the author go longer online for the people who really want to drill down one more level. So, we’re still trying to figure out what our online strategy is. We know what our print strategy is; we’re print people so we kind of know what to do and what we can afford to do.

Another question becomes: what should we do online? It shouldn’t be a scaled-down version of print. It should be an alternative extension of print. And we haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’m not anti-online. The 2018 online newspaper has probably 10 times more readers than the print newspaper, just to give you an example. So, I’m not turning my back on the online edition, I’m just trying to figure out how to make the two work together. But my core goal is more this membership idea; writing about certain topics; covering it well; and then serving that membership with whatever form of content is more convenient for them.

And as 10 years goes by and we have 100 readers for print and one million readers for online, then we should probably give up the print and be 100 percent online.

Samir Husni: And do you ever foresee that happening in our lifetime?

Will Hearst: I don’t really. It’s like asking whether you think books will go away because there are books on Kindle? There’s a pace to writing a book. It just isn’t instant; it requires research, commitment, and digging deeper into a subject. And that’s the area in which I like to work, so I think that will persist. Maybe paper will go away, but I don’t think books will go away, and therefore I don’t think magazines and publishing will go away.

I happen to like print; I happen to like the physical, tactile quality. You don’t need batteries; you can fold it up; you can tear it apart. But I tend to be a media consumer; I’m not a vegetarian when it comes to media. I’m kind of an omnivore. I like online; I like print; I like video; I like media.

It’s not unheard of for me that when I buy a book, I’ll buy the audio book and then buy the print book, and I’ll buy the Kindle book because I just really like that particular book. (Laughs) And I consume it different chunks at different times. It’s a little more expensive than maybe settling on one habit, but I think media consumption is about information and about human beings. It’s about learning; it’s not about print or online. It’s not about technology; it’s about the content of content.

Samir Husni: That’s one thing I strive for in my teaching; to tell the students that I don’t want to teach them the toys of the profession, they keep changing. They need to learn the profession.

Will Hearst: It’s very interesting; I give speeches sometimes to newspaper people and I find that if you’re a 60-year-old newspaper person, you’re kind of happy, because you’re going to retire and you can forget all about this technology. And if you’re a very young person interested in journalism, you’re very enthused about your career, because you’re probably going to be a blogger and appear on television, write, shoot your own pictures and maybe edit other people’s work. So, you have this multidimensional talent group in the younger generation.

And people in the middle are sort of lost, because they’re a little too old to learn all of the new skills; they’re a little more craft-union oriented, but they’re not close enough to retirement to turn their backs on it. They still have another 20 years to go. (Laughs)

The Hearst Foundation has a journalism award, and these are people who are freshmen in college, sometimes they’re a little bit father along, but they’re typically pre-professional, and they’re enthusiasm is amazing. And their skillset is so much wider than when I was a student. These people aren’t just photographers; they’re writers, photographers, broadcasters, bloggers, reporters, travelers; they’re multidimensional people. If you like media, you better be prepared to be a multitalented athlete. It’s a decathlon; it’s not a single-sport object.

Samir Husni: Now that you have two issues under your belt; if we had this conversation a year from now again, what would you hope to tell me that you had accomplished in the year since Issue two was out?

Will Hearst: I’d like to do more things outside of just California; I’d like to do the West. I think that’s really the topic zone. If I’m successful, I’d like to have people in Portland, Seattle, and San Diego. Maybe someone in Mexico; maybe some people in Denver who are correspondents and are sending us story ideas, and be where people in those geographies feel that we’re to talking to them.

In your interviews, I was very struck by the guys from Garden & Gun magazine. This isn’t my demographic, but these guys really know what they’re doing. They know what kind of article fits in their magazine and what kind of article doesn’t. And they might have an article about hunting dogs that we would ever run, but for them it’s just right. They know their audience. And they’re regional, but they have the culture of their region in their blood. And that’s the kind of magazine that I’d like to be. I’d like to be favorably compared to those guys, in terms of writing quality and topical interest. If you live in that area; if you’re in my audience and in my community, I’d like you to feel this is your magazine. That’s what I’d like to say in a year.

Samir Husni: When I look at your editorial board and your inspirations; are these Will Hearst’s inspirations and editorial board or do these belong to Alta Journal of Alta California?

Will Hearst: They belong to the Journal of Alta California and we sort of rounded up the input of our staff and even wrote to a few people who told us we didn’t have enough women or people of other ethnicities, so we reedited the Inspiration Board to be a more complete history of our region. And less just people that “Will” liked to read. And we have our Board of Contributors, some of whom are active contributors and some of whom are on standby, because there are special topics where they have expertise.

But I like the idea of honoring the people who came before us, who were already part of the canon of Western literature. And Kevin Starr, who I wrote about in my editorial, was a big believer in the idea that there was a Western canon of writers, viewpoints and experiences. And that this was different than the East and that it was literature-defined; a little bit less academically and more from the life experiences of people who lived out here. So, I wanted to put that Board of Inspiration in to kind of show people that we were respectful of our elders and looking to take the next step, but also to be inspired by what they did before us.

Samir Husni: In the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, I remember there was a magazine that tried to be the New York of California called “The New West.”

Will Hearst: Yes.

Samir Husni: In fact, there was two of them.

Will Hearst: They did a very good job, but I think they were to some degree yoked to this shorter cycle. They were modeled on New York Magazine, which was weekly, then bimonthly. But they had to keep up with events. A new politician comes onto the scene and they had to write about it. And new restaurants open.

So, we wanted to step back from that kind of pace, which I don’t think works in the 2018 era. I think that’s very expensive to do. I don’t know how The New Yorker people can afford to be a weekly, because you have to have a permanent staff. And you have to have a large staff of writers who are employees, not just contributors. That’s a very expensive proposition. They have a great brand and they’ve been doing it for a long time and they have a very loyal audience, so I don’t think they’re in trouble. I don’t mean to suggest that. But for a startup that would be an impossibly ambitious idea, I think.

Samir Husni: Being the editor and the publisher…

Will Hearst: Well, that’s another compromise. My title was originally going to be “proprietor.” I wanted people to think of the staff as the editorially creative talent, and I was there as a financial investor and as the owner; as the buck-stops-here. But I didn’t want to pretend that I would be doing everything, because you can’t do it all. The business is made out of people; it’s not made out of numbers.

So, you have to get really good people and you have to give them a chance to shine. And to make their own decisions. Our editorial meetings are very, I want to say contentious; people are very candid about offering their opinions and we try and make decisions, and maybe my vote is the last vote, but I’m very interested in making sure that people feel like it’s their magazine, that it’s not the Will Hearst magazine; it’s a community magazine and I’m the proprietor. I’m the caretaker of the community, but I’m not the tsar. I’m not the president.

Samir Husni: But as publisher, you have a say even about the ads. One of the things that captivated me when I was flipping through the pages was the type of advertisements that are in the magazine.

Will Hearst: My study of publishing in this era is that little by little advertising is less and less important and more and more difficult to obtain. In the ‘70s and ‘80s when I was a younger person, advertising was 80 percent of the revenue. And circulation was something that you had to try and maximize, because you used it to support your advertising rate base. And I think little by little what has happened is that it’s become very expensive to keep giving magazines away, and you become a slave to advertising.

And I wanted to follow the equation the way I think it’s moving, where readers have to be served well enough that you can begin to extract more revenue from them. They’re not going to pay for something that’s no good and they’re not going to overpay relative to competition. But my feeling is that good media will become more paid, and you’ve seen The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal start to charge for their websites. Kindle books are not free because there’s advertising in them. I think there’s a countertrend where readers have to pay a little more and advertisers are willing to pay more. And we wanted to anticipate that.

I looked at the Whole Earth Catalog and other places where the advertising is really products that would be of interest to the readers as opposed to whomever is willing to pay the freight. So, we give very discounted packages for people who want to advertise with us and we’re very selective about advertising, because we’re not charging them very much and we can afford to be a little bit choosy. We don’t take ads from people whose products we don’t think our readers would be interested in.

We look at the advertising as the person who creates that product telling the story of their product. And if we believe that their product is good and their story is honest or amusing, then we induce them to advertise. In the long run, I think we’re going to make it or not make it on whether readers think we’re doing a good job and are willing to pay something.

And if you look at the balance sheets of magazines and newspapers, what you’ll see is more revenue is coming from circulation, sometimes online circulation, sometimes print, and less revenue is coming from traditional advertising.

Samir Husni: Yes, in fact, one of the last new magazines that Meredith published, The Magnolia Journal, was based on 85 percent revenue from circulation and 15 percent from advertising, which is almost the opposite of the way things were.

Will Hearst: But if you go back to the 19th century, when my grandfather was publishing in San Francisco, circulation was 80 percent and advertising was kind of like an extra. It was nice to have; it was an extra. But the real make-or-break was would people put a coin in the box to buy the newspaper? Or typically, buy it in single copy form. And I think, to some degree, we’ve come full circle.

Advertisers are more fickle than readers. Readers decide what they like and what they’re willing to pay for. Advertisers move in herds. And the herd is moving to online and the herd is moving to Facebook, and there may be good reasons to do that, but I think chasing the herd from the back is not a good business strategy.

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

Will Hearst: Publishing magazines, to use a mathematical analogy; it’s an infinite, dimensional space. It’s not like there’s five niches and you have to pick one. There’s always something else; it’s always around the corner that there’s some originality. I believe in Michael Porter’s theory: Don’t compete to be the best at something that exists, compete to be different. Compete to find something that no one is doing and then do that better than anyone else does.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Will Hearst: We always had a great place to work; we always had fun and we were challenged.

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; watching TV; or something else?

Will Hearst: During the day, it’s probably reading or looking at manuscripts or calling people to see if I can cajole them into working with me. And at the end of the day, it could be a little bit of reading or it could be my kids. And once in a while, I like to solve math problems for fun.

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

Will Hearst: What keeps me up at night is trying to make the experience of reading the magazine a little bit like the experience of living out here in the zone of arts and culture, technology and exploration. I’d like to do a little more environmental writing in the next year. I’d like to connect to that part of our history.

And the other thing that keeps me up is who are the writers; who are the editors; who are the photographers, and where are the young writers? I think I have a pretty good Rolodex of people my generation who are proven writers, write on deadline, and who are good reporters, but we will have failed if we don’t find two or three young voices that no one has ever heard of. And I hope that we give them their first chance to be in the big-time. I hope that we discover them earlier and we promote them properly. And when they become so famous that we can’t afford them anymore; we will wish them good luck.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto 2018: Never Stop Learning…

January 1, 2018

A Student Of Magazines For 40 Years

Humbled and proud to be on the Jan. 2018 cover of the Lebanese magazine Al Iktissad Al Jadeed. The cover story traces my journey and love of magazines from the streets of Tripoli, Lebanon to the United States and beyond. Thank you Bassem Bakkour.

I came to America in 1978 as a student of magazines and 40 years later I continue to be a student of magazines. That was a very profound year for me, as it laid the final foundation for something that was started much longer ago than that, when I was a mere boy growing up in Tripoli, Lebanon: my love and addiction for magazines. My hobby became my education, and my education became my profession. I have never worked a day in my life.

As a student of magazines, I have been very fortunate to have interviewed many eminent heads of magazines over the years. In fact, I interviewed 70 industry leaders in 2017 and it was the toughest job ever to highlight only 18 quotes (since it is 2018 that we are celebrating) out of those 70. Each and every interview provided me with many lessons to learn from. So, in true student form, and for the Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto, I decided to let them speak about the industry that I study so profusely. Their words are eloquent and resonate with what magazines are all about: an experience that transforms and transcends time and circumstances, while staying honest and hopeful about the digital age we’re living in.

So, Happy New Year from Mr. Magazine™. Let’s make 2018 the best year yet and I hope you glean as much wisdom and inspiration as I did from the following 18 lessons presented in no particular order:

1. Magazines Are Money Makers:

“We like to make money. We think there is money in print and more print, and we like to make money and grow profits in digital. You can’t have one be primary and one be secondary. We have to be good at both. The businesses have some things in common, but also, a lot of things that are not in common with each other. And we have to be very skilled at running good, solidly-profitable businesses in all of the areas that we operate.” David Carey, President Hearst Magazines.

2. Never Lose Sight Of The Soul And Purpose Of The Magazine:

“But here’s the thing, and this is the important thing; my job and our job in this moment in time is to get all of the technological things right, but never to lose sight of, or the feel for, what The New Yorker is or should be. That if we only concentrate on these questions of technology and business and all the rest, and lose sight of the soul of the place, of the purpose of the place, of the integrity of the place, all-knowing that we’re going to make mistakes along the way, that if we lose sight of that then it’s not worth it.” David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker

3. Always Put Readers First:

“I tell my staff all of the time; think about your reader, and when you have a million things coming at you; when you’re wrestling with a story or when you’re confused about what to do next, just think about your reader and put yourself in their shoes and look at it from their perspective. And as long as you do that, you’re going to make the right decision.” Sid Evans, Editor In Chief, Southern Living & Coastal Living

4. Hope To Grow Again:

“I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.” Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc.

5. Readers Will Pay For Quality Content:

“What’s been the most exciting thing to happen over this time is the consumer’s willingness to pay for quality content in all forms, be it print, digital, etc. And that’s a trend that’s increasing and is an exciting thing for folks that want to create great content for consumers. It’s going to allow us to think about all kinds of different ways that we can sell direct, so that’s an exciting shift over that time period.” Bob Sauerberg, President & CEO, Condé Nast

6. Magazines and Magazine Media Brands Are Credible:

“Part of what we’re doing is talking to consumers to remind them that magazine media brands have that credibility…People have figured out that not all content is created equal and consumers are using magazine brands as a shortcut to quality…All of the outside research, not MPA research, proves that magazines build brands and sell products at the same time better than any other media channel.” Linda Thomas Brooks, President & CEO, MPA: The Magazine Media Association

7. Inspiration Versus Utility:

“Consumers and women still love the printed format to turn to for inspiration and for more of that lean-back experience. And what we look for more with digital is as a utility to help them to do something in the short-term. So, inspiration versus utility, as I like to say.” Tom Harty, President & COO, Meredith

8. Print Is Restorative:

“I think you’re seeing a move-back to print; a move-back to the appreciation that print is restorative; it’s actually information that you take in. We know that there was a connection between the tactile, taking in of information… so, the touching of print and the absorption of information. And I feel very confident that print will continue to evolve and remain relevant.” Joanna Coles, Chief Content Officer, Hearst Magazines

9. Magazines Provide A Bonding Time That Makes You Feel Special:

“Right now there isn’t a digital component for Coloring with Mommy, because it’s really print and paper-driven. It’s a book that digitally, even if you printed out a comic book page, it wouldn’t be the same quality and it wouldn’t have the heart that we put into the magazine, because it’s not just coloring book pages. It’s that bonding time and the extra stuff that makes the magazine feel more special.” Brittany Galla, Editorial Director, Bauer Media Group’s Youth Division

10. Great Magazine and Magazine Media Ideas Get Funded:

“Great ideas do get funded. You know, create and sell. Great ideas get funded. Oftentimes, what I would tell our team when they would say, “Well, they don’t have a print budget.” I would say, “Let me ask you a question: do they have a budget?” Because every brand has a marketing budget, right? And, if you bring them a great idea, a great idea will get funding. And so we have many, many, many examples of business that has been created with no budget. The idea creates the budget. So, my mantra is “Great ideas do get funded” when you have the great, innovative idea.” Michael Clinton, President, Marketing and Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines

11. True Audience Based Magazines Are Here To Stay:

“I think my son at age 12 is pretty engaged across the spectrum of technology, but it was eye-opening to hear him say there might not be print when he becomes an adult. But I’m convinced there will be for my lifetime, particularly for kid’s magazines. I think we face different issues in some types of adult titles and different issues in current events and news than in true audience-based magazines. But at Highlights, we’re believers in print.” Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights

12. Bookazines Must Reinvent Themselves:

“There was a time when people would put out any bookazine and it did well, because it was a bookazine, and it was single-topic, and it was a novelty. But these days the market is so flooded and the consumer has gotten so used to the bookazine that if you’re not changing the face of what the bookazine is; if you’re not recreating the entire bookazine itself and the bookazine category, it’s just going to start to drop and plummet and it’s going to be catastrophic for anyone in the bookazine business.” Tony Romando, Co-Founder, CEO, Topix Media Lab

13. Be In The Relationship Business:

“There’s room for it (print), of course, and if you’re in the relationship business, to some extent you’re agnostic. Your job is to really know the customer and how they want content experiences delivered to them. And if they’re raising their hands and saying they want magazines, then you provide magazines. And they still today provide fantastic and immersive lean-back experiences.” Dan Hickey, CEO, Kalmbach Publishing

14. Long-form Quality Engagement Is Where People Are Spending Their Time:

“I think this is really an exciting, rich topic right now, because what we are actually seeing is all of the platforms and all of the digital experiences that have endeavored to make the world revolve around the short-form snippet stuff, have all actually come around to the fact that long-form quality engagement is really where people are spending time.” Joe Hyrkin, CEO, issuu

15. Magazines Offer A Much Quieter Editorial Experience:

“When she’s (the consumer) reading the magazine, she needs a much quieter editorial experience. It needs to be more inspiring. And she has more time. She wants to take more of an emotional journey, rather than be hit over the head with all sorts of practical advice and alarming statistics and stories.” Liz Vaccariello, Editor In Chief, Parents Magazine

16. Magazines and Magazine Media Have A Different Business Model:

“I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.” Andy Clurman, President & CEO, Active Interest Media

17. A Tangible Magazine Is A Feather In The Cap For A Digital-First Brand:

“I actually think the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.” And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.” Doug Kouma, Editorial Content Director, Meredith

18. There Is No Need To Beat Up On Print:

“Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.” Bonnie Kintzer, President & CEO, Trusted Media Brands

And there you have 18 lessons from 18 magazine industry leaders about the power of print; the expected growth of digital; and the MANY ways consumers want to consume their information. And in 2018, isn’t it time the industry let the audience decide that for themselves? Whether it’s a gloriously printed ink on paper magazine, a fantastic website that has depth and clarity, or a social media site that brings people and their comments together; the decision of where, how, and when these readers soak up and absorb content is one that in 2018 (and in the 21st century) should be made by them, magazines and magazine media are here to simply provide those outstanding experiences.

Thank you magazine industry leaders for all the lessons you taught me in 2017 and here’s to a great 2018 and more lessons to learn…

Happy New Year!
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

* All quotes are taken from my interviews with the industry leaders in 2017 and all titles used are those that the industry leaders held at the time of the interview.

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The New Yorker’s Editor, David Remnick to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Have Great Alarm About This War Against Fact; This Profusion Of Lying In High Places. But I Also Stake My Claim With A Journalism That Tries To Do The Best It Can. And Do An Honest Job. Whether It’s Traditional Media Or New Media, That Doesn’t Matter, It’s A True Media.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

December 17, 2017

“I find words, and I understand why they’re used all of the time, but sometimes I bridle a little bit at words like content or products or platform, they seem a little cold. They seem a little remote and cold-blooded, because I think of The New Yorker as something much more warm-blooded or hot-blooded, which is alive. I don’t think of it as a can of soup or any of the other household products or a status symbol. I think of it as something, and I don’t care if it’s digital or on paper, I think of it as something that can reach your heart and mind in a unique way; in a surprising way. There aren’t too many household items or products that can do that.” David Remnick (on defining content in today’s digital age)…

“But here’s the thing, and this is the important thing; my job and our job in this moment in time is to get all of the technological things right, but never to lose sight of, or the feel for, what The New Yorker is or should be. That if we only concentrate on these questions of technology and business and all the rest, and lose sight of the soul of the place, of the purpose of the place, of the integrity of the place, all knowing that we’re going to make mistakes along the way, that if we lose sight of that then it’s not worth it.” David Remnick…

In this age of propaganda phrases like “fake news,” and “alternative facts,” The New Yorker brings forth a true journalism that many today are turning to for answers. In an article that Forbes.com ran this past February entitled, “10 Journalism Brands Where You Find Real Facts Rather Than Alternative Facts,” The New Yorker’s non-fiction content was deservedly touted as: long-form reports on politics, culture, business and other topics (that) often take months to report, write and fact check. The result is deep reporting and analysis each week that is hard to find elsewhere.

For over 92 years, The New Yorker has been providing its readers with excellence in journalism, whether it’s the brand’s commentary, fiction, satire, cartoons, poetry, or long-form stories that always give us food for thought and the information that we need to understand the issue at hand. For 19 years of that almost-century, David Remnick has been the editor and guiding force behind the award-winning publication. And while David himself is very quick to point out that The New Yorker is not, nor ever will be, a one-man show, he has left an indelible mark on the brand with his own strong beliefs in honesty, accuracy, fairness, and total teamwork.

I spoke with David recently and we talked about the status of true journalism in this age of Internet hoaxes, fake news, and alternative facts. It was an enlightening discussion with a man who lives in reality, recognizing that the dark powers of the Internet and the charlatans do exist, but also has the deep-seated integrity of his brand buried deep within his own chest, and believes that true reporting and accurate facts can be presented in both ink on paper and pixels on a screen.
So, I hope that you enjoy this very inspiring and delightful conversation with a man who began his reporting career at the Washington Post and has never forgotten the stalwart rules of good and true journalism, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Remnick, editor, The New Yorker.

But first the sound-bites:

On his feelings that today The New Yorker is the place to go for news, politics and humor, almost taking the place of newsweeklies: Well, I’m thrilled to hear it. I don’t think of The New Yorker at all as what we used to refer to as a newsweekly, like the old Time or Newsweek, or anything like that. The only parts of the print magazine that you could probably predict to some extent that we’re going to have something about that is in the cultural pages, in fact; reviews of this movie or that play. Beyond that, it’s open season. There’s a large measure of unpredictability in The New Yorker.

On where he thinks journalism is heading in 2018; is it the best of times, is it the worst of times for the profession: I think Dickens probably had it right. On the one hand, we live in an age in which the president of the United States and other leaders around the world have tried to muddy the waters about the difference between what is real and what is not real. What’s real and what’s fake. This phrase “fake news” is a weapon in the hands of, unfortunately, some very powerful people and their followers. On the other hand, I think a lot of people, many millions of people, reacted to this unfortunate turn by looking to what is best in journalism, what’s true. And that has been true at The New Yorker.

On The New Yorker’s revenues being 50/50 from print and digital: Well, obviously, print advertising everywhere is not a growth industry. And we also live in the reality that Facebook and Google own some enormous percentages of digital advertising as well. That’s just a reality. And we will go on battling for what part of the market we can get. And I think our advertisers will and should recognize that readers who seek out quality in their editorial matter are also great potential customers, but I leave those decisions to them.

On The New Yorker having a cult following and being almost a status symbol: I don’t mind the idea that readership of The New Yorker is somehow a club or an association or a marker, but I hope and pray that it’s something more serious than that. That it’s more joyful than that. That it’s not merely a status symbol, but something that people read and read deeply. And that it complicates and enlightens and brings joy to their lives. The idea that we can do that, with some very strange mixes, short fiction, journalism, humor, arts, and all the other ingredients that make up The New Yorker, that’s a very uplifting thing to know that you’re doing as a living.

On how he would define content today: I find words, and I understand why they’re used all of the time, but sometimes I bridle a little bit at words like content or products or platform, they seem a little cold. They seem a little remote and cold-blooded, because I think of The New Yorker as something much more warm-blooded or hot-blooded, which is alive. I don’t think of it as a can of soup or any of the other household products or a status symbol. I think of it as something, and I don’t care if it’s digital or on paper, I think of it as something that can reach your heart and mind in a unique way; in a surprising way. There aren’t too many household items or products that can do that.

On what The New Yorker is doing to ensure that true and factual journalism will always have a place in the industry: I can only speak with any authority about The New Yorker, I can’t speak for anybody else. And all I can tell you is that we have, at any one time, 17 or 18 fact-checkers working full-time, making sure the veracity of what we publish is as best as it can possibly be. We have all kinds of editors of enormous skill working with writers to make sure these pieces are clear, fair and rigorous. And at the same time, we don’t back away from a point of view, if that point of view can be substantiated and made clear.

On the voting down of Net Neutrality: If you ask me about Net Neutrality, I think that’s a shame. I think the Trump policy on Net Neutrality that really undermines the initial early idea of the Internet itself and gives great advantage to the biggest commercial companies, is an enormous step backward, if that’s what you’re asking.

On whether there is anything that traditional media companies can do about the recent vote: As an editor, all I can do is have The New Yorker voice its opinion and we’ve done that. And we’ve done it very clearly. Recently, on The New Yorker Radio Hour, one of my guests was Nicholas Thompson, who’s the editor of Wired, and I interviewed him and he was extremely forceful, and I agree with him. He was extremely forceful in his denunciation of the Trump policy rolling back New Neutrality.

On whether he can recall one moment in time of the 19 years he’s been the editor in chief of The New Yorker where he was thankful to be in that position or one moment where he said, oh my gosh, what am I doing here: (Laughs) That’s a good question. The feeling of “oh my gosh, what am I doing here” is what I first felt, because I’d never been the editor of anything and then suddenly, one second you aren’t and one second you are. One moment you’re not in that room, and then you’re in the room, and suddenly these decisions are yours to make. Or at least, you have to learn how to make them. So, I admit looking back in some early sense of panic that you can’t let show. But I’ve been grateful ever since.

On what’s next for The New Yorker: When you ask the question what’s next: I think in the last year especially, we’re living in this incredibly…I don’t know how to describe it. I have no clue what will happen from moment to moment. Dorothy Parker used to say, “What fresh hell is this?” And there is this feeling of what fresh hell will today bring, mainly from Washington, but not only. These are tough times.

On whether he feels that journalism as a whole is failing its audience, or that a few are managing to succeed: Well, I hope not. I’m not running around and patting myself on the back, and I don’t think that Dean Baquet is or Marty Baron, or any other editor worth his or her salt. I don’t think, at the same time, that we should hang our heads low just because the president is screaming fake news, just the opposite. You just have to redouble your efforts, because that’s the job. It’s not personal; it’s not a sense of personal defiance. It’s a sense of that’s the job.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: My boys are in their twenties and unfortunately they’re out of the house, happily for them, but unfortunately for nostalgic old me, but they’re well-launched. And I have an 18-year-old daughter who is at home and has autism, so it’s a personal challenge that will always be with us. So, that’s a large thing in my life and in my wife’s life. My wife is Esther Fein, who for many years was a reporter and editor at The New York Times. What do we do to relax? We try to spend some time together. And it’s not out of the question to watch the news on TV or even better, some show. But there’s a lot of reading to be done. It’s very hard to read in the office, and that means reading pieces that are actually going to go in the magazine or online, but also pieces that aren’t, that people send in and deserve an answer. Or reading galleys of books that may find their way into The New Yorker in some ways. And the reading never stops, but again I want to say that this is not by any stretch a one-person operation. It’s a very complicated, and ultimately team-oriented thing.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I don’t know about me individually, but I want this place to be ruled by a sense of kindness, without swagger. I want there to be a sense of overall decency about The New Yorker. But again, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have disagreements, arguments, or bad days, or all the rest. But I want that sense of decency between and among us to prevail.

On what keeps him up at night: There’s no end to it; there’s no end to it. (Laughs) But that’s my problem, not yours; don’t worry about it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Remnick, editor, The New Yorker.

Samir Husni: Whether intentionally or unintentionally, The New Yorker has become the place to go if you’re interested in news, politics and humor. It seems with most everyone I talk with, in and out of journalism schools, you have taken the place of a newsweekly on a daily basis.

David Remnick: Well, I’m thrilled to hear it. I don’t think of The New Yorker at all as what we used to refer to as a newsweekly, like the old Time or Newsweek, or anything like that. The only parts of the print magazine that you could probably predict to some extent that we’re going to have something about that is in the cultural pages, in fact; reviews of this movie or that play. Beyond that, it’s open season. There’s a large measure of unpredictability in The New Yorker.

Now online, there are more pieces that are reactive to the news, whether it’s political news or cultural news. But I think a lot of our readers are reading both at once. It’s not important to me particularly whether they’re reading on a screen or a phone or on paper, but I think a lot of people are reading all of what we do, which is to say, everything that’s coming out of The New Yorker.com, whether it’s the daily pieces or the long-form ones; in order for The New Yorker to be The New Yorker there has to be a huge measure of serendipity, unpredictability, surprise, delight; as well as depth, seriousness and accuracy. It’s a complicated piece of business, The New Yorker. It’s hard to define in a few words. Louis Armstrong was once asked the definition of jazz and he said: if you can’t hear it, I can’t explain it to you. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

David Remnick: And the funny thing about The New Yorker is that it’s evolving, obviously. What we used to do, not so many years ago, was publish a dozen things, once a week, with some cartoons, very little of graphic interest. No photographs, just cartoons. And now we’re something much, much more and more varied, that exists both in the longer term and in the shorter term. It’s visual and also a deep-reading experience. I hope our soul is much the same; our DNA is much the same, but we’ve evolved quite a lot.

Samir Husni: Through that evolvement, and considering the current status of journalism, where do you think journalism is heading in 2018? Is it in a better place today? Or can we paraphrase Charles Dickens and say, “These are the best of times, these are the worst of times?”

David Remnick: I think Dickens probably had it right. On the one hand, we live in an age in which the president of the United States and other leaders around the world have tried to muddy the waters about the difference between what is real and what is not real. What’s real and what’s fake. This phrase “fake news” is a weapon in the hands of, unfortunately, some very powerful people and their followers.

On the other hand, I think a lot of people, many millions of people, reacted to this unfortunate turn by looking to what is best in journalism, what’s true. And that has been true at The New Yorker. I think my brothers and sisters at The New York Times and the Washington Post and other publications have also felt this in very concrete terms. In terms of more readers wanting what we do. And it becomes not less important to them in a noisy, complicated world, but more important.

So, I have great alarm about this war against fact; this profusion of lying in high places. But I also stake my claim with a journalism that tries to do the best it can. And do an honest job. Whether it’s traditional media or new media, that doesn’t matter, it’s a true media. It’s a media that seeks to separate the wheat from the chaff; the true from the false. So, it is a very mixed picture and Dickens had it right, but where he was talking about the French Revolution, we’re talking about the 21st century.

Samir Husni: Chris Mitchell (The New Yorker’s Chief Business Officer) told me that the revenues of The New Yorker now are like 50/50 from digital and print.

David Remnick: Well, obviously, print advertising everywhere is not a growth industry. And we also live in the reality that Facebook and Google own some enormous percentages of digital advertising as well. That’s just a reality. And we will go on battling for what part of the market we can get. And I think our advertisers will and should recognize that readers who seek out quality in their editorial matter are also great potential customers, but I leave those decisions to them.

The other part of the picture is that the ever-increasing net percentage of our revenue comes from consumer revenue, as opposed to ad revenue. And that’s a reflection of readers wanting what we do, and they’re willing to pay for it. And that’s incredibly encouraging about the future.

Samir Husni: When I first came to America, I had a professor at Missouri who talked about The New Yorker, saying that it had those cult-like worshippers, readers, who just had to get the magazine every single week. It was a status symbol.

David Remnick: I don’t mind the idea that readership of The New Yorker is somehow a club or an association or a marker, but I hope and pray that it’s something more serious than that. That it’s more joyful than that. That it’s not merely a status symbol, but something that people read and read deeply. And that it complicates and enlightens and brings joy to their lives. The idea that we can do that, with some very strange mixes, short fiction, journalism, humor, arts, and all the other ingredients that make up The New Yorker, that’s a very uplifting thing to know that you’re doing as a living.

Samir Husni: And that mix; is that your definition of content today? If someone were to ask you, David, how do you define content today?

David Remnick: I find words, and I understand why they’re used all of the time, but sometimes I bridle a little bit at words like content or products or platform, they seem a little cold. They seem a little remote and cold-blooded, because I think of The New Yorker as something much more warm-blooded or hot-blooded, which is alive. I don’t think of it as a can of soup or any of the other household products or a status symbol. I think of it as something, and I don’t care if it’s digital or on paper, I think of it as something that can reach your heart and mind in a unique way; in a surprising way. There aren’t too many household items or products that can do that.

I think of it in different terms. I don’t want to get all spiritual and gooey on you, but I think of it as something on a very emotional level as well. And I think what’s important is people’s attachment to it is very heartfelt and very emotional. I get letters and emails reflecting that all of the time.

Samir Husni: There are more so-called journalism outlets today than ever before. What are you doing to ensure that the true voice of journalism, the factual rather than the fake journalism, still has a place in the industry?

David Remnick: I can only speak with any authority about The New Yorker, I can’t speak for anybody else. And all I can tell you is that we have, at any one time, 17 or 18 fact-checkers working full-time, making sure the veracity of what we publish is as best as it can possibly be. We have all kinds of editors of enormous skill working with writers to make sure these pieces are clear, fair and rigorous. And at the same time, we don’t back away from a point of view, if that point of view can be substantiated and made clear.

What we’re against is sloppiness, fakery, and inaccuracy. I totally understand that we’re going to make mistakes; I just want to keep them to an absolute minimum. And keep good faith with the reader.

Samir Husni: As those readers are searching for the truth and hungry for the truth in this sea of chaos that exists out there, what do you think The New Yorker’s role, in both print and digital, should play in this time of the darker side of the Internet? I’m sure you’ve heard that they voted down Net Neutrality; so, where do you think we’re heading?

David Remnick: If you ask me about Net Neutrality, I think that’s a shame. I think the Trump policy on Net Neutrality that really undermines the initial early idea of the Internet itself and gives great advantage to the biggest commercial companies, is an enormous step backward, if that’s what you’re asking.

Samir Husni: Now that the vote is in, is there anything that traditional media companies can do about this?

David Remnick: As an editor, all I can do is have The New Yorker voice its opinion and we’ve done that. And we’ve done it very clearly. Recently, on The New Yorker Radio Hour, one of my guests was Nicholas Thompson, who’s the editor of Wired, and I interviewed him and he was extremely forceful, and I agree with him. He was extremely forceful in his denunciation of the Trump policy rolling back New Neutrality.

We have different platforms that The New Yorker can exploit. Again, the weekly magazine, the website, which is coming at you, not just every day, but every hour of a moment, a radio program, which is on I think 230 or 240 public radio stations around the country, and obviously podcasts. We had a television show with Amazon at one point, what I would call a noble experiment (Laughs). And we have all kinds of events, the biggest of which is The New Yorker Festival. And I look for more, but always with the idea toward the highest quality. Whatever we do; whatever new initiative we have has to be, if not right away, then soon, at the level of quality that we take pride in.

Samir Husni: During the 19 years of your tenure as editor of The New Yorker, can you look back on one moment that made you so thankful that you’re the editor of The New Yorker, or one moment that made you think: oh my gosh, what am I doing here?

David Remnick: (Laughs) That’s a good question. The feeling of “oh my gosh, what am I doing here” is what I first felt, because I’d never been the editor of anything and then suddenly, one second you aren’t and one second you are. One moment you’re not in that room, and then you’re in the room, and suddenly these decisions are yours to make. Or at least, you have to learn how to make them. So, I admit looking back in some early sense of panic that you can’t let show. But I’ve been grateful ever since.

Some stories we published are extremely painful or tough, but I feel great gratitude, not only to be the editor of The New Yorker, but to live in a place where we can do that without fear of favor, whether it’s the Harvey Weinstein material or the recent piece on opioids, written by Patrick Keefe, or Jane Mayer’s extraordinary political coverage, most recently her profile of Mike Pence; Evan Osnos’s work has been remarkable, and here I’m just talking about political stories. It’s a bounty.

And I’m extremely grateful to our editors, people like Daniel Zalewski or Henry Finder, Dorothy Wickenden, Susan Morrison; and these are people who have been around for quite a while, editing these pieces and making them better and working with writers. Pam McCarthy is the deputy editor and does about a million things, and Michael Luo who is the web editor and has been so effective.

And I mention these people, not just to throw bouquets in various people’s direction, because there are many more, but also because I don’t believe in this business of the imperial editor. I don’t believe that one person has enough creativity or enough ideas or intellectual versatility to be capable of singlehandedly putting out something like The New Yorker. It requires a team. A team that argues; a team that gets along; a team that treats each other decently; a team that gets annoyed with each other once in a blue moon, like in any good team or family or whatever. It’s hard work, but it’s not the work of one person. And if you publish anything; I would appreciate you publishing that, because I think it’s true. And I’m not mentioning nearly enough people, I know that.

Samir Husni: What’s next for The New Yorker?

David Remnick: In terms of next week or in terms of six months from now or forever?

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

David Remnick: When you ask the question what’s next; I think in the last year especially, we’re living in this incredibly…I don’t know how to describe it. I have no clue what will happen from moment to moment. Dorothy Parker used to say, “What fresh hell is this?”

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

David Remnick: And there is this feeling of what fresh hell will today bring, mainly from Washington, but not only. These are tough times. We have existential crises that range from the global environment to the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea, to a renewed and very dangerous political rivalry with Russia, an ascendant China, which we seem to be mishandling spectacularly.

And it’s only incidentally that we see a story, you can barely breathe on the streets of New Delhi. There are real existential crises going on and we are, at the same time, obsessed with a million other things that are smaller and sucking the wind out of us. It’s very hard to live, it seems at times.

We just had a political race where we’re relieved and delighted that an accused sex offender and racist barely lost. This is what constitutes relief. These are tough times. And so it’s a big sense of responsibility.

I remember the morning after Trump won and talking with the staff about essential responsibility, about the need for rigor and covering the story in all its many directions with real boundless energy, and it’s tough. It takes a toll; it tires people out. But we can’t afford to be worn out by this; we have to be alert and on it.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that collectively, journalism as a whole is failing its audience, or that a few are managing to succeed?

David Remnick: Well, I hope not. I’m not running around and patting myself on the back, and I don’t think that Dean Baquet is or Marty Baron, or any other editor worth his or her salt. I don’t think, at the same time, that we should hang our heads low just because the president is screaming fake news, just the opposite. You just have to redouble your efforts, because that’s the job. It’s not personal; it’s not a sense of personal defiance. It’s a sense of that’s the job.

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; watching TV; or something else?

David Remnick: It could be any of those things. My boys are in their twenties and unfortunately they’re out of the house, happily for them, but unfortunately for nostalgic old me, but they’re well-launched. And I have an 18-year-old daughter who is at home and has autism, so it’s a personal challenge that will always be with us. So, that’s a large thing in my life and in my wife’s life. My wife is Esther Fein, who for many years was a reporter and editor at The New York Times.

What do we do to relax? We try to spend some time together. And it’s not out of the question to watch the news on TV or even better, some show. But there’s a lot of reading to be done. It’s very hard to read in the office, and that means reading pieces that are actually going to go in the magazine or online, but also pieces that aren’t, that people send in and deserve an answer. Or reading galleys of books that may find their way into The New Yorker in some ways. And the reading never stops, but again I want to say that this is not by any stretch a one-person operation. It’s a very complicated, and ultimately team-oriented thing.

And the editors that I mentioned before, whom I hope you will mention; it’s only the start of it. I didn’t even mention the fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, who is remarkable and is publishing a story a week, and just published a story that went incredibly viral.

We’re in an innovative stage at The New Yorker. For years, because of the nature of technology and for commercial reasons, 90 percent of the task or more was putting out this print magazine of enormous quality. And I’m sure nobody thought that was easy. But now we do that and we do much else, and we also have to figure out all kinds of technological questions to make sure that 19-year-old readers and 25-year-old readers will find The New Yorker something that’s not only fascinating and enriching, but also convenient, easy to access, and modern in the best sense. And we’re experimenting with different ways of telling stories on film, or presenting stories online that are different from the way we were doing it two years ago or last week.

But here’s the thing, and this is the important thing; my job and our job in this moment in time is to get all of the technological things right, but never to lose sight of, or the feel for, what The New Yorker is or should be. That if we only concentrate on these questions of technology and business and all the rest, and lose sight of the soul of the place, of the purpose of the place, of the integrity of the place, all knowing that we’re going to make mistakes along the way, that if we lose sight of that then it’s not worth it. But if I can help us, along with all of my colleagues, by all means, modernize The New Yorker, but make it The New Yorker that we want it to be, that we’re proud of, that deeply values accuracy, fairness, rigor and clarity, and originality in writing, and soul, then we will have accomplished something great.

That’s a long answer to a question that really wanted to know if I have a glass of wine; the answer is I usually have a beer.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

David Remnick: I don’t know about me individually, but I want this place to be ruled by a sense of kindness, without swagger. I want there to be a sense of overall decency about The New Yorker. But again, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have disagreements, arguments, or bad days, or all the rest. But I want that sense of decency between and among us to prevail.

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

David Remnick: There’s no end to it; there’s no end to it. (Laughs) But that’s my problem, not yours; don’t worry about it.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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