Archive for the ‘Redesigns’ Category

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Parents Magazine & Its Editor In Chief, Liz Vaccariello, Both Offering Inspiring Storytelling & A Quieter Editorial Experience In This Manic Digital Age – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Liz Vaccariello…

August 17, 2017

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

“I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience.” Liz Vaccariello…

With the recent redesign of Parents Magazine under the direction and leadership of Parents Editor in Chief Liz Vaccariello, the brand known for its credibility and stalwart trustworthiness, has been at the forefront of media these days, and its editor interviewed about the redesign many times over.

So, in true Mr. Magazine™ fashion, I decided to do something entirely different, and mention the redesign minimally, focusing instead on something that both Parents Magazine and its editor in chief have in common: storytelling.

Liz Vaccariello comes home to Meredith (she served as executive editor at Meredith’s Fitness for seven years) after several very successful positions with other titles, most recently as chief content officer and editor in chief for Reader’s Digest. Her storytelling drives her belief in the power of magazines, and the value of the journey they take you on.

I spoke with Liz recently and we talked about the role of print in this most digital age. She was adamant; when someone is reading a magazine, they’re seeking a different type of experience than digital can provide. They’re questing, as Liz put it, for a “quieter editorial experience” and inspiration. That’s very hard to find in the busy, noisy, notification-filled world that roams online.

And while the redesign of Parents Magazine is important and a value unto itself, what fills the pages of those designs, the stories, are always icing on the designer’s cake. So, come with me and experience the passion of a storyteller, a woman who believes magazines have the magical power of telling stories in the most unique of ways, and someone who knew from the sixth grade what her life’s journey would be, a wordsmith, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, Parents Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she feels the Parents brand needs a printed magazine in this digital age: The answer to that question is also the answer to why we did a redesign. In this digital age, the mom and dad, but mainly the mom, is on her phone and she’s on her social media, or she’s Googling or querying the solution to a problem. She might be on a Facebook page where she’s feeling a little less-than or judged, for example. When she finally puts down that phone, our research tells us that is when she is engaging with the magazine. It’s her me-time.

On being a storyteller first: I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience. And my love for storytelling is one of the first things that I wanted to bring to this team and ask them, many of whom have been here for decades or more; how do we tap into, not only a mother’s exhaustion, but her exhilaration?

On what’s different for her as an editor for Parents Magazine as opposed to other magazines she has edited, such as Reader’s Digest: What’s different about this role is that it speaks to a very unique and constantly moving readership. And that’s mothers. So, I had to immerse myself into millennial moms, and the world they were coming from. Aesthetically, who are the influencers? Also, verbally. What are the phrases that they’re using? What’s the language that they’re using? And culturally. This is a time where mothers are rejecting the mom-shaming or the guilt trips that used to be put on other mothers.

On her reaction when she was offered the job of editor in chief of Parents Magazine: My first reaction was utter shock. And I will tell you the reason why was because Parents Magazine, under my predecessor, was very strong and healthy, highly respected and admired. So, I never in a zillion years thought that this would be an opportunity for me. So, it was shock that I was talking about this suite of Parenting brands.

On the biggest stumbling block that faced her: The biggest stumbling block? I don’t know; it was a pretty seamless transition. I was surprised and delighted to find that almost every single person on my team was enthusiastic about taking a shift in direction and tone. People who had been here decades were some of the most enthusiastic participants in the early research and rethink that we did. So, really delight and surprise at how positive people were to do something new and fresh with the magazine. I wouldn’t call it a stumbling block; I’d probably call it my biggest surprise.

On why she felt the need for a change in the magazine when it was already strong and healthy: You change because your audience changes. The brand didn’t change, nor did what the audience needs from a parenting magazine change. But the generation coming into your space is different from the one that was entering your subscriber file five or ten years ago. They’re speaking a different language. Instead of helicopter parents, they’re the sons and daughters of helicopter parents. So, they’re looking at behavior in a different way. They’re looking at discipline in a different way. They are more interested in hearing from other moms and dads just like them.

On anything she’d like to add: This role is unique in that I am running; I am hands-on-editor-and-chiefing (laughs) the biggest magazine, and the biggest part of the business. But I also get to think beyond the magazine and the magazine’s core general brand and think about Latina parents, one out of every four babies born in this country is born to an Hispanic parent. So, Parents Latina is growing very quickly. And it’s fun to turn my attention to that demographic and see what we can do to interpret this voice and this information for them.

On why there are more line extensions from main titles in the Hispanic market than in the African American market: That’s a really interesting question. In the case of parenting, and I’ll answer in my space in particular, something unique happens when a second generation Latina in the United States becomes a mom. She doesn’t necessarily think of her Latina identity in the forefront of her mind until that moment she has a baby. And then suddenly she’s thinking more about her heritage and it becomes much more important to her. She wants to have one foot back in that culture.

On a memory or memories that she reflects on in her role as editor in chief and main storyteller of Parents Magazine: I often return to a moment in sixth grade when I was doing homework in my bedroom. I remember writing a book report about something and I was sitting at my desk with my pencil and paper. I remember looking at a sentence and thinking that I wanted to change the sentence, so I took another piece of paper and put it next to the first and began to change the words around in the sentence and reading it out loud and listening to the changing rhythms. And then deciding on the perfect way I wanted to say that sentence and putting it back on the paper.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: (Laughs) Mom to Sophia and Olivia. Sophia and Olivia’s mama; that’s my most important job. I think that’s why I get so excited and lit up about my job, because I get to help mommies and daddies and I know how much fun that is and how helpful that can be when you’re a mom. If we can help someone with the stories that we tell; make her laugh or feel better, or do something more efficiently, that’s wonderful. I’m in a good place and I have one of the best jobs in America.

On what keeps her up at night: We’re always concerned about the decline in print advertising. Meredith has a wonderful story about how the growth in digital advertising has far outpaced our small declines in print advertising. But, it doesn’t keep me up at night, because I just got back from a road trip with my publisher, Steven Grune, and I have to tell you, it made me proud to be a Meredith employee because I’m showing this redesign, and I’ve done a lot of road trips over the years for various companies and with various publishers. But when Meredith comes to town, and it speaks highly of Meredith and of Steve Grune and the Parents brand, but when we come to town 30 people show up and they want to hear what’s new with Meredith and with Parents Magazine. So, that speaks highly of our position in the marketplace.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, Parents Magazine.

Samir Husni: Since the redesign of Parents Magazine, you’ve given quite a few interviews about that, so for this interview I thought I’d ask you something a bit different. In this digital age, why do you think the Parents brand needs a print magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: The answer to that question is also the answer to why we did a redesign. In this digital age, the mom and dad, but mainly the mom, is on her phone and she’s on her social media, or she’s Googling or querying the solution to a problem. She might be on a Facebook page where she’s feeling a little less-than or judged, for example. When she finally puts down that phone, our research tells us that is when she is engaging with the magazine. It’s her me-time.

We did a digital focus group where we had subscribers send in video tapes and show us precisely where in the house they kept their Parents Magazines. It was next to the big, comfy chair, or on their nightstands, or next to the bathtub.

So, when she’s reading the magazine, she needs a much quieter editorial experience. It needs to be more inspiring. And she has more time. She wants to take more of an emotional journey, rather than be hit over the head with all sorts of practical advice and alarming statistics and stories.

Samir Husni: The first thing that comes to mind when I read about you or think about you is storyteller.

Liz Vaccariello: Thank you. I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience.

And my love for storytelling is one of the first things that I wanted to bring to this team and ask them, many of whom have been here for decades or more; how do we tap into, not only a mother’s exhaustion, but her exhilaration? How do we tap into nostalgia when it comes to being a mom? Then suddenly, you’re nostalgic for your childhood, for example. There’s so much humor that goes with being a parent. And oftentimes, failing to be a perfect parent. Let’s be able to laugh at ourselves.

You can see in the new magazine, we have very short stories, some are longer, but there are little ways to tell those emotional stories in a way that feels like a complete and authentic life.

Samir Husni: Did you have to make any adjustments when you came to Meredith from Reader’s Digest, Prevention, Reminisce? All these magazines that you’ve edited; what’s different about Parents Magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: What’s different about this role is that it speaks to a very unique and constantly moving readership. And that’s mothers. So, I had to immerse myself into millennial moms, and the world they were coming from. Aesthetically, who are the influencers? Also, verbally. What are the phrases that they’re using? What’s the language that they’re using? And culturally. This is a time where mothers are rejecting the mom-shaming or the guilt trips that used to be put on other mothers.

So, I had to do a lot of research into “what is meaningful right now for this millennial, and even coming up soon, Gen Z mom?” And that was unique. You still want to tell good stories, but you also want to speak in a way that is familiar to your audience so that they get you.

Samir Husni: A little less than a year ago, you and I were talking and this job was in the making. And no matter how much I tried, you wouldn’t tell me the name of the magazine. (Laughs)

Liz Vaccariello: (Laughs too).

Samir Husni: Can you describe that moment when you were offered this job as editor in chief of Parents Magazine? What was your first reaction?

Liz Vaccariello: My first reaction was utter shock. And I will tell you the reason why was because Parents Magazine, under my predecessor, was very strong and healthy, highly respected and admired. So, I never in a zillion years thought that this would be an opportunity for me. So, it was shock that I was talking about this suite of Parenting brands.

The magazine; the business was very, very healthy heading into the redesign. Our MRI, our household income, they were both high. We’d experienced a boost of 3.3 percent in household income. So, there was nothing at all broken about the magazine. The fact that my predecessor was leaving was a shock. That was my absolute first reaction.

And then my second one was just feeling my heart swell, because I love to lead brands that touch people’s hearts. You always want to improve people’s lives, but I loved Reader’s Digest because it spoke to positivity and hope. And an oasis of optimism in a world of snark. And with Parents, when you think about optimism and hope, and happiness and meaning, very few things rival being a parent. So, this really hit my sweet spot of service and soul.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Liz Vaccariello: The biggest stumbling block? I don’t know; it was a pretty seamless transition. I was surprised and delighted to find that almost every single person on my team was enthusiastic about taking a shift in direction and tone. People who had been here decades were some of the most enthusiastic participants in the early research and rethink that we did. So, really delight and surprise at how positive people were to do something new and fresh with the magazine. I wouldn’t call it a stumbling block; I’d probably call it my biggest surprise.

Normally, when you come in, the new editor in chief will often bring in their new photo director, their new assistant, their new creative director, and I didn’t do any of that. I found that the team here was filled with superstars. Agnethe Glatved, who did the redesign with me, has been with the magazine eight years, and this is her third refresh of the magazine. When you have that level of talent, they’re able to pivot and embrace change. It was a nice experience.

Samir Husni: Let me go inside your great magazine maker mind, you come to a magazine that is doing well, there was nothing wrong with it; why change?

Liz Vaccariello: You change because your audience changes. The brand didn’t change, nor did what the audience needs from a parenting magazine change. But the generation coming into your space is different from the one that was entering your subscriber file five or ten years ago. They’re speaking a different language. Instead of helicopter parents, they’re the sons and daughters of helicopter parents. So, they’re looking at behavior in a different way. They’re looking at discipline in a different way. They are more interested in hearing from other moms and dads just like them.

For 90+ years, Parents Magazine has stood on the shoulders of its credibility. We’ve always done partnerships with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Every word and picture in Parents Magazine had a reputation for being absolutely trustworthy and credible. So, this generation of reader not only expects that kind of creds from our pages, they want that enhanced by what other parents are doing.

They want to know what the experts say, they want to know that trampolines are dangerous; the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents against having any kind of trampolines in the backyard. But they also want to make their own decisions. Maybe to them the benefit of family exercise and the hours spent jumping on the safest trampoline they can get is worth the mild risk that somebody might twist an ankle. So, what are other parents doing? And how do they justify having a trampoline? So, you need to add how other people in their world are interpreting the news and the guidelines.

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

Liz Vaccariello: I think it’s interesting. We call it the Meredith Parents Network, and Parents Magazine is the jewel in the crown of the Network. And by far, the largest of the magazines, but it also includes Fit Pregnancy and Baby, FamilyFun Magazine, Parents Latina and Ser Padres.

This role is unique in that I am running; I am hands-on-editor-and-chiefing (laughs) the biggest magazine, and the biggest part of the business. But I also get to think beyond the magazine and the magazine’s core general brand and think about Latina parents, one out of every four babies born in this country is born to an Hispanic parent. So, Parents Latina is growing very quickly. And it’s fun to turn my attention to that demographic and see what we can do to interpret this voice and this information for them.

And then think about the baby space and the pregnancy space, and what kind of digital products; what apps; what magazines can we offer the pregnant mom or the wanting-to-be pregnant woman. So, there is always something new; the business is constantly evolving and shifting. It’s a bigger job in that I get to do a lot of fun things, in addition to editing the one magazine.

Samir Husni: Why have we seen more line extensions in the Hispanic market than we have in the African American markets when it comes to the main titles?

Liz Vaccariello: That’s a really interesting question. In the case of parenting, and I’ll answer in my space in particular, something unique happens when a second generation Latina in the United States becomes a mom. She doesn’t necessarily think of her Latina identity in the forefront of her mind until that moment she has a baby.

And then suddenly she’s thinking more about her heritage and it becomes much more important to her. She wants to have one foot back in that culture. And it’s important that her child be perhaps bilingual and understand the Spanish language. Maybe she doesn’t know it, so she wants to learn it too. So, the cultural touchpoints become very important to her in the parenting space. That’s why in my network Parents Latina made sense.

Samir Husni: What memories from your own childhood do you reflect on in your role as editor in chief and head storyteller of a parenting magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: I often return to a moment in sixth grade when I was doing homework in my bedroom. I remember writing a book report about something and I was sitting at my desk with my pencil and paper. I remember looking at a sentence and thinking that I wanted to change the sentence, so I took another piece of paper and put it next to the first and began to change the words around in the sentence and reading it out loud and listening to the changing rhythms. And then deciding on the perfect way I wanted to say that sentence and putting it back on the paper.

In that moment, there was a knock on my bedroom door and in walked my dad. He said you’re up late, you must be doing homework. He had come in to say goodnight. And I remember saying to him that I had just decided that I wanted to be a writer. I remember that moment and the idea of creating a story and telling it in a rhythmic, pleasing way. And working with the words. The words acting like a puzzle. So, I always remember my father being a witness to that pivotal moment in my life.

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

Liz Vaccariello: (Laughs) Mom to Sophia and Olivia. Sophia and Olivia’s mama; that’s my most important job. I think that’s why I get so excited and lit up about my job, because I get to help mommies and daddies and I know how much fun that is and how helpful that can be when you’re a mom. If we can help someone with the stories that we tell; make her laugh or feel better, or do something more efficiently, that’s wonderful. I’m in a good place and I have one of the best jobs in America.

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

Liz Vaccariello: We’re always concerned about the decline in print advertising. Meredith has a wonderful story about how the growth in digital advertising has far outpaced our small declines in print advertising. But, it doesn’t keep me up at night, because I just got back from a road trip with my publisher, Steven Grune, and I have to tell you, it made me proud to be a Meredith employee because I’m showing this redesign, and I’ve done a lot of road trips over the years for various companies and with various publishers. But when Meredith comes to town, it speaks highly of Meredith and of Steve Grune and the Parents brand, but when we come to town 30 people show up and they want to hear what’s new with Meredith and with Parents Magazine. So, that speaks highly of our position in the marketplace. And also of Steve. Our September issue is nice and thick; our October issue is even thicker, so it’s looking really good. I’m actually sleeping quite well. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Horse & Rider Magazine Brings Its Sister Titles Into The Same Stall – Creating A Larger, More Dynamic Stable For Them All – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Horse & Rider Editor, Jennifer Paulson…

July 24, 2017

“I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs) There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source. I really feel like they come to us and they still pay for the magazine. And advertisers still pay for the inner magazine, because there is a lot of value to that print publication. I think the digital aspect is obviously very important, but I believe it will continue to live side-by-side with print. I don’t like reading a magazine on my tablet. It’s not the same experience. You don’t get to look at and enjoy the beautiful designs that the art director has worked so hard to put together, as well as the experience of the content. So, I think print is here to stay for sure.” Jennifer Paulson (on whether she believes print and digital will continue to coexist)…

Active Interest Media is known for its uniquely, community-driven magazine environment. From its marine group of titles to its equine publications, AIM is all about the targeted reader, that fact is obvious.

That’s why when Horse & Rider magazine opened its pages and welcomed sister titles, American Cowboy and The Trail Rider, into its fold, the redesign and expansion became more of an opportunity than a misfortune. According to Jennifer Paulson, editor at Horse & Rider, it just made sense to bring these groups together into one magazine, because for most horse enthusiasts, the animals aren’t just a lifestyle, they are their lives.

I spoke with Jen recently and we talked about this “western life” that Horse & Rider is now embracing with a more rounded view of Western heritage and the scope of events and content that envelop it. With the addition of many of American Cowboy and The Trail Rider magazine’s contributors and editors, Horse & Rider is ready to inspire and educate readers with new and broader features that will come from the added viewpoints of the other titles. As Jen put it, it was an opportunity that was considered very thoughtfully. And with mostly positive reader feedback, it appears to be working.

So, I hope that you enjoy this interesting look into the equine life and the magazines that support and promote it, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jennifer Paulson, editor, Horse & Life magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

On combining the three titles of Horse & Rider, American Cowboy and Trail Rider all together into one magazine, Horse & Rider: It just makes sense to bring these groups together to offer all of this information in one spot, because we’re all in this together with horse ownership and our western life, because for most of us horses are not a lifestyle, they’re our lives. It’s not like a tennis racket that you go and play tennis one day and you wake up the next morning and say, “I don’t think I’m going to play tennis anymore.” There’s a lot more of an investment with a horse.

On whether she believes print and digital will continue to coexist or that print is on its way out: I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is still the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs) There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source.

On whether a day in her professional life could be described as a smooth trail ride or a bumpy road: I wouldn’t call them bumps; I think there are great opportunities every day that keeps my job exciting and also to learn different skills. Of course, I write a lot of the content in the magazine and I shoot a lot of the photography. But I also have an assistant editor who I mentor, and I get to do a lot with her, and help her along with her career as others did for me. So, it is a lot of different hats these days.

On which hat, out of all of the ones she wears as editor, is her favorite: I do enjoy them all, but most of the time the photography is my favorite. It may not be what I’m the best at, but it’s my favorite because I get to be out in the barn or in the arena or at a horse show, and with people who are as infatuated with these horses as I am. And we get to share that passion and talk about them. And they get to tell me all about their horses and some really great stories about their lives with the horses. Experiencing that is probably my favorite thing.

On choosing the cover image: We do cover testing for every issue through AIM’s research department. We usually have two or three images, plus we have a whole roster of different cover lines that are put together and sent out by email. We also do a Facebook post to ask our audience what they prefer. And that helps us determine that cover image.

On whether she’s noticed any evolvement with the other equine titles in the marketplace: Looking at other titles, some things that I’ve noticed, if you look at what the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is doing with their magazines, they’re going deeper into their niches, and really defining those audiences and separating them out. And that’s because now they’re producing the Quarter Horse Journal, but they also have the Ranch Horse Journal , the Performance Horse Journal , and I think they’re going to have a racing journal a couple of times a year too.

On how she would like the magazine’s readers to view the newly combined publication: I think there are ways to inspire our readers within the pages of the magazine. And there are ways to educate them. All horse owners want to take better care of their horses. It’s much like being a parent; you want to make sure that you’re doing the right things for them. There is some instructional content and some advice, but there is also inspiration and fun. We have a great department in the front of the book called “Saddle Chat,” where our readers can really participate in the magazine and become a part of it, and share their stories. And that could even inspire broader feature ideas.

On the moment of conception for the redesign and when she saw it as an opportunity: There were multiple factors that came into it. I first became aware of it as an opportunity in November and just started coming up with ideas of ways it could work. There was a very thoughtful process where we asked, “Could this work?” It wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be forced. You could call it an arranged marriage, I guess, but we wanted to make the union to have some love in it too. (Laughs)

On whether she feels readers are more attached to horse titles than with other special interest magazines: Readers do become attached to columnists and editors in magazines who share their insights in columns and their ideas. And we meet our readers when we’re out and about at events and different places. So, I do believe there’s a friendship between the reader and the editor and the contributors of the magazine.

On whether they’ve received any reaction from readers, either positive or negative, since the redesign: We’ve had quite a bit. We just heard from our circulation department that the retention is higher than what we expected, because in many things like this you expect a little bit of fallout and for people to cancel. But it was tracking higher for retention than what was expected. We have heard from some readers who are upset, but they want to give us a chance to see if we manage to get it right for them.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: If you came to my house in the evening, this time of year, I probably wouldn’t be at home. I’d be at the barn. My kids are learning how to ride, so that’s our evening life right now. But I do read a lot of magazines, and I do enjoy a glass of wine after the kids go to bed.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her:
I would want people to recognize that I’m really passionate about the horse industry. And I work very hard for it, and want to see it be something that continues, so that my kids will always have it in their lives.

On what keeps her up at night: Advertisers. (Laughs) Deadlines and advertisers.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jennifer Paulson, editor, Horse & Rider magazine.

Samir Husni: When I read your editorial for the July issue of Horse & Rider, with its new look and more pages, you write that you’re bringing not only Horse & Rider, but American Cowboy and Trail Rider magazine all into one. What message are you trying to send to your readers? Are you telling them that business is tough, so you’re combining three magazines together, or are you saying that this is a great opportunity to upscale and enlarge Horse & Rider? How do you view the merging of all three titles from an editor’s point of view?

Jennifer Paulson: From an editorial point of view the message is that we’re able to give them more. Between these three groups of people, you have that western horse life that I talk about in the column too. And so, it just makes sense to bring these groups together to offer all of this information in one spot, because we’re all in this together with horse ownership and our western life, because for most of us horses are not a lifestyle, they’re our lives. It’s not like a tennis racket that you go and play tennis one day and you wake up the next morning and say, “I don’t think I’m going to play tennis anymore.” There’s a lot more of an investment with a horse.

So, the idea of your horse life and bringing all of it together makes sense. The original core Horse & Rider reader did pro ride as well as compete, so bringing those pro rider readers over to enhance that trail riding content is great. And also, most of the time if we’re going on vacation or somewhere else, we’re centering that around a western event or a western destination of some kind, because that’s our whole life and what we’re most interested in. So, bringing the other two groups in with Horse & Rider helps us to augment the content we can offer in the magazine. And honestly, boosts the size of the magazine so that we can all share one space.

Samir Husni: Some people might say that what you’re doing, combining the three titles, is yet more proof that print is in decline or print is this or that. Do you agree that we’re losing that core print cornerstone to the digital sphere, or do you think the two platforms will continue to coexist?

Jennifer Paulson: I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Jennifer Paulson: There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source. I really feel like they come to us and they still pay for the magazine. And advertisers still pay for the inner magazine, because there is a lot of value to that print publication.

I think the digital aspect is obviously very important, but I believe it will continue to live side-by-side with print. I don’t like reading a magazine on my tablet. It’s not the same experience. You don’t get to look at and enjoy the beautiful designs that the art director has worked so hard to put together, as well as the experience of the content. So, I think print is here to stay for sure.

Samir Husni: As an editor, your role today has changed so much. You’re now part curator, part creator and part marketer. Describe for me a day-in-the-life of Jen. Is it like taking a nice relaxing ride on your horse, or are there many bumps along your daily trail?

Jennifer Paulson: I wouldn’t call them bumps; I think there are great opportunities every day that keeps my job exciting and also to learn different skills. Of course, I write a lot of the content in the magazine and I shoot a lot of the photography. But I also have an assistant editor who I mentor, and I get to do a lot with her, and help her along with her career as others did for me.

I get to work with our senior editor, Jenny Meyer, who has been with Horse & Rider for a very long time and has a lot of magazine experience. I get to collaborate with our art director, Adam Purvis, on design and he has a lot of great experience too. He came from the Paint Horse Journal and worked with Darrell Dodds there before coming to Horse & Rider, which has been around 10 years now.

And then I work with our digital team on our website. My assistant editor and I work together on our social media. We have a lot of fun on Instagram; that’s a fun spot right now, we can kind of show behind the scenes of our photo shoots and what we’re doing in the office. And then Facebook is a bit more serious; we give our readers content that’s timely and relevant to them at that moment.

There has also been a lot of marketing right now with this new product. So, obviously there’s a big push behind that. And lots of work with newsstands on figuring out how to bolster sales, if there’s a way to do that. So, it is a lot of different hats these days. It could be seen as bumps in the road, I suppose, but I see it as an opportunity to keep things interesting and to broaden my skillset and hopefully become even better at what I do.

Samir Husni: From all of these different hats that you wear, which one do you enjoy most? The writing; the photography; the marketing; or do you love them all?

Jennifer Paulson: I do enjoy them all, but most of the time the photography is my favorite. It may not be what I’m the best at, but it’s my favorite because I get to be out in the barn or in the arena or at a horse show, and with people who are as infatuated with these horses as I am. And we get to share that passion and talk about them. And they get to tell me all about their horses and some really great stories about their lives with the horses. Experiencing that is probably my favorite thing.


Samir Husni: Being also one of the visual people, one of the photographers; do you do something specific with the cover image that leads the reader directly to that cover story?

Jennifer Paulson: We do cover testing for every issue through AIM’s research department. We usually have two or three images, plus we have a whole roster of different cover lines that are put together and sent out by email. We also do a Facebook post to ask our audience what they prefer. And that helps us determine that cover image.

To me; we know that newsstand is maybe not what it used to be, but we have the newsstand of our readers’ coffee tables, so they probably have multiple Horse titles, maybe they have multiples of different kinds of magazines, different things that they’re looking at. But we want to stand out on their coffee table or their kitchen counter as something they would want to read first.

Samir Husni: As you look at the entire equine category as a whole and the titles that are out there, from a reader’s point of view, have you seen any evolvement with any of those titles? Or do they appear to be struggling just like most of the industry today?

Jennifer Paulson: Looking at other titles, some things that I’ve noticed, if you look at what the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is doing with their magazines, they’re going deeper into their niches, and really defining those audiences and separating them out. And that’s because now they’re producing the Quarter Horse Journal, but they also have the Ranch Horse Journal , the Performance Horse Journal , and I think they’re going to have a racing journal a couple of times a year too.

So, I think you’re seeing those types of places going a little bit more into their niches, as opposed to what we’ve done, which is try to expand the tent and invite everyone in to find their place. I think it’s just a different way of looking at things, but they are going deeper into their own individual niches. What we’ve done is really something different. I guess we’ll see if it’s successful, But I think it’s innovative compared to what’s going on elsewhere.

Samir Husni: You’ve coined this new phrase: Today’s Western horse life, and you were very adamant in your editorial to express that it’s a life, not a lifestyle. What message do you want your readers to receive from this new expression? Do you want them to view the magazine as a manual for their Western horse life?

Jennifer Paulson: No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are ways to inspire our readers within the pages of the magazine. And there are ways to educate them. All horse owners want to take better care of their horses. It’s much like being a parent; you want to make sure that you’re doing the right things for them. There is some instructional content and some advice, but there is also inspiration and fun. We have a great department in the front of the book called “Saddle Chat,” where our readers can really participate in the magazine and become a part of it, and share their stories. And that could even inspire broader feature ideas.

We want it to be their magazine and we’re taking all of their feedback very seriously. And when you do something like this, it’s an evolutionary process. We’ll figure out what works and what maybe needs to be tweaked, and come up with new ideas as we go along too. We really want the readers to feel like that we’re in this horse life with them, and we want to hear from them and we want to be sure that we’re giving them what they’re looking for. I think it’s really important that we be a voice for them.

Samir Husni: When was that moment of conception for the redesign? Was it when American Cowboy and Trail Rider folded or was it before that? When did you get the idea for this opportunity?

Jennifer Paulson: There were multiple factors that came into it. I first became aware of it as an opportunity in November and just started coming up with ideas of ways it could work. There was a very thoughtful process where we asked, “Could this work?” It wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be forced. You could call it an arranged marriage, I guess, but we wanted to make the union to have some love in it too. (Laughs)

We just sat down and tried to figure out the pieces that really went together from each of the audiences. And we know there are a portion of American Cowboy readers who don’t own horses and maybe this won’t be their magazine anymore, but maybe it will. We hope it will. We hope that they find interesting content here. We did a lot of research between the three audiences and we tried to figure out the best mix. So, I think we were really thoughtful about bringing them together. It wasn’t just a smashup.

Samir Husni: With the issue that I received, there was a letter from Tom Kaufman, who talked about the silver lining when bringing the three magazines together. Do you feel, especially in the equine business, that there is this affinity between the readers and the editors more than with other special interest magazines? Because in the letter to readers, he mentions editor Bob Welch and many others that were associated with American Cowboy. Or do you think there is just something special about horse titles?

Jennifer Paulson: I think maybe it’s a little of both. Readers do become attached to columnists and editors in magazines who share their insights in columns and their ideas. And we meet our readers when we’re out and about at events and different places. So, I do believe there’s a friendship between the reader and the editor and the contributors of the magazine.

But I don’t ever want to discount that relationship with the horse; that’s so important. And it brings out something in people that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise. That relationship with the horse is extremely important, therefore the relationship with the magazine is equally important.

Samir Husni: In this age of instant communication with the reader, what has been the reaction so far? Have you received positive feedback from your readers, or negative feedback? Have you gotten any reactions from your readers at all?

Jennifer Paulson: We’ve had quite a bit. We just heard from our circulation department that the retention is higher than what we expected, because in many things like this you expect a little bit of fallout and for people to cancel. But it was tracking higher for retention than what was expected. We have heard from some readers who are upset, but they want to give us a chance to see if we manage to get it right for them. We’ve heard from a few people who are really angry and have cancelled their subscriptions, but as I said, only a few. But we’ve heard more comments from people who are really happy with it.

And there have been some who were really skeptical when they got the letter that they wouldn’t be receiving The Trail Rider or American Cowboy anymore. And they were skeptical and did not want to like it. But when they got it and looked through it, they really liked it. And they’re excited to see what we come up with in the future. So, there has been more of that type of reaction, where they’re a bit surprised that they actually like it.

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; on your iPad; watching TV; or something else?

Jennifer Paulson: Are the kids in bed or not? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Jennifer Paulson: If you came to my house in the evening, this time of year, I probably wouldn’t be at home. I’d be at the barn. My kids are learning how to ride, so that’s our evening life right now. But I do read a lot of magazines, and I do enjoy a glass of wine after the kids go to bed. Or I could be on social media seeing what else is happening in the industry, such as right now we have a big event going on in Oklahoma City, the National Reining Horse Association Derby, and I’m following along with what’s going on there when I’m at home in the evenings.

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

Jennifer Paulson: I would want people to recognize that I’m really passionate about the horse industry. And I work very hard for it, and want to see it be something that continues, so that my kids will always have it in their lives.

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

Jennifer Paulson: Advertisers. (Laughs) Deadlines and advertisers.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Bloomberg Businessweek: A Rejuvenated Magazine Capturing An Audience Pursuing Quality Over Quantity – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Megan Murphy, Editor, Bloomberg Businessweek…

June 21, 2017

“With Businessweek, there’s no question that we skew, and we’re always going to skew, towards capturing people who are pursuing quality over quantity, people who are going to prefer to look for more intensive analysis, insight and value to add, than you can get from just a commoditized news platform.” Megan Murphy…

Bloomberg Businessweek has been around for the last 88 years. And yes, some of those years it existed without the Bloomberg attachment. The brand has covered the companies, people, and products that have shaped and reshaped the world’s economy. But evolvement in the 21st century is a given. While our world has become more instantaneous, more urgent, and in more need than ever for a clear and concise, authoritative voice out there, Businessweek is reinventing itself to meet those needs.

Megan Murphy has been at the editor’s helm for around seven months now, having previously been a Financial Times reporter and the journalist who ran Bloomberg’s Washington, D.C., bureau during the election. In her most recent editor’s letter, Megan stated that, “More than ever, Businessweek readers need journalism to be more authoritative, more urgent, and more indispensable. We need to take you to where today’s events will be tomorrow’s trends. And we need to do more to help you to cut through the noise to better understand the dynamics that are disrupting the way we work and live.”

Mr. Magazine™ agrees. In all the chaos and melee that surrounds us, news and information that is indispensable is definitely most welcomed. I spoke with Megan recently and we talked about the new relaunch and her ideas and thoughts for Businessweek’s future. Megan is passionate about news, politics, finance and business; everything that her brand deems important as well. So, it’s a match made in magazine heaven, or at least Mr. Magazine™ thinks so.

Megan Murphy, Editor, Bloomberg Businessweek, Photo by Lori Hoffman/Bloomberg.

Her editor’s letter promises a magazine, with sharper storytelling, cleaner and more consistent design, and richer graphics and photography. And on the digital front, there is a suite of digital products you can access wherever you are and whenever you need them, including a redesigned app, “Daily IQ,” which is an email newsletter delivering analysis and insight from senior Bloomberg Businessweek editors worldwide directly to your inbox each afternoon; and a revamped vertical on Bloomberg.com, with fresh stories, a sleeker design, and easier navigation.

Who says you can’t find compelling stories and provocative design among exceptionally precise, important journalism? Certainly not Mr. Magazine™, because I do believe I’ve found it in the new Businessweek. So, I hope you enjoy the equally compelling interview with its editor, Megan Murphy.

But first, the sound-bites:

On where she thinks magazine media is heading: I think the biggest shift is really just the bifurcation of taste and habit that has been radically transformed by consumption habits. Here’s the thing, social media has been a great disruptor, but people also forget, in terms of where people go for immediate news, that we increasingly live in a TV society as well. So much of what you see playing out in Washington or Westminster or Hong Kong is dominated by what used to be called the twenty-four-hour news cycle, which now is almost like the one-hour-thirty-minute news cycle. That is really great for TV and why you see continued strength in TV, but also why you see print mediums really struggling; obviously magazine brands struggling at some point, but also newspapers as well. I’m an ex-newspaper hack for a long time.

On whether she is overwhelmed by her role as editor of Businessweek, with all of Bloomberg’s many platforms: When I first took over Businessweek as the editor, I had been the Washington Bureau chief—obviously, a tumultuous campaign—and one of the big things I was really clear about from the start, and I’m glad in retrospect now, seven months later that I was, is Businessweek always needs to have a clear lane within the broader Bloomberg enterprise. And when I came in, the other point I tried to make was, we don’t want to compete at all, or cannibalize at all, with our existing platforms. We want to be complimentary and do what we can to surface all of the great journalism that’s being done at Bloomberg, but we have to be distinct and separate from them.

On why she thinks that even though times have changed within the world of journalism, the actual reporting hasn’t: I know, it drives me crazy. Just to go into background, about five years ago I created a product at the Financial Times called “Fast FT,” because what I believe passionately is that you can actually add value within the first five minutes. It’s just that more people aren’t doing it. So at Fast FT that’s what we were really trying to do, add value immediately. Instead of just reporting what everybody already knows at length.

On the specialness of the six to eight issues digital subscribers get of the printed magazine: As the editor of Businessweek, I think one of the amazing things about Businessweek is that I learn so much, especially about topics I’d fancied myself very knowing on. I think, if we surface that content, if we patch it in the right way and we get it to people—that’s what some of the special issues are designed to do about these issues that we feel really passionately about—that’s why we do them. That’s why, for digital access, we’re giving them to them.

On how her own personality figured into the new redesign of Businessweek: When I came in, they wanted to redesign. Time has moved on. We live in incredibly different times then when Bloomberg first acquired Businessweek during the first year of the Obama presidency. We face challenges unlike we’ve known in foreign policy, in economic populism, in very disruptive trends that are really changing the way people live, the way they retire, the way they care for their families, the way they project their own personal and national identity, so I try to stay in lanes and empower the people. They knew that they wanted to take this product to be a cleaner, simpler, more robust design that would allow the quality of our journalism to shine through. I pretty much got out of the way and let the experts take the reins on that and do it.

On if someone gave her a magic wand that could humanize Businessweek, both the print and digital versions, who would that person be: The recent cover of the book is Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. And do you know why I think he is the perfect manifestation of what you just described? It’s because he is, and I’d actually never met him; he is a deeply thoughtful human being. And we had a deeply thoughtful, substantive discussion.

On whether she feels they’re on the top of the mountain with the new redesign: In terms of the book, we’ve done a really good job of cracking at least most of that. And I think now it’s about execution. Obviously, it’s always going to be about content and what we get and how we do it. But in terms of directionally knowing where we’re going and how we want it to look, I’m looking at the current issue now and it looks so amazing. And we’re so excited about it.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening after work: I have been wanting to write a book for a long time about people and YouTube. And the sort of weird communities that exist around YouTube, because I’ve heard of this one community, and there are a lot of strange communities on YouTube, but this one is about people who film themselves at garage sales looking for very unique things, such as baseball cards or old video games, things like that.

On the words or phrase that she would want tattooed on her brain to keep with her forever: One thing that is already tattooed on my brain, and I’ve said this before, but I’m quite competitive, and when I was growing up my dad had this favorite phrase that he would always say: show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night is the same thing that keeps so many people, I think, up at night, which is not political polarization; not a decline of civility; not any of these disruptive trends. But it is the biggest, I think, disruptive trend of all that we’ll look back and say was the unifying factor. And it’s that we do have this increasing divide between the elite, or the perceived elite, and everybody else.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Megan Murphy, editor, Bloomberg Businessweek.


Samir Husni: In the middle of all of the instant changes that are taking place in our industry, now it’s no longer just mobile, it’s voice first. And for the last 10 years, we’ve heard everything from the tablet is taking over, to mobile, to voice—so, where do you think we are really heading and how are you adapting to all of these changes?

Megan Murphy: I think one of the most profound changes in our industry—and when I say our industry, I might be talking about journalism more broadly, is that okay?

Samir Husni: Definitely.

Megan Murphy: I think the biggest shift is really just the bifurcation of taste and habit that has been radically transformed by consumption habits. Here’s the thing, social media has been a great disruptor, but people also forget, in terms of where people go for immediate news, that we increasingly live in a TV society as well. So much of what you see playing out in Washington or Westminster or Hong Kong is dominated by what used to be called the twenty-four-hour news cycle, which now is almost like the one-hour-thirty-minute news cycle. That is really great for TV and why you see continued strength in TV, but also why you see print mediums really struggling; obviously magazine brands struggling at some point, but also newspapers as well. I’m an ex-newspaper hack for a long time.

With Businessweek, there’s no question that we skew, and we’re always going to skew, towards capturing people who are pursuing quality over quantity, people who are going to prefer to look for more intensive analysis, insight and value to add, than you can get from just a commoditized news platform.

That being said, I don’t think you can be relevant in 2017 unless you address consumption habits of people by trying to go to the mediums where they’re consuming journalism. That means on mobile, on tablet—through social, in terms of how we effectively mobilize our audience through social—on TV, on the radio. I feel for us the responsiveness is making more people aware of how quality a publication our content is on more platforms; so keeping that commitment to excellence and quality in everything we do, trying to get that out to as many people as we can to actually see it, and, at the same time, being more responsive in a thoughtful, considered, shall we say Businessweek way, as things happen and develop. [We do it in a way] where we can really carve out and develop out a lane for us that we see consumers and readers responding to.

Samir Husni: When you look at your big network of 2,700 writers, correspondents, and staffers all over the world, are you overwhelmed by your role? And how do you curate all of that and then distill them to say, “Okay, this is going to be on the app, this is going to be on mobile, and this is going to be for the magazine.”

Megan Murphy: That’s a great question and this answer may get a little long, but I’m still going to bring it out. When I first took over Businessweek as the editor, I had been the Washington Bureau chief—obviously, a tumultuous campaign—and one of the big things I was really clear about from the start, and I’m glad in retrospect now, seven months later that I was, is Businessweek always needs to have a clear lane within the broader Bloomberg enterprise. So, you’re exactly right, in that we have 2,700 journalists and analysts in 120 countries around the world; we’ve got a whole TV network, we’ve got various premium products, various sort of analytical premier products like Business Intelligence; we’ve got our editorial site; we’ve got our radio station. We have invested so much in our editorial operations over the years. It truly can be overwhelming when you think about it.

I run a very important part of that enterprise, we think, because it is consumer facing and it’s such a well-known brand, and has been around for so long, and is known for its excellence. But it’s also, people-wise, relatively small.

And when I came in, the other point I tried to make was, we don’t want to compete at all, or cannibalize at all, with our existing platforms. We want to be complimentary and do what we can to surface all of the great journalism that’s being done at Bloomberg, but we have to be distinct and separate from them. We have Bloomberg.com; we have a separate consumer app; we have the Terminal, which is an amazing product. So, we were very ruthless, I would say, about making sure that we had had a very clear sense of mission and purpose about what we’re doing.

So, taking all of that into this question, let’s use an example, as we’re talking right now, we’ve got Whole Foods and Amazon merging, and I was onset when the story broke. My thing now is going back to the journalists and saying to, not a Businessweek reporter, but actually a Bloomberg editor, who is the head of global business, and saying, ‘I want to know everything that you’re going to do on this deal.’ But Businessweek is never going to write “Amazon Just Acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 Billion,” because that editor knew that immediately. Anybody who is at all interested in the sector knew it already.

What I need to think about now for Businessweek and my audience, is what are they going to want to know about this deal, not immediately when it happened, but maybe in a hour or two? What’s counterintuitive? Who are the players behind it? What is this going to mean for the rest of the industry? What does this mean for the trajectory of Amazon? More importantly, the trajectory for other supermarkets, other grocers in the sector?

Again, everybody can see the immediate share-price reaction, but what I want to know is what’s going to really push me to think differently about what Jeff Bezos’ strategy was, or about what Wal-Mart is going to do to respond to this?

So, that’s what I do as the editor of Businessweek, which is an incredibly fortunate position, and I’m a business and finance, news junkie. I always have been. I’ve been a business reporter all of my life, except for my stint in politics. So, that’s what I really want to think about for my consumer, my reader; what are they looking to Businessweek to value-add to a deal that really will be an industry changer. And how can I harness those 2,700 journalists in 120 countries, this time we’re looking at a lot of them domestically and internationally, to say, ‘What are you guys looking at that we can combine on; that we may take and curate for our app, that’s going to push this story in a direction that’s more than what everybody knew five minutes ago?

Samir Husni: What you said is just common sense, yet why haven’t the newspaper people and some of the media people changed their way of reporting?

Megan Murphy: I know, it drives me crazy. Just to go into background, about five years ago I created a product at the Financial Times called “Fast FT,” because what I believe passionately is that you can actually add value within the first five minutes. It’s just that more people aren’t doing it. So at Fast FT that’s what we were really trying to do, add value immediately. Instead of just reporting what everybody already knows at length.

I’ve been surprised by the lag in our industry about moving to that type of quicker analysis takes, and being not so heavy on what’s already known and out there. Social is so dominant, and as I said earlier, TV is so dominant too in the “what’s happening” space.

And I do think that as professionals, we really need to push ourselves harder when we are asking people to invest their time and more than 140 characters. We need to be giving them content that’s worth more than 140 characters. (Laughs) And I don’t think that everybody is quite there yet.

Samir Husni: I tell my students, “What’s in it for me?” It’s as simple as that.

Megan Murphy: Why would I give you my eyeballs? Why would I give you my time?

Samir Husni: Exactly. Now, as you move forward; I’ve noticed that if people just subscribe to the digital, they still get six to eight special issues of the printed magazine. Can you explain those six to eight issues? What’s so special about them?

Megan Murphy: We still breakout the year ahead, and what we call our “Franchise Issues” here, so, I can’t tell you some of them, because they’ve changed since I’ve come in. Businessweek has been an incredibly fun list editorial, in terms of changing direction, but we’ve also put it at the center of our events strategy at Bloomberg. Frankly, we have been underleveraged at Bloomberg on events. I’m not saying that as like a PR person; I’m just saying as a journalist, events can be a platform to really service your journalism again to other people to get exposure.

So, when we think about franchises and these special issues, those are usually franchises that are tied into broader events that we really want to use as showcase events. For example, we’ve had a franchise called “The Year Ahead,” which has traditionally been one of our blowout issues where we really step back, draw on some of our analysts, and say, “Okay, really think hard about what this coming year is going to look like.” We use their projections across business, finance, ecology, the economy, to really build a cool magazine around those projections. That’s one of those special issues that we’ll be keeping.

Some of the other franchises are changing a little bit, some that we haven’t announced yet. We have a special issue coming up that’s focused around jobs. It goes directly to what we were just talking about, “What’s in it for me?” I do believe that so much of journalism now—and I’m a passionate, passionate advocate for fantastic, investigative reporting and long form—but I also believe that you have to have a way that makes people invest their time.
One way to do that is to do special issues where you say to them, “Look, everybody is talking about bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. Everyone’s talking about technology disrupting the workforce. Everyone’s talking about ‘Are robots going to be doing my job?’ not just in America but around the world. Okay, let’s really talk about this and let’s blow it out and give you twenty pages that really look at this, at the disruptive workforce, where the future of the work force is going, why manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, why everybody’s probably going to be more in the service sector, what’s going on with Asia in terms of China, Japan, and the knock on in Southeast Asia, why do we still have a persistent wage gap, [etc.]. Let’s really look at these issues, go in depth.”

I think when you make that value prop to people and you say, “Give me thirty minutes. Give me five minutes on your mobile at first. Give me twenty minutes at night. Give me an hour on the weekend.” If I can get people to do that with Businessweek content, that is great. I do think that is the way, directionally, we want our readers to experience and consume our content. If you are really interested in the subject, and I think everybody is, we’re going to give you a package of articles that are going to make you think differently. Maybe it’s going to confirm some of the things you thought, but it’s also going to really push you to think “Okay, I know a lot more about this landscape than I ever thought I would.”

As the editor of Businessweek, I think one of the amazing things about Businessweek is that I learn so much, especially about topics I’d fancied myself very knowing on. I think, if we surface that content, if we patch it in the right way and we get it to people—that’s what some of the special issues are designed to do about these issues that we feel really passionately about—that’s why we do them. That’s why, for digital access, we’re giving them to them.

Samir Husni: As I hear you talking, I can feel your passion to the subject matter you’re covering and working with. How did your own personality and background factor into the redesign that took six months in the making, especially after Businessweek was relaunched as Bloomberg Businessweek. There was a lot of talk about the design and the whole aspect of the magazine. How did all of that factor in this new redesign?

Megan Murphy: I feel incredibly grateful and lucky in the sense that I am a journalist. I love the content. Of course, I love breaking news, but I love even more when I can tell you that something you thought you knew isn’t really true. Just to use an example: In our recent issue, we’ve got a story on exposure of female workers in technology companies in South Korea and how, as of recently in 2015, they have been exposed to toxic chemicals during the chip making process, something that should’ve been eradicated twenty-five years ago. That journalist has spent years working on that. We’ve got a story on Western Union. The thing I love about that story is you think you know what Western Union does? Guess again. It’s surprising. It’s an amazing corporate profile.

I’m so proud of some of the journalism in the front of the book—all of the journalism in the front of the book. But we’ve also done stand-out graphics. I am a journalist. I am a content person, and I think everybody knew that about me when I came in. The flip side of that is, I let the people who are experts about design, about photography, about art direction—of which we literally have many of the best in the industry—I want to empower them to take responsibility for the design direction of this magazine. That is what they did.

When I came in, they wanted to redesign. Time has moved on. We live in incredibly different times then when Bloomberg first acquired Businessweek during the first year of the Obama presidency. We face challenges unlike we’ve known in foreign policy, in economic populism, in very disruptive trends that are really changing the way people live, the way they retire, the way they care for their families, the way they project their own personal and national identity, so I try to stay in lanes and empower the people. They knew that they wanted to take this product to be a cleaner, simpler, more robust design that would allow the quality of our journalism to shine through. I pretty much got out of the way and let the experts take the reins on that and do it. (Laughs)

Of course, there are certain things that I like that are reflected, but what Rob Vargas, our creative director, and Clinton Cargill, the director of photography here; what they have done is exactly what I wanted and 100 times more. And I’m so grateful and proud of them, in taking responsibility and ownership of the book and putting it on themselves to develop a product which we always say that we wanted it to come out to market and have people say that it was so much better.

Yes, the design is cleaner, but it’s also better, in terms of showcasing the stories and the content that we really want to get out to people. And at the end of the day, Businessweek will always be about fantastic design, but it’s also about fantastic business journalism. Fantastic journalism about technology; fantastic journalism about politics, and we want people to know that and they hit out of the park with the redesign, as far as I’m concerned.

Samir Husni: If I gave you a magic wand that allowed you the power to humanize Businessweek; those pixels on the screen and that ink on paper, who would that person actually be?

Megan Murphy: The recent cover of the book is Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. And do you know why I think he is the perfect manifestation of what you just described? It’s because he is, and I’d actually never met him; he is a deeply thoughtful human being. And we had a deeply thoughtful, substantive discussion. In fact, I did an interview with Obama a year ago, and he reminded me of that interview, in the sense of, many times when you talk to corporate leaders, I’ve been in this business a long time, and even if they give the impression that they’re really engaging with you and telling you what they really think, many of them are so studied that it’s actually just PR statements repeated in a false folksy way. And what really struck me about Tim was his genuineness and humanity; his passion in ways that I didn’t expect, his passion about music, about Steve Jobs, and the Apple legacy being very separate from his own.

And I think there are things that he talked and said that were totally unexpected and surprising, engaging and thought-provoking, and that go far beyond Apple, but more about America’s place in the world.

And that is what we seek to do every week at Businessweek. To give you the substance beyond what you think you knew, or the headlines, or where you think directionally things are traveling. In that sense, putting totally aside whether or not people agree with him and what he’s saying, in terms of conveying substance, genuineness and surfacing ideas, I thought it was a really interesting discussion.

Samir Husni: What’s next? Are you on top of the mountain now, after the redesign?

Megan Murphy: In terms of the book, we’ve done a really good job of cracking at least most of that. And I think now it’s about execution. Obviously, it’s always going to be about content and what we get and how we do it. But in terms of directionally knowing where we’re going and how we want it to look, I’m looking at the current issue now and it looks so amazing. And we’re so excited about it.

But digitally; when you layer this on the digital products, the app, the new vertical, and with the newsletter, which I will be personally writing next issue, it’s a lot of stuff. First of all, we’re not even in the footholds. I actually used to be a mountain climber; I would climb Mt. McKinley and Denali, and I would always think, before you get to Denali there’s like 100 miles of no population and very tall mountains, and that’s where we are. It’s like this is work; this is hard work. It’s hard work to create journalistic excellence; it’s hard work to create design excellence; and it’s hard work to create and sustain this much of a product relaunch, in terms of ethos, mission, brand and design.

It is going to continue to require work every single day, and creativity, innovation, and teamwork. So, I wish we were at the top of the mountain, but all I know is that this crew is strapped in and they have shown, every time I thought we were all going to collapse during what was a frankly grueling time, they always rose to the occasion. And they always just wowed me. I always say that I was along for the ride with some of the most talented people that I’ve ever worked with. And I think that’s going to continue to be the case. Maybe later in the summer, when we have more great issues to look at, we’ll feel that we’re halfway up the mountain. (Laughs) I am so pleased at how the rollout has gone, but there’s so much more work to be done.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Are you on your iPad, watching TV, having a glass of wine, reading a book, or something else?

Megan Murphy: I have been wanting to write a book for a long time about people and YouTube. And the sort of weird communities that exist around YouTube, because I’ve heard of this one community, and there are a lot of strange communities on YouTube, but this one is about people who film themselves at garage sales looking for very unique things, such as baseball cards or old video games, things like that.

There are certain characters that I identify with; I am just fascinated by how communities form in modern society and how even now through social media platforms, your weird little obsessions can become something that 10,000 people watch, such as filming yourself going to garage sales looking for video games. To me that’s a fascinating thing about how communities form, so you would likely find me with a glass of wine, probably watching YouTube videos about this subject. So, that’s a weird one, but it’s true. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If there was one thing that you’d want tattooed on your brain, something that would be with you forever, what would it be?

Megan Murphy: One thing that is already tattooed on my brain, and I’ve said this before, but I’m quite competitive, and when I was growing up my dad had this favorite phrase that he would always say: show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Megan Murphy: So, that’s the permanent tattoo that’s on my brain. I could never get it out.

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

Megan Murphy: What keeps me up at night is the same thing that keeps so many people, I think, up at night, which is not political polarization; not a decline of civility; not any of these disruptive trends. But it is the biggest, I think, disruptive trend of all that we’ll look back and say was the unifying factor.

And it’s that we do have this increasing divide between the elite, or the perceived elite, and everybody else. And for me, that is the most worrisome; the most dangerous; the most underreported, on a global sense; and the most potentially catastrophic element of both Western Democracies and in places like China and Japan. Until we can find a way where globalization, either true or perception-wise, does lift all boats. That we can have people begin to think that the political class is not elite, but relevant to their daily lives.

Where people feel that the decisions being taken in centers of government actually are going to make their lives better. That there representatives are working for them and that we don’t have a capitalist society or a corrupt society, like other places in the world that just strips and cleans off the world for the elite. Where things talked about have real world impact and people believe that. Until we start moving that way as a society again, where people feel truly vested in the decisions made in the corridors of companies and the corridors of Westminster and the corridors of Washington, we are in for a really big problem if this continues to go in the other direction. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about that topic, and whether media is a part of the problem or part of the solution. And I try to be part of the solution.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

FourTwoNine: Cracking The 429 Code In Luxury Men’s Magazines – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Maer Roshan, Editor In Chief/Chief Content Officer & Richard Klein, Publisher/Chief Creative Officer, FourTwoNine Magazine…

May 16, 2017

“When people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading. I just read recently that e-books are plummeting, while printed books are really doing amazingly well. And I think what we’re going to see with magazines is similar. I don’t think the newsy magazines, like Time, are going to do very well in this Internet age. But if your magazine is about a more leisurely, substantial read, or about the imagery; you can have great imagery, but on the web it just doesn’t hit you in the same way, you know? In the same way that vinyl and books are back, I think magazines will definitely have a place.” Maer Roshan

“People like something tangible. The magazine is quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital. Maer is running the contents of the website as well.” Richard Klein

You say 007, folks say James Bond. You say 429, folks-in-the-know say the very successful website, dot429, the online network for LGBT professionals, a brand that also manifested itself through the pages of an ink on paper magazine, aptly named FourTwoNine. But where did the name originates from, well, you don’t have to look further than the dialing pad on your phone. Four is for G, Two is for A, and Nine is for Y. Four Two Nine = GAY. However, the magazine focuses on a myriad of topics, from politics to fashion, and touts itself as much more than just a gay-based magazine. According to publisher, Richard Klein, it’s a men’s title and a brand that aims itself at people of all genders.

Editor in chief, Maer Roshan, who has known success at such high-profile titles as Talk, Radar, and Vanity Fair, hopped onboard with Richard and agrees that FourTwoNine is definitely a differentiator among the LGBT magazine communities.

I spoke with Maer and Richard recently and we talked about the factors that make FourTwoNine a game changer when it comes to content, design and audience engagement within the gay magazine space. It was an often fun-filled conversation, but also a very informative glimpse into what each of them think a gay magazine should be. And according to Maer, it’s most definitely not supposed to be earnest, dull, or predictable.

So, without further ado, enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with the powers behind FourTwoNine Magazine, Maer Roshan and Richard Klein.

But first the sound-bites:

On how FourTwoNine is different than other gay media (Richard Klein):

Richard Klein, publisher and creative director, FourTwoNIne magazine

We’re a small brand, but we’re growing. We don’t really brand ourselves necessarily as a completely gay magazine. We have taken more of a sense that within this landscape right now, there really are no brands, in terms of gender. We see ourselves as more of a men’s title.

On how FourTwoNine is different than the many other magazines that Maer Roshan has worked at or started (Maer Roshan): I think in the universe of gay magazines right now; when Richard said that we’re not trying to brand ourselves as gay, I think what makes FourTwoNine Magazine a gay magazine is its sensibility more than its entire content. We did a piece on Adam Schiff, and it’s not exactly a gay story. It has interest to gay people; he happens to be a congressman from West Hollywood, but it wasn’t told from a particularly gay perspective. But it’s within our world, so it made sense.

On how the magazine seems aimed at a very upscale audience (Richard Klein): The magazine was born from Dot429, which was the professional website/social network. When we started that, which was over five years ago now, it was aimed at a very affluent audience within the LGBT community. Really, the professionals. Brands like Cartier, Lexus and Cadillac have longed to really reach this community and demographic, and we are producing a product that they feel comfortable within. There isn’t a lot out there that they’re able to reach this audience with.

On what Maer thinks and says about the magazine at the end of the day (Maer Roshan): Every day it’s going to be something different. I want something that stands on its own and that people will look at and not just say it’s a good “gay” magazine, but they’ll say FourTwoNine is a great magazine, period. And that’s actually enthusing, because a lot of friends of mine who are not gay, but in the media business, subscribe to the magazine and read it and then get back to me. And the fact that it’s them and they have something to relate to, that’s pretty cool to me. As Richard was talking about; we’re aiming for a high demographic, in the sense that we have a culturally aware audience.

On whether they feel there is still room for print in this digital age (Maer Roshan):

Maer Roshan, editor in chief, FourTwoNine magazine.

For sure. And you know, I went and did The Fix after Radar, which we sold, and it has done very well. It’s like the biggest recovery website in the world now. Obviously, Radar Online, we’ve worked really hard on, and it’s huge now. And then I work with Tina (Brown) and Women in the World for the Times. So, I love what you can do digitally and it gives you a lot of room for things that you couldn’t do in print. But, when people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading.

On whether they feel there is still room for print in this digital age (Richard Klein): People like something tangible. The magazine s quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital.

On how Richard balances his roles as both publisher and chief creative officer (Richard Klein): I studied architecture and graphic design as well. When I launched Surface magazine; I launched it as the creative director, but I think in publishing, when you are a staff of a dozen, or less than 20 people, everybody wears a lot of different hats. Maer and I were in New York recently, visiting a number of different partners and advertisers, and focused very much on the business side of things. We both have a clear vision of what the aesthetic of the brand should be; what image-makers we want to work with.

On the strategy behind the multiple covers of the same issue (Maer Roshan): It’s a general interest magazine in some ways, which is a rarity. It’s obviously a gay magazine, but under that umbrella, we cover fashion; we cover personalities, and many other topics. And what that allows us to do is to showcase different elements of what we’re doing to the different audiences that we have.

On whether Maer believes the journal-like, high cover-priced magazines can overtake the industry (Maer Roshan): I’m glad that you just said that, because there’s one point that I’ve been wanting to make as well, which is, and this is something that I think makes us new and from just looking at other magazines that are like that, the ones that charge a lot of money, and stay longer on the newsstand or are a coffee table magazine, those are not very vital, up-to-date, or in the moment. A lot of times, their content could be from last year and you wouldn’t know, because it’s kind of vague and not trying to keep up with the moment.

On the comparison of FourTwoNine to Monocle (Richard Klein): Monocle is such an iconic brand today, and you mention Monocle to somebody and they know exactly who the reader is and where the magazine fits in the landscape. And I think that’s really important for what we’re doing too. And while we’re a print magazine and events and the website; we’re really creating this brand. And when someone picks it up or we talk about FourTwoNine, we know who we are.

On the origins of the name FourTwoNine for the magazine (Richard Klein): The number 429 on the telephone keypad spells GAY. So, when we launched the social network, we wanted to create a name that wasn’t hitting you over the head, but it was kind of like a handshake, if you will.

On anything either of them would like to add (Richard Klein): I think the only thing that we really didn’t touch on is the West Coast sensibility.

On anything either of them would like to add (Maer Roshan): Oh, thanks. You know me, I’ve been an East Coast boy for many years, and then I moved to the West, along with a lot of other people. Back in the day, you would have gone to L.A. and thought of it as kind of a second-rate version of New York, but that has changed. Particularly with the political energies; the cultural energy, there has been a big shift westward.

On what either of them would be doing if someone showed up at their house unexpectedly one evening (Maer Roshan): That’s an interesting question; I would be working. (Laughs) Funny enough, recently, I was on my way home and I drove by this theatre here; the Director’s Guild, and I wondered what was going on there. As it turned out, that was where James Comey was supposed to speak. And so I called one of our reporters and told him that he had to get there, because that was where he was supposed to be. So, we both found our way into this place.

On what either of them would be doing if someone showed up at their house unexpectedly one evening (Richard Klein): I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco a year and a half ago. And I’m exploring the city almost every night. But as I said, we do a ton of events. And there’s always something going on in Los Angeles. We have a really close relationship with Soho House. There’s seems to always be an event or a talk going on at Soho House. A friend of mine just launched a gallery; a kind of popup gallery at her loft. There is literally always a major event going on in Los Angeles. It’s a lot of friends and things are popping up all over the place here.

On what keeps them up at night (Richard Klein): There are a lot of things that keep me up at night. (Laughs) If you’re asking what my worries are; we are holding this with a very careful team. We’re kind of in the throe of that, while we’re starting to see really great traction. It’s still quite a bit of work. But we’re keeping at it. And then just the issue of how to keep us alive. But, as I said, we’re getting it and it’s going well.

On what keeps them up at night (Maer Roshan): Donald Trump. (Laughs) That’s about it. But I wake up every morning excited about being a journalist, so for that, I guess I should thank him.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Maer Roshan, editor in chief/chief content office & Richard Klein, publisher/chief creative officer, FourTwoNine Magazine.

Samir Husni: Richard, since you’re more of the publisher and chief creative officer, which is somewhat of a rarity in the magazine business; if someone were to ask you how you differentiated FourTwoNine from all of the other gay media out there today, what would you say?

Richard Klein: It has changed quite a bit. We’re a small brand, but we’re growing. We don’t really brand ourselves necessarily as a completely gay magazine. We have taken more of a sense that within this landscape right now, there really are no brands, in terms of gender. We see ourselves as more of a men’s title.

Samir Husni: Maer, you’ve edited several magazines, whether as top editor or in starting your own. How do you differentiate? If someone asked you: you’re the editor of FourTwoNine, how is that different from anything else you’ve done; what would you say?

Maer Roshan: That’s a good question. One of the first magazines that I started right after college was a gay weekly in New York, called NYQ, and it was right in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Eventually, it was sold to Time Inc.

But what made me interested in doing this (FourTwoNine) was how much the gay landscape has changed since I did NYQ. And just the definition of how gay people fit into society and what gay culture means has changed dramatically.

Basically, I know how to do a very limited amount of things. I like making new stuff and pushing the envelope a little bit. And adjusting culture and good writing. So, we try to do the same thing in every magazine, and in that way things haven’t changed.

But I think in the universe of gay magazines right now; when Richard said that we’re not trying to brand ourselves as gay, I think what makes FourTwoNine Magazine a gay magazine is its sensibility more than its entire content. We did a piece on Adam Schiff, and it’s not exactly a gay story. It has interest to gay people; he happens to be a congressman from West Hollywood, but it wasn’t told from a particularly gay perspective. But it’s within our world, so it made sense. And we’ve had a great response. We’re one of the earliest people to cover him in that way.

You mix that with some of the other stories that we’ve done, especially when applying a sensibility, and I think that things now are more political for gay people that it’s been in a while. But it defines itself less just as being gay; it’s part of a larger movement.

One of the things that has always amazed me about a lot of gay magazines is that gay culture is humorous and fun, and kind of pushing the envelope. And gay magazines tend to be so earnest and dull. (Laughs) A while back someone had talked to me about doing Logo, the gay network, and they asked me what Logo should be like. And I said Logo should be Bravo, so it’s not ostensibly a gay network. And if we were to put magazines in that way, we would go to a Bravo model over a Logo model, which is earnest and dry…

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Maer Roshan: …if that gives you some idea.

Samir Husni: Richard, in addition to the great editorial content; even looking at the ads, it seems like you’re aiming at a very upscale audience. Is that by choice or is that another point of differentiation? You’re not a mass magazine, or like you said; you’re not a big major brand, but at the same time, you’re aiming high.

Richard Klein: The magazine was born from Dot429, which was the professional website/social network. When we started that, which was over five years ago now, it was aimed at a very affluent audience within the LGBT community. Really, the professionals. As we built that network, and started speaking to the membership of the network and to partner that with the way we sort of differentiated ourselves from brands like the dating sites that were out there and the hook-up sites, and some of the magazines that aren’t with us any longer, such as “Instinct” or “Next,” that kind of syllabus in the gay landscape.

So, brands like Cartier, Lexus and Cadillac have longed to really reach this community and demographic, and we are producing a product that they feel comfortable within. There isn’t a lot out there that they’re able to reach this audience with.

Samir Husni: Maer, I noticed that you’ve assembled quite a team, from your East Coast editor, Hal (Rubenstein), to all the others working and writing for the magazine; at the end of the day, what do you think and say about the magazine?

Maer Roshan: Every day it’s going to be something different. I want something that stands on its own and that people will look at and not just say it’s a good “gay” magazine, but they’ll say FourTwoNine is a great magazine, period. And that’s actually enthusing, because a lot of friends of mine who are not gay, but in the media business, subscribe to the magazine and read it and then get back to me. And the fact that it’s them and they have something to relate to, that’s pretty cool to me. As Richard was talking about; we’re aiming for a high demographic, in the sense that we have a culturally aware audience.

But I also hate pretentiousness, you know? One of the things that I’d talked to Richard about when he asked me to come over here was, when I think about what the purpose of the magazine is I think “Vanity Fair” meets “Vice.” It has great reporting and great production values and great writing. It’s edgier and pushes the envelope and has its finger on the pulse of culture.

Samir Husni: Maer, you’ve worked at some very high profile titles, whether it’s Talk or Radar, which you started. And then we came to a point where everyone was saying print is dead, we’re folding our print edition and going online. Yet, FourTwoNine is almost reverse engineering; it started as a website and now it’s a print magazine. Do you feel that there’s still room for print in today’s digital age?

Maer Roshan: For sure. And you know, I went and did The Fix after Radar, which we sold, and it has done very well. It’s like the biggest recovery website in the world now. Obviously, Radar Online, we’ve worked really hard on, and it’s huge now. And then I work with Tina (Brown) and Women in the World for the Times. So, I love what you can do digitally and it gives you a lot of room for things that you couldn’t do in print.

But, when people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading. I just read recently that e-books are plummeting, while printed books are really doing amazingly well. And I think what we’re going to see with magazines is similar. I don’t think the newsy magazines, like Time, are going to do very well in this Internet age. But if your magazine is about a more leisurely, substantial read, or about the imagery; you can have great imagery, but on the web it just doesn’t hit you in the same way, you know? In the same way that vinyl and books are back, I think magazines will definitely have a place.

Richard Klein: People like something tangible. The magazine is quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital. Maer is running the contents of the website as well.

Maer Roshan: I don’t think you could have a media property these days and not have web and print and events and all that stuff. The days where you could just have one of those things are over. All of those things play into each other and they’re vitally important . All of these different elements work together and are important in building a community, which we’re trying to do, but also building an ad-base and a web engine base too.

Samir Husni: I started as a graphic designer, even when I was in high school, before I left Lebanon. That was my whole work before I went to college, and now I work more on the business side. How do you balance your roles? Do you work both sides of the brain when you’re the publisher and the chief creative officer? Do you have to change hats or does it just come naturally to you?

Richard Klein: I studied architecture and graphic design as well. When I launched Surface magazine; I launched it as the creative director, but I think in publishing, when you are a staff of a dozen, or less than 20 people, everybody wears a lot of different hats. Maer and I were in New York recently, visiting a number of different partners and advertisers, and focused very much on the business side of things. We both have a clear vision of what the aesthetic of the brand should be; what image-makers we want to work with. While it’s left-lane, right-lane in one sense, they both go hand-in-hand and are very much a brand ambassador to FourTwoNine.

Samir Husni: In the case of the print magazine, I noticed that with the first issue you had different covers; with the second issue, you had three covers that you edited. What’s the strategy behind the multiple covers of the same issue?

Maer Roshan: It’s a general interest magazine in some ways, which is a rarity. It’s obviously a gay magazine, but under that umbrella, we cover fashion; we cover personalities, and many other topics. And what that allows us to do is to showcase different elements of what we’re doing to the different audiences that we have. It’s all tied together by sensibility and point of view, but there are some people who are really interested in one thing and some who are interested in another, so we try and showcase different elements within the magazine that will hopefully resonate with different audiences.

Samir Husni: There is a lot of buzz around these new types of magazines that look like a journal, but read like a magazine. They have the high cover price and the connectivity with the audience; can those types of magazines overtake the industry?

Maer Roshan: I’m glad that you just said that, because there’s one point that I’ve been wanting to make as well, which is, and this is something that I think makes us new, and from just looking at other magazines that are like that, the ones that charge a lot of money and stay longer on the newsstand or are a coffee table magazine, those are not very vital, up-to-date, or in the moment. A lot of times, their content could be from last year and you wouldn’t know, because it’s kind of vague and not trying to keep up with the moment.

And if you look through our issue, we’re as up-to-date as possible. And part of that is because we keep our deadlines really, really late, before we go to press, precisely because we want to stay in the moment. It gives you this rare combination of really good production values and coffee table quality, but most of the content is vital and makes news. Looking at newsstands, which I obviously did a lot before starting this venture, there’s not a lot of magazines that provide both of those things. And that’s what made me interested in this project.

Samir Husni: When I picked up Issue #9 and then Issue #10, the magazine that comes to mind more than anything else is Monocle. I don’t know whether it’s the combination of glossy and matte paper or the design; am I way off here?

Maer Roshan: I could see where you would say that. What you should look at as maybe a better example is Monitor. I like Monocle a lot; it’s very packaged and glib. I’m hoping that we’re less that. When I hold Monocle, I love what it says about me, but I’m not sure that I would be an avid reader of the magazine. Does that make any sense?

Samir Husni: Yes.

Richard Klein: “Monocle” is such an iconic brand today, and you mention Monocle to somebody and they know exactly who the reader is and where the magazine fits in the landscape. And I think that’s really important for what we’re doing too. And while we’re a print magazine and events and the website; we’re really creating this brand. And when someone picks it up or we talk about FourTwoNine, we know who we are.

Maer Roshan: “Monocle” also seems a bit earnest to me at times. I think that we take a little bit more liberties and that’s because of our content and our audience. We have a little bit more of a point of view. But it’s beautiful and very well-conceived and put together. And it’s a compliment for you to compare us to it.

Samir Husni: To me, Maer, FourTwoNine is one of the best magazines that you have created so far.

Maer Roshan: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Richard, what is the origin of the name FourTwoNine? It isn’t the area code.

Richard Klein: The number 429 on the telephone keypad spells GAY. So, when we launched the social network, we wanted to create a name that wasn’t hitting you over the head, but it was kind of like a handshake, if you will.

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

Maer Roshan: I think we covered everything; the combination of things that we’re doing. The fact that it’s not just in one sphere, it’s all these different spheres at once.

Richard Klein: I think the only thing that we really didn’t touch on is the West Coast sensibility.

Maer Roshan: Oh, thanks. You know me, I’ve been an East Coast boy for many years, and then I moved to the West, along with a lot of other people. Back in the day, you would have gone to L.A. and thought of it as kind of a second-rate version of New York, but that has changed. Particularly with the political energies; the cultural energy, there has been a big shift westward.

And while we’re a national magazine, I kind of look at it like when I was in New York, working for “Talk” or “Vanity Fair.” You covered the nation, but it was from a distinct New York/East Coast sensibility. It’s kind of amazing to me how few magazines are like this, are rooted in the West Coast ideas and values, but cover the world from that. It’s not really a regional magazine, but takes the best of what the cultures are doing on this coast and magnifies it in coverage and everything else.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at either of your houses unexpectedly one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading a book; watching TV; cooking; having a glass of wine; or something else?

Maer Roshan: That’s an interesting question; I would be working. (Laughs) Funny enough, recently, I was on my way home and I drove by this theatre here; the Director’s Guild, and I wondered what was going on there. As it turned out, that was where James Comey was supposed to speak. And so I called one of our reporters and told him that he had to get there, because that was where he was supposed to be. So, we both found our way into this place. (Laughs) Most of the reporters were waiting outside, but we were saying that we might possibly want to join the FBI, so they ended up letting us in and then I got kicked out. (Laughs again) They checked my ID. But my reporter went in and I think we were one of the only people to be reporting from the actual location of where James Comey was supposed to be. And it’s on our website now.

I go out with friends and try to keep up with the culture, because that’s my job, but also because I love it. A lot of it goes into the things that excite me, and that ends up making me a good editor, I think. Curiosity brings a lot of different stuff. I try to keep up with all the appointments, television, things like that. I still read books, because I’m old school that way. And I hang out with friends.

Richard Klein: I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco a year and a half ago. And I’m exploring the city almost every night. But as I said, we do a ton of events. And there’s always something going on in Los Angeles. We have a really close relationship with Soho House. There’s seems to always be an event or a talk going on at Soho House. A friend of mine just launched a gallery; a kind of popup gallery at her loft. There is literally always a major event going on in Los Angeles. It’s a lot of friends and things are popping up all over the place here.

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

Richard Klein: There are a lot of things that keep me up at night. (Laughs) If you’re asking what my worries are; we are holding this with a very careful team. We’re kind of in the throe of that, while we’re starting to see really great traction. It’s still quite a bit of work. But we’re keeping at it. And then just the issue of how to keep us alive. But, as I said, we’re getting it and it’s going well.

Maer Roshan: Donald Trump. (Laughs) That’s about it. But I wake up every morning excited about being a journalist, so for that, I guess I should thank him.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Esquire Magazine: Reanimating Traditions For The 21st Century And Setting A Course For New Seas In A World Where Being Fashionable Isn’t Just About What You Wear – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jay Fielden, Editor In Chief, Esquire Magazine…

March 6, 2017

march-newsstand-cover“I feel we should be publishing fiction. And I doubted that when I first got here, but I know in my heart that’s something that is very important to Esquire. In the same way that appetites come and go, trends come and go, rules about what you should and shouldn’t do with magazines come and go; I don’t think that we should let go of certain things that maybe didn’t work so well 15 years ago that could work again, depending on how you do it, how you frame it and what the look and feel of that thing is. And that’s what’s exciting to me. To realize that you can reanimate traditions as long as you’re clever enough to give it new life. And that’s what we spend a lot of our time doing.” Jay Fielden…

“I really think that we need the push and pull of female voices and editors, filling the magazine with that kind of tension that makes it really interesting and makes the reader ask what’s going on here, this is fascinating and I’m really engrossed by what the magazine is thinking. Tom Wolfe described it back in 1972 as the editors of Esquire hanging upside-down from the ceiling. There’s something to that; it’s very Wolfian, but I think it’s accurate. You get a vision of something that’s fun and funny, a bit cabaret-like; I want people to not only have fun when they look at the magazine, but to know that we’re having fun.” Jay Fielden…

For most of its illustrious life, Esquire magazine has always been the handbook for men who wanted to be “fashionable.” Since it drew its first breath in 1933, the publication has set the bar for men’s magazines, from literary giants who clamored to be featured between its covers; to the nattiest dressed and most dashing men who ever stepped off the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, the magazine hit the heart of manhood dead center.

Today, it’s the 21st century and being fashionable involves much more than a perfectly-cut Armani suit, although that is still a part of what Esquire’s DNA is all about. But other aspects, even past facets of the magazine, such as literary prose and fiction, are something that Editor in Chief, Jay Fielden wants to bring back to the newly reimagined Esquire, which hit newsstands this month. The new Esquire features a full redesign, including a larger trim size and a new logo, which was inspired by Esquire’s classic era, but recut to give it a feel for today.

Since the tragic fire a few years ago, where Jay and his family lost just about everything material, Jay said that he had discovered there were many, many things more important than his lifestyle, first and foremost, his family, but also not being afraid to take risks when it came to life. And that aversion to timidity also includes his role as Esquire’s editor in chief. Having an upstart sensibility, as he put it, and a fearlessness to take on new and exciting contemporary themes, while paying honor to the “Golden Age” of Esquire is something that he’s introduced and plans on continuing to showcase as he takes the magazine to another “age.” The one that utilizes the legacy of the magazine to create, what journalist, Tom Wolfe once described when talking about Esquire as that “hang upside-down from the ceiling” sense of surprise, excitement and delight.

And speaking of delight, Mr. Magazine™ was delighted himself that Jay had past ties with Oxford, Miss. where Mr. Magazine™ lives and works, as Jay’s family lived in Memphis, and his father actually resided in Oxford for a while. It is a small world, after all!

And now, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who is both dynamically in charge and humbly fearless about it, Jay Fielden, editor in chief, Esquire magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

ESBOn why he thinks people care about yesterday when it comes to magazine content, rather than just the present: That’s a great question and a complicated one, I think, because many things come to mind when I think about that. And certainly, first of all, there aren’t that many magazines where that’s the case. There are probably two or three that people seem to have a very vivid sense of what was and can even associate specific stories, writers, cover subjects, photographers to that period. And once someone is able to do that, you know they’re not just reaching at an abstract notion of tone or something that used to exist. And I think that’s very true. And one reason is because it’s a very unusual thing for a magazine to be decade in and decade out as consistently good at being relevant to its readers and to the culture of the world as Esquire has been.

On how he, as an editor, acts as creator and curator of all of the information that’s out there as he introduces the new Esquire to the market: Well, you’re always learning and I think that’s definitely key. Each magazine that I’ve been at, in a certain way, I’ve been prepared to take it over. And I don’t mean that in a boastful way, but I’ve also had to change my habits and reorient the way that I spend my time and think about all of the things you’re asking me. (Laughs) How are we going to digest so much information that’s out there? How am I going to create a staff in which we are able to divide things up and make sure that we all have a very clear sense of what we think the pillars of interest are in the magazine, so that we’re absolutely not missing anything when it comes to those things.

On who would be standing before him if he struck Esquire with a magic wand that could instantly turn the magazine into a human being: That’s an interesting question. I was once watching an interview that Charlie Rose did with Quentin Tarantino from the late ‘90s, around the time of “Pulp Fiction” and Charlie Rose asked the inevitable question: Who is the viewer that you have in mind when you make your movies, and Tarantino said, it’s me. (Laughs again) He added that he knew other people would see the movie, but he had to start with himself first. And I believe that’s very true. When I got this job there were a number of people that I was very close to, people who have been mentors in the past, people I had worked with at The New Yorker or at Condé Nast, or other places, or people who just knew me, they said just make sure that you trust your instincts. So, yes, if Esquire became a person, it has to be me.

On how the tragic fire where he almost lost all of his material belongings impacted him as an editor: There are moments where I would hate to see that happen again, but I think it gave me a kind of resilience and something to rely on. If I get into a moment where I’m not pushing myself hard enough or saying that something might not lead to the right place if I do that, or that might not be great for my job; I’m just really immediately able to remember that moment and say, that’s not the way that I want to be living my life and that’s not the way that I want to be editing a magazine. I want to be as fearless as I can be about it, and as much of an upstart that you can be. Don’t ever fall back into the comfort of trying to hold onto your possessions for the sake of that alone.

On is most intriguing experience so far in his career: Esquire is the crown. This one demands all of the different things I learned over the years and now know. It brings out everything I ever thought of studying and thinking about when I was at The New Yorker. It brings out all of the visual design, and tastes of the kind of questions that I learned to ask at Men’s Vogue. It requires the kind of ambidextrous editing that I learned at Town & Country. With Esquire, I don’t feel like there’s some part of me that isn’t fully engaged.

On how Esquire has always found balance for its male and female readers: It’s certainly a men’s magazine, but I realized very quickly, when we look back at that Golden Age, to me it didn’t have such a male identity that it would have been placed next to Playboy. And I don’t just mean because it didn’t have nudity; it didn’t feel chauvinist or Don Draper-ish, you know? It still had people like Nora Ephron, Joan Didion and Joy Williams writing for the magazine. The fact that it was one of the great literary magazines going, along with The New Yorker, allowed it to create a whole community of writers and voices, and therefore I think that the readers mirrored the diversity of that community too.

Esquire-cover April 1967On whether there will be another cover like the 1967 on of the “Holy Kennedy’s,” only featuring the “Holy Trumps”: I think you’re going to see some things that feels very animated by that spirit, but doesn’t seem as though it’s slavishly trying to recreate the past. The reason that we look back at those covers too is because of what they feel like; it’s not because of what they were actually about, but what they feel like. What they suggest and the creativity of them. And again, kind of like this “hang upside-down from the ceiling” sense of who created them.

On the cover image being an actual idea and story in itself: It’s not just about making the guy look good and having a handsome picture. And that’s hard to do too. I’m not looking down on that, because believe me, that can be very hard to do. But that’s just what you might call the lazy man’s approach to a magazine cover. It’s not breaking the mold. We’re living in a moment where the newsstand is not what it once was, so that’s all the more reason to break the mold again.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: Fighting, for sure; I have three kids. (Laughs) I like to cook, so if I get home early enough I can blow off steam if I need to by cooking. That seems to get my mind onto one particular thing that blocks out all of the rest, and it’s very enjoyable. Of course, I’m pulled into everything that my kids are doing; I have a 14-year-old boy, two girls who are 11 and 8, so there is lots of violin practice and too many video games to fight about. And there is always a nice glass of wine, that’s for sure.

On what keeps him up at night: I’ll wake up in a sweat thinking, I haven’t dealt with the literary part of it, or the fiction, or the memoir piece; the profiles; the practical part of the magazine that will appeal to people wanting to know how to live a better life, whether it’s health or money or psychological advantages that you can have in your work. Esquire has done all of that and it’s also a magazine that is filled with pictures, so it’s a lot of plates spinning in the air, and whenever one of those plates falls off and crashes to the ground that’s when I wake up.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jay Fielden, editor in chief, Esquire.

Samir Husni: You just reinvented Esquire for the 21st century man and woman.

Jay Fielden: Yes.

Samir Husni: People always refer to the early years of Esquire as the “Golden Age,” why do you think readers care about yesterday rather than just now?

ESQ030117CoverGateFold_SUBS.pdfJay Fielden: That’s a great question and a complicated one, I think, because many things come to mind when I think about that. And certainly, first of all, there aren’t that many magazines where that’s the case. There are probably two or three that people seem to have a very vivid sense of what was and can even associate specific stories, writers, cover subjects, photographers to that period. And once someone is able to do that, you know they’re not just reaching at an abstract notion of tone or something that used to exist. And I think that’s very true.

And one reason is because it’s a very unusual thing for a magazine to be decade in and decade out as consistently good at being relevant to its readers and to the culture of the world as Esquire has been. And when you refer to the “Golden Age,” and I assume you mean the ‘60s and glances at the ‘30s and ‘40s, when Fitzgerald or Hemingway were in there; I think there is a tremendous interest in nostalgia right now and especially nostalgia of a kind that doesn’t simply feel that it’s for its own sake.

For instance, we’re considering how we might use the archives more and more, and I think that there’s a real legitimate argument to be made that if you can go back and pluck out pieces written 20 or 30 years ago that somehow bear directly on something that’s going on now, something that almost feels like it’s a forerunner to what is happening in the world today, then there’s a reason that we can maybe republish those pieces in the magazine.

It’s just an interesting moment, and one that wouldn’t have been considered at one time by any magazine, to republish something, but now there are so many other forms of media that do exactly that sort of thing. And when they give it the proper frame, it seems to work. And we want to investigate that, because I sense as you do, that there is tremendous interest in what Esquire has done and in what it’s doing.

Samir Husni: I was reading an article recently from an Esquire issue dated 1967 about a transsexual person who was in the army; so these topics that are timely today have been around for a long time.

Jay Fielden: Yes, some of these issues have always been around, but today feel like they’ve been amped up, such as what form is a women’s movement taking right now; what form is a men’s movement taking? The issue of gender orientation; the intense flare-ups in race relations; the obvious, tremendous friction, circus-like atmosphere in Washington, so many of these things feel like they were the topics of the era that would be called the “Golden Age” of Esquire, such as the issue from 1967 that you mentioned about a transsexual in the army.

It’s interesting to go back and look at what they had to say about those things then at a moment where we’re going through a lot of the reanimations of those ideas in such an intense way right now.

Samir Husni: From looking at a picture of you that has you in your office, you strike me as an editor who reads.

Jay Fielden: (Laughs) I’m glad that comes across. Yes, I do read. In fact, I wish that I could read even more. I often feel guilty for having a television set at home.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too). If I could go inside your brain, inside the mind of a great magazine maker, you hear people say that we are bombarded by information today; how do you act as the creator and curator of all of that information as you introduce the new Esquire?

Jay Fielden: Well, you’re always learning and I think that’s definitely key. Each magazine that I’ve been at, in a certain way, I’ve been prepared to take it over. And I don’t mean that in a boastful way, but I’ve also had to change my habits and reorient the way that I spend my time and think about all of the things you’re asking me. (Laughs) How are we going to digest so much information that’s out there? How am I going to create a staff in which we are able to divide things up and make sure that we all have a very clear sense of what we think the pillars of interest are in the magazine, so that we’re absolutely not missing anything when it comes to those things.

But this being a general interest magazine, really read very widely and deeply, we’re always looking for that next, fresh theme of story ideas, profile ideas and reporting ideas that will give the magazine that feeling of surprise, delight and animation.

It’s a great question, and how do I do it? I do it with the team, for sure. We all have to bear that burden together; there’s no way one person can sift through all of the stuff that’s out there. In some ways, maybe it’s a counterintuitive thing, you have to limit, to a certain extent, the pure garden-hose variety of information that comes into your life, so that you can sometimes shut that off and go down a rabbit hole or two.

I was having this thought the other day; I’m definitely a person who reads a number of newspapers every day, but lately I’ve been wondering is that really the best way to stimulate my creativity? Is that old habit something that makes me feel like I’m up-to-date or like I’ve checked that box that day, but is it really leading me to the kind of consequential, unusual stories that I really crave for Esquire to contain? Each of those habits that you form, those things that have given you gold in the past, may not be the things giving you gold anymore. We’re definitely living in a moment when, and as much as I love and respect The New York Times and enjoy, for the most part, reading it, it’s not the only place to go for a great story idea, or a glance at something that might lead to a story idea.

I’m also always on the hunt for that other source of information site, magazine, literary journal, or personality that will give me a new look at a landscape I may have not been looking at before.

Samir Husni: If I handed you a magic wand that could instantly turn Esquire into a living, breathing human being and you struck the magazine with that wand, who would immediately be standing before you? Instead of a magazine in my mailbox, I would have a person show up at my door to create that conversation. Would it be Jay Fielden?

Jay Fielden: (Laughs) That’s an interesting question. I was once watching an interview that Charlie Rose did with Quentin Tarantino from the late ‘90s, around the time of “Pulp Fiction” and Charlie Rose asked the inevitable question: Who is the viewer that you have in mind when you make your movies, and Tarantino said, it’s me. (Laughs again) He added that he knew other people would see the movie, but he had to start with himself first.

And I believe that’s very true. When I got this job there were a number of people that I was very close to, people who have been mentors in the past, people I had worked with at The New Yorker or at Condé Nast, or other places, or people who just knew me, they said just make sure that you trust your instincts. You have the instincts, so make sure you don’t get swayed by someone who thinks they know better. Now, I don’t mean that I do not collaborate with a lot of people or that I don’t listen to other people, but I think you do have to kind of live or die according to your own instincts, and if you do die, you want to be able to look back and say, I followed the instinct that I felt was right. At that point, you can’t blame it on anyone but yourself. So, yes, if Esquire became a person, it has to be me.

There’s a quote I like from Churchill when he stepped back into his office at the beginning of World War II that goes: “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial…” And I feel like that for sure. I don’t know if it’s destiny (Laughs), but I feel like things that I’ve done have built a road all the way to the chair that I’m now sitting in. There are days that I have to remind myself, go in there and follow what it is you feel is the right thing to do, the right tone to take, the right kinds of pieces to put in the magazine.

For instance, I feel we should be publishing fiction. And I doubted that when I first got here, but I know in my heart that’s something that is very important to Esquire. In the same way that appetites come and go, trends come and go, rules about what you should and shouldn’t do with magazines come and go; I don’t think that we should let go of certain things that maybe didn’t work so well 15 years ago that could work again, depending on how you do it, how you frame it and what the look and feel of that thing is. And that’s what’s exciting to me. To realize that you can reanimate traditions as long as you’re clever enough to give it new life. And that’s what we spend a lot of our time doing.

Samir Husni: I was reading some background about you and I read about the tragic fire where you almost lost everything; all your material belongings. How did that impact you as an editor?

Jay Fielden: I have to make the point that was right after the most intense part of the financial crisis too, so there was a feeling of just not knowing what was going to happen in whatever industry you might be in, especially magazines, they felt very frozen and fragile. And I wondered would I ever go back to a magazine. It was a scary moment, and not having a job at a time when you go through an experience like losing a house and the things in it; you’re obviously thinking about how long can we get by without a job (Laughs), and you’re looking at your bank account.

And then suddenly you go into this mode of rebuilding a house and it’s almost the opposite of that. The insurance company is handing you checks and you’re looking at buying things again, wallpaper, sofas; things that two months ago you felt like you would need to be selling in order to keep going if you didn’t have a job. So, it was a very whip-saw moment to go through and I think what it really taught me was to not fall so in love with your lifestyle that you will do anything to maintain it, rather than take on the risks of the things that you really want to pursue. If I could live without my house and my things, as long as I have my family and that everybody survived, which is the key, I now know that I can survive without those things.

There are moments where I would hate to see that happen again, but I think it gave me a kind of resilience and something to rely on. If I get into a moment where I’m not pushing myself hard enough or saying that something might not lead to the right place if I do that, or that might not be great for my job; I’m just really immediately able to remember that moment and say, that’s not the way that I want to be living my life and that’s not the way that I want to be editing a magazine. I want to be as fearless as I can be about it, and as much of an upstart that you can be. Don’t ever fall back into the comfort of trying to hold onto your possessions for the sake of that alone.

Samir Husni: You’ve been editor in chief now for three major magazines, Men’s Vogue, Town & Country and now Esquire, and forgive me if I’m leaving any out, but those are the three that come to mind. So far, what has been the most intriguing moment in your career; launching a new magazine like Men’s Vogue, or reinventing Town & Country, or reinventing Esquire?

Jay Fielden: They’ve all been fascinating. Certainly, this has taken everything I’ve got, and it continues to. In that way, the level of satisfaction in editing Esquire is off the charts, and grows each day.

When it came to Men’s Vogue, obviously the experience of working with Anna (Wintour) and figuring out what the men’s version of a magazine as famous and as iconic as Vogue and so associated with women, would be. It was fascinating and fun and a great looking magazine that I’m very proud of. It’s where I learned so much about the world of style and the worldliness and level of taste that is so represented by Vogue. That was an exciting and great experience.

And Town & Country was probably great and exciting because it was so unexpected. I don’t know that I ever considered Men’s Vogue would lead to Town & Country. I always knew if I was at Men’s Vogue, there might be Esquire and some others; I was in that pool. And I thought of Esquire many times. As much as I liked what I was doing, I couldn’t help but think about a magazine with the iconic status of Esquire.

But then I went to Town & Country and I deeply loved that experience too, because I do have some strange ability to, or at least the experience of having been at a women’s magazine, that I could kind of create a hybrid book. And Town & Country is intrinsically that kind of thing. It leans female, but it’s got a male sensibility to it. That was very exciting and great, and being able to go into a rarefied world, that yet is full of a lot of interesting stories about how the American establishment works, meaning powerful, moneyed people who control a lot more than you might at first imagine; it was a great experience.

But Esquire is the crown. This one demands all of the different things I learned over the years and now know. It brings out everything I ever thought of studying and thinking about when I was at The New Yorker. It brings out all of the visual design, and tastes of the kind of questions that I learned to ask at Men’s Vogue. It requires the kind of ambidextrous editing that I learned at Town & Country. With Esquire, I don’t feel like there’s some part of me that isn’t fully engaged.

Samir Husni: How do you continue to balance Esquire for your male and female readers?

Jay Fielden: It’s certainly a men’s magazine, but I realized very quickly, when we look back at that Golden Age, to me it didn’t have such a male identity that it would have been placed next to Playboy. And I don’t just mean because it didn’t have nudity; it didn’t feel chauvinist or Don Draper-ish, you know? It still had people like Nora Ephron, Joan Didion and Joy Williams writing for the magazine. The fact that it was one of the great literary magazines going, along with The New Yorker, it created a whole community of writers and voices, and therefore I think that the readers mirrored the diversity of that community too. And that included diversity in the writers, in terms of black, white, etc.

That to me is a great strength that is timeless, especially in a moment like now. It seems to me that it’s backward-looking to want to be too reflective of one gender. To the point that I think even that one gender might get a little freaked out. (Laughs) It might make them feel like they’re in an isolation chamber. I just think it’s more fun and interesting, and it’s more of a reflection of how we all live our lives. Certainly, I’m not going to do pieces about couture for women; the fashion will be largely for men’s fashion. Will there sometimes be women who are in those shoots and might be wearing clothes, yes. And when they are, I think the level of what those women would be wearing should be as knowledgeable as what the men have on.

I really think that we need the push and pull of female voices and editors, filling the magazine with that kind of tension that makes it really interesting and makes the reader ask what’s going on here, this is fascinating and I’m really engrossed by what the magazine is thinking. Tom Wolfe described it back in 1972 as the editors of Esquire hanging upside-down from the ceiling. There’s something to that; it’s very Wolfian, but I think it’s accurate. You get a vision of something that’s fun and funny, a bit cabaret-like; I want people to not only have fun when they look at the magazine, but to know that we’re having fun.

One of my greatest challenges is, in a weird way, being able to answer a question honestly, which I get all the time, “Are you having fun?” I think when you first take over a magazine; I don’t know how much fun you’re having, to be honest with you. (Laughs) It’s a lot of work, and you’re worried about being worthy of the work you’ve been given. So, fun is a hard thing to find, but I had lunch with Frank Bennack right after I got the job, and he gave me a very good piece of advice, which was, you have to find a way to have fun. If you don’t have fun, it will show up in the magazine. And I think he was very right about that.

You have to get to a point where, yes, at the beginning, you go through staff changes and redesigns and you look for new writers and deal with the hair-raising experience of not knowing how much to assign for the next issue, which we’re still kind of in that mode to a certain extent. There’s a lot of stuff that’s just dyspeptic about the process, but I think right now, having gotten that March issue out and having the redesign out there, and with starting to get a sense for the number of writers and photographers that we have, finding out who our people are and who the family is, and reconnecting with some of the very important voices of the past to feel that depth of knowledge, well, it feels like fun now. And the more fun it is, the more fun the magazine will be. And that’s a great feeling.

Samir Husni: Since you’re having so much fun, do you think we’ll ever see a cover like the one in 1967 with the “Holy Kennedy’s” by Gore Vidal? Will we see the “Holy Trumps?”

Jay Fielden: (Laughs) I think you’re going to see some things that feels very animated by that spirit, but doesn’t seem as though it’s slavishly trying to recreate the past. The reason that we look back at those covers too is because of what they feel like; it’s not because of what they were actually about, but what they feel like. What they suggest and the creativity of them. And again, kind of like this “hang upside-down from the ceiling” sense of who created them.

And they’re also original and charming, and they’re sharp, witty and ironic. And I think all of those things very much have to live in the magazine today. Not to say that they haven’t been, in one form or another, but to bring them sharply together and to have the guts to push the covers, yes, I want to go back to what I said about what the fire taught me. Not to be timid, but to be completely strong about pushing the limits of what it is we should do, and to take real risks.

I don’t know if you saw the Pharrell Williams cover that we did of him holding the balloon. I think that cover has that feeling, a slight melancholy wit to it. It’s an unusual cover. But this is a “glossy” magazine, we take pictures of guys and they’re usually wearing clothes that we’ve put on them, so there is a kind of hangover that it always has to be a hot celebrity and that guy has to be a craggy, great-looking hunk, and then dust off your hands and move to the center of the book. I think there’s plenty of reason to do stuff like that, it’s valuable, especially when you pick the right guys who have something going on. But, like the Corden cover, you just need to get guys who are also from a different walk of life and who can represent something different. And then do something different with them that just isn’t an earnest attempt at taking a beautiful picture of someone.

Samir Husni: That’s what I felt with the new Esquire; the cover image is a story by itself.

Jay Fielden: Yes, it’s an idea. It’s not just about making the guy look good and having a handsome picture. And that’s hard to do too. I’m not looking down on that, because believe me, that can be very hard to do. But that’s just what you might call the lazy man’s approach to a magazine cover. It’s not breaking the mold. We’re living in a moment where the newsstand is not what it once was, so that’s all the more reason to break the mold again.

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

Jay Fielden: Fighting, for sure; I have three kids. (Laughs) I like to cook, so if I get home early enough I can blow off steam if I need to by cooking. That seems to get my mind onto one particular thing that blocks out all of the rest, and it’s very enjoyable. Of course, I’m pulled into everything that my kids are doing; I have a 14-year-old boy, two girls who are 11 and 8, so there is lots of violin practice and too many video games to fight about. And there is always a nice glass of wine, that’s for sure.

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

Jay Fielden: I would say the overall goal of being worthy of the mission. I know that sounds very earnest, but I mean it in the sense of being hyper aware of the editors who have sat in this chair before, from Harold Hayes to David Granger, and the personal stamp that they put on the magazine.

And yet, as I said at the very beginning, it was held to this Uber standard and has been able to hold onto all the strands that make Esquire what it is today, and make it relevant in its own time and place. That keeps me up, in the sense that I’ll say, yes, I’ve got this part kind of settled. I know what these four pieces about this particular subject are and yes, I’m going to feel good about that, because the next issue is going to stand up its tent pole and not fall down.

Of course, I’ll wake up in a sweat thinking, I haven’t dealt with the literary part of it, or the fiction, or the memoir piece; the profiles; the practical part of the magazine that will appeal to people wanting to know how to live a better life, whether it’s health or money or psychological advantages that you can have in your work. Esquire has done all of that and it’s also a magazine that is filled with pictures, so it’s a lot of plates spinning in the air, and whenever one of those plates falls off and crashes to the ground that’s when I wake up.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education Celebrates Its Milestone 50 – While Still Keeping An Eye On Washington & An Eye On Academia – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Liz McMillen, Editor, The Chronicle Of Higher Education.

November 15, 2016

che-anthology-cover

“I think we really had to have some soul-searching and grappling in the past year about whether or not it’s possible to produce a news publication in a weekly format. And we decided that it was not. That news, as conventionally understood, can’t be done in a weekly format anymore. So, what we’re trying to do with the print edition is make it something that’s not news, but that is still enormously valuable to our readers. For 50 years we’ve had to continually define what news means; what does the key news and information mean for our audience?” Liz McMillen

For 50 years, in the world of Washington D.C. and the realms of academia, there has been a “watchdog” standing on every corner when it comes to issues that pertain to higher education and policies of government that are relevant to that sphere – that keeper of checks and balances is The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education was officially founded in 1966 by Corbin Gwaltney and its first issue was launched on November 23, 1966. And although it was originally founded for those who were professionally connected to higher education, it was also then a prevalent point that many in the general populace knew very little about what was going on in the world of academia or the issues that were involved there.

Today, the Chronicle is celebrating 50 years of publishing excellence and is still keeping a close watch on the powers-that-be in Washington, namely our new presidential team, and on the diverse and often complex world of universities and colleges all over the nation. With the uncertainty of a new presidency and the current issues that campuses are experiencing, the Chronicle continues to maintain its journalistic principles of quality, while also never drawing a long breath, as its reason for existence is even more important today than it was 50 years ago in the mid-‘60s.

First issue of The Chronicle

First issue of The Chronicle

Liz McMillen is the editor  of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and for the last five years since assuming that role, Liz has been guiding the helm of the milestone publication, keeping it on track and on its 50-year mission of producing great journalism about every facet of American colleges and universities.

I spoke with Liz recently and we talked about the Chronicle’s past, present and future in this unprecedented era of ever-changing media and political upheaval. From the ‘60s to today, the publication has seen many presidencies and many academic changes that have made it reach and grow, both in print – with a recent redesign – and digitally, as it keeps up with the fast-paced world of real time.

I hope that you enjoy this look into the world of higher education and the political domains that tend to affect those hallowed halls as you read the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz McMillen, editor, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

But first the sound-bites:

Liz McMillen photo by Jay Premack

Liz McMillen photo by Jay Premack

On whether she feels the The Chronicle of Higher Education has kept up with the times over its 50-year publishing history: There has been a remarkable amount of change and transformation in higher education over the last 50 years and we have tried to be there every step of the way monitoring what’s happening and trying to explain this complicated transformation, as well as a complicated sector of institutions to this audience, so it has kept us busy.On how they are preparing for the new presidential administration and the changes in education that may come along with it: We’ve seen a lot of presidential administrations; we’ve seen previous Republican administrations with the same kind of vow to do away with the Department of Education and other sorts of things. Like everybody else in the world, we’re trying to figure out exactly what shape this is all going to take. But we have very experienced journalists here who have covered policy and presidential changes for years. We have many, many years of experience. We once tried to put together the collective number of years that all of our reporters represented, and it’s well into the hundreds, so they know what they’re doing. And they have a plan for trying to have a very policy-based focused group of reporters for the foreseeable future, until things become clearer.

On whether she feels the role of “watchdog” that the Chronicle has always played is more important than ever in this digital age: Yes, absolutely. I keep coming back to this point about how diverse the institutions are that make up the higher education sector. And we have a lot of ground to cover. You’ve probably heard a lot in the last year or two about the problems with the “for-profit” sector. That just came up in the last couple of decades, the growth of those institutions. That’s something that we’ve had to pay a lot of attention to. And I mentioned the sexual assault problems that have come up. You’ve got so many different kinds of people; it’s our responsibility to try and find the common themes and the issues that are going to be relevant to them. So, I think that there’s so much information coming at people right now and they need a very trusted and reliable, authoritative source to really decipher a very changing sector. As this world has gotten so much more complex, our mission has become more important than ever.

The newly redesigned Chronicle...

The newly redesigned Chronicle…

On how she decides as an editor, what’s a print story and what’s a digital story: A very good question, and one that we’ve been working on for the last two or three years, in terms of what’s the right staff configuration for that. We have a newsroom of about 65 people: editors, designers, journalists; you can ask them all to do everything, and that’s not going to really work. Two years ago we actually went through a pretty serious staff reorganization, where we carved out a group of editors and reporters who are going to be very digital-first. And that was their marching orders, what they needed to do.On the differences in benefits between the sites licensed reader and the digital subscriber reader on the Chronicle’s online presence: In addition to creating a different sort of feel for print, we’re also trying to differentiate the individual subscriber and what that person gets, and there are a new set of benefits that that person gets, versus the thousands of people who read us on site licenses. And don’t get me wrong, site licenses are a fabulous development for us; it brings our content and the complete contents of the web to your entire university, so anybody on a university computer can be viewing the Chronicle. But we do think it’s important to put a certain kind of reader who counts first. And the readers who really count for us are the individual subscribers. There are a number of publications that have been pursuing this path and we’ve had loyal readers subscribing to us for 30, 40 and 50 years and they’re incredibly loyal, so we have steadily moved our business model to where we are focusing as much as possible on those subscribers.

On the biggest stumbling block that she’s had to overcome since becoming editor five years ago: I don’t know that it’s so much of a stumbling block per se, but I would say that it’s a continued challenge and sometimes we deal with it better than others. I have been referring to how diverse our audience is; you have faculty members at an Ivy League institution that have tenure and have full research budgets, complete with research assistants. Then down the road there is a community college with faculty who teach in a very, very different setting.

On her most pleasant moment since becoming editor: I would say that I experience a bit of it every day working with the people that I work with who are incredibly talented and very, very devoted. But I will say that just in the last week, just like every newsroom, on a Tuesday night at about 9:00 p.m. our breaking news staff had to turn on a dime and come up with a completely different cover plan about what a Trump presidency was going to mean for higher education. With the little knowledge that we have about what his platform actually entails.

On anything else she’d like to add: One of the things that we came to realize as we were doing our print redesign this year was the continuing evolving nature of what a news publication is. I think I mentioned at the beginning that there was no publication whatsoever, and we came out every other week at the beginning. We were an eight page tabloid newspaper, and over time we evolved into a weekly newspaper, and all through the ‘80s and ‘90s we were the only source of information and explanation for what was happening in the world. Of course, in the ‘90s the Internet came along and the whole notion of news became completely upended.

On how being within the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a type of legitimacy to those people and topics featured: It’s a big responsibility as we edit our pages, but when we write about something, whether it’s a problem or whether it’s a solution or just an insight, we are giving legitimacy on our pages. That is something that we’ve heard over and over again. Colleges want to be in our pages; there is almost a kind of display prestige to it, so we’re actually trying to think more thoughtfully about that, and we’re adding more data to the print issue that shows, for example, how colleges compare on different measures.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I can tell you that I have a very large stack of magazines in my living room; they’re always there and they cover the gamut with all kinds of interests. I’m a huge fan of magazines; I don’t think they’re ever going to go away, and I love reading them. I love the tactile sensation of them. But I’m also on the iPad, because at night you get the chance to kind of read around and see what other innovative outlets are doing. So, the iPad is a great thing for that.

On what keeps her up at night: Stepping back, when I was in college in the ‘80s, could I have predicted that we would be at this particular moment for media, or for that matter, for higher education? Who would have imagined when we were working on a college paper that so many publications would be struggling and gutting and transforming? So, I think we’re in a moment of continual change, continual evolution, and you just have to get comfortable with that and stay comfortable with it, because I don’t think that’s going away.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz McMillen, editor, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the 50th anniversary of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in journalism today. As you reach this milestone, a lot of changes have taken place, both in academia and in the magazine business. As you were developing that 50th anniversary anthology; how did the Chronicle keep up with the times; or do you think that you did, indeed, keep up with the times over the years?

che-anthology-coverLiz McMillen: That’s a really great question. The Chronicle started in 1966 and you think about what the world of journalism was like and what the world of higher education was like then. There was no such vehicle; no publication that actually told people on campuses what was happening in Washington and what new policies were coming along, and there were a lot in the 1960s. And then of course, all the student protests and campus unrest started very soon after, so the Chronicle arrived at a very auspicious moment for a publication that was poised to cover this sector. That was very much our reason for existence for probably that first decade.

But at the same time through all of that unrest, the colleges and universities in this country were starting to expand exponentially, not only the number of institutions, but the number of students enrolling in college, and most importantly the kinds of students coming in to college. And we have really seen that trend accelerate over time, so that today when you think of the traditional college-aged, 18 to 22-year-old student living in a dorm at a private college, that is no longer the norm; that is actually the exception of what a college student looks like today.

There has been a remarkable amount of change and transformation in higher education over the last 50 years and we have tried to be there every step of the way monitoring what’s happening and trying to explain this complicated transformation, as well as a complicated sector of institutions to this audience, so it has kept us busy.

Samir Husni: And now you’re probably getting ready to be even busier with the upcoming changes that are coming to education based on our new presidential elections. How are you preparing for the future, based on your 50-year history; where do we go from here?

Liz McMillen: We’ve seen a lot of presidential administrations; we’ve seen previous Republican administrations with the same kind of vow to do away with the Department of Education and other sorts of things. Like everybody else in the world, we’re trying to figure out exactly what shape this is all going to take.

I think Mr. Trump was rather vague (Laughs) during the campaign about what he wants to do exactly with higher education. It never seemed like it was a very big priority, but he has made noises about really ramping back and simplifying the Department of Education. There has been a big push for all of these regulations that are coming out of Washington affecting colleges, some of the big ones that I’m sure a lot of people know about, including Title 9 about sexual assault. That is very much up in the air, whether that level of enforcement will continue in a Trump administration, at least from the federal point of view. I think colleges, and we were just reporting last week; colleges have a responsibility to deal with sexual assault and to take steps to mitigate against that, even if the OCR (Office for Civil Rights) and the Department of Education does not. So, I think that there are suggestions on where he might go, but no clear answers yet.

But we have very experienced journalists here who have covered policy and presidential changes for years. We have many, many years of experience. We once tried to put together the collective number of years that all of our reporters represented, and it’s well into the hundreds, so they know what they’re doing. And they have a plan for trying to have a very policy-based focused group of reporters for the foreseeable future, until things become clearer.

Samir Husni: Do you see yourself, especially now in this digital age, and your role at the Chronicle as more important than ever since the Chronicle has always been a sort of “watchdog” of academia and education?

The Chronicle before the redesign...

The Chronicle before the redesign…

Liz McMillen: Yes, absolutely. I keep coming back to this point about how diverse the institutions are that make up the higher education sector. And we have a lot of ground to cover. You’ve probably heard a lot in the last year or two about the problems with the “for-profit” sector. That just came up in the last couple of decades, the growth of those institutions. That’s something that we’ve had to pay a lot of attention to. And I mentioned the sexual assault problems that have come up.

We have so many different kinds of institutions and we have so many different kinds of readers. You’ve got everything from people who teach at community colleges, a very different kind of field, teaching 4/4 schedules and teaching under-prepared students, all the way through the big flagship institutions like your own, to the Ivy League. You’ve got so many different kinds of people; it’s our responsibility to try and find the common themes and the issues that are going to be relevant to them. So, I think that there’s so much information coming at people right now and they need a very trusted and reliable, authoritative source to really decipher a very changing sector. As this world has gotten so much more complex, our mission has become more important than ever.

Samir Husni: How are you balancing between the print side and the digital side of the Chronicle? As an editor, how do you make the decision of what is a print story and what is a digital story?

Liz McMillen: A very good question, and one that we’ve been working on for the last two or three years, in terms of what’s the right staff configuration for that. We have a newsroom of about 65 people: editors, designers, journalists; you can ask them all to do everything, and that’s not going to really work. Two years ago we actually went through a pretty serious staff reorganization, where we carved out a group of editors and reporters who are going to be very digital-first. And that was their marching orders, what they needed to do.

In the past, digital had been a bit of an afterthought, in the sense that we would just put what was in the print paper online. In 2014, we really kind of broke that attachment and said we are going to treat this platform, the digital-mobile platform, as an important platform in its own right. And we have staffed appropriately for it and we are going to emphasize breaking news and we’re going to tell our audience what they need to know in that moment. We’re going to explain things that are happening right then and there and we’re going to have the metabolism of a very fast newsroom.

On the other side we created a group of people that we call the weekly team that are really working at a longer pace, which gives them the opportunity to do pieces that have a lot more depth; a lot more context; they take some of the same issues that the breaking team has done and sort of spins them out forward. What does that decision over at that institution really mean for other colleges like it? I think we have two really strong tracks of reporters pursuing different angles on similar issues. So, that’s the first thing we did.

In the last year or so we’ve created a digital products team, which works as a group of people from editorial and tech, marketing and business to come together and figure out how we’re going to keep our website evolving continuously and making it better for readers every single day. We never had anything like that before. Technological improvements used to take what felt like years to accomplish. And it probably was years. (Laughs) But now we have a dedicated group that can just say if they want to have a better data presentation or want a certain page to have a different header, or different calls to action on another page, we have the people in place to really make that happen.

And the final evolution, I would say, was that we’ve gone from taking the print publication 20 years ago, and just putting it onto the web, and there wasn’t a whole lot of thought put to that, to thinking that we would do a lot of digital-first stuff and put it into print, but that wasn’t a good solution. So, right now, at this moment, we’re launching, since it’s our 50th anniversary, we are trying very hard to think about both print and digital very intentionally, and to plan and cater to the strengths that each has to offer.

The newly redesigned Chronicle...

The newly redesigned Chronicle…

So, we’ve launched this redesigned print edition recently that’s really attempting to emphasize problem-solving journalism. This is something that we heard loud and clear from a number of subscribers – that they’re dealing with so many different things and that they are looking for insights and ways to deal with student retention issues or how to educate first generation students. They’re looking to find out what other institutions are doing; what works and what doesn’t. So, we’ve developed a whole new stream of content that attempts to answer those questions. And that’s something that print can do and do very well. Print can do context and depth and deep, explanatory reporting. And that’s what people are getting now; they’re getting a revamped print edition that we’re really happy with.

Samir Husni: I understand there is a difference between your individual subscribers and the site licenses that also exist, in terms of coverage. Can you talk a bit about that?

Liz McMillen: In addition to creating a different sort of feel for print, we’re also trying to differentiate the individual subscriber and what that person gets, and there are a new set of benefits that that person gets, versus the thousands of people who read us on site licenses. And don’t get me wrong, site licenses are a fabulous development for us; it brings our content and the complete contents of the web to your entire university, so anybody on a university computer can be viewing the Chronicle.

But we do think it’s important to put a certain kind of reader who counts first. And the readers who really count for us are the individual subscribers. There are a number of publications that have been pursuing this path and we’ve had loyal readers subscribing to us for 30, 40 and 50 years and they’re incredibly loyal, so we have steadily moved our business model to where we are focusing as much as possible on those subscribers. We’re not forgetting the site licenses, but the subscribers are really the people who are most loyal and those are who we want to serve as best as we can.

And there may be some changes coming to the site licenses as well down the road; there may be new features that we can offer those readers, but our first step was to figure out what we could do to bring more value to the individuals who subscribe to the Chronicle.

Samir Husni: Since you became editor five years ago, what has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to overcome?

Liz McMillen: I don’t know that it’s so much of a stumbling block per se, but I would say that it’s a continued challenge and sometimes we deal with it better than others. I have been referring to how diverse our audience is; you have faculty members at an Ivy League institution that have tenure and have full research budgets, complete with research assistants. Then down the road there is a community college with faculty who teach in a very, very different setting.

And at each institution you have administrators who are often seen as being at odds with faculty, so how do you write about and cover the major issues of the institution and not feel like you’re alienating one audience over another? If we write about an issue like the plight of adjunct faculty, which there are now millions in this country, that’s an issue that administrators have to deal with and if we take any kind of an advocacy type role in reporting about the adjunct faculty members, it doesn’t always sit quite the same way with administrators who have to manage a faculty workforce. These are complex issues and the academy is often a much politicized environment, as you probably know. You can write about a simple thing and find that you’ve fallen into a landmine.

And there are some issues like that. We just did a survey as part of the anniversary for our subscribers, asking should we being doing away with tenure, that kind of bedrock piece of academic freedom we have in this country that protects the academic and intellectual rights of faculty? Well, as you might imagine, 62 percent of the presidents that we talked to said that we should do away with tenure. I think it was 20-something percent of faculty. So, right there you have people at odds; you’ve got a very tight financial situation and there’s not a lot of new money coming into the system, so it’s strange. And I think that various constituent groups can be at odds, so navigating that as an editor and trying to find out what’s fair and useful; what’s going to serve readers of all sorts and over the course of a year can we feel like, yes, we have provided coverage that speaks to the issues of the executives at a campus, and yes, we’ve spoken to the issues of graduate students as well. So, there are a lot of different types of people to help.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most pleasant moment since you became editor?

Liz McMillen: I would say that I experience a bit of it every day working with the people that I work with who are incredibly talented and very, very devoted. But I will say that just in the last week, just like every newsroom, on a Tuesday night at about 9:00 p.m. our breaking news staff had to turn on a dime and come up with a completely different cover plan about what a Trump presidency was going to mean for higher education. With the little knowledge that we have about what his platform actually entails.

And they worked pretty much the entire night; they spun out a series of good stories, sketching these issues out, and then we followed in the next few days with some really good interpretive, explanatory journalism. Colleges and universities are now seen as part of the elite, and this election is kind of a repudiation of elite, so where does that leave us? What does that mean for core academic values and how are institutional leaders going to deal with that?

So, we keep looking for new angles to report that story and that all comes down to the smarts of my staff and the incredible expertise they have. They know this world; they don’t cover it the way a daily newspaper covers it. We dig in deep and we’re authoritative and we use data in the best way. My staff continues to impress and astonish me.

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

Liz McMillen: One of the things that we came to realize as we were doing our print redesign this year was the continuing evolving nature of what a news publication is. I think I mentioned at the beginning that there was no publication whatsoever, and we came out every other week at the beginning. We were an eight page tabloid newspaper, and over time we evolved into a weekly newspaper, and all through the ‘80s and ‘90s we were the only source of information and explanation for what was happening in the world. Of course, in the ‘90s the Internet came along and the whole notion of news became completely upended.

So, I think we really had to have some soul-searching and grappling in the past year about whether or not it’s possible to produce a news publication in a weekly format. And we decided that it was not. That news, as conventionally understood, can’t be done in a weekly format anymore. So, what we’re trying to do with the print edition is make it something that’s not news, but that is still enormously valuable to our readers. For 50 years we’ve had to continually define what news means; what does the key news and information mean for our audience?

And the Anthology that we’ve done for our 50th anniversary represents some of our finest reporting and writing, but also we were looking for issues that had a lasting meaning for the audience who picks this up, so I hope that it achieves that. I think that we covered a lot of bases with it and it was almost impossible to do. How many bound volumes that we went through over the summer.

Samir Husni: You know the thing about the Chronicle to me is that I’ve been featured and profiled many, many times, whether it has been the media-related reporting or the mass newspapers, but your piece (Liz McMillen was a reporter at the Chronicle in 1992) about me appeared in the March 4, 1992 Chronicle, it gave legitimacy to what I do, among my colleagues and my administration. Suddenly, it legitimized my niche in the profession of teaching in higher education as true academic work and research, although, it’s dealing with popular culture in magazines. The impact that you had on my career, from that headline to the front page quote, about my hobby becoming my education and my education becoming my profession; you captured it very, very well. For that, I thank you.

Liz McMillen: You speak to something that we know very well. It’s a big responsibility as we edit our pages, but when we write about something, whether it’s a problem or whether it’s a solution or just an insight, we are giving legitimacy on our pages. That is something that we’ve heard over and over again. Colleges want to be in our pages; there is almost a kind of display prestige to it, so we’re actually trying to think more thoughtfully about that, and we’re adding more data to the print issue that shows, for example, how colleges compare on different measures. We’re not talking about the rankings; we’re talking about which campuses have the most sustainable practices or which campuses have the most diverse faculty?

And we’re also introducing for the first time ever a weekly index, so that you can see if a campus has been written about in the issue. So, we’re very aware of what you just talked about. And we’re grateful for it, of course.

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

Liz McMillen: I can tell you that I have a very large stack of magazines in my living room; they’re always there and they cover the gamut with all kinds of interests. I’m a huge fan of magazines; I don’t think they’re ever going to go away, and I love reading them. I love the tactile sensation of them. But I’m also on the iPad, because at night you get the chance to kind of read around and see what other innovative outlets are doing. So, the iPad is a great thing for that.

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

Liz McMillen: Literally, I have two dogs that are convinced that they are hunters in the night. And they often wake me up thinking there’s a critter in my yard. (Laughs) And that’s not fun. But really, not too much keeps me up at night. I’m a pretty good sleeper.

Stepping back, when I was in college in the ‘80s, could I have predicted that we would be at this particular moment for media, or for that matter, for higher education? Who would have imagined when we were working on a college paper that so many publications would be struggling and gutting and transforming? So, I think we’re in a moment of continual change, continual evolution, and you just have to get comfortable with that and stay comfortable with it, because I don’t think that’s going away.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Prevention Magazine’s New Editor In Chief Brings Her Own “Healthy” Focus To The Recently Reimagined Legacy Brand – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Barbara O’Dair, Editor In Chief, Prevention Magazine

August 16, 2016

COVER_HI

“These days we have to think of ourselves as a brand editor, which includes all kinds of digital products, books, events and experiences for the readers, in addition to the print publication. I don’t think print is going out any time soon, that might be a minority opinion, but I believe it has a strong place in our culture and among readers. But, I’m also glad that we have other platforms to work on and build.” Barbara O’Dair

Barbara O’Dair knows a thing or two about magazines. From Reader’s Digest to MORE; from US to Teen People; Barbara has worked at some of the top magazines in the country and has brought her talents and skills along with her to make a strong impact on each title.

Today, Barbara has taken over the reins of Prevention as editor in chief, and has a clear vision for a legacy brand that has recently switched directions as an ad-free model, which Barbara agrees, offers more freedoms than the title may have ever had. And she’s determined to use those freedoms wisely and extensively.

I spoke with Barbara recently and we talked about this ad-free liberation the new Prevention offers both the reader and the magazine; the new direction that she’s taking with the title, and the overall focus of hard-health that she is implementing.

The September issue, on sale today, will reflect many of those O’Dair-influences she talks about in the interview, the renaming of sections of the book, the energetic new feel, and the experts that have been added to the already prestigious list of doctors and other notables that are a mainstay of Prevention.

It was an exciting and informative discussion that gives you the sense that while a title can be legacy and a trusted product that many people rely on; it can also rejuvenate with new birth, new focus and a new captain at the wheel.

And now, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Barbara O’Dair, Editor In Chief, Prevention magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

BODair_2On how, under her leadership, she plans to make the new Prevention magazine different from the other healthy lifestyle titles: Any magazine can have a claim to healthier and happier; we do. We have 66 years of that under our belt and I think it’s in keeping with what Preventions’ mission has always been, and I’m going to turn that up even more.

On how editing a magazine with no advertising is different from editing one that does: It’s so much fun. I’m really enjoying it. I open the magazine when it comes back from the printer and it’s just great story after great story, with gorgeous visuals and it feels very rich to me. I think that we have all kinds of freedoms now that we might not have had before.

On how she feels the role of an editor has changed today when it comes to print: These days we have to think of ourselves as a brand editor, which includes all kinds of digital products, books, events and experiences for the readers, in addition to the print publication. I don’t think print is going out any time soon, that might be a minority opinion, but I believe it has a strong place in our culture and among readers. But, I’m also glad that we have other platforms to work on and build.

On the shopping experience, Prevention Picks: It’s part of the idea of being a brand editor, where I pull in a number of platforms that include our shopping experience, which is shopprevention.com. And we’ve been very careful to curate products for that service to our readers. As much as possible, we choose sustainable, organic products, high-quality; we have guidelines that steer us in the right direction, in terms of what we include in our shopping experience.

On how she differentiates Prevention from other health magazines out there: I actually don’t know of another pure health magazine out there. I know fitness magazines and food magazines, and even websites that are devoted to health, such as everyday health or more condition-related health, but I don’t know any product that brings it all together.

On her focus when it comes to the magazine’s covers: Nothing is a sure bet. I think we’re still looking for just the right approach to the covers. We have had great success in the past with our gorgeous food covers, but we don’t want to be limited to that, so we do test models regularly and I mean models as in people, not as in test runs. So, we’re certainly open to that.

On how her role at Prevention is different from anything else that she’s done: That’s a really good question. To me it feels like the culmination of many different strands of what I’ve pursued in the past, and I have to say that I look an awful lot at Reader’s Digest and MORE about our Prevention reader. Primarily, women of a certain age; however, we do have some male readers and we have younger readers, and I’m sure we’ll attract more with our new direction. But the core readership is someone that I feel I totally understand. And that comes partly from working at Reader’s Digest and MORE in the past, and also having an orientation toward that reader.

On whether the September issue, her first as editor, will have a noticeable change from past issues: That’s a great question. I plan to evolve it, but I’m also interested in establishing a few different things for the reader right away. One is to make the connection outward to them; I feel that with Prevention in the recent past, and with many magazines, it’s a one-way conversation. And it’s really important to me to hear back and for Prevention readers to feel like that they’re part of a community and that their voices are being heard. And then, just a certain level of energy and dynamism that I’d like to think are within the pages. I renamed some of the book’s sections, which I’m evolving slowly toward more hard health, but I wanted it to look really energetic. And so the opener is a great brain image and it’s about how oral storytelling activates the entire brain in ways that nothing else does. So, it’s maybe a slightly different approach to this new section and I renamed it “Pulse.” I’d like to think it gives it more of an edge, more appeal and more urgency.

On whether she feels the magazine now has its finger on the “Pulse” of the reader: (Laughs) Yes, I think that’s it. Pulse is a nice play on words, and it has two definitions; it’s a verb and a noun. And I just liked that idea of a beating heart to begin the magazine. It lays out what you’re going to find in a deeper, longer form as you go along in the magazine.

 On how she stays happier and healthier: I try to eat right, but just as an aside, I was worried about coming to Prevention, because I thought I might have to be perfect. (Laughs) My healthy practices… (Laughs again) So, I started thinking, what sport can I add into my style or would I ever be able to eat a potato chip again? And what I found was that at Prevention, we take our readers and we give them information about how to improve and maintain their health, but we’re really speaking to the everyday person who wants to be healthier, but who is not necessarily a fanatic. They’re looking to learn more.

On how Prevention is an “experience” for the reader: I totally agree that experience is the key word here. I think the idea that Prevention is a community plays into that. I’m striving for that with the emotional connection with the readers that I talked about, and with the overture to the readers to engage themselves with the magazine. I feel that’s experiential on the most basic level. And they usually respond to that.

On anything else that she’d like to add: You’ve seen only the beginning and we have really wonderful projects that are on the table now, going forward into 2017. I think they will be lots of fun and very engaging. I’m not at liberty to go into detail at the moment, but just in terms of what we can see in the September issue, adding some experts, and I would include our humorists among experts, because the humor column has run in the two issues before September. But we’re making a commitment to that, because we feel the magazine can afford to be fun in places too. We really need that, and then the addition of a sexuality expert, along with our standby, Doctor Weil and Doctor Low Dog.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly in the evening at her home: The house is a very busy place, because we have four teenagers and they have lots of people in their lives, so there are a lot of ins and outs, comings and goings, and they’re all very creative, energetic people. Some of the time I’m sending them off, so I can have a little peace and quiet, and anything from weeding my flower garden, to surfing the web, to watching just a couple of TV shows that I consider my mainstays, but I’m not a huge TV watcher.

On what keeps her up at night: As I did mention I’m a night owl. (Laughs) So, I keep myself up at night. But seriously, I and my team have been given an incredible gift here with our new direction and new parameters. And I’m very excited about that. I want it to succeed and I guess I run through different scenarios in my mind, whether it’s about a certain writer or a project that I want to do. I’m not really fretting very much; I’m just thinking, so it’s a creative effort.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Barbara O’Dair, Editor In Chief, Prevention magazine.

COVER_HISamir Husni: In your first editorial in the magazine, you wrote, “When we are healthier, we are happier.” It seems every editor that I speak to these days; the phrase du jour is “healthier and happier.” Can you talk about how the new Prevention, under your leadership, is going to make us “healthier and happier?”

Barbara O’Dair: Yes, any magazine can have a claim to healthier and happier; we do. We have 66 years of that under our belt and I think it’s in keeping with what Preventions’ mission has always been, and I’m going to turn that up even more.

I’m folding in all kinds of stores that gladden the notion of heart health, I would say. And much of it is psychology, sexuality and alternative healing. And that helps to round out the picture for ordinary people who want to know how to improve their health. I think all of that contributes to a healthier, happier life.

Samir Husni: If I’m correct, this is the first time that you’ve worked on a magazine that has no advertising?

Barbara O’Dair: Yes, it is.

Samir Husni: How is this different from editing a magazine with advertising?

Barbara O’Dair: It’s so much fun. I’m really enjoying it. I open the magazine when it comes back from the printer and it’s just great story after great story, with gorgeous visuals and it feels very rich to me. I think that we have all kinds of freedoms now that we might not have had before. We can pay more attention to what the readers want, rather than other sources in the market. And that is really exciting. I love to hear from the readers and I love to work for them. And that’s opened up a whole new avenue in editing and putting the mix together for the magazine.

Samir Husni: I know that you’re overseeing not only the print edition, but the online and digital as well. Being in this business for as long as you have; how do you feel the role of editor has changed today when it comes to print?

Barbara O’Dair: These days we have to think of ourselves as a brand editor, which includes all kinds of digital products, books, events and experiences for the readers, in addition to the print publication. I don’t think print is going out any time soon, that might be a minority opinion, but I believe it has a strong place in our culture and among readers. But, I’m also glad that we have other platforms to work on and build.

And we are actually working on a project right now that is not quite in place, but will be a special for the print readers online, so that’s an exciting prospect.

 Samir Husni: One thing that I noticed you’ve added in this September issue that wasn’t in previous issues is the “Prevention Picks.”

Barbara O’Dair: Yes.

Samir Husni: Can you tell me a bit more about that, because “Prevention Picks” directs you to a website that’s part of Prevention; one that allows you to shop and buy merchandise. Can you tell me more about it?

Barbara O’Dair: It’s actually not new, but I think we’ve called it out more prominently in this issue. It’s part of the idea of being a brand editor, where I pull in a number of platforms that include our shopping experience, which is shopprevention.com. And we’ve been very careful to curate products for that service to our readers. As much as possible, we choose sustainable, organic products, high-quality; we have guidelines that steer us in the right direction, in terms of what we include in our shopping experience. We’re pretty active curators and I think that extends the mission of Prevention, being healthy and accessible.

Samir Husni: If someone stopped you on the street and you introduced yourself as the editor in chief of Prevention and they responded with, oh, it’s another health magazine. How do you differentiate to them that Prevention is not just another health magazine?

Barbara O’Dair: I actually don’t know of another pure health magazine out there. I know fitness magazines and food magazines, and even websites that are devoted to health, such as everyday health or more condition-related health, but I don’t know any product that brings it all together.

As I mentioned before, we have expanded the idea of health, but I’m very much interested in putting health at the front and center of the magazine experience here. We may have wandered from that in the past, and we really provide a unique service to our readers by covering that territory in a serious way. We also try to have fun with it too.

But for the most part, I really want health to be the driving force, and the nutrition, fitness, psychology and other things that round out the idea of health come as part and parcel of that, but I really want the magazine to focus on health.

And to further answer your question, I look at Prevention as having three very strong functions: one is to be a leader in its field and our inclusion of experts all throughout the book is one good example of how we’re a leader. We’re also a guide through the thickets of massive amounts of health information out there online. I think we have become a trusted brand over the years and we’re the authority on so many things that readers know when they come to us they’re getting the real deal, and hopefully surprising stories that they won’t read anywhere else.

And last, I look at Prevention as a coach, and that’s on a more micro level, whether it’s a fitness routine or a recipe, or a way to make some organic product; maybe a mouthwash. So, we offer that kind of service to our readers too. At the very nitty-gritty, they can take care of their everyday health needs. But then we have the bigger picture as well, whether it’s public health or a controversial subject in medicine; I think we’re covering it all.

Prevention 2Samir Husni: With the July issue, and I know that was before you took over the reins, they tested a model on the cover and food. But August and September is food and food; is that a new trend in covers that you will be focusing on? Or will it depend on the content of that particular issue of the magazine?

Barbara O’Dair: Nothing is a sure bet. I think we’re still looking for just the right approach to the covers. We have had great success in the past with our gorgeous food covers, but we don’t want to be limited to that, so we do test models regularly and I mean models as in people, not as in test runs. So, we’re certainly open to that.

There was a time at Prevention where models were on the cover almost exclusively, and then we kind of went with the food route. And now with some new direction, we’re open to trying different things to find out what works from the readers and feedback. So far we’ve gotten incredibly good feedback from readers, it’s a little too soon to tell numbers, but in terms of letters and word on the street, people seem to be excited by the magazine, which is very gratifying. As far as the covers go, I think we’re still open to trying different things.

Samir Husni: Your career in magazines has been extensive and diverse; you’ve edited at US magazine, Teen People, MORE, just a variety of different types of magazines where you’ve had to handle a variety of subjects and topics; how would you define your role now at Prevention and how is it different than anything else you’ve done?

Barbara O’Dair: That’s a really good question. To me it feels like the culmination of many different strands of what I’ve pursued in the past, and I have to say that I look an awful lot at Reader’s Digest and MORE about our Prevention reader.

Primarily, women of a certain age; however, we do have some male readers and we have younger readers, and I’m sure we’ll attract more with our new direction. But the core readership is someone that I feel I totally understand. And that comes partly from working at Reader’s Digest and MORE in the past, and also having an orientation toward that reader, choosing things for her and really trying to make that emotional connection to her really matters to me a lot. And when you have that, you have some measure of success secured, because that’s what people remember. They might read something very useful and that they could apply to their everyday lives, but they come back when there’s that emotional connection.

And I think I’ve learned that through the years at various jobs. When we’ve had that with readers and when we haven’t had that with readers. I know how important it is. And I feel that’s what I can offer.

Not to mention the size of the magazine, which I’m familiar with. I’m used to figuring out how to get the most bang out of the buck when the pages are small, so we have to be very creative, in terms of being thorough in our coverage. But it’s a fun challenge to me. I think it’s great to be this size, because it’s literally something you can put in your back pocket or your purse and carry with you. In that way, it really fulfills its mission as a guide.

Samir Husni: How do you differentiate between the September issue, which is the one that you edited, and the previous issues? Is the reader going to see a major difference; will we see Barbara’s influence dramatically in the September edition?

Barbara O’Dair: That’s a great question. I plan to evolve it, but I’m also interested in establishing a few different things for the reader right away. One is to make the connection outward to them; I feel that with Prevention in the recent past, and with many magazines, it’s a one-way conversation. And it’s really important to me to hear back and for Prevention readers to feel like that they’re part of a community and that their voices are being heard.

I think you’ll see more real women in the pages and an example of that might be the metabolism story, down to weight loss, which is a story about yo-yo dieting. I made sure that we brought in real women’s stories and their pictures. And that may not be as typical of the recent Prevention, but it’s very important to me. I think readers need to see themselves reflected in the pages.

And then, just a certain level of energy and dynamism that I’d like to think are within the pages. I renamed some of the book’s sections, which I’m evolving slowly toward more hard health, but I wanted it to look really energetic. And so the opener is a great brain image and it’s about how oral storytelling activates the entire brain in ways that nothing else does. So, it’s maybe a slightly different approach to this new section and I renamed it “Pulse.” I’d like to think it gives it more of an edge, more appeal and more urgency.

It’s very hard to place any kind of news in a monthly publication, but I think it’s our mandate to surprise and delight readers, so we try to find those stories that are buried or that we can do a second take on, or stories that are just entertaining. There is so much fascinating material and I really want to bring that to the surface in the magazine.

PV0716_COVERSamir Husni: So, rather than being on the edge; you now have your finger on the “Pulse” of health?

Barbara O’Dair: (Laughs) Yes, I think that’s it. Pulse is a nice play on words, and it has two definitions; it’s a verb and a noun. And I just liked that idea of a beating heart to begin the magazine. It lays out what you’re going to find in a deeper, longer form as you go along in the magazine.

And back to my other point about making a connection with the readers, I did reinstitute a “Letters” page, which we hadn’t had in quite a while. And we have this back page that you can pull out, it’s perforated. It’s a coloring page. And we’ve asked readers to submit their artwork and we’ll publish it if we think it’s great.

There are also a couple of other places in the magazine that I’ve added call-outs to the readers for their stories, opinions and recommendations. So that is another thing that differentiates the magazine now.

Samir Husni: How does Barbara stay “happy and healthy?”

Barbara O’Dair: I try to eat right, but just as an aside, I was worried about coming to Prevention, because I thought I might have to be perfect. (Laughs) My healthy practices… (Laughs again) So, I started thinking, what sport can I add into my style or would I ever be able to eat a potato chip again? And what I found was that at Prevention, we take our readers and we give them information about how to improve and maintain their health, but we’re really speaking to the everyday person who wants to be healthier, but who is not necessarily a fanatic. They’re looking to learn more.

So, I would put myself in that category. There have been times in my life where I’ve been deeply into nutrition and/or fitness. And I’m bringing that back into my life now. I’ve been weight turning for a while; I have this amazing Russian trainer, who used to be on a national Russian volleyball team, so he comes to my house and we do workouts two or three times a week and that I care about a lot.

And I try to get downstairs to the organic cafeteria for lunch. I don’t always do it, but that’s a goal. And just also finding a way to incorporate different kinds of experiences into my life, whether it’s travel or friends; when you work really hard it’s easy to let certain things go and it’s really important for me to have a balanced life. And I think that does lead to happiness of a sort. We’re always striving for balance, but I think I’m getting better at it as I get older.

Samir Husni: One thing that I always tell my students is that print magazines are much more than content; they’re an experience. One: do you agree with that? Two: How is the print edition of Prevention an experience?

Barbara O’Dair: I totally agree that experience is the key word here. I think the idea that Prevention is a community plays into that. I’m striving for that with the emotional connection with the readers that I talked about, and with the overture to the readers to engage themselves with the magazine. I feel that’s experiential on the most basic level. And they usually respond to that.

Beyond that, I think it’s just being associated with Prevention. We have very loyal readers. And we have a mandate to produce premium content at this point, and that would include events and experiences that go beyond the pages of the magazine. So, there are things like that in the works. And being a subscriber and a reader, there is definitely an experience, because you’re drenching yourself in this healthy lifestyle material. And I think it really moves the needle for people and they’re largely affected by it.

For me, it’s great to know that we can really have an impact, not just on people’s lives, but maybe in a larger sense, in terms of public policy. If we’re doing deeper, investigative pieces, which I plan to do, maybe we’ll affect something politically and have an impact on culture in that way, and socially. But, for the most part, we’re looking at helping our readers to find their peace and their joy, and their good health.

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

Barbara O’Dair: You’ve seen only the beginning and we have really wonderful projects that are on the table now, going forward into 2017. I think they will be lots of fun and very engaging. I’m not at liberty to go into detail at the moment, but just in terms of what we can see in the September issue, adding some experts, and I would include our humorists among experts, because the humor column has run in the two issues before September. But we’re making a commitment to that, because we feel the magazine can afford to be fun in places too. We really need that, and then the addition of a sexuality expert, along with our standby, Doctor Weil and Doctor Low Dog.

We’re also bringing in a brain science column, written by different experts, and that I’m very excited about, because there are all kinds of rich material in neuroscience these days. And we can tie it to things that our readers are concerned about in an everyday way. So, it’s the addition of some experts that I feel is going to be really exciting and you’ll see that in the September issue and also in subsequent issues. There’ll be more.

And we’ll be doing deeper reads, survey pieces for a deeper dive into a subject or a health topic; a medical topic or a social topic. We have certain freedoms now and I really want to use them. I’m excited about that.

Samir Husni: If I show up unexpectedly one evening at your home, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, reading your iPad, watching TV, or something else?

Barbara O’Dair: The house is a very busy place, because we have four teenagers and they have lots of people in their lives, so there are a lot of ins and outs, comings and goings, and they’re all very creative, energetic people. Some of the time I’m sending them off, so I can have a little peace and quiet, and anything from weeding my flower garden, to surfing the web, to watching just a couple of TV shows that I consider my mainstays, but I’m not a huge TV watcher.

But mostly, I think it’s communing with my husband, because I keep long hours and I work late, and I’m also a night owl, so I work late at home sometimes. I think it’s important to keep the family relationships going.

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

Barbara O’Dair: As I did mention I’m a night owl. (Laughs) So, I keep myself up at night. But seriously, I and my team have been given an incredible gift here with our new direction and new parameters. And I’m very excited about that. I want it to succeed and I guess I run through different scenarios in my mind, whether it’s about a certain writer or a project that I want to do. I’m not really fretting very much; I’m just thinking, so it’s a creative effort. It’s pretty energizing, so that’s why I stay up late, as opposed to worrying, at least, for now.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

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