Archive for the ‘Magazine Power’ Category

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The Saturday Evening Post At 200: Yes, It Is Still Being Published And Still Celebrating America’s Past, Present, and Future – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Steven Slon, Editorial Director and Associate Publisher & Jeff Nilsson, Director Of Archives…

December 2, 2020

“There has been so much talk about digital replacing print completely, but in fact delving into a print publication with its design, all the multiple levels of interest that you have in a magazine, it’s not like anything else. And there is plenty of evidence that people are returning to print in great numbers. And I think that point can be shown in America.” Steven Slon… 

“There are many things that The Post got wrong historically. They had some very unenlightened views on women and immigrants, but as far as Black people, they really have a long history of being a little bit more aware than the average publication,  going back to the 1800s when it was a solid abolitionist newspaper and was very much pushing for the civil rights of Black Americans and the end of slavery.” Jeff Nilsson…

The Saturday Evening Post Then August 8, 1862
The Saturday Evening Post Now November/December 2020

In 2021 The Saturday Evening Post will celebrate 200 years of chronicling American history in the making. From Napoleon to Lincoln to The Civil Rights Movement, the magazine has been a staple and a part of our American culture for generations. 

With the upcoming celebratory milestone, I spoke recently to Steven Slon, editorial director and associate publisher & Jeff Nilsson, director of The Post’s archives and we talked about what some have called the most significant of the early magazines. Its rich history and still-strong future gave us quite a lot to discuss and the conversation was as fascinating as the magazine itself.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steve and Jeff as we take a look back, a present glimpse, and a glance into the future of The Saturday Evening Post.

The Jan. 1, 1921 cover

But first the sound-bites: 

On The Saturday Evening Post’s claim that it was founded in 1721 by Benjamin Franklin when it was really launched in 1821 (Steven Slon): The market people for The Saturday Evening Post in the mid-twentieth century were very clever by today’s standards. You could call it alternate facts or you could call it just a little creative bending of the story, but in effect we do feel that The Post owes a debt to Benjamin Franklin in that his Poor Richard’s Almanack in a way provided a template for the concept that became the model for The Saturday Evening Post. It’s like a popular publication for the whole family, safe for all members of the family to read, interesting to diverse interests and senses of humor and so on. 

On what role The Saturday Evening Post plays in today’s marketplace (Steven Slon): We’re continuing the tradition of a magazine for the whole family, not bifurcated into now-interest groups, not following the trend toward verticality. We are a magazine that  you immerse yourself in. And you’ll find some stories about trends, some about politics, some news-based, some personal interest stuff, some self-care; our health reporting is almost in the Rodale tradition, which has been my background, the you-can-do-it, here’s-how-to-do-it. So we cut a wide range of subjects and our readers just really enjoy immersing themselves in the magazine, sort of like a warm bath, you can just relax and you find interesting material.

On whether he feels The Saturday Evening Post is swimming against the current in today’s magazine publishing world (Steven Slon): We are swimming against the current and we’re proud to do it because we feel this is where a really good magazine is. It’s like the personality of a human, there’s an arrangement of interests, people aren’t just tennis players or skiers or cycling enthusiasts, or just interested in politics or just interested in cooking. We have recipes, we have sports, we talk about gambling in the next issue.

Steven Slon

On why Beurt SerVaas thought the magazine was worth saving in the 1960s (Steven Slon): To begin with Beurt SerVaas, who ultimately purchased the magazine, was an international businessman with many operations around the world. He had factories in Poland, for example. And he was known as a turnaround guy. He was brought in to help with the breakup of The Saturday Evening Post when it went bankrupt. 

On what the 200-year-old legacy of The Saturday Evening Post means in today’s world (Steven Slon): I think solid reporting, fairness, balance, just quality. Certainly we consider our 200-year-old history as being a part of American history. One of the things that we feel strongly about is the magazine in the 1920s, under George Horace Lorimer’s leadership, was part of the effort to make the United States feel like a truly united country.

Jeff Nilsson

On how The Saturday Evening Post has coped over the years with each facet of new media, from radio to the Internet (Jeff Nilsson): Starting in the 1920s radio was considered a novelty but certainly no challenge to print publications. And motion pictures were also really considered off the chart. They really weren’t going to be any threat to established media. By the late 1920s, they were reporting on radio broadcasting and the business with a bit more respect, but still the numbers were so high in the 1920s that they weren’t worried. But as sound came to motion pictures, it started to bite into the entertainment dollars of the United States.

On the future of The Saturday Evening Post as it enters its third century (Steven Slon): The future is we’re certainly growing our website, we’re 50 percent more traffic year over year. In the last two years, it’s just been going up exponentially. The challenge that we face is the lack of awareness that the publication is out there. We’re not on the newsstand right now because the cost of that is prohibitive. We don’t have a ton of financial backing to do that kind of thing. So, we have to be conservative in our business plans. Our readership is somewhat closed, we have 250,000 paid subscribers; our actual market share is bigger in the sense that over one million people read the magazine based on third party analysis of the pass-along rate.

On getting the word out that the magazine isn’t dead (Steven Slon): We have a story to tell and that is that we have an extraordinarily good magazine. For the price of a couple of ham sandwiches, you get a year’s subscription, $15. It’s a magazine that you can immerse yourself in. We have one of the highest rates of read-through. I was talking to our salespeople recently. When they’re tabbing the magazine they talk about the fact that people don’t read just one article, they immerse themselves, they read from cover-to-cover. A much higher rate than other magazines.

On getting the word out that the magazine isn’t dead (Jeff Nilsson): I wanted to add something, and you mentioned this earlier; when The Post really started taking off it tried to reach a national audience in the 1800s, but particularly in the 1900s. And Curtis believed that there was an American taste. There was an average American that was interested in certain things and instead of breaking up the readership like McClure’s did or Harper’s or Atlantic which pitched itself to various sections of New England, he pitched it to the country.  

On whether The Saturday Evening Post would be considered a history of American taste or just a general interest magazine reflecting today’s marketplace (Steven Slon): I think certainly it’s a history of pop cultural America and also a more serious part of American history. We created a regular column that Jeff writes called The Post Perspective and we feel we have this unique ability to show let’s say that a trend of today has antecedents in history.

On what’s in store for the celebration year of 2021 (Steven Slon): The big issue will be the July/August issue because that’s the actual anniversary, but in each issue we’re going to have a selection on a theme. The first batch for the January issue will be a selection of some of the earliest stories and earliest reporting from the 19th century. So, reporting on the death of Napoleon, for example. On the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, we covered that. 

On why magazines of today are so different from the magazines of yesteryear (Steven Slon): There are some that are maintaining a style, culture and a tradition that dates back to their origins, such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, even The Smithsonian, which covers a range of subject matter with a historical slant. We’re going against the trend toward verticality because we can’t. It’s that simple. We couldn’t even begin to be a vertical, we have so many different strands of interest that we’d have to completely restart the magazine with a different theme.

On how he thinks The Post handled diversity and people of color (Steven Slon): I’d say that we were similar to the historically other mainstream magazines in that I don’t think there was adequate representation of minorities. I would dispute the claim that some people make that The Post prohibited coverage of minorities. That is not true, I believe.

On how he thinks The Post handled diversity and people of color (Jeff Nilsson): I’d like to also add that there are many things that The Post got wrong historically. They had some very unenlightened views on women and immigrants, but as far as Black people, they really have a long history of being a little bit more aware than the average publication,  going back to the 1800s when it was a solid abolitionist newspaper and was very much pushing for the civil rights of Black Americans and the end of slavery.

The Saturday Evening Post September 29, 1821

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Slon, editorial director and associate publisher & Jeff Nilsson, director of archives, The Saturday Evening Post.

Samir Husni: In 1821 The Saturday Evening Post was launched and it became the most important magazine in American history, according to many historians. Yet, some were confused when The Saturday Evening Post added the tagline “Founded in 1721 by Benjamin Franklin” before even Benjamin Franklin started his own magazine in 1741. Can you tell me about that story?

Steven Slon: The market people for The Saturday Evening Post in the mid-twentieth century were very clever by today’s standards. You could call it alternate facts or you could call it just a little creative bending of the story, but in effect we do feel that The Post owes a debt to Benjamin Franklin in that his Poor Richard’s Almanack in a way provided a template for the concept that became the model for The Saturday Evening Post. It’s like a popular publication for the whole family, safe for all members of the family to read, interesting to diverse interests and senses of humor and so on.

Now there’s a bit of a real connection in the sense that the founders of The Saturday Evening Post in 1821 were modeling on some of the work of Benjamin Franklin. And they also published it, printed it in the same printing shop in Philadelphia that Benjamin Franklin had used so that they could claim a little, let’s say paternity. (Laughs)

The Saturday Evening Post May 3, 1862

Samir Husni: But in 1821 Benjamin Franklin was dead. 

Steven Slon: And his publications, The Pennsylvania Gazette, whatever, had been gone for 15 to 20 years. The real start of the magazine, granted it owes a debt to the kind of thinking and the style and tone of Poor Richard’s Almanack and The Pennsylvania Gazette, the magazine was founded in 1821, the real publication. And it really had no direct link. We’re now counting it the real way and we feel that 200 years is a pretty long history. And it makes us the oldest magazine in America.

Samir Husni: And of course, the folks at the Old Farmer’s Almanac will say that they’re 225 years old, but the difference is they are an annual and you’re a periodical publication. 

Steven Slon: Yes. 

Samir Husni: What role is The Saturday Evening Post playing today? You have a 200-year-old history, but how is that past relevant in today’s marketplace?

Steven Slon: We’re continuing the tradition of a magazine for the whole family, not bifurcated into now-interest groups, not following the trend toward verticality. We are a magazine that  you immerse yourself in. And you’ll find some stories about trends, some about politics, some news-based, some personal interest stuff, some self-care; our health reporting is almost in the Rodale tradition, which has been my background, the you-can-do-it, here’s-how-to-do-it. So we cut a wide range of subjects and our readers just really enjoy immersing themselves in the magazine, sort of like a warm bath, you can just relax and you find interesting material.

We’re also in the tradition of, from the earliest platforms that were released in the early part of, certainly the 20th century, the idea that we want to be known for unbiased reporting, we don’t take sides. For example, in the recent, current election we’re not taking sides, we’re sending issues that relate to some of the big trends in the country, such as America’s divide and what can be done about it. We’re not saying that we support one candidate over the other. In addition, we’re a nonprofit, so we’re a 501(c)(3), we’re not really committed to advocate politically.

The Saturday Evening Post August 27, 1898

Samir Husni: As you look at the status of magazine publishing, and as you look at the extreme niche that we’re moving into, it seems many are calling print a luxury item now and believe you have to sell it with a cover price of $10 or $15 or even more, how does it feel to be swimming against the current? You have a magazine like The Saturday Evening Post, still with a cover price of $5.99 and still printing a quarter million copies or more every other month, do you feel you’re swimming against the current? And what do you hear from your audience?

Steven Slon: We are swimming against the current and we’re proud to do it because we feel this is where a really good magazine is. It’s like the personality of a human, there’s an arrangement of interests, people aren’t just tennis players or skiers or cycling enthusiasts, or just interested in politics or just interested in cooking. We have recipes, we have sports, we talk about gambling in the next issue. 

Our readers like it. Granted, we’re swimming against the tide, but we hear from our readers that they’re very satisfied. Our renewal rates are historically high for magazines.  And we’re happy. As an editor, certainly I’m happy to be producing a magazine where you get to talk about lots of different things. I have a short attention span, I want to hear about this and a little bit of that, and I think our readers do too.

Samir Husni: The Saturday Evening Post has died and come back several times over these 200 years of existence. And really, the major salvation for the magazine came in the 1960s when all three biggies, Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post were facing their demise, but someone came to the rescue and bought The Post along with its archives. Can you talk a little bit about why Beurt SerVaas thought it was worth saving?

Steven Slon: To begin with Beurt SerVaas, who ultimately purchased the magazine, was an international businessman with many operations around the world. He had factories in Poland, for example. And he was known as a turnaround guy. He was brought in to help with the breakup of The Saturday Evening Post when it went bankrupt. 

The Saturday Evening Post December 30, 1899

The story of why it went into bankruptcy is rather involved, but I’ll just briefly say that in the early 1960s The Post actually hit its highest circulation numbers, it was over six million. And in some regards, it became top-heavy, and it was very expensive to produce that many copies. And when small details go wrong, the whole thing began to collapse. They started buying timberland to control the paper and the value of the land went down and then they tried cutting circulation, limiting it to the higher income zip codes. And that turned off a lot of readers because it’s a magazine for average folks, it was never a New Yorker, a high-brow magazine, it was a magazine for middle-grounders, regular people. There was an author in The Post who found out after receiving his check for his article that they were taking him off their subscription list. Sorry. (Laughs) 

In any case, Beurt SerVaas was brought in to help break up The Saturday Evening Post. And in doing so, he saw value, not so much in The Post, but in the children’s magazines, Jack and Jill and Child Life. And at the time these were circulated through schools and were very profitable. And he thought that would be of some value to him, so he wanted to preserve that. So in the process he shipped all of the equipment and materials, what was left of The Post, out to Indianapolis. 

But in doing so there were several Rockwell canvasses lying around the office. In those days, they were considered to have no value, even Rockwell didn’t value them. He had gotten paid for them and in some cases he gave them away like to the local Boy Scouts for an auction. One of his canvasses went at auction for 50 cents in the ‘50s or ‘60s. And he called SerVaas and said that he’d like to come down and pick up his paintings. 

So, he came down in his old station wagon, drove down by himself and threw his paintings in the back, just tossed them in. Rockwell told SerVaas that he was glad he was taking over the company and hoped he could revive the publication. SerVaas told him sure, he could maybe do that, but he said it sort of noncommittally. 

Then later, Norman Rockwell was on The Today Show and he was asked about what was going to happen to The Saturday Evening Post, because as you and I know this was such a big publication, it was as if a network TV station had gone out of business. Rockwell then said that he’d met the new owner of the company and that he was going to relaunch The Saturday Evening Post. He mentioned that they were in Indianapolis and they received bushels of mail from people across the country wanting to know when they could get the magazine. 

So Beurt SerVaas said to his wife Cory, I guess we’re launching this magazine. (Laughs) And you’re going to be the editor. So, his wife Cory, who was an M.D. and not someone in the publishing business became the facto editor of the magazine and it went on from there. And it was very heavily focused on health reporting in those years, but otherwise they kept a lot of the traditions alive. 

The Saturday Evening Post May 30, 1916 (First Norman Rockwell cover)

Samir Husni: You have a rich archive with 200 years of magazines, and the last time I visited The Post they were digitizing everything. What do you think the legacy of The Saturday Evening Post is today?

Steven Slon: I think solid reporting, fairness, balance, just quality. Certainly we consider our 200-year-old history as being a part of American history. One of the things that we feel strongly about is the magazine in the 1920s, under George Horace Lorimer’s leadership, was part of the effort to make the United States feel like a truly united country. 

At the turn of the century, America was not in any sense a “United” States. There were pockets of immigration all over, people speaking different languages, there were different cultures. And remember travel was difficult at the time, for the average person they may not have gone 20 miles from home, you traveled by horse and buggy, cars were just a new concept that very few people had. So, The Post gave this picture of America, partly through its covers, its portraits, its illustrations, a picture of America that people could relate to and say yes, that’s who we are, especially when you look at Rockwell and the sense of unity, the sense of children playing, the sense of adults working the commuter life in later years, were brought to life by The Post and it was a shared experience that helped create a part of that feeling of being united. 

We have this incredible archive in which we have completed our digitization and relaunched our website about a year ago with full access to all but a few issues of the magazine, all the way back to 1821. You need to be a subscriber to get full access, but if you go online a lot of the time we surface selections from our past, flipbooks, and tell a story about a particular story that ran and allow people to read it. But subscribers can go to any edition of the magazine and read through it at any time. So, all of this great history is there for the reader to have and it’s an American treasure. 

The Saturday Evening Post July 5, 1919

Samir Husni: With its history, you have a magazine that has witnessed the birth of radio, television, the Internet and digital. Do you have a sense of how the magazine coped with all of this new media, how it adjusted?

Steven Slon: I can talk about digital because that’s something that we’re involved in right now. It’s a good point, certainly, TV did not hurt The Post in the mid-century because – actually I can’t speak to that, I don’t know why. The publication is a different experience, reading a magazine and watching TV, those are two discrete things. 

I think that digital is hurting the basic news business because we learn things in minutes, in seconds. For example, Biden being declared the winner recently. Everybody was talking about that within seconds of its occurrence. In the early part of our existence, we reported on the death of Napoleon within two or three weeks, and that was fast then. (Laughs) So, it’s hurting that kind of reporting, but our well is featured stories that are timely, sensitive and relevant, but they’re not based on breaking news. As a bimonthly, one can’t be anyway. 

Jeff Nilsson: Starting in the 1920s radio was considered a novelty but certainly no challenge to print publications. And motion pictures were also really considered off the chart. They really weren’t going to be any threat to established media. By the late 1920s, they were reporting on radio broadcasting and the business with a bit more respect, but still the numbers were so high in the 1920s that they weren’t worried. But as sound came to motion pictures, it started to bite into the entertainment dollars of the United States.

And in the 1950s as television started up, they ran several articles to talk about how television was having trouble. It had trouble because the networks weren’t putting any money into television, they thought it would fail. But in the early reporting by The Post, they sort of stood back and considered it to be an unusual, two-headed dog of entertainment. They didn’t really take it seriously until the 1960s. 

The Saturday Evening Post responded to that by sort of giving television a bad edge and they talked about the cultural wasteland, which is what one of the famous critics of the 1960s called television. But by the mid-sixties, they realized that television was here to stay and that we would look stupid if we didn’t start covering television as part of our mix of editorial content. 

So, from that point on they did start taking it seriously, but I think that radio had started the drift away from print and even from what I’ve read the numbers of The Post had started to decline a little before the Second World War. With the Second World War though there was a paper shortage and the magazines were limited as to who could publish and who couldn’t. The Post had all the paper that it needed, though flimsy of stock, but they were able to enjoy a closed market and people were hungry for information during the war. So it boosted us up, but the plateau was not exactly level and it was declining somewhat. Even in the ‘50s when our numbers were still good, we got up to six and a half million in subscriptions in the early ‘60s, but even so they could realize that magazines weren’t growing at the same rate they used to. 

The Saturday Evening Post May 29, 1943

Samir Husni: As the magazine enters its third century, what’s the future for The Saturday Evening Post? 

Steven Slon: The future is we’re certainly growing our website, we’re 50 percent more traffic year over year. In the last two years, it’s just been going up exponentially. The challenge that we face is the lack of awareness that the publication is out there. We’re not on the newsstand right now because the cost of that is prohibitive. We don’t have a ton of financial backing to do that kind of thing. So, we have to be conservative in our business plans. Our readership is somewhat closed, we have 250,000 paid subscribers; our actual market share is bigger in the sense that over one million people read the magazine based on third party analysis of the pass-along rate. 

People read it, but that’s still a small percentage of the population. So, it’s somewhat hermetically sealed. Our readers love us and they enjoy it. It’s hard to get the word out to people beyond that. And we’re hoping in a way with our 200thanniversary we can get the word out. Hey, we’re still here and we’re incredibly vibrant and alive, interesting and diverse. 

Samir Husni: Do you have a story to tell that will shed this idea that the magazine is dead? 

Steven Slon: We have a story to tell and that is that we have an extraordinarily good magazine. For the price of a couple of ham sandwiches, you get a year’s subscription, $15. It’s a magazine that you can immerse yourself in. We have one of the highest rates of read-through. I was talking to our salespeople recently. When they’re tabbing the magazine they talk about the fact that people don’t read just one article, they immerse themselves, they read from cover-to-cover. A much higher rate than other magazines. 

Why is that? As an editor I want to say that it’s about the quality. It’s about good reporting, tight editing, respect for the reader, and again to clarify, we’re not a nostalgia magazine, we’re a magazine that shares its past,  but we’re a magazine about what’s going on today and the trends. I just think it’s a great magazine and I think quality is what makes a magazine sell and grow. And people have to hear about it, of course to do that. 

I can share a story. I was giving a talk about the history of the magazine, showing slides of the new covers and so on that we’re doing, keeping up the tradition of the great art covers of the past. And somebody raised their hand in the audience and asked, you’re completely online, so how do I get the magazine? And I said I’ve just been telling you for an hour that we’re still in print. But people have it in their heads that we’re not, so it’s hard to break through that.

Jeff Nilsson: I wanted to add something, and you mentioned this earlier; when The Post really started taking off it tried to reach a national audience in the 1800s, but particularly in the 1900s. And Curtis believed that there was an American taste. There was an average American that was interested in certain things and instead of breaking up the readership like McClure’s did or Harper’s or Atlantic which pitched itself to various sections of New England, he pitched it to the country. 

If you think about where the magazine is right now, we have at least 100 years, more than a hundred years, that we have really been reaching to American standard tastes. Now in an age of continual change, where there is so much that isn’t recognizable, The Post stands out as something that is more of a standard. This is how Americans have entertained and educated themselves for hundreds of years, and will keep going in that way. But now, in my mind, the phrase keeps coming back now more than ever when people are wondering what is it that defines being American, what is the American experience. We are probably as good a reflection as any magazine if not better. 

Steven Slon: And I’d like to add that there has been so much talk about digital replacing print completely, but in fact delving into a print publication with its design, all the multiple levels of interest that you have in a magazine, it’s not like anything else. And there is plenty of evidence that people are returning to print in great numbers. And I think that point can be shown in America. 

The Saturday Evening Post February 13, 1960

Samir Husni: With this rich history, how are you making use of it and how are you promoting it for a new generation? Is there a chance that The Saturday Evening Post will be considered a history of American taste or is it just a general interest magazine reflecting today’s marketplace?

Steven Slon: I think certainly it’s a history of pop cultural America and also a more serious part of American history. We created a regular column that Jeff writes called The Post Perspective and we feel we have this unique ability to show let’s say that a trend of today has antecedents in history. 

In 2008 to 2010, there was the economic crisis that we were facing and we could talk about the bank crisis of 1907 because we covered it. We did a story that showed the ups and downs of the banking system over the years and showed that these down moments were part of a cyclical trend rather than just a one-off event, which when in real life it appears we’re in the midst of a banking crisis and it seems to be a unique event, but in fact it has a history. 

In our current issue we have a small selection of some of the ads that ran in the 1950s that would be shocking if you saw them today. We actually say on our cover “Censored” 1950s ads. These are ads that portrayed women as domestic tools of the family whose only care and interest for Christmas gifts was to get a new vacuum or a new refrigerator, some tool of the trade. And men were juvenile, and not to mention we have pictures of cowboys and Indians, costumes for kids that were completely cultural appropriation and all that. 

And then of course, cigarette ads. There is this incredibly funny ad, a picture of Santa with a cigarette in his mouth, promoting the T-zone or whatever it was, what a good cigarette.

Samir Husni; And you can do that because you’re no longer on the newsstands. I remember when you did the Kennedy reprint, you could not put it on the newsstands because of the cigarette ads.

Steven Slon: I didn’t check into that, but you’re probably right. But I think because we’re showing it in a historical context, we’re not actually running an ad for cigarettes.  

Jeff Nilsson: You asked about the relevance of historical material. I have to keep reminding myself as a historian, I think this is all interesting. I always say that if you don’t know how you got here, you don’t know where you are. But when I think about the readers of The Post, I think about having visited some friends and they bring out their family album. Nothing is more boring than somebody’s family album. You don’t know any of these people. 

And American history is very much the same way. If you don’t know what’s going on it’s just a number of incoherent stories. Our job is to provide history that people can see a connection to, see how it affected their lives, see how it parallels with what is going on. And if we can’t do that then yes, we are a nostalgia magazine, but we’re making sure that this is relevant, that all the material in the vaults somehow touches on experiences and thoughts that people have today. And that’s our goal and that’s how we’re going to stay relevant.

The Saturday Evening Post August 8, 1964

Samir Husni: Can you see yourself as the bridge that connects yesterday with tomorrow?

Jeff Nilsson: Sure. I’ll take that exactly as it is. I’m going to copy that one. (Laughs) 

Samir Husni: Tell me about 2021, the celebrations. What’s in store? Will you be celebrating the entire year?

Steven Slon: The big issue will be the July/August issue because that’s the actual anniversary, but in each issue we’re going to have a selection on a theme. The first batch for the January issue will be a selection of some of the earliest stories and earliest reporting from the 19th century. So, reporting on the death of Napoleon, for example. On the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, we covered that. 

Jeff Nilsson: Yes, we got that to the newsstand within a week, which was very unusual.

Steven Slon: And then in future issues we’ll celebrate fiction. And I’ll read off a few names. This is the thing that people don’t realize, in the 19th century Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Washington Irving and Mark Twain were all published in the magazine. 

In the 20th century Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Call of the Wild was first published in The Saturday Evening Post before it was put out as a book, Ring Lardner, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald is a story unto himself, 68 stories published in The Saturday Evening Post over the years. The first story he was paid $400 which in the ‘20s was huge money. By the end of his tenure with The Post, he was being paid $4,000 per story. That was what some people made in a year then. So, a well-paid job. He was able to travel the world, squire Zelda around to their European extravagance, was criticized by other writers like Hemingway for frittering away his talents on short stories when he could have been writing novels, but he was being paid so well he didn’t need to. 

And then of course later, Kurt Vonnegut. And we had great reporting. In the sixties with the “new” journalism. We had the writers associated with the new journalism who wrote for The Post. 

Jeff Nilsson: Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion.

Steven Slon: Yes. Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, that was published in its entirety, it was assigned and published by The Post. Eisenhower’s memoirs was published in The Post, his war memoirs before he became president.

Samir Husni: Why are today’s magazines nothing like what magazines used to be? Unless you disagree with me and then if you could tell me how they are the same.

Steven Slon: There are some that are maintaining a style, culture and a tradition that dates back to their origins, such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, even The Smithsonian, which covers a range of subject matter with a historical slant. We’re going against the trend toward verticality because we can’t. It’s that simple. We couldn’t even begin to be a vertical, we have so many different strands of interest that we’d have to completely restart the magazine with a different theme. 

We can do it because we’re a nonprofit, we’re not just chasing the easiest dollar. Certainly with magazines today, many of them are purely a business operation, it’s let’s find interest groups and target them and it’s an easier sell. We’re targeting Americans in the broad sense. We could be a much bigger circulation .

The Saturday Evening Post Sept./October 2020

Samir Husni: We are seeing a huge increase in Black subjects on the covers and inside the pages of American magazines. We’ve seen more in the last 120 days than we have in probably the last 120 years. Any idea how The Saturday Evening Post dealt with diversity? Were minorities and people of color a part of the magazine?

Steven Slon: I’d say that we were similar to the historically other mainstream magazines in that I don’t think there was adequate representation of minorities. I would dispute the claim that some people make that The Post prohibited coverage of minorities. That is not true, I believe. 

I would add that today we are making it a renewed commitment to diversity. We have a big article coming in the next issue about a school that has made an extraordinary drive to increase diversity and support low-income students whoever they are without any concern for their ability to pay. And how they have created extraordinary change in their culture. 

We covered Black Lives Matter in our kids magazines this year. Actually, one of our kids magazines had an article, first-person story about teenaged kids who attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration over the summer and how they were moved by it. So, I think that has to be part of the conversation going forward. 

Jeff Nilsson: I’d like to also add that there are many things that The Post got wrong historically. They had some very unenlightened views on women and immigrants, but as far as Black people, they really have a long history of being a little bit more aware than the average publication,  going back to the 1800s when it was a solid abolitionist newspaper and was very much pushing for the civil rights of Black Americans and the end of slavery. 

In the 1900s they were reporting on how the Black vote was being suppressed in the South. In 1917 they were talking about Black troops and how they had acquitted themselves with such honor that they were showing up the white troops that they were serving alongside of. In the 1940s they were saying that this was their country too and Blacks should be able to serve in combat roles. Starting in the Civil Rights movement we had a number of pieces talking about the Freedom Riders in the South and the young people who were getting involved. We had a piece by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Steven Slon: There was a cover story on Malcolm X and we also did an in depth story about Jackie Robinson and the behind-the-scenes planning that led to his being placed in the Major Leagues. There was some subterfuge involved and they pretended he was being prepared for a Minor League team when in fact the plan was to put him in a Major League team. 

Samir Husni: Thank you both. 

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Doug Olson, President & GM, Meredith Magazines On Social Responsibility, Diversity, And The Role Of Magazines Today: “We Have Decided That It Would Be A Lot Better To Try To Tackle This And Continue The Journey, Versus Pretending It’s Not There.” The Mr. Magazine™ Sunday Interview…

November 29, 2020

“We want to make people’s lives better and do what we can from a business perspective, and certainly as the largest publisher in the industry we have a responsibility to be an industry leader. Doug Olson…

No one can deny it has been a rough 2020 (and it ain’t over yet). But those of us who believe in continued hope and positivity know that things are going to get better and everything is going to turn around. Doug Olson, president and GM over at Meredith Magazines, is one such optimist and believer. Between the pandemic, the social injustice and division that we have seen in our country and world these days, it hasn’t been an easy task to remain upbeat and positive, but Doug is doing it with the plethora of Meredith brands. He is taking diversity and inclusion and bringing it to a new level by dedicating himself and his brands to the journey.

I spoke with Doug recently and we talked about this uncertain time in our country’s history and the role magazines play. It was a most intriguing and all encompassing conversation with the president of the largest magazine media company in the world. And now the Mr. Magazine™ Sunday Interview with Doug Olson, president & GM, Meredith Magazines.

But first the sound-bites: 

On how he views the diversity and inclusion changes that are taking place in the industry today: First of all, it’s good for business, anytime you can expand your audiences and grow your business it’s good. And we’ve been at this for some time, as you said. We still have work to do just like everyone else does, but at the end of the day, it’s hard.

On whether he thinks there’s an opportunity for mainstream magazines to diversify even more: There are two ways to look at it. Number one, taking a brand or a platform and going after a new audience or a new community. And number two, new brands and products and services aimed at a specific community. I believe we’ve done both. And we’ll continue to look at both opportunities.

On whether we will see more dissection of the audience in the Meredith brands, more diversity: We are. As a matter of fact, at Meredith, I have a committee that’s been put together of our employees that are bringing us ideas. They always bring us ideas, but now we’ve kind of formalized that and have a very talented leader of that group that’s looking at opportunities for us to expand in lots of different communities. Not only the Black community, but the Hispanic community and others that we think our content resonates very well with.

On whether Meredith will try and reach every single woman in America, no matter their ethnicity: Again, back to my current answer, which is you’re going to see brands aimed at women in general. We reach nearly 95% of all U.S. women. And then you’re going to see brands that are much more niche aimed at certain communities if there is an unmet need that exists out in the marketplace or an audience that we can go after. I don’t know how many will be in magazines, to be honest with you. Other platforms might lend themselves to a better solution at this point in time.

On if he thinks there is a conflict between the social responsibility of magazines as reflectors of society or as initiators or entertainers and the business model for magazines as moneymakers: I don’t think there is a conflict, absolutely not. In the long term it’s good business to continue to expand your audiences. We put a lot of time, effort and money behind our vetted premium content. We want to make people’s lives better and do what we can from a business perspective, and certainly as the largest publisher in the industry we have a responsibility to be an industry leader. And that’s our focus.

On whether he believes magazines in the near future will be in the business of selling content and experience-making, rather than just matching the advertiser with the audience: Magazines are always going to be a part of the solution, but from an advertising perspective the ebbs and flows and the shifting that’s taking place has required us to look at how we can have a deeper relationship with the consumer. And if we can find consumers that are willing to spend their well-earned money on magazines, we try and put a better product in front of them.

On the “Reasons For Hope” campaign that is in all of Meredith’s titles: I’m glad you asked that because I am so excited about it. In the middle of the summer when all this was going on and there was a lot of discussion and a lot of listening, we have this awesome platform. We have the best brand portfolio in the industry; we have all of these consumers and all of these people that we reach out to every single day and not only focused on women, but a general audience. We have a lot of consumers that we interact with. So someone brought up that we should do something that uplifts the country. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought election and very divisive, all the social justice and equality issues that were happening at the time and then let’s not forget this thing called the pandemic that hasn’t gone away.

On the sudden explosion of Black subjects on the covers of many magazines recently: One of the things that has taken place there is that we’ve all witnessed some things that shouldn’t have happened. And clearly it’s been a difficult summer having a lot of conversations and doing a lot of listening to our employees, to our friends, to people who are leaders in social justice. And everybody wanted to do something. Whether it was the right response or not, it was from a good place.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, president & GM, Meredith Magazines.

Samir Husni: As a president of a national magazine division and as somebody who is playing a major lead role with your director of Diversity and Inclusion and what she is saying about all the changes that are taking place from recruitment to retention to education to changing content and working with the team; tell me how do you view this change that’s taking place in the industry? The change where suddenly magazines are celebrating Blackness and giving it more than just lip service? 

Doug Olson: First of all, in the long run, it’s good for business, anytime you can expand your audiences and grow your business it’s good. And we’ve been at this for some time, as you said. We still have work to do just like everyone else does, but really at the end of the day, it’s hard. 

It’s hard in the middle of a pandemic; it’s hard when we have this great political divide in the country; it’s hard to be someone that leads a brand that talks to millions of people each week or each month or each day. Words matter and they have to be very careful in how they respond to some of these issues that are out there, but we have decided that it would be a lot better to try and tackle this and continue the journey, versus pretending it’s not there. Have we made every single step the right way, probably not. But have we done it from a good place, absolutely.

Samir Husni: As we look at the magazine scene out there, almost all of the major Black magazines have ceased to exist: Ebony, Jet, Essence has gone to six times per year. Do you think there’s an opportunity for mainstream magazines to diversify? It’s not just a social responsibility, but it’s also a good business decision?

Doug Olson: There are two ways to look at it. Number one, taking a brand or a platform and going after a new audience or a new community. And number two, new brands and products and services aimed at a specific community. We’ve done both. And we’ll continue to look at both. 

It’s a lot of hard work to take a brand and to change what it has been focused on for a long time. I’m not even talking about the current issues that we’re facing, I’m talking about even the age difference. You take an established brand and you try and make it young and vibrant and appeal to the up and coming generation like Gen Z, it’s just tough. It’s tough to do because you have to hold onto your current audience at the same time that you’re trying to attract a new audience.

The content leaders in our organization and in the industry in general have to deal with that all of the time. What you’re seeing is there are some who are responding to it very appropriately and others are doing some things that maybe aren’t as authentic as you’d like to see, but I think most people would rather be criticized for trying than just doing nothing. 

Samir Husni: You’ve launched magazines aimed at specific audiences and you’ve worked with specific celebrities, for example Ayesha Curry with Sweet July magazine. Are we going to see more of that dissection of the audience? As you said, you are going in two directions, expanding the audiences of the existing titles, but also launching new titles. Will we see more of that?

Doug Olson: We are. As a matter of fact, at Meredith, I have a committee that’s been put together of our employees that are bringing us ideas. They always bring us ideas, but now we’ve kind of formalized that and have a very talented leader of that group that’s looking at opportunities for us to expand in lots of different communities. Not only the Black community, but the Hispanic community and others that we think our content resonates very well with. 

Samir Husni: As a leader in women’s magazines and as somebody that reaches more women than anyone else on the face of the earth, you’ve launched Hispanic magazines before, Hispanic magazines for women, for parents; will we see something similar with the Black audience and then Asian Americans? Are you going to try and reach every single woman in America?

Doug Olson: Again, back to my current answer, which is you’re going to see things aimed at women in general. And then you’re going to see things that are much more niche aimed at certain communities if there is an unmet need that exists out in the marketplace or something that we think we can go after. I don’t know how many will be in magazines, to be honest with you. Other platforms might lend themselves to a better solution at this point in time. But definitely, the Ayesha Curry’s of the world and some other things that we’re currently working on, we’re putting pen to paper and looking at the business case for them. Some are investments that will pay off in the long run and some are fairly easy and no-brainers that we’re going to go after.

Samir Husni: As a president of a national magazine group, do you feel that sometimes there is a conflict between the social responsibility of the magazines as reflectors of society or as initiators or entertainers and the business model for magazines as moneymakers? 

Doug Olson: I don’t think there is a conflict, absolutely not. In the long term it’s good business to continue to expand your audiences. We put a lot of time, effort and money behind our vetted premium content. We want to make people’s lives better and do what we can from a business perspective, and certainly as the largest publisher in the industry we have a responsibility to be an industry leader. And that’s what we’re trying to do. 

It’s hard though. You have to be committed to the journey. You have to look at how we can serve our communities better with our existing brands; how can we launch new brands and platforms; how can we continue to expand our contributor networks; how can we get representation on our advisory boards that we use. 

And that’s extra hard right now because of the pandemic. A lot of businesses have had hiring freezes. A lot haven’t had a lot of openings because there aren’t a lot of people feeling comfortable making a change. They don’t want to potentially lose their healthcare. There are a lot of reasons for people remaining still right now, but it’s mostly because of the economy. So we’re doing all of this at probably the toughest time in our history, but organizations like ours and our industry are committed to doing the right thing and it will turn into good business for all of us. 

Samir Husni: I feel as though the business model of the magazine world is changing from counting customers or selling numbers and selling the audience to selling the content and the experience-making aspect of magazines. So, you are depending on your revenue, a little bit less on advertising, but adding to the circulation revenue by the higher cover prices, by the approach to the new business model. Do you think we’ll see more of that? Do you think magazines will be in the business of selling content and experience-making, rather than just matching the advertiser with the audience?

Doug Olson: Magazines are always going to be a part of the solution, but from an advertising perspective the ebbs and flows and the shifting that’s taking place there has really required us to look at how we can have a deeper relationship with the consumer. And if we can find consumers that are willing to spend their well-earned money on magazines, we try and put a better product in front of them. 

Some of these quarterlies that we’ve been doing under the premium publishing banner: Rachael Ray In Season, Magnolia Journal, Reveal, Sweet July by Ayesha Curry, those are all really good products and they’re aimed at the consumer. And if advertisers happen to want to be a part of this as we aggregate the audience, then obviously that’s a bonus in all of this. 

We’ve all seen the shifts in advertising and it’s hard to rely on, even though we still are the industry leader by a long way, but it’s tough when something isn’t growing. Our digital business is growing nicely. Our consumer metrics have been unbelievable through this pandemic, including the newsstand, which has snapped back as the rest of the industry has opened up in several of the states from a retail perspective. 

Samir Husni: It seems that you have a lot of hope and that you’re not giving up. You’ve started this campaign “Reasons for Hope” in all your magazines. Can you tell me a little about that?

Doug Olson: I’m glad you asked that because I am so excited about it. In the middle of the summer when all this was going on and there was a lot of discussion and a lot of listening, we have this awesome platform. We have the best brand portfolio in the industry; we have all of these consumers and all of these people that we reach every single day and not only focused on women, but really just a general audience. We have a lot of consumers that we interact with. 

So someone brought up that we should do something that uplifts the country. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought election and very divisive, all the social justice and equality issues that were happening at the time and then let’s not forget this thing called the pandemic that hasn’t gone away. 

We want to use our platform and our audiences to do something good and to point out some amazing things that have happened in our country. It all started from this people franchise called “100 Reasons to Love America,” but we changed it to hope because we thought it would be less of a lightning rod because some people, believe it or not, believe the words Love America is somehow a political statement which it was never intended to be. 

We wanted to do something that was on-brand for each brand in our portfolio, which is quite an undertaking because they all have different publishing schedules to be able to pull this off. We wanted to point out things that were uplifting and it could be something as simple as somebody who was providing a meal to healthcare workers, all the way to organizations that stopped producing things so they could make ventilators. And everything in between. 

There are just so many amazing stories in all of these communities, in all of these parts that our brands represent, whether it’s in the food industry or the home industry or the entertainment industry, you name it. Again, as the industry leader, we have a responsibility to try and help bring this country back together. The last thing we wanted to do was anything that could be considered political and it’s mission accomplished. We have been able to talk about things that people really can’t take a side on other than to say wow, that’s an amazing feat by that person or that organization. 

Samir Husni: In the last 120 days we’ve seen more Blacks on the covers of magazines than we’ve seen in the last 90 years. Is there anything you’d like to add about that?

Doug Olson: One of the things that has taken place there is that we’ve all witnessed some things that shouldn’t have happened. Clearly it’s been a difficult summer having a lot of conversations and doing a lot of listening to our employees, to our friends, to people who are leaders in social justice. And I think everybody wanted to do something. Whether it was the right response or not,  it was from a good place. 

Everybody has tried to do their part and whether they need their content to be more diverse or whether they need their employees to be more diverse or their contributing network to be more diverse, we’re all committed to the journey and approving. I know there has probably been statistically a big push on more Blacks appearing on covers, but that’s a natural outcome from where the country and the discussion was.

To me the bigger issue should be that everyone continues to be committed to having diverse audiences and diverse employees and a more diverse contributors’ network and advisory board a year from now, two years from now, five years from now versus just reacting to the outcome of the summer, which was a good start. Everyone needs to do something and that’s what you’re seeing. We, like you, want to celebrate the change that’s taking place now. I want people to judge us over the long haul and the journey that we’re taking. I hope everybody else in the industry is as committed to this journey as much as we are. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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We Give Thanks…

November 25, 2020

From an article in The Modern Priscilla magazine from November 1918. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The country is in the midst of World War One and a pandemic at the same time, yet folks were continuing to give thanks… A great and gentle reminder. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving y’all and remember the cover and the back cover of this magazine is from November 1918.

The first Thanksgiving Day celebrated by our ancestors was a day of rejoicing. The year had been plentiful, granaries were full, deliverance from famine was assured.

            Thanksgiving Day this year means this and more.  All our lives we have taken the good things of our country as a matter of course. Some of the older ones worried a bit at the fast pace we are traveling, at the thoughtlessness of our youth, the wastefulness of our ways.

            Nineteen months ago was came to us.  We found that we had a flag whose honor we must protect, a country that we must preserve, an army that we must feed and clothe, and gallant Allies whom we must maintain.

            The gayest and most careless of our young men were among the first to enlist. We found out that they cared after all.  Some of them have made the supreme sacrifice. We have not forgotten, we shall not forget. To-day, we give thanks for that splendid manhood of America.

            We at home have tried to do the things nearest at hand. Not the least of these has been the problem of food conservation. It has been good for us.  We are thankful that there has been something definite for us to do…

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Family Handyman Magazine At 70. Nick Grzechowiak, Chief Content Officer, to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Are Not Letting Our Foot Up On The Gas When It Comes To Ink On Paper.” The Mr. Magazine™ Video Cast…

November 22, 2020

“I believe the days of anonymous content are coming to an end. We have seen this uprising of content that was written by some voice in the sky that was telling people what to do; cook this for dinner tonight because the Internet told me to. People are looking to voices and brands that they trust, because I can go to YouTube and I can spend an hour looking at how to solve my problem and get five different answers for how to fix a running toilet. Family Handyman is an established brand that’s been telling people how to do things the right way for 70 years.” Nick Grzechowiak…

For almost 70 years, Family Handyman has guided generations of homeowners through DIY projects, from fixing things up to making their own way through renovations or repairs. Family Handyman launched in 1951, so 2021 marks its 70th anniversary. I spoke with Nick Grzechowiak recently, chief content officer of the brand, and we talked about this milestone celebration that is coming up. Nick is excited and very optimistic about the brand’s continued success in both print and online. Family Handyman strives to be the reader’s go-to destination for projects, renovations, and all things DIY for the home. 

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ video cast with Nick Grzechowiak, chief content officer, Family Handyman. 

Nick Grzechowiak, Chief Content Officer, Family Handyman magazine.

But first here are the sound-bites: 

On the magazine’s early statement that if someone lived in a house, they needed the magazine and whether or not 70 years later that was still true: Absolutely, I believe it is still true. For a lot of people their home is their largest investment. And I think what we’ve seen over the last eight months during this pandemic is that whether people have lost investments in the stock market or it’s a spouse losing a job or income, people are really looking back at their home as something they need to take care of and improve. And as a way to gain potential wealth.

On how he decides what content goes in the ink on paper magazine and what goes online: As a brand, Family Handyman really strives to meet our consumers wherever they are. Some people love picking up that tactile experience of the ink on paper. When we think about the lineups for the magazine, we really do a combination of what’s happening in the world; what are people seeing; what’s happening at new home showcases? Also, what are those tried and true things that people need to either update their skills on or learn that new skill? When I think about the website, the user on the website is such a different journey than the magazine. We’re delivering  you the information in your mailbox or the newsstand, whereas on the website it’s really “in the moment.” When I think about the website content, you really have to think about that path people would follow.

Recreating the Letter From The Editor from the first issue of the magazine.

On the content from a 1953 edition of the magazine and whether those articles are timeless: One of the beauties of our magazine that started in the 1950s is that I really believe mid-century modern design is have its heyday. It has come back. People still like that look and feel. We still get requests for projects that we published back then, people who want that look again.

On what differentiates Family Handyman from Google or YouTube when it comes to finding out how to do something: I believe the days of anonymous content are coming to an end. We have seen this uprising of content that was written by some voice in the sky that was telling people what to do; cook this for dinner tonight because the Internet told me to. People are looking to voices and brands that they trust, because I can go to YouTube and I can spend an hour looking at how to solve my problem and get five different answers for how to fix a running toilet. Family Handyman is an established brand that’s been telling people how to do things the right way for 70 years. And in these days of anonymous content, a voice that is authoritative, trustworthy and comes to you with a mentoring tone as opposed to an almighty voice that’s telling you “this is what you need to do to your house” is really where I believe Family Handyman stands apart from what I call that anonymous content. 

On what he would hope to tell someone he had accomplished when the brand’s 75th anniversary rolls around: One thing that is really important for us to keep our eyes on is to continue to evolve with what I’ll call the “modern homeowner.” To really make sure that we understand them, their relationships with their homes and what they want. I think it’s a fool’s mission to just go on autopilot and assume that what homeowners want today is the same thing they’d want in five years. And I think that’s what has really kept Family Handy man relevant is that we do research, we talk to homeowners and we are homeowners. We realize that what I wanted 10 years ago is different than what I want today.

On many magazines having the word “the” in their titles and why “The” Family Handyman became “Family Handyman” and dropped the word the: I think it’s a little bit more contemporary. As we have evolved our voice, I strive to have my editors take a mentoring tone. We’re not “The” only thing in the world. We realize that people aren’t living in a bubble, they’re consuming other things. And just to be more contemporary and to be that partner that can join them on that journey as opposed to being the almighty “The.”

On whether he can envision a day when there won’t be an ink on paper Family Handyman and it will be strictly digital: The magazine is an incredibly important part of our business today, as it was 70 years ago. We’re not letting our foot up on the gas when it comes to ink on paper. The nuance there is really with the consumer and making sure that we can meet them wherever they choose to consume.

On who the “Family Handyman” is today: That family handyman has evolved over time. If you look at our website numbers in the last six months, we’ve seen females outnumber their male counterparts visiting our website. Fifty-one percent of the traffic to our site is women, which is amazing. We’ve also seen it get younger. Millennials have grown over the last year visiting our site and as well readers of our magazine. We’ve seen an increase of millennials and females to our readership. 

On how the pandemic has changed Family Handyman’s publishing operation: The biggest challenge for me personally was in the routing of pages of the magazine. I love getting my hands on the paper that has everyone else’s markups on them and passing it off to the next person; I love that process. I believe that’s one of the only things that has changed. We have a really strong culture at Family Handyman. We have a really collaborative and creative environment. We’ve been using technology like this to be able to communicate daily, sometimes hourly with what’s happening. We still do pinups. We still do magazine lineups where we have all the right people in the room. We still do the routing, it’s a little bit different, different putting a virtual Post-it on a PDF, but it’s still happening. 

On anything he’d like to add: This idea of empowering and mentoring homeowners is going to continue to gain us an invitation into their homes. And going to continue to gain us that strength as a brand as the go-to resource for home improvement. 

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: First, you’d have to get past the dogs because they wouldn’t let you sneak up to the house. (Laughs) So that would be the first thing. After a long day at work, what you’re going to find me doing is, I enjoy reading and I enjoy music. One of my favorite things has been, I’ve hooked up a 1970 record player in the living room and have it connected to my home sound system. I’ve got two younger kids and we sit and listen to albums, which is a really fun way, very similar to print, where you can be there in the moment with something you can touch. That’s probably what you’d catch me doing.

On what keeps him up at night: Making sure that we can stay ahead of what’s next. That we don’t put on the cruise control or the autopilot and assume that what people wanted yesterday is what they’re going to want tomorrow. 

On what makes him tick and click: I love cooking outdoors and we’ve brought that back into Family Handyman. It was always a part of it, grilling. It’s one of my favorite hobbies, cooking. Whether it’s over a smoker or a grill or whatever, I love that. 

And now, without any further delay, enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ video cast with Nick Grzechowiak, chief content officer, Family Handyman. 

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InStyle’s Editor In Chief, The Inimitable Laura Brown Talks Creativity, Impact & DNA With Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni…The Mr. Magazine™ Video Cast….

November 19, 2020

“What we did create was a beautiful fantasy-like image that had an incredible composition and color, everybody was wearing fashion, but to me the value of it was the sense of community…” Laura Brown

Laura Brown is a force to be reckoned with and by association, so is the InStyle brand. Laura brings her passion, drive and incredible humor and vision to the InStyle platforms as only she can. I spoke with her recently and we had a fantastic conversation that was both informative and delightful. Just as Laura herself is. So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ video cast with Laura Brown, editor in chief, InStyle. 

Laura Brown, editor in chief, InStyle magazine

But first here are the sound-bites:

On how InStyle has managed to retain its regular frequency of once a month even during a pandemic: It was a business decision made by fiscal folks. Our strength is our consistency, but for me, and I don’t determine how often we publish, but for me it was an editorial decision to be consistent and also it became a matter of stubbornness and pride that we kept going. And even though sometimes my team would give me some accessory layouts or something and I would ask what issue that was for and they’d say October and I’d be “another one,” (Laughs) it was a real point of pride for us.

On how she sees the DNA of InStyle reflected since she became editor in chief: When I got here, InStyle was a vastly different magazine. It was quite quiet, there were a lot of things to shop for and buy and it was all nice-looking, but it didn’t have the most resounding voice. Number one, I personally, like to be in the mix, in the conversation, in the culture, in whatever way you can be. But more importantly, three months after I started Trump was elected. You can do a nice shopping magazine through the Obama years, that’s a different scenario, but when something changes like that, where it changes the tenor of this country and globally, we can’t stick our head in the sand and say here’s a lady in a ball gown. You just can’t because we are media.

On believing that the magazine has a larger role than just being an escape from reality: It can be all of that. For example, a way to illustrate reality plus fantasy plus community would be the cover we did in Brooklyn in the apartment building which had all of these artists who lived together and I wanted to replicate that beautiful Ormond Gigli picture “Girls in the Windows” from 1960, I think it was. That is one of my favorite fashion images and it’s one that makes me swoon. Of course, during a pandemic I had to see if we could even do it. What we did create was a beautiful fantasy-like image that had an incredible composition and color, everybody was wearing fashion, but to me the value of it was the sense of community in New York City.

On where she feels she creates the most impact, in print, online, on social media: Hopefully it works on a number of different levels. For example, the cover we did with Dr. Fauci, which was a newsy, reactive cover, has been responsible for the biggest web traffic we’ve ever had, the most highly-trafficked cover ever, so four billion impressions. Bigger than Jennifer Aniston, and that’s saying something. 

On what makes her tick and click professionally: The most fulfilling thing for me or what makes me tick is people. The most gratifying thing about this job is working with people that I admire, having them show up for us, and executing an idea that I’ve had together. And to have that trust and to really collaborate and then hopefully put an image in a story, adding to the culture that really says something. 

On any stumbling blocks she may face: Just the mechanics of magazines, generally your page limits, your budget – we’re pretty good with the budget, I’ve never been someone who says there’s not enough money. I came from Harper’s Bazaar, we had to hustle, and I come from Australia where we really had to freaking hustle. 

On whether she has to make some tough decisions in her role as editor, especially as she mainstreams the magazine to reach a larger audience: What’s interesting is our website. When I got there I was surprised that it was sort of coming from behind, I actually thought our website should have been at a bigger audience when I got here, so that has been an uphill climb. The last two site directors have done a great job and it’s on the up and up, so that was a bit funny, like the website had jetlag, because again it was this kind of benign place. When I first got here they didn’t use street-style pictures, it was just so weird. It wasn’t like “in the world,” so I think we’d been under dogging from that angle. Not of late, because we’ve been getting so much attention.

On what she would hope to tell someone she had accomplished with InStyle one year from now: I work with sincerity, creativity and decency that is all too rare. That is sometimes not so visible in an industry that is so often resting on its laurels. That got pulled up from its bootstraps obviously over the summer, but we were already there. What I’m most proud of is all of that, but also consistency. 

On anything she’d like to add: It’s great. Everyone should subscribe and click. No, I hope anything I haven’t said is apparent when you read it. 

On whether she considers herself a journalist first and an editor second or she doesn’t differentiate between the two: I don’t differentiate, but what I often say is I’m a producer. I’m a producer and a host. That’s what an editor is these days. 

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: After I’ve finished beating all my staff, (Laughs) I’m having a glass of wine and a bowl of spaghetti. And trying not to have a bowl of spaghetti every day. My ideal New York day, if I’m in town working, a good day in the office is really produce something great, the team is all batting 100 and I go for dinner at Barbuto restaurant, which is currently closed, at 6:00 p.m., get the Early Bird Special, have my spaghetti, have my wine, and go home, watch some Stephen Colbert, go to bed early. And then do it again.

On what comes to mind when she first opens her eyes in the morning: I go, “Okay.” I reach for the phone and kind of gird my loins, I guess. It’s very much like: Ready, Okay. Kind of like a cheerleader. 

On what keeps her up at night: Tequila. (Laughs) I love tequila, but if I go out and have a couple of tequilas, I do find it hard to sleep. I particular in my own brain. My brain takes a lot of time to  calm as I think any editor’s brain would. 

And now, without any further delay, enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ video cast with Laura Brown, editor in chief, InStyle magazine.

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On Magazines, Diversity, And Inclusion: Andréa Butler, Editor In Chief & Founder, Sesi Magazine To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Don’t Think It’s A True Shift. It’s Just Performative…”

November 17, 2020

“…So the fact that there are more Black people on the covers of magazines since June, instead of since the dawn of time just shows that a lot of these magazines are jumping on a trend because they want to sell copies.” Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler’s Sesi magazine for black teens…

As mainstream magazines celebrate Blackness from the front covers to the content on the inside, founder and editor in chief of Sesi Magazine (a quarterly, print magazine for Black teen girls), Andréa Butler, gives her response to the sudden explosion of people of color, especially African Americans, who have now become the center of the universe for many of these publications. Is it a genuine shift or change in diversity or a trend that seems to be taking over the industry at the moment? Andréa talks about it and about why she started her own magazine a few years ago. 

Enthralled with magazines since she was a teenager, but frustrated by the lack of diversity when it came to the mainstream magazines she saw on newsstands as a girl, Andréa vowed one day to start her own title for young black girls. Girls who really couldn’t relate to the pages of Seventeen and Teen People that they were forced to read by default in those days. So, when she went to grad school for magazine journalism, her seriousness and long-time vow became more of a reality. 

And now the Mr. Magazine™  first video cast with Andréa Butler, editor in chief & founder, Sesi Magazine.

But first here are a few sound-bites: 

On why she thinks mainstream magazines are suddenly shifting or changing to celebrate Blackness:

Andréa Butler: I don’t think it’s a true shift. I feel as though it’s performative and it seemed to show up a lot during the election. It’s really close because people are super racist and their true colors are coming out. They love hate so much that they are voting for this man, so the fact that there are more Black people on the covers of magazines since June, instead of since the dawn of time just shows that a lot of these magazines are jumping on a trend because they want to sell copies.

On the reasons she started Sesi: 

Andréa Butler: I started the magazine because when I was a teenager and reading Seventeen and YM and Teen People, I realized that no one who looked like me was ever really on the cover except maybe once a year if you were lucky. 

On why she thinks authentic, ethnic magazines such as Sesi are sometimes struggling financially, but the mainstream magazines just discovering Blacks are making money or status quo:

Andréa Butler: It may be the same reason behind a lot of other issues. I think people don’t truly value Black audiences like they say they do, because Black audiences spend the most money. I’m sure a magazine such as Essence has more opportunity than we do because they’re larger and have been around longer, be even they are struggling. I feel like in some way racism in some form plays a part. 

And now for the first Mr. Magazine™ video blog with Andréa Butler, editor in chief of Sesi magazine:

The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Andréa Butler, founder and editor in chief of Sesi magazine
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Men’s Health: Redefining Today’s Health & Wellness For All Men – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Richard Dorment, Editor In Chief…

November 13, 2020

“We’re inclusive in that anybody who cares about health and wellness, who wants to find out ways they can strengthen their body, their mind, their life; anyone who wants to find out how they can succeed physically, emotionally, socially, they should be able to see some part of themselves reflected in the content that we create across all of our platforms.” Richard Dorment…

“It’s expansive in the sense that we’re always looking to add new audience numbers, those who may not have necessarily seen themselves before  or who maybe thought that Men’s Health was not a  magazine for them. We want to make sure that they understand that we are.” Richard Dorment…

Richard Dorment, editor in chief, Men’s Health magazine

Men’s Health is the world’s largest men’s magazine brand, with multiple editions around the globe. The magazine covers a broad spectrum of men’s lifestyle topics such as fitness, nutrition, fashion, and sexuality. Richard Dorment is the editor in chief of Men’s Health, and oversees all editorial content across its print, web, social, and video platforms in the U.S.

I spoke with Richard recently and we talked about this global voice that is proud of its diversity and inclusion of all men, and vows moving forward to be even more open and welcoming to different cultures everywhere. According to Richard, the watch words for Men’s Health are inclusive, expansive and optimistic. And making sure that the audience understands that while change is inevitable, change can also benefit them if they understand and optimize themselves for it. Something Men’s Health strives to help them do as it redefines today’s health and wellness for all men.

So now, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Richard Dorment, editor in chief, Men’s Health. 

But first the sound-bites:

On how Men’s Health is adapting to the changes in today’s magazine publishing environment: I think we’re doing okay. We’re about eight months into this bold, new experiment in producing all types of magazine media. And I think we’re doing okay. Like everybody, we had a very steep learning curve as we tried to figure out how to put out a monthly print publication and figure out how to collaborate as a team remotely. But I think we had a few things going for us that maybe some other brands didn’t.

On how easy or hard it was to execute many of the changes while working remotely: It’s hard to speak in relative terms because we’ve never done this before. We’ve never had a lot of these things, especially happening all at once. I will say that what made it easier was Men’s Health has a tremendous team of editors, writers and designers who are really good people, so that really helps. But they’re also really good at their jobs, so I think that also made it easier.

On how big of a responsibility he feels is to retain the current audience, while cultivating new audiences: That’s a really good questions. It’s not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I don’t really think about scale. And maybe I should, but the honest answer is, and I use these words at least 12 times a day so they may sound canned, which they sort of are but I’ve been using them for a long time and they are inclusive, expansive and optimistic. Those are the watch words of Men’s Health.

On someone who feels the diversity in the magazine is very one-sided and does not reflect the white reader anymore: That makes me very sad. I hate to lose audience members for any reason. But I think it’s incredibly important, particularly after the events that happened this past summer, which only enhanced what a lot of us already knew and were trying to accomplish and record, that we really make sure that when we are addressing our audience that we’re addressing all of our audience.

On how he makes the decision that something is for ink on paper, something else is for the web, and something else for social media: That’s probably the trickiest part of my job right now. In part because of the print component. We work with a three month lead time at least and it’s very hard to see around corners right now. It’s always been hard to see around corners for a monthly print magazine. Some people were better at it than others, but now it’s next to impossible, because I still don’t know who’s going to be president next year. I don’t know when there’s going to be a vaccine. I don’t know if people who are reading future us in March are going to be under some sort of lockdown. I just don’t know. And I don’t think anybody does. 

On how he can ensure that if someone has the questions, Men’s Health is there to provide the answers, rather than some unknown entity telling them what to do: We think a lot about what’s called a EAT score, which is expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. So that’s the acronym that we think of when we are thinking of creating content that people can trust. How do we anticipate and meet those expectations when it comes to a search? We have the Men’s Health advisory board, which is filled with dozens of world-renowned experts who are the best at what they do. And we make sure they’re front and center of every story that we do, because we have science-backed, expert-recommended content. 

On how Men’s Health’s global network of communication works: Like most brands with a global presence, there is a patchwork of relationships, some of them are wholly-owned by the Hearst Corporation, some of them are licensed out, it really depends. But I think the overall relationship is that we’re aware of what the other brands are doing. They typically take more from us than we do from them, but we are constantly in search of content that would work for us. Then we can incorporate it into what we do.

On a typical day in his professional life: My day is filled, like  a lot of people, with Zoom meetings and I try to carve out some time to be thoughtful and creative. That’s really the hardest part for me, finding that time to be creative and letting my mind wander and discover new things, just because I feel like we’re all so busy and stressed and we’re distracted by everything. So, that’s the biggest challenge for me. 

On whether he is seeing fatigue from so much screen time, since his team is not able to get together in person and collaborate: I don’t know if it’s fatigue, because I still think people are really energized and focused, but I think it’s much harder in an intensely collaborative medium like magazines. I think the reason why a lot of us got into magazines in the first place as opposed to writing full-time, which is an incredibly isolated experience, I think all of us in magazine media got into this because it’s so intensely collaborative. You cannot make a magazine by yourself. You cannot edit a magazine story or publish it by yourself. So I think a lot of us are missing that sense of human contact, that spontaneity, that serendipity, which comes from in-person collaboration.

On what makes him tick and click during the day: The initial gut thing that I want to say is success, but when I see things working, like when I get a great story and I’m reading a great draft or seeing great images or we see that a story we published online is really resonating with the audience or a video is really performing well on YouTube, that motivates me to keep going.

On anything he’d like to add: I’m really grateful that I get to work at a place like Men’s Health. It’s more relevant and more necessary than ever because of everything that’s happening in the world, not just with the global pandemic, but with the social justice movement, with the ongoing evolution in our understanding of male/female relationships that really started in earnest three years ago with the beginning of the Me Too Movement.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Reading helps me unwind, for sure. I try to stay off-screen after 8:00 p.m. for both physical and mental reasons, it’s better to be off of them. So, yes, I’ve been reading a lot lately. And that has helped to focus and ground me a little bit, particularly since our bedtime ritual with three kids lasts like six and half hours. So by the time I’m actually done I’m kind of like a squeezed-out sponge. At that point I just need to feel a little bit more grounded and clear-eyed and clear-headed and reading certainly does that for me.

On what keeps him up at night: The state of our country, to be honest. Like a lot of people, most people maybe, the sense of division and mistrust and rancor is really upsetting to me, particularly someone who tries to be optimistic and tries to be expansive and inclusive and see the best in people and in the world. And I don’t see that reflected in a lot of headlines, at least in what I see as headlines in social media content. But again, that’s not necessarily real life.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Richard Dorment, editor in chief, Men’s Health. 

Samir Husni: You write in your November column in Men’s Health that those people who can adapt to change will excel and succeed. How well are you adapting to change in this magazine publishing environment that’s taking place today? 

Richard Dorment: I think we’re doing okay. We’re about eight months into this bold, new experiment in producing all types of magazine media. And I think we’re doing okay. Like everybody, we had a very steep learning curve as we tried to figure out how to put out a monthly print publication and figure out how to collaborate as a team remotely. But I think we had a few things going for us that maybe some other brands didn’t. 

First of all, we are a fully integrated team as far as print, digital, video and social. All of our platforms are working hand in glove. So, we were really able to hit the ground running and pitch in wherever needed, all of us doing everything as we were previously. 

Also, we’ve been pretty good with technology from the get-go, as far as using Zoom and Slack as production tools. We have some staff who works full-time from Pennsylvania, so it was sort of second nature to us in certain respects. So, I think there were a few things that we had going for us. And more importantly, we knew that we needed to change really quickly. 

As a health and wellness publication, particularly back in March at the dawn of this global pandemic, our audience was really turning to us for clear, reliable, actual information that they could use to weather these extreme changes in pretty much every aspect of their lives. So, we knew that we needed to come up with a way to give them those answers, both in an internal production way and in a journalistic editorial way. 

It’s been challenging and thrilling. I think it’s worked or it’s working. As I said in that letter, the ultimate performance skill right now, as far as high performance, is the ability to adapt to change. 

Samir Husni: As you are adapting to change, in your September letter to the readers, you talked about expanding the definition of health or redefining health as it impacts everything. And as we all know, we didn’t only have the Coronavirus, we had the social changes and the social injustices. How was taking all of that remotely, without having your team sitting down with you, how easy or hard was it to begin executing those changes?

Richard Dorment: It’s hard to speak in relative terms because we’ve never done this before. We’ve never had a lot of these things, especially happening all at once. I will say that what made it easier was Men’s Health has a tremendous team of editors, writers and designers who are really good people, so that really helps. But they’re also really good at their jobs, so I think that also made it easier. 

Because of how we positioned our brand editorially over the past two and a half years since I started, where we were really focusing on health at a 360 degree proposition, the whole body, whole mind, whole life. And because we had been so deeply entrenched in that thinking, we were ready to execute and to report on and inform about all of those aspects. 

So, yes, you have a global pandemic over here and you have hard science, Coronavirus-related news that we had to cover. Mental health, obviously, it was a huge concern for our audience right now, they’re feeling isolated and overwhelmed, anxious and angry, all of these things that they need help processing and understanding. Perhaps, they didn’t have the vocabulary, particularly with men, or the awareness to talk about this before.

Then with life, it’s like where do you begin? Whether it’s working from home, working out from home, socializing, parenting, partnering, all of these things are radically different than they were 10 months ago. So because we were already well positioned to report on all of those things, we were already doing that before 2020, we were really able to put our backs into the coverage in 2020 and I think it has paid off so far. 

Samir Husni: Men’s Health being the largest circulated men’s magazine that we have in the world now, how big of a responsibility do you feel is on your shoulders to retain the current audience, while cultivating new audiences? Can big become bigger? 

Richard Dorment: That’s a really good questions. It’s not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I don’t really think about scale. And maybe I should, but the honest answer is, and I use these words at least 12 times a day so they may sound canned, which they sort of are but I’ve been using them for a long time and they are inclusive, expansive and optimistic. Those are the watch words of Men’s Health. 

We’re inclusive in that anybody who cares about health and wellness, who wants to find out ways they can strengthen their body, their mind, their life; anyone who wants to find out how they can succeed physically, emotionally, socially, they should be able to see some part of themselves reflected in the content that we create across all of our platforms.

It’s expansive in the sense that we’re always looking to add new audience numbers, those who may not have necessarily seen themselves before  or who maybe thought that Men’s Health was not a  magazine for them. We want to make sure that they understand that we are. 

And optimistic, I think that’s the whole ballgame, because I think particularly these days there is so much divisiveness. There’s a lot of bad news in the air and you don’t necessarily want to be delusional or Pollyannaish, but at the same time you want to make sure that our audience understands that a lot of the change is inevitable, but a lot of the change could also benefit them if they understand and optimize themselves for it. 

I’m feeling really good about the work that we’re doing and we have a lot more to do, particularly on the inclusiveness front, but we’re very much on the right path for the journey I believe. 

Samir Husni: I received an email from a journalist that I know and he told me he does not see himself reflected in Men’s Health anymore and he is cancelling his subscription once it runs out. He is Caucasian and has been a subscriber to the magazine for many years. He feels the diversity in the magazine is very one-sided and does not reflect the white reader anymore. What would you say to him?

Richard Dorment: That makes me very sad. I hate to lose audience members for any reason. But I think it’s incredibly important, particularly after the events that happened this past summer, which only enhanced what a lot of us already knew and were trying to accomplish and record, that we really make sure that when we are addressing our audience that we’re addressing all of our audience. 

And that when there are parts of our audience whose specific concerns and specific challenges, particularly in the health sphere, are not being addressed by the mainstream media and are not being prioritized by national health policy, it’s really important for us to be advocates for them. The fact that we weren’t doing it before fell squarely on me, but in 2020 and moving forward that will not be the case anymore. As I said in one of my editor’s letter, we cannot claim to be advocates for men’s health if we are not advocates specifically for the health of all of our audience and that’s Black, Indigenous, Latina, Asian and others. We really have to be foresworn and faithful advocates for everybody. 

It bums me out that maybe there are some white readers who don’t see themselves in the conversation, but I think they can still benefit from that knowledge. And from understanding what their fellow Americans are going through, particularly when it comes to things like the devastatingly disproportionate life expectancy of Black men, the elevated risk of cancer, all of these things, it’s really important that we’re aware of them so that we can fix them together. And if some folks are not willing or able to have those conversations or be a part of that conversation, be part of that change, that striving toward being better, faster, stronger, then there’s nothing I can do about that. But at the end of the day, I certainly don’t regret the conversations. The only thing I regret is that we weren’t able to do more sooner.

Samir Husni: As you’re looking at all of the platforms that Men’s Health is available on, how do you make the decision that something is for ink on paper, something else is for the web, and something else for social media? Is it easy for you and your team to decide?

Richard Dorment: That’s probably the trickiest part of my job right now. In part because of the print component. We work with a three month lead time at least and it’s very hard to see around corners right now. It’s always been hard to see around corners for a monthly print magazine. Some people were better at it than others, but now it’s next to impossible, because I still don’t know who’s going to be president next year. I don’t know when there’s going to be a vaccine. I don’t know if people who are reading future us in March are going to be under some sort of lockdown. I just don’t know. And I don’t think anybody does. 

The best that we can do is really try to focus on people’s lived experiences and anticipate what they may be thinking about and dealing with as best we can during that time. So when printed, it’s really just using our imaginations and using whatever signals we can, either through historical data or what we had done before that succeeded, to create a print product that will be vital and relevant for an audience come March or April. 

For web content, for site content specifically, we’re always thinking about what type of story this is. Is it a certain story, because again, I think the tricky part about being a digital content creator right now is finding an audience. We’re all fighting tooth and nail for the 24 hours in everybody’s way and their attention. So, you really have to have a plan for finding that audience. 

Before we commission any story we always think about how the audience will find the story, because we’re not in the business of creating content that no one is going to find. It’s not a good business at all; it’s not a good editorial model. Are they going to find it through search? Is this something that we know they’re interested in by analyzing the data or analytics? That’s one type of story.

Is it a social story? Is this something someone will consume in their social state and want to share with their friends and get a conversation going? Or is it a newsletter story, which tends to be longer reads, something that people put aside for the weekend when they have more time. These are all the considerations that we take into account when we are thinking about greenlighting digital content. 

There are different things we think about for each platform. I didn’t even touch on video, which is a growing animal. It’s not a gut thing at all. I sort of wish, no I don’t know that I wish I was one of those ‘80s magazine editors who put their finger up in the air and sort of guessed which way the wind was blowing. There is not a lot of gut instinct going on here at all. We try to be deliberate as we considerate it with the known and the unknown.

Samir Husni: Today, we are bombarded by information. And in my circle people are always saying, just Google it or do this search or that. How can you ensure that if someone had the questions, Men’s Health is there to provide the answers, rather than some unknown entity telling them to do this or that?

Richard Dorment: I can get really geeky into the science of search right now, particularly the way we think the Google algorithms work. But Men’s Health is what’s called a “Your Money, Your Life” publication, YMYL. And we’re held to a different standard than most other types of content that’s circulated on the web. And that’s because we deal with Your Life and Your Health. That’s really something that Google, to their great credit, takes into account when they are recommended a ranking content on a search. 

We think a lot about what’s called an EAT score, which is expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. So that’s the acronym that we think of when we are thinking of creating content that people can trust. How do we anticipate and meet those expectations when it comes to a search? We have the Men’s Health advisory board, which is filled with dozens of world-renowned experts who are the best at what they do. And we make sure they’re front and center of every story that we do, because we have science-backed, expert-recommended content. 

We also stay away from unsubstantiated claims. We stay away from a lot of the junk science that’s circulating both on social media and on search engines. Because of that, we tend to be rewarded by the Google algorithms. So, the more that we can lean into our heritage and our legacy as an expert-backed brand, the better chances we have of people finding our content, particularly through search channels.

Samir Husni: How do you utilize that network of Men’s Health all over the world? Are you always the feeder or always the sender, or you’re also the receiver? How does that network of communication work? 

Richard Dorment: Like most brands with a global presence, there is a patchwork of relationships, some of them are wholly-owned by the Hearst Corporation, some of them are licensed out, it really depends. But I think the overall relationship is that we’re aware of what the other brands are doing. They typically take more from us than we do from them, but we are constantly in search of content that would work for us. Then we can incorporate it into what we do. 

It’s important to remember though that American audiences aren’t British audiences, or any other audience that would be our international counterparts. We have to be constant of the fact that the American audience has certain curiosities with certain interests that maybe aren’t shared. We’re not going to do stories on rugby players here necessarily, not because we don’t  love rugby, but it’s not really an American sport. It’s little, sort of cultural differences like that that differentiate whether or not we would pick up their content and vice versa. 

Samir Husni: What is a typical day for you, editor in chief of the world’s largest men’s magazine? How busy are you?

Richard Dorment: I’m pretty busy, but I’m also a parent of three children under the age of 10, and a partner of a very hardworking lawyer. And a person who is living in lockdown, we’re sort of quasi-restricted. So, it’s a lot, but it’s never really off. I enjoy telling this story, a few weeks ago I was finally able to carve out some time where I could get away, I hadn’t taken a vacation all year. When in 2020 is a good time to take a vacation, right? (Laughs) And where would you even go?

But I found a silent meditation retreat in Upstate New York. There was no real website and I found it through a friend. For three days it would have been totally quiet. I wouldn’t have spoken, I wouldn’t have been spoken to. There would have been 15 minutes of screen time at night where I could have checked in on emergency things. But that was really it, and I was so excited. From a mental and social point of view, I needed a break from the world. Stop the world I want to get off. 

Two days before I was supposed to go there was a COVID scare at one of my kid’s schools and because it was the first one of the year I think the school, to their great credit, was very aggressive in trying to contain it. So, the kids couldn’t go to school and because of that our babysitter couldn’t come in. It just sort of went to hell very quickly. I couldn’t go and put off my silent meditation retreat, because you can’t really plan anything right now. So, that’s an example of where my headspace is now. The idea of three days of silence is like a rocking good time for me. 

My day is filled, like  a lot of people, with Zoom meetings and I try to carve out some time to be thoughtful and creative. That’s really the hardest part for me, finding that time to be creative and letting my mind wander and discover new things, just because I feel like we’re all so busy and stressed and we’re distracted by everything. So, that’s the biggest challenge for me.

I have a great team. They are some of the best and smartest people that I’ve ever worked with. I have a lot of great support from my colleagues and my bosses, so we’re making it work. As we are still unsure about whether things are going back to “normal,” the old cliché rings true, that the only way out is through, so we’re all just getting through it. And that’s the best we can do right now. 

Samir Husni: Are you seeing fatigue from so much screen time, since you’re not able to get together in person and collaborate?

Richard Dorment: I don’t know if it’s fatigue, because I still think people are really energized and focused, but I think it’s much harder in an intensely collaborative medium like magazines. I think the reason why a lot of us got into magazines in the first place as opposed to writing full-time, which is an incredibly isolated experience, I think all of us in magazine media got into this because it’s so intensely collaborative. You cannot make a magazine by yourself. You cannot edit a magazine story or publish it by yourself. So I think a lot of us are missing that sense of human contact, that spontaneity, that serendipity, which comes from in-person collaboration. 

We’re doing great without it, but I think it’s harder without it. I do think people miss it. And as we look to 2021 and as we’re trying to be creative and bold and ambitious with our plan, particularly for the first half of the year, I can only speak for myself, but it is a little bit more challenging to feel the juices flowing when you’re not sure of anything. I have a dollhouse behind me in my office right now, so it’s a little trickier. (Laughs) But I am fiercely optimistic about 2021 anyway.

Samir Husni: Once you get out of the bed, what makes you tick and click during the day?

Richard Dorment: The initial gut thing that I want to say is success, but when I see things working, like when I get a great story and I’m reading a great draft or seeing great images or we see that a story we published online is really resonating with the audience or a video is really performing well on YouTube, that motivates me to keep going. 

Like what we’re doing is working and resonating with an audience, particularly when it comes to data returns, where people only care about traffic, I think there is a debate you can have there about whether or not that’s healthy. For me when I see what we’re doing is resonating with the audience or I can anticipate what we’re doing is going to resonate with the audience, whether again, it’s a first draft or images, that’s really exciting to me. 

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

Richard Dorment: I’m really grateful that I get to work at a place like Men’s Health. It’s more relevant and more necessary than ever because of everything that’s happening in the world, not just with the global pandemic, but with the social justice movement, with the ongoing evolution in our understanding of male/female relationships that really started in earnest three years ago with the beginning of the Me Too Movement. 

I think a brand like ours with the authority that we bring, the sense of empathy and accessibility that we bring, I’m really proud to work for a brand that’s trying to, not just be a part of, but is leading these conversations. If we’re helping move these conversations forward, if we’re helping inspire and inform every generation of men, from 18 to 80-year-olds, then I think that’s enough to get me out of bed every morning. I’m really proud of the work that we’re doing and the success we’ve had this year, in particular. And I am really optimistic for where we’re going in the New Year.

Samir Husni: Let’s assume there’s no COVID-19 and I show 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? How do you unwind?

Richard Dorment: Reading helps me unwind, for sure. I try to stay off-screen after 8:00 p.m. for both physical and mental reasons, it’s better to be off of them. So, yes, I’ve been reading a lot lately. And that has helped to focus and ground me a little bit, particularly since our bedtime ritual with three kids lasts like six and half hours. So by the time I’m actually done I’m kind of like a squeezed-out sponge. At that point I just need to feel a little bit more grounded and clear-eyed and clear-headed and reading certainly does that for me. 

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

Richard Dorment: The state of our country, to be honest. Like a lot of people, most people maybe, the sense of division and mistrust and rancor is really upsetting to me, particularly someone who tries to be optimistic and tries to be expansive and inclusive and see the best in people and in the world. And I don’t see that reflected in a lot of headlines, at least in what I see as headlines in social media content. But again, that’s not necessarily real life.

Middle of the night thoughts are sort of infamously not rational, so that’s where my head is at. What are we doing in the country with the people and how can we do better. 

Samir Husni: Thank you

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Playgirl Magazine Relaunches: A New Voice, A New Feminine Power Emerges From The Ashes & The “Skye” Is The Limit – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Skye Parrott, Editor In Chief, Playgirl…

November 8, 2020

“Going into Playgirl, it’s very intentionally diverse because I think as you approach the idea of what space a modern feminist publication could occupy, one of the things that I’ve thought a lot about, and I think this is what the tagline on the cover speaks to, is the idea that rather than offering the feminist point of view, what if we offer a feminine point of view?  And what does that look like? What are the ideals that are lifted up? What are we celebrating? What are we putting forward with this magazine?” Skye Parrott…

Skye Parrott, editor in chief of the newly relaunched Playgirl magazine. Photo by Kat Slootsky

From the ashes, Playgirl has been reborn with a new, more feminine viewpoint, but with its indelible history intact. The former Playgirl had its last issue in 2015 and the difference between that Playgirl and today’s Playgirl is palpable. With a new publisher/owner and a new editor in chief, the magazine is ready to tackle today’s issues, including injustices and the pandemic, with a steadfast head on its shoulders and a fresh new voice in women’s magazines. 

Skye Parrott is the new editor in chief, formerly cofounder and creative director of Dossier, an  arts and fashion magazine, known as a platform that championed young creatives and helped to launch the careers of many photographers, fashion designers, and artists. Today, Skye is bringing her talents and creative vision to Playgirl.

I spoke with Skye recently and we talked about this new, modern-day Playgirl magazine. She was excited about the new direction, yet recognized the value of the title’s history, knowing that nudity and sexuality had always been a part of the magazine, but according to Skye it’s all about the approach to those topics and the way you execute them. 

“I think we’ve looked at sex and sexuality and the body very differently in this magazine than how it was approached previously.”

The articles are there and very substantive, with the subject matter very topical for the world of today. The magazine has beautiful photography, yet stories that are compelling and on point with the issues we are facing currently. It’s a rebirth of a brand that many have been waiting for.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Skye Parrot, editor in chief, Playgirl Magazine (relaunched). It was a delightful conversation about a title that should open up many more dialogues.

And once again, in 2020 Playgirl magazine returned to the newsstands as an upscale coffee-table like magazine

But first the sound-bites:

On why she accepted the role of editor in chief to bring Playgirl back to print and where it fits in the marketplace today: I was introduced to the publisher, who is a young man from a publishing family. He’s the great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, who owned the Washington Post for many years. The opportunity to buy the magazine sort of fell into his lap. He didn’t have any personal experience in publishing, but he saw it as an interesting and incredible opportunity. From the beginning it seemed like an incredible opportunity to me as well. To take this iconic, feminist magazine and to reimagine it for today’s world seemed very exciting. The moment seemed really right to do something interesting with it that could be meaningful. And I think that’s what we achieved in terms of the marketplace.

On whether it was intentional that she created a magazine that is so diverse and seems to be a coffee table book for an adult female who can have both a feast for her eyes and a feast for her brain: I wish you could see that I’m really smiling right now because that’s exactly what I hoped to create with this. Dossier was an incredibly diverse publication as well. And it was quite a long time ago in terms of the life of a magazine. Dossier launched in 2007/2008 and so diversity has always been very central to the work that I look to do. I’m from New York originally and I see diversity as a very central piece of the conversation. For lack of a different way of saying it, I find it quite boring to see the same person repeated in various iterations again and again and to only share one point of view. I don’t find that to be very interesting personally and I’ve never looked to replicate that in the publications that I’ve done.

On whether she thinks the nudity in the magazine is a plus or a negative: I was thinking about this the other day. If I were starting the magazine from scratch, there are things that would have probably been a little bit different about it than Playgirl. But when you’re relaunching something and you have a title that has a history, I think you have to also look at the history of that title and think about how to include that history in what you’re making today. And Playgirl obviously has a history of being very much interwoven with sex and I think that is a conversation that you have to have in the magazine, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the name Playgirl slapped onto a magazine that has no relationship to the history.

June 1973 saw the launch of Playgirl as The Magazine For Women and continued publishing until 2015

On the gorgeous photography and the meaty reading material in the magazine and whether the pictures are bait to get people to actually sit down and discover other things in the magazine: I’ve never really thought of it that way. For me the approach to the magazines that I have done has always been informed by what I want. When I founded Dossier, one of the big conversations that we had then was why did something have to be one or the other? Why does it have to be we have The New Yorker, but it’s all words or we have these beautiful fashion magazines, but there’s nothing of any substance in them. What if you had these things together because people are multidimensional, just because you like to look at beautiful pictures doesn’t mean you don’t want to read something as well.

On how she decided on a naked, pregnant Chloë Sevigny for the cover: A lot of making a good magazine is taking advantage of the luck of what is available at the time it’s available. So, it was quite lucky that Chloë Sevigny was pregnant and that she was quite open to doing this cover and when that became clear, that she was open to doing it, it seemed to me like a no-brainer that we would put her on the cover. That having been said, I think from the beginning it was very clear that what we wanted to do with the cover was to look at female power in a different way.

On one criticism and one positive piece of feedback she has gotten since the first issue has been out: I’d start first with the criticisms, because I would love it if we could get some, but unfortunately in the world right now, I feel like those criticisms, you get them in person from people, and right now there’s just no in person. So, the feedback I’ve gotten has been only positive about it. I would love to share the critiques because there’s always room to make something better and to do more, but the feedback I have gotten has been really enthusiastic.

On whether she thinks magazines as a whole play a role similar to a Paradise Island or an Island of Clarity as they used to refer to The Wall Street Journal since many other platforms bombard the audience with only bad news:That’s a very interesting question. I can only speak to the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make and the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make are not trying to provide a Paradise Island, they’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. But what I look to do with Playgirl and what I think that we accomplished pretty well is to address the world as it is in a way that’s honest and vulnerable, but also has humor and hope.

In January 1973 Playgirl returned as a magazine for Women’s Entertainment, but stopped publishing after one issue.

On what she would hope to tell someone Playgirl had achieved in one year: As far as the magazine goes, I don’t know what the future holds for it, to be frank. The pandemic has changed the calculus a little bit for the publisher and he hasn’t got our schedule yet for the second issue. Ideally, when you do a biannual magazine, you immediately start working on the next issue, but that’s not the case for Playgirl. So, I really don’t know. But what I hope is the experience of reading it will have given people stuff to think about, will have given people enjoyment and maybe will have added something to the conversation about life and the world and the human experience. 

On the magazine being more of a luxury item with its $20 cover price: Absolutely. It’s quite a niche product, but that’s also my background. With Dossier, we tried very hard to keep the cover price reasonable, we worked to do so, but ultimately a $20 magazine is a bit of an indulgence. The hope is with the magazine at that price, it is something you keep and look at it a little more like a book. So, when you said it looked like a coffee table book, I hope that’s what it is because at $20 it should be something that you want to hold onto.

The original Playgirl magazine circ. 1955 was a men’s magazine

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I’ll mention it again, I have three young children, so my evenings end quite early. In a world where there isn’t COVID-19, I’m not sure what it would be, but with the pandemic right now what I’ve been watching is The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. (Laughs) It’s very soothing, there’s no drama. The drama comes from the cooking. Everyone is very kind to one another and it’s very British. There are lots of good manners and that’s how I’ve been unwinding right now. And cooking, I’ve done a little cooking. My husband has been doing a lot of cooking.

On shuttling between New York and Mexico: I’ve been living for the last two years in a tiny little town in Mexico called Sayulita. I’ve been going back and forth. I actually produced the entire magazine remotely. I built the team remotely, led the team remotely; I was in New York for some meetings, but almost the entire magazine was produced remotely, which was actually true for Dossier as well. It was a remote team then also.

On what keeps her up at night: I don’t know if you want to know the answer to that right now. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Skye Parrott, editor in chief, Playgirl. 

Samir Husni: When you bring a print magazine back to print in this day and age, everybody takes notice. But why specifically did you accept the job as editor in chief to bring Playgirl back and how do you place it in today’s marketplace among all the other magazines out there? 

Skye Parrott: Those are excellent questions. I was introduced to the publisher, who is a young man from a publishing family. He’s the great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, who owned the Washington Post for many years. The opportunity to buy the magazine sort of fell into his lap. He didn’t have any personal experience in publishing, but he saw it as an interesting and incredible opportunity. We were introduced about two years ago by mutual friends. He was familiar with Dossier and that’s how I came into the picture. 

From the beginning it seemed like an incredible opportunity to me as well. To take this iconic, feminist magazine and to reimagine it for today’s world seemed very exciting. The moment seemed really right to do something interesting with it that could be meaningful. And I think that’s what we achieved in terms of the marketplace.

I wasn’t concerned about the readership for it. To me the readership seemed quite clear. A lot of my work has been questions of gender and more and more as my work has gone on I feel like a female audience has been who I’ve been interested in communicating to and about. So, Playgirl seemed like a real opportunity to do that in terms of the actual economics of magazines. As we both know, those can be really trickier. I think magazines on their own are not a very good stand-alone business, that’s quite clear, but they’re quite an effective marketing tool for another business. 

Samir Husni: Was it intentional that diversity is all over the magazine, gender is all over the magazine, size is all over the magazine? Even before magazines were celebrating Blackness and after the murder of George Floyd, and I know the magazine was in the making even before the pandemic, was it intentional that you created a magazine that seems to me to be a coffee table book for an adult female who can have a feast for her eyes but at the same time have a feast for her brain?

Skye Parrott: I wish you could see that I’m really smiling right now because that’s exactly what I hoped to create with this. Dossier was an incredibly diverse publication as well. And it was quite a long time ago in terms of the life of a magazine. Dossier launched in 2007/2008 and so diversity has always been very central to the work that I look to do. I’m from New York originally and I see diversity as a very central piece of the conversation. For lack of a different way of saying it, I find it quite boring to see the same person repeated in various iterations again and again and to only share one point of view. I don’t find that to be very interesting personally and I’ve never looked to replicate that in the publications that I’ve done. 

Going into Playgirl, it’s very intentionally diverse because I think as you approach the idea of what space a modern feminist publication could occupy, one of the things that I’ve thought a lot about, and I think this is what the tagline on the cover speaks to, is the idea that rather than offering the feminist point of view, what if we offer a feminine point of view?  And what does that look like? What are the ideals that are lifted up? What are we celebrating? What are we putting forward with this magazine?

The idea, as I spoke a little about in the editor’s letter, is that there have been a lot of magazines made for women that still goes through this kind of male gaze. So, what if we make a magazine for women that’s really about the female gaze in a much broader sense? And for me, diversity, community, celebrating different kinds of bodies, looking at the experience of being female in different ways, for me those are hyper-feminine. And those are things that I look to do with the magazine. 

Samir Husni: Do you think you would have been able to do that without the nudity? I mean, do you think the nudity in the magazine is a plus or a negative?

Skye Parrott: I was thinking about this the other day. If I were starting the magazine from scratch, there are things that would have probably been a little bit different about it than Playgirl. But when you’re relaunching something and you have a title that has a history, I think you have to also look at the history of that title and think about how to include that history in what you’re making today. And Playgirl obviously has a history of being very much interwoven with sex and I think that is a conversation that you have to have in the magazine, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the name Playgirl slapped onto a magazine that has no relationship to the history.

But I think the way that we approach sex, I hope, is from a very different point of view than how the magazine approached it when it first launched in the ‘70s, and certainly in later iterations when it was called Playgirl but it was basically a magazine for gay men. I think we’ve looked at sex and sexuality and the body very differently in this magazine than how it was approached previously. 

Samir Husni: As I flip through the pages, yes, you gave me some gorgeous photography and you name the age and I found it there, but there is also some heavy-duty reading material. There is solid-type pages. What are you trying to achieve? Are you using the images as bait to get people to the magazine and once there, they sit down and discover there is a lot of different things in there?

Skye Parrott: I’ve never really thought of it that way. For me the approach to the magazines that I have done has always been informed by what I want. When I founded Dossier, one of the big conversations that we had then was why did something have to be one or the other? Why does it have to be we have The New Yorker, but it’s all words or we have these beautiful fashion magazines, but there’s nothing of any substance in them. What if you had these things together because people are multidimensional, just because you like to look at beautiful pictures doesn’t mean you don’t want to read something as well. 

And I think having done that for so many years at Dossier, I never considered a different approach. I’m a huge reader myself and I have been my entire life. So, even though I come out of a visual background, reading is a massive part of my life. So the idea of creating something that didn’t have a high level of literary content never crossed my mind. 

Samir Husni: You’re a mom and you combined the image of motherhood with Playgirl’s first cover. How did the idea of that first cover for the relaunch, having a pregnant, naked woman on the cover, how did that come about? It’s a bit of a throwback to the Vanity Fair cover with Demi Moore. What was your thinking behind that? Did you want to send a shockwave to the audience? I’m intrigued to know how you decided on that cover.

Skye Parrott: A lot of making a good magazine is taking advantage of the luck of what is available at the time it’s available. So, it was quite lucky that Chloë Sevigny was pregnant and that she was quite open to doing this cover and when that became clear, that she was open to doing it, it seemed to me like a no-brainer that we would put her on the cover.

That having been said, I think from the beginning it was very clear that what we wanted to do with the cover was to look at female power in a different way. And I think the reason this cover became something that we absolutely wanted to do was because putting a naked woman on the cover who is pregnant is really a strong statement about the basis of female power. 

I think putting a naked woman on the cover in a sort of sexual pose is one thing, putting a naked man on the cover is something else, but putting a naked woman who is pregnant on the cover is saying that this power in women is somewhat very different than where we’re used to seeing it as a society. And for me, that was a statement that really lined up with what we were doing with the magazine. 

Samir Husni: I know the first issue of the magazine has very limited availability, but what has been the feedback you’ve received? I saw your interview with Monocle and the WWD review, but besides the media people, what has been one criticism your circle has given you and what was one positive about the relaunch?

Skye Parrott: I’d start first with the criticisms, because I would love it if we could get some, but unfortunately in the world right now, I feel like those criticisms, you get them in person from people, and right now there’s just no in person. So, the feedback I’ve gotten has been only positive about it. I would love to share the critiques because there’s always room to make something better and to do more, but the feedback I have gotten has been really enthusiastic.

I’ve heard a lot that it was like a breath of fresh air at this moment, that it made people feel joy and hope when they saw it and consumed it. I’ve heard that from a number of women, that it felt very fresh and very “right now” in a positive way. I love to hear that. Obviously, you make magazines hoping that you’re going to give people a certain experience and that you’re bringing something good into the world. And so to hear that has been the case is beyond satisfying. 

I’ve gotten just a lot of very positive feedback. I haven’t heard a lot of critique yet, but I expect I will. Certainly, there’s always room to make things better. 

Samir Husni: As a magazine editor, with almost all the other platforms bombarding the audience with bad news, murders, demonstrations, social injustices, you name it, do you think the magazine as a whole plays a role similar to a Paradise Island or an Island of Clarity as they used to refer to The Wall Street Journal? 

Skye Parrott: That’s a very interesting question. I can only speak to the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make and the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make are not trying to provide a Paradise Island, they’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. But what I look to do with Playgirl and what I think that we accomplished pretty well is to address the world as it is in a way that’s honest and vulnerable, but also has humor and hope. 

And I think the magazine does that very well. There’s a lot to talk about and I hope this opens up discussions, but not in a way that’s so heavy people feel more hopeless, because I don’t believe the world needs more of that right now.  

And as you noted, the magazine was finished in March and we were supposed to come out in April, but the publisher decided to hold it. We finally started to work on it again for two weeks in September and then it came out in October. So, when I went back to work on it in September I hadn’t looked at in six months and I had the sense that we were going to have to make big changes to it for the magazine to be appropriate in the world at that time. But much to my pleasant surprise, after I went through it, it didn’t need big changes. There were only very small changes. 

There was this portfolio at the core of it, which is about these feminist activists; we had already done that. We’d already talked about these women who are doing these really important things and how they’re doing them. We already had all of these first-person essays. I added only two first-person essays that I thought specifically looked at some aspects of what had been going on in the last six months in a very beautiful and thoughtful way. 

One of those was from a woman named Ivy Elrod who is quite a good friend of mine. She lives in Nashville and she wrote an essay called “We Need To Talk About The Bird.” And it’s wonderful. First of all, it’s incredibly funny and I think that’s really important. She’s also smart and she talks in it about the experience of parenting during the pandemic and the experience of being a biracial person and the experience of sort of reckoning with identity. And all of that is woven through the story. These are serious subjects to talk about, but to do so with humor and depth is really the trick. 

That piece is really the tone that I hope is woven through the whole magazine. To talk about things that are important, but to find a way to do it that balances the heaviness and the lightness of life. 

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation one year from now, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with Playgirl?

Skye Parrott: I wish I knew. I can maybe imagine my life about a week from now, (Laughs) if I’m lucky. One year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined anything going on, so I wish I had the crystal ball to say that I could plan for anything a year from now, but I have no sense of what my life will look like. Or the world, for that matter. As you noted, I have three children and they’re in school. One of my younger children goes to school in a park, outside. 

As far as the magazine goes, I don’t know what the future holds for it, to be frank. The pandemic has changed the calculus a little bit for the publisher and he hasn’t got our schedule yet for the second issue. Ideally, when you do a biannual magazine, you immediately start working on the next issue, but that’s not the case for Playgirl. So, I really don’t know. But what I hope is the experience of reading it will have given people stuff to think about, will have given people enjoyment and maybe will have added something to the conversation about life and the world and the human experience. 

Samir Husni: You’ve made the magazine more like a luxury item with the $20 cover price.

Skye Parrott: Absolutely. It’s quite a niche product, but that’s also my background. With Dossier, we tried very hard to keep the cover price reasonable, we worked to do so, but ultimately a $20 magazine is a bit of an indulgence. The hope is with the magazine at that price, it is something you keep and look at it a little more like a book. So, when you said it looked like a coffee table book, I hope that’s what it is because at $20 it should be something that you want to hold onto. 

Samir Husni: Let’s assume there’s no COVID-19 and I show 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? How do you unwind?

Skye Parrott: I’ll mention it again, I have three young children, so my evenings end quite early. In a world where there isn’t COVID-19, I’m not sure what it would be, but with the pandemic right now what I’ve been watching is The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. (Laughs) It’s very soothing, there’s no drama. The drama comes from the cooking. Everyone is very kind to one another and it’s very British. There are lots of good manners and that’s how I’ve been unwinding right now. And cooking, I’ve done a little cooking. My husband has been doing a lot of cooking.

Samir Husni: I read that you shuttle between New York and Mexico?

Skye Parrott: Yes. I’ve been living for the last two years in a tiny little town in Mexico called Sayulita. I’ve been going back and forth. I actually produced the entire magazine remotely. I built the team remotely, led the team remotely; I was in New York for some meetings, but almost the entire magazine was produced remotely, which was actually true for Dossier as well. It was a remote team then also. 

I’ve been doing that for two years. We’re back in New York right now, but we may go back to Mexico for some time this winter. My kids are in school remotely, so it’s open.

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

Skye Parrott: I don’t know if you want to know the answer to that right now. (Laughs) 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Magma: An Innovative & Simple Tool For Everyone To Create Content That Matters – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jake Warner, CEO & Cofounder, Magma…

November 6, 2020

“I think the beauty of Magma is that the only brand that needs to be worried about is that of the person writing. So, even if you’re a columnist within a magazine, you still need to write in regards to the publication you’re writing for. With Magma, if your culture is you and you’re sharing a story that comes from you, that piece of media is going to be as authentic as possible. What Magma is doing is opening the ability to have that occur for those who want to share a story.” Jake Warner… 

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

Imagine you’re a photographer, on deadline for an assignment overseas. You get through the shoot, but another hurdle is somehow getting the stills/videos over to your team in Los Angeles within the next hour, using only your smartphone and the slowest Wi-Fi you’ve ever seen.

This is exactly what happened to Jake Warner, CEO and cofounder of Magma, a content creation platform born out of his desire for on-the-go publishing software that was free, fast, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use.

Magma’s co-foundeder Joey Chowaiki, a design professional and photographer for brands like Red Bull and GoPro, as well as the founder of the one of the first influencer marketing agencies, Open Influence, Magma is led by a team of digital natives and it combines the most trusted tools and systems from the industry’s top publishing experts into one simple, free mobile app.

I spoke with Jake recently and we talked about the different aspects of Magma and the desire he has for the brand to be thought of as a content creation tool that allows anyone to create the authentic content that matters to them. In this day and age of creating content in innovative and different ways, Magma offers an easy and strong way to get your content out there into the world. 

According to Jake, Magma is a place where first-time bloggers and 30-year publishing vets can all feel satisfied. Everything from short stories, breaking news, guides, and even pro-level media galleries can be created, consumed, and shared in minutes using Magma’s evolutionary design suite and complimentary social hub. Jake’s take on his company is: whether your goal is to grow your platform engagement, build a professional portfolio, or simply hone your creativity skills during the lockdown, you can create your own digital magazine all from the palm of your hand.

And now without further ado, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jake Warner, CEO & cofounder, Magma. 

But first the sound bites: 

On the genesis of Magma: You could just have these templates, people could put whatever media they wanted for resolution and they could write whatever they wanted, they could link it and quote it, they could source it. And the sharing and consumption part was as easy as picking up a magazine. That would be something that could be a game changer. It was about two and a half years of severe development, A/B testing, reiterating our mantra to ourselves and then seeing if the product really stood up to that.

On whether the content creator has the possibility of making money or just Magma: 100 percent. So, to segue into that, the biggest complaint that we had for our feedback, and we talk to bloggers who had multimillion dollar businesses solely from them blogging on free platforms; we spoke to journalists from some of the largest publishing houses in the world, and it was the same thing, the big digital options that were out there were too interested in reaping the financial benefits for themselves and the business model revolved around the company gaining the benefit rather than the creator.

On what he would hope to tell someone Magma had achieved in one year: I think what Magma had achieved would be from a business aspect, startups do not need to have a massive evaluation and insane resources to get creative with their business and their business model to be able to keep the lights on and still scale. That’s a side note.

On whether it’s going to be a free-for-all, where anyone can publish anything they want or Magma is going to have some curation and editing: There are three different points that we’ve been looking at if we were going to censor for the greater good of both legal and what’s right or wrong. One was based on there would be some sort of age scanner and that would be in the settings of our app, so you could actually censor or not censor and what that does is if it’s 18+ content, you wouldn’t see it. And that would be done by actually scanning an ID. As far as technology goes that’s as far as people can take it at this point and we’re looking at using technology right now that allows us to censor that.

On whether he has any plans with Magma to encourage or enhance minorities: Absolutely. I think in regards to these publications finally opening their eyes to different areas where they can be pulling content from other than just the mainstream, often Caucasian viewpoint, it all comes down to culture. When culture is involved in its rawest form, people drive culture and people who are culture-shifters are allowed to share in their rawest form and that’s when you’re going to get content that’s authentic from that point.

On promoting content creator’s work on Magma: It comes in stages. The first thing is we need to get as much exposure to the platform as possible. That’s first and foremost. It’s unfortunately a very dumb-downed, simple marketing strategy of we need exposure and we need users. Once that occurs what we’re going to do is actually utilize the content within Magma that we deem important. So, it might not be the one that has the most views, or the most engaging likes or whatever might be the coolest content, the sexiest content; it’s going to be the content that we believe deserves to have a voice and be on center stage.

On anything he’d like to add: I want Magma to be perceived as a tool more than anything. We’re using things that are native and familiar to a mass market to allow them to comfortably come to Magma and learn it, such as the fact that there are social aspects to the platform. And it is an app. But at the end of the day we want to be known as a tool to create and share and consume, and we want that more than anything. I think that’s the hardest part of our storytelling of the brand: this is not an app; it’s not a social platform; this is a tool to be able to create media that matters.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: As cliché as this sounds, either editing photos that I’ve taken along with having a cup of coffee or looking at magazines and photo books. I’m a photographer and a designer at heart and I’m truly obsessed with photos to the point where any chance I get to take photos that I think would be interesting, I do so. And I have photo books from every genre and I love reading them and interacting with them. I don’t have the attention span to read an actual piece of literature more than 30 minutes, but when I can look at photos, it allows me to actually sit there and interact for a while.

On what keeps him up at night: Magma. (Laughs) During the day it’s operations, so even with the developers and designers and marketing PR, it’s what’s best for the company. My mind starts shifting back to the designer part of me, which is not always a good thing to have in a CEO or an executive. Us designers can be too much of a perfectionist. And I stay up sometimes thinking about how I can make certain things that I okayed during the day even better without driving my team crazy.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jake Warner, CEO & cofounder, Magma. 

Samir Husni: I downloaded the Magma app, it is now on my phone. And I did some research about you and about the app and what Magma can do for people who want to create their own platforms using nothing but their iPhones. Tell me about the genesis of Magma. 

Jake Warner: I worked in content creation and design for years. I worked for companies like Red Bull and in media management. And as anyone who uses any of these professional tools knows the hardest thing is sending and sharing content among your team members. 

I was on a trip for Red Bull and I needed to send a bunch of photos at high resolution with a bunch of verbiage and a couple of videos to a team. And I didn’t have great service. I said this is insane, there has to be a better way to send content and on the other end, the receiving end, it should be very easy to consume it. And I thought, it should be almost like a digital magazine. 

And a light bulb went off. Everyone could have their own digital magazine and that would solve this issue. That would be the medium to share this kind of content with everyone, whether publicly or privately, that’s where this should start. 

So, I designed the platform and ended up leaving that position, teaming up with my business partner who had started one of the first social media and marketing firms in the world. And he saw the same gap, but for professional content sharing. 

It was like the perfect storm of too many people saying the same thing: there’s nothing out there that I feel comfortable sharing while having fun. There were some certain blogging platforms, but they just didn’t do it. Next thing you know, we’re really diving deep into publishing culture; the habits of publishing; reading more data about publishing and magazines and newspapers than I ever even knew existed. And then interviewing creators and publishers themselves and asking them what they would want in a futuristic, one-stop shop platform. 

It came down to simplicity very, very fast. When it came to the process of designing it – I’m fluent in Adobe Creative Suites, I played with InDesign for hundreds if not thousands of hours trying to figure out where the shortcuts were, what was really necessary and what wasn’t, what’s something that professionals like to say that they use because they know how to use it but others don’t.

You could just have these templates, people could put whatever media they wanted for resolution and they could write whatever they wanted, they could link it and quote it, they could source it. And the sharing and consumption part was as easy as picking up a magazine. That would be something that could be a game changer. It was about two and a half years of severe development, A/B testing, reiterating our mantra to ourselves and then seeing if the product really stood up to that.

Now we’re at a point where I think the only way for us to move forward is to actually launch it. We’ve done some beta testing where it’s been about eight months of no marketing and no PR, just word of mouth. If you find it great; if we happen to give it to you as a friend, great. And we’ve seen about 1,200 magazines published. Some are great, some are mediocre, some you can tell people don’t know what they’re doing, but at the end of the day every single mag published has been something new and refreshing. And we’ve learned a lot from everything on that platform.

We’re excited now to start gathering data on more of a market approach to it. There are a lot of publications that are shutting down and not only is that kind of forcing professionals to look for different avenues to expose their content, but it’s sparking light bulbs within consumers and creators; if they’re not doing it anymore this is now an opening for me to share my experience and my aspect on whatever industry or genre I’m interested in. That’s where we’re going to push it.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that a lot of publications are folding; really, the whole business model is changing. My mantra has always been that publications don’t have a problem with ink on paper, they have a problem with the business model. Magazines have always depended on advertisers to foot the bill and we give the information free. If I create this content and float it through Magma, will I make money or will you be the only one making money?

Jake Warner: 100 percent. So, to segue into that, the biggest complaint that we had for our feedback, and we talk to bloggers who had multimillion dollar businesses solely from them blogging on free platforms; we spoke to journalists from some of the largest publishing houses in the world, and it was the same thing, the big digital options that were out there were too interested in reaping the financial benefits for themselves and the business model revolved around the company gaining the benefit rather than the creator. 

So, we went to the drawing board and we said that if we were going to do a model with a paywall, it has to benefit the writer, the journalist, the creator of the magazine first, because there will never be an incentive for them to keep sharing more and they’re the ones who will be building our business model, it’s not us. 

Coming in probably the next three to six months, it’s in testing right now, it is a paywall that can be created at the creator’s discretion. So, based on the amount of content, we have AI that is going to scan the magazine you’re about to publish, tell us how much content is there, how long the read of that content is on an average; is there video content, are there shopping links? And it puts the content into a paid structure. So, this is only two pages, there’s one photo, written word, this person only has 100 subscribers, they get about 20 views per mag, this will fall into the $1 category per mag.

If someone has three and half million views per mag across the platform as well as web, they have 10 pages, it’s a seven minute read only on wordage, it’s 20 minutes on video, there’ shopping, this is a $7 mag. 

We’re going to build a structure based on actual performance and we think this will benefit you as a publisher, not just what you want to make, but what we think is it will allow you to have the best performance of your business model. It’s going to give you a price and you’re going to be able to charge for it. We take such a small fee of that in comparison to what everyone else does. 

The biggest hurdle with that is – you’ve probably heard this with the gaming company, Epic Games and Fortnight, Apple takes a percentage of every in app purchase. We’re diligently working with Apple, we’re working with payment processing companies like Stripe to figure out the best model where no matter what happens the creator actually ends up with the biggest cut of the profits and our cut, although small, is enough for us to still keep building that scale of the app.

Samir Husni: If everything falls into place and you and I are having this discussion one year from now, what would you hope to tell me Magma had achieved during that year?

Jake Warner: I think what Magma had achieved would be from a business aspect, startups do not need to have a massive evaluation and insane resources to get creative with their business and their business model to be able to keep the lights on and still scale. That’s a side note.

What we are bringing, freedom, to the journalist world through a platform that could ultimately be the go-to source for crowdsourcing news. And that’s my personal end-goal with this company is being able to have publications, have mags submitted or find mags and to say this would be great for us and pay that creator to actually put that mag in their publication house, their media house.

And I think what’s going to end up happening with this roll out that’s occurring right now, it started this week, so over the next month you will really start seeing a lot of advertisement in regards to Magma and exposure, I think I’m going to be able to sit back and say my company was able to bring a healthy, powerful tool to a world that is now consuming our everyday lives as far as digital and global, bring a healthy tool that allows more by taking less from us. We’re not requiring anything of the creator other than just to share their moments, thoughts and stories. 

Samir Husni: With the things that we’re seeing currently, the Section 230, the issues with Twitter and Facebook; how much control do you think you’re going to have as the app creator, founder, owner? Is it going to be a free-for-all, anyone can publish anything they want or you’re going to have curation and editing?

Jake Warner: There are three different points that we’ve been looking at if we were going to censor for the greater good of both legal and what’s right or wrong. One was based on there would be some sort of age scanner and that would be in the settings of our app, so you could actually censor or not censor and what that does is if it’s 18+ content, you wouldn’t see it. And that would be done by actually scanning an ID. As far as technology goes that’s as far as people can take it at this point and we’re looking at using technology right now that allows us to censor that. 

But we do want it to be a platform where if you have a compelling story or you have something that you want to share that could ultimately benefit someone’s life or change someone’s life or add to data and science, whatever it might be, you shouldn’t be blocked by random walls and barriers. 

The biggest thing is nudity, it’s probably one of the more aggressive topics. We spoke with a journalist who worked for years with National Geographic and he said they would do these amazing stories and oftentimes they would be in very remote locations and nudity would be a way of life there. And that content needs to be shared and those stories need to be told but you can’t do it on the modern day stage because these platforms won’t allow it. These platforms are so into collecting data that we wouldn’t even be able to post this as a free story essentially, to think what you want without it being subcategorized into some sort of a backend system and it being associated with other things. 

So, I think Magma, as far as comparing us to those, we’re definitely doing more of a free-for-all, but we’re still going to have to abide by certain barriers that are out of our control to intercept. 

Samir Husni: One of the things happening in the magazine industry as a whole, and I wrote an article for the Poynter Institute about it and I’m working on another one, is that mainstream magazines suddenly have discovered minorities, Black people, gays, transsexuals, and people of color. There has been more covers and more coverage of them, especially Black people, in the last four months than we have seen in the last 90 years or so. Do you have any plans with Magma to encourage or enhance minorities?

Jake Warner: Absolutely. I think in regards to these publications finally opening their eyes to different areas where they can be pulling content from other than just the mainstream, often Caucasian viewpoint, it all comes down to culture. When culture is involved in its rawest form, people drive culture and people who are culture-shifters are allowed to share in their rawest form and that’s when you’re going to get content that’s authentic from that point. 

And although these publications are shifting now and allowing new concepts to come in, they still need to keep it on-brand. I think the beauty of Magma is that the only brand that needs to be worried about is that of the person writing. So, even if you’re a columnist within a magazine, you still need to write in regards to the publication you’re writing for. With Magma, if your culture is you and you’re sharing a story that comes from you, that piece of media is going to be as authentic as possible. What Magma is doing is opening the ability to have that occur for those who want to share a story. 

I’m as California as it gets, I’ve been surfing my whole life. One of the publications that has always been at my house from the time I was born and before is Surfer Magazine. It’s one of the longest running publications, but unfortunately they just ended their 60 year run abruptly this month. 

And one of the beautiful things about it is the cover is a photo from a gathering that occurred in regards to Black Lives Matter and surfing. And it was put on by a gentleman named Sal Masekela who you should look at as someone who is definitely going to lead a movement in the future. He’s the only Black action sports personality. He was the host of X Games and he assembled this rally that stood for Black Lives Matter, but it was all surfers. When you think of a surfer you usually think of a blonde, white guy on the beach. It was the furthest thing from that guy. It was thousands of people from all different races and colors, surfing together for one day in regards to Black Lives Matter. 

And a photo of that rally ended up being the final cover for Surfer Magazine. And I have the magazine right here and it ended up being such a monumental situation in regards to publishing. The only thing on it is Surfer Magazine and “We’re In This Together.” That’s all it said. And it ended after they’d made that, so they didn’t know it was ending. And I talked to Sal who assembled the rally and I asked him what he thought about him doing this and it ending up being the last issue of the magazine? And he said he couldn’t of dreamed of a better thing because what’s now happening is a lot of people that saw it have reached out to him to do different things in media. 

And I think you’re going to start seeing an unfortunate downfall of some of these larger publications; you’re going to see the same content from there start spreading itself in different directions, being spearheaded by different individuals. I think Magma will be a great tool for those individuals to be able to start sharing authentic.

Personally, I didn’t want a mag from Magma to ultimately replace a magazine. That’s something that I want to make clear. It wasn’t ‘I’m going to come out with this new product, this new platform that will ultimately be a younger, faster, stronger version of yesterday’s publications.’ It’s using that format of laying out a story as a new tool because we think that’s the best way to actually get this content across in the best quality and the best fashion and the best speak.

But I think that this could also be a steppingstone for a lot of people who once they get into sharing and creating and publishing on Magma, it might open a door where they want to take it to another level and print an actual magazine in the same way Instagram did for photography. There are a lot of people taking photos on Instagram using filters who are now world-renowned actual photographers who are shooting on film now. And are shooting for magazine covers, having the film developed and having it turn into a cover. 

So, everything goes full circle in that regard, and I think Magma could definitely be something that introduces an era of individuals who don’t read magazines, don’t read newspapers, that are actually understanding the power of having something in depth and it could lead them into getting into it. 

Samir Husni: What’s your plan to promote their work? You mentioned you were going to start a marketing campaign; will that be to promote Magma or everything that comes into the app?

Jake Warner: It comes in stages. The first thing is we need to get as much exposure to the platform as possible. That’s first and foremost. It’s unfortunately a very dumb-downed, simple marketing strategy of we need exposure and we need users. Once that occurs what we’re going to do is actually utilize the content within Magma that we deem important. So, it might not be the one that has the most views, or the most engaging likes or whatever might be the coolest content, the sexiest content; it’s going to be the content that we believe deserves to have a voice and be on center stage. 

And we’re looking and developing different forms of AI that would allow us to easily scrape what we’re looking for as the platform grows. That marketing at first is just going to be very intense, social marketing, word of mouth, a lot of press, but it’s going to transition heavily into you may see a mag being promoted on other platforms. And you’re not going to see the creator first; you’re not going to see Magma in any form, you’re just going to see a mag promoted.      

Could it be promoted by us? Most likely. It’s going to be our way of being able to take mags and move them into other atmospheres and environments. We’ve made it very clear; we’d rather a mag get created on Magma and shared to Twitter from a publisher or a journalist and have a million views occur on the web, the new version of that mag appearing on Twitter, rather than on our platform because if someone is taking a mag from us and sharing it to where their people are, that is what we imagine being the ultimate form of actually publishing a mag in this new age. 

We’re going to do everything that we can as we start marketing and creating different tactics to give a microphone and a spotlight to as much content as we can as the driving force of our brand, rather than just our brand.

Something I’ve made clear to everyone and I don’t think a lot of founders do it in this stage of their company, is we have a lot to learn. And I don’t think it’s based off of more investments or more resources, I think it’s solely just watching people use the platform in the wild. We can do A/B testing all day long and have groups of individuals say yes or no to design, to flow and creation flow, to publishing flow and reading, but at the end of the day the only people who really matter are those that are not being asked to do testing, are not being asked to take a look, but the ones who are actually going to use it. 

I think in the next six months we’re going to learn so much from individuals, people who may not have any design background and how they use it. I always say that an 11-year-old from the middle of nowhere is going to end up being the person who teaches us the most about our platform. It’s going to be interesting. 

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

Jake Warner: I want Magma to be perceived as a tool more than anything. We’re using things that are native and familiar to a mass market to allow them to comfortably come to Magma and learn it, such as the fact that there are social aspects to the platform. And it is an app. But at the end of the day we want to be known as a tool to create and share and consume, and we want that more than anything. I think that’s the hardest part of our storytelling of the brand: this is not an app; it’s not a social platform; this is a tool to be able to create media that matters.

It is the easiest and strongest way to publish anything. We’ve seen people create look books, publish them privately and use it to actually get their purchase orders of their company through. We’ve seen people create mags and publish them privately every single day as their memos for their morning meetings and sharing it on Slack during the pandemic. Why? It’s a lot easier than creating something and having to upload it to Dropbox.

We want people to use this as they feel comfortable in doing so rather than trying to follow trends on how to get popular and grow. Use it how you feel you should and that’s the best. We see too many people on Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat and Pinterest; if I don’t use these filters and structure my content this way or that way I’m not going to get the likes or the followers. If you have 100 subscribers on Magma, you read every single thing and share everything you do, that is way stronger and way more meaningful than a million followers on Instagram just scrolling and interacting with your content for 12 seconds. And that’s what we want to get across. 

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? How do you unwind?

Jake Warner: As cliché as this sounds, either editing photos that I’ve taken along with having a cup of coffee or looking at magazines and photo books. I’m a photographer and a designer at heart and I’m truly obsessed with photos to the point where any chance I get to take photos that I think would be interesting, I do so. And I have photo books from every genre and I love reading them and interacting with them. I don’t have the attention span to read an actual piece of literature more than 30 minutes, but when I can look at photos, it allows me to actually sit there and interact for a while. 

Samir Husni: Do you print your pictures and look at them ink on paper?

Jake Warner: Not as much as I’d like to. Every once and a while I take a photo and as soon as I click the shutter, even if it’s on digital, I say that was the shot. That was it. Recently, I actually drove late at night to this area called One More in the middle of central California. Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer has a wave pool there and I went up and took photos of the wave pool for a night session. They had just put these lights in, so it’s the world’s most perfect wave and it’s in a pool in the middle of nowhere. 

I took photos of someone surfing this at night under stadium lighting. I haven’t looked at the photos yet because I got back in the middle of the night, but there are a few in there that are definitely going to make it to print soon. 

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

Jake Warner: Magma. (Laughs) During the day it’s operations, so even with the developers and designers and marketing PR, it’s what’s best for the company. My mind starts shifting back to the designer part of me, which is not always a good thing to have in a CEO or an executive. Us designers can be too much of a perfectionist. And I stay up sometimes thinking about how I can make certain things that I okayed during the day even better without driving my team crazy. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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Editor & Publisher Video/Postcast with Mr. Magazine™: Publishing During A Pandemic

October 23, 2020

Mike Blinder, editor and publisher of Editor & Publisher magazine interviewed me earlier in the week about publishing during a pandemic, journalism, diversity in magazines, and all things magazines. What follows is from Editor & Publisher website.

E&P Reports Video/Podcast

Click her to watch the video cast

Dr. Samir Husni is “the country’s leading magazine expert,” according to Forbes magazine; “the nation’s leading authority on new magazines,” according to min:media industry newsletter; “a world-renowned expert on print journalism” according to CBS News Sunday Morning; and The Chicago Tribune dubbed him “the planet’s leading expert on new magazines.” It’s no wonder he is better known in the industry as Mr. Magazine. 

As founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media, Husni decided he needed to find out how magazines, printers, designers, digital media, and other business executives were coping with COVID-19. His free new book, Publishing During a Pandemic, is online on Issuu and goes behind the scenes with the leaders of the magazine and magazine media, including Stephen Bohlinger, senior vice president group publisher of Better Homes & Gardens and Kent Johnson, CEO of Highlights for Children, recording their stories during the 2020 pandemic.

In this segment of E&P Reports, E&P publisher Mike Blinder goes one-on-one with Husni to gain what insights he learned through the new book as well as how he feels about the future of news publishing and the survival of printed media. He offers tons of advice and information that any news publisher (print or pure play) can use to serve their audiences better. 

Related links: 

Publishing During A Pandemic by Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni  https://issuu.com/mrmagazine123/docs/husni__pdap

Mr Magazine Website
https://www.mrmagazine.com

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