Archive for the ‘Redesigns’ Category

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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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Family Circle Refines & Redesigns With Consumer-Driven Focus That Brings The Magazine A New Logo, Refreshed Layouts And Bolder Fonts & Photography – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Linda Fears, VP & Editor In Chief, Family Circle Magazine

August 9, 2016

image002-2“For us, there’s the trust factor in being a magazine that’s so established, and there’s a lot to be said for having that trust. You don’t necessarily trust what you find online. They may be good ideas, but you don’t know where they came from; have they been tested and vetted. So, we give them that. And that’s not just in Family Circle; that’s in any good magazine. It’s a compliment. With all of the websites that have come up in the past 10 years and all of the social media that’s cropped up in that time frame, good magazines have been able to hold their ground because they do offer curated content, which I think is really important.” Linda Fears

“A long time ago people thought that with TV, radio was going to die, and then with the Internet, TV was going to die. I think that people just assume that the next new thing is just going to completely take over and that’s never the case, except maybe with DVR’s. (Laughs) I think that it’s unfair to assume that people aren’t going to read print anymore. I have three kids and my two older ones are in their twenties and they both read magazines still. They practically don’t watch any TV, except for Netflix on their laptops. But they do read magazines.” Linda Fears

“My oldest son is 25 and had started reading books on his iPad, then one day he discovered that he didn’t like reading on a screen anymore. He really missed holding a book and having the satisfaction of closing it after he was finished. And I just thought that was really interesting. And for our audience, they do like the tactile feel of a magazine. Not to say that they don’t read online content, of course they do. But when you have a magazine that’s very visual and has a lot of content that people want to keep and share with friends or family, it’s not easy to do that in a digital form.” Linda Fears

 The September issue of Family Circle will have a new look and a more energetic feel about it, as the magazine celebrates a redesign that introduces a new logo, refreshed layouts, new fonts and bolder photography.

Linda Fears Headshot_August 2016_jpgVP and editor in chief, Linda Fears said that, “The new Family Circle focuses on the needs of leading millennial moms who are raising Generation Z—women who are influencers inside the home and out. We’re always striving to cultivate their passions for everything from cooking, healthy living and home decorating, to style and community involvement—all while guiding them through the ups and downs of family life.”

I spoke with Linda recently and we talked about how she “cultivates the audience’s passions” and stands behind the legacy brand that reaches 16 million readers every month with a stalwart passion of her own. Linda recognizes that her audience is some of the busiest women out there and that Family Circle has the honored responsibility of trying to help them navigate their respective journeys in an easier way.

The September issue marks the largest edition they’ve done in two years and also features major advertisers such as Allergan, Coca-Cola, Maybelline New York, Waverly, Aveeno, Kraft and Olay, among others.

While the look is fresh and new, Linda said that it’s still the same Family Circle, offering women engaging content, candid advice and the peace of mind to raise a happy, healthy family.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who’s been bringing people into the “Family Circle” for over a decade, Linda Fears, VP & Editor In Chief, Family Circle magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On what Family Circle is today versus years ago: Well, it’s certainly not the same magazine it was 84 years ago; however, what we started as, which was a food and recipe circular; what remains today is our history of food editorial and our audience’s love of our food, so that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. But pretty much everything else has changed.

On whether she feels in today’s digital climate an editor has to be the ultimate curator for their audience: Obviously print magazines can’t turn into a Pinterest or an Instagram. I believe that editors need to be aware of what’s going on online and in social media, but for their product, which is print magazines, we are the ultimate curators. When women are as busy as my audience is, they don’t have time to search for anything and everything that may be of interest to them. My staff and I are responsible for knowing the kind of content that she’s looking for and giving her a well-edited version of that content that is inspiring and informative.

On whether her job is easier or harder today than it was before the digital explosion: It’s not easier or harder; I think it’s different. It’s become necessary for all of my editors to be very aware of a lot more potential content that’s out there. To pay attention to what our audience is looking at and reacting to. And make sure that our content stays fresh and current.

On how she cultivates the passion of the audience: First, you have to know what they’re passion points are. For example, take food; we know that we have a very food-focused audience that has always, since the beginning of Family Circle, looked to us for our food content and frankly, for our expertise in food. So, luckily for us, everyone is obsessed with food these days. You can barely go online without seeing people posting photos of what they ate in a restaurant the night before or what they made for lunch that day.

On whether she feels a bigger responsibility to make Family Circle that calming role in today’s chaotic world while also cultivating the audience’s passion: Amidst all of what you said is going on, it makes our audience, who are raising children, even more focused on how to raise happy, healthy kids. Do I feel a bigger responsibility? I don’t think so; I just think we have to keep doing what we do best and stay focused on her and her life stage. And how to help her be the best mom she can. And that includes every area of the magazine that we offer up.

On the biggest stumbling block that she’s had to face and how she overcame it: There have been some different challenges over the years that I wouldn’t necessarily call stumbling blocks, but just challenges. We’ve had to confront the rise of content online and figure out how we were going to deal with that in our own way. And I also think that newsstand has been a problem for everybody, and it’s gotten to the point where there is so much competition for people’s attention in stores in a way that there never used to be. People are shopping less often, so the foot traffic in stores is less than it used to be.

family circle1 image002-2On the new redesigned logo: Thank you for noticing. We did update the logo. Our logo was designed about 35 years ago, but it’s not a proper typeface, it’s a font that whoever selected it condensed onto the front of the magazine. It always bothered me because the letters were distorted and it looked like a big block. But it’s tricky changing your logo with MRI and everything else that could potentially affect your audience and recognition of the brand.

On why she thinks it took so long for magazine industry leaders to realize that it isn’t print or digital, it’s both: Honestly, I don’t know. A long time ago people thought that with TV, radio was going to die, and then with the Internet, TV was going to die. I think that people just assume that the next new thing is just going to completely take over and that’s never the case, except maybe with DVR’s. (Laughs)

On anything else that she’d like to add: We’re introducing a couple of new columns in the new issue in areas that we received a lot of positive feedback from with our research. One is “Social Circle,” which is going to help our readers connect to the largest social media communities through snapshots of popular polls and pins that we’ve shared on our channels, upcoming photo campaigns like contests we’re planning. It’s kind of a landing page for if we’re doing a Facebook poll and we want to reveal the results or if something is particularly trending on Instagram that we want to share.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: Cooking. I cook dinner every night. I’m passionate about cooking; I love it. I just renovated part of my home and that included my kitchen. So, it’s a lot more fun than it used to be. (Laughs)

On what keeps her up at night: Lately, it’s my third child leaving for college. (Laughs) As far as my job, it really doesn’t keep me up at night. I feel like we’re in such a good place right now. We didn’t redesign because there was anything broken. We didn’t feel that we were in trouble in any way or that there was something that needed to be fixed.

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Linda Fears, VP & Editor In Chief, Family Circle magazine.

Samir Husni: Family Circle has a very good history. It was one of two magazines that were sold on the nation’s supermarkets and it was one of the largest newsstand titles out there, but things have changed somewhat. Briefly, take me through that journey; what’s Family Circle today as opposed to what it used to be. Or is Family Circle still the same magazine it was then?

Linda Fears: Well, it’s certainly not the same magazine it was 84 years ago; however, what we started as, which was a food and recipe circular; what remains today is our history of food editorial and our audience’s love of our food, so that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. But pretty much everything else has changed.

I’ve been here just over ten years now and every other year I have had my art department do a redesign of the magazine. Not a total architectural redesign, but primarily refreshing fonts and layouts, because I feel like these days women are so used to viewing content online and are influenced by the very modern advertising around them that if you don’t keep up with design, your magazine will look old very quickly, so every other year we refresh it.

This year what I decided to do was to go a bit beyond just redesigning, I wanted to really understand the leading millennial mom, so it’s moms who are turning 37, who on average have children who are about 10 or 11-years-old. And I mean on average because the average age for having a baby is still 26. Some moms are having babies older, but on average these moms have kids who are in middle school, so I wanted to really try to understand what kind of content they were consuming and where they were finding it; how different are they from moms even five years ago?

So, we did months and months of consumer research as we were building on our strong readership and circulation; we’re working as hard as ever to help our 16 million readers, which frankly, I think are the busiest women in America, because when you’re raising kids and you’re working, it’s the busiest time of your life.

We did all of this research with women 35-45 and we really got a lot of amazing information about them. What was most meaningful to us was that they still love reading magazines. That’s not to say, obviously, that’s the only place they get content from. They love Pinterest, Facebook; they love Instagram, but they really do love magazines. And they look to magazines as a place where they can get information and kind of a break from a really busy lifestyle. And we were very happy to hear that.

We actually had them do an exercise before they joined the focus group and it was to create their perfect Pinterest board of an ideal magazine. We encouraged them to look anywhere and everywhere online and they pinned a lot of content that was interesting to them and a lot of visuals that they were attracted to. So, with all of that information, and there were a lot of similarities among these Pinterest boards, which was great, I actually went outside and hired an outside designer to do this redesign.

And I think the result of it is just spot-on. I’m really confident that readers will be drawn to these much more energetic layouts; the visuals are sophisticated, and we’ve added more conversational voice, which we hope will amplify the content off of the page and onto social media.

So, what hasn’t changed are the types of content that we know these women are drawn to, including food, health, for her and the whole family; she’s very interested in home and DIY, beauty and fashion; those things haven’t changed much, and then of course, raising kids who are tweens and teens. We feel with this new redesign that we’re presenting these ideas in a way that’s very natural and serviceable and really focused on making her every day more enjoyable and less stressful.

image002-2Samir Husni: Ten years ago the web was just really getting started and everybody in the industry was struggling and trying to find the right direction to go in. And then everyone placed all their bets on the tablet; it was a chaotic time for magazine media. How did your job as an editor change during those 10 years; do you feel like you have to curate more in the print edition than before, so that when your busy readers sit down for that “me” time to relax with a glass of wine and their Family Circle, their content is primed and ready for them?

Linda Fears: And you’re right about that glass of wine, because all of these ladies love wine, that’s another thing that we found out. (Laughs) But yes, I think that you’re exactly right. Obviously print magazines can’t turn into a Pinterest or an Instagram. I believe that editors need to be aware of what’s going on online and in social media, but for their product, which is print magazines, we are the ultimate curators. When women are as busy as my audience is, they don’t have time to search for anything and everything that may be of interest to them. My staff and I are responsible for knowing the kind of content that she’s looking for and giving her a well-edited version of that content that is inspiring and informative.

A lot of these women told us that they’re not that attracted to websites anymore; they’ve kind of gone beyond that and like some of their social media better. They’ll Google things if they have a specific question, but they use Facebook to keep up with their friends and they get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and from the photo pins. Some of them even do look to Pinterest for ideas in all walks of life.

But for us, there’s the trust factor in being a magazine that’s so established, and there’s a lot to be said for having that trust. You don’t necessarily trust what you find online. They may be good ideas, but you don’t know where they came from; have they been tested and vetted. So, we give them that. And that’s not just in Family Circle; that’s in any good magazine.

It’s a compliment. With all of the websites that have come up in the past 10 years and all of the social media that’s cropped up in that time frame, good magazines have been able to hold their ground because they do offer curated content, which I think is really important.

Samir Husni: And has that made your job easier or harder over the last 10 years?

Linda Fears: It’s not easier or harder; I think it’s different. It’s become necessary for all of my editors to be very aware of a lot more potential content that’s out there. To pay attention to what our audience is looking at and reacting to. And make sure that our content stays fresh and current.

So, I don’t think it’s harder; I just think it’s different. Frankly, it’s more fun. To have competing attention for content drives us to be a little more clever at times in coming up with ways to present our content in an inspiring and useful way.

It was important to us to get the information from these leading millennials; from these women who are attracted to the Family Circle brand. And also because the kids they’re raising now are not millennials anymore, they’re Generation Z. And Gen Z are kids between, roughly, 6 and 19 or 20. So, we really wanted to find out what has changed with this new generation of kids; are parents worried about different things than they were even three or four years ago. That came into play as well when we were thinking about what to do with this redesign. I don’t think my job is harder these days; you just need to be on top of your audience, because things change so much more rapidly than they used to.

Another thing that we’re doing because we are cognizant that our audience is finding content elsewhere, not instead of reading a magazine, but in addition; we are including more bloggers onto our pages from Pinterest and Instagram, and from people who have their own blogs, so in September you’ll find a few of those in our Home, Health and Food sections. Obviously, we’re still going to be using experts, but we are adding some social media stars to the mix.

Samir Husni: One of the things that caught my attention in the press release about the redesign was your quote: “you’re always striving to cultivate the passion of the audience.” How do you do that; how do you cultivate the passion of the audience?

Linda Fears: First, you have to know what they’re passion points are. For example, take food; we know that we have a very food-focused audience that has always, since the beginning of Family Circle, looked to us for our food content and frankly, for our expertise in food. So, luckily for us, everyone is obsessed with food these days. You can barely go online without seeing people posting photos of what they ate in a restaurant the night before or what they made for lunch that day.

Tapping into that passion with this redesign has caused us to really focus on our food photography and hire some new food photographers. And we’re focusing a bit more on our food photography being more naturally lit, sort of straddling that fine line between looking perfect and too messy. We want people to look at our food photography and be inspired to make the recipes that we create and feel like they can. Not be intimidated by something that looks like it was created by a chef or something that was created by one of their kids. This is a happy medium. So, that’s one example of tapping into their passions.

We also know that our readers are passionate about their homes. So, there’s a lot these days that are capturing people’s attention. In addition to magazines that focus only on the home, there’s HGTV and it has become very popular. So, it’s our being aware of what’s most important to our audience and they want a comfortable home and they also want a home that they can do some DIY in and tap a project for themselves. We have an entire DIY piece in the September issue on using paint to upgrade inexpensive pieces of furniture to make them look more expensive, so that sort of thing. We really do understand what they’re looking for and it’s our job to take it one step further.

Samir Husni: In the midst of everything that’s taking place in our country, from politics to crime to terrorism; do you feel you have a larger responsibility now for the magazine to offer this, so to speak, comfort food to the audience? Do you play a calming role while you’re also cultivating their passion?

Linda Fears: Amidst all of what you said is going on, it makes our audience, who are raising children, even more focused on how to raise happy, healthy kids. Do I feel a bigger responsibility? I don’t think so; I just think we have to keep doing what we do best and stay focused on her and her life stage. And how to help her be the best mom she can. And that includes every area of the magazine that we offer up.

Obviously, we’re not going to be competing with CNN; we’re not going to cover breaking news with a monthly magazine. But as a respite from all of that, it is a responsibility that we take very seriously, but we know that her number one responsibility and focus is her family. And those are the areas that we focus on.

Samir Husni: Over the last 10 years that you’ve been at Family Circle, what has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Linda Fears: There have been some different challenges over the years that I wouldn’t necessarily call stumbling blocks, but just challenges. We’ve had to confront the rise of content online and figure out how we were going to deal with that in our own way. And I also think that newsstand has been a problem for everybody, and it’s gotten to the point where there is so much competition for people’s attention in stores in a way that there never used to be. People are shopping less often, so the foot traffic in stores is less than it used to be.

It’s our job to figure out how to constantly present ourselves to women in new and different ways. We’re actually doing a test on our next mailings. One of the things that we asked the focus group was to tell us about a piece of mail that they received and didn’t immediately throw into the garbage, something unsolicited that attracted their attention, whether it was a brochure or a pamphlet. The women in the Chicago focus group, which we did in person; we also did a series of focus groups online as well, but the Chicago group brought in mail to us and they ranged from department store pieces to mail from much smaller home stores, and we noticed that what they liked about those pieces of mail were that they were very graphic and they had a lot of photography; they weren’t chocked full of a lot of pushy sales words. They were more upscale-looking and they were simple. A lot of them were hard stock fold overs. So we decided to change around our mailing for new subscribers and we’ll see what happens and if they’re attracted to this.

You can’t rely, at least books the size of mine, which we used to have a gigantic newsstand presence; you have to figure out other ways to attract readers. That’s a challenge as well, but we’re still holding our own on newsstand; the only women’s magazine that outsells us at this point is Cosmo. But we sell better than all food magazines, all parenting magazines and all shelter magazines; so, as bad as things are we’re still outselling our competition.

Samir Husni: I noticed that with the new redesigned logo; it feels friendlier.

Linda Fears: Thank you for noticing. We did update the logo. Our logo was designed about 35 years ago, but it’s not a proper typeface, it’s a font that whoever selected it condensed onto the front of the magazine. It always bothered me because the letters were distorted and it looked like a big block. But it’s tricky changing your logo with MRI and everything else that could potentially affect your audience and recognition of the brand.

What we did this time was to find a font that was familiar enough to the one we had, except it is more modern and it is friendlier and I think it’s even a little more feminine than the other one. The font is called circular, which is ironic. (Laughs) We selected it on purpose. (Laughs again) You’ll notice the difference in that the C’s are rounder; the R and the M doesn’t have that square tail on them; the A is different, but it’s actually close enough to what we had that our internal research department didn’t really feel that it was necessary to test because they didn’t think that we would get enough of a read. I think people will notice and think that it looks better, but it’s still totally recognizable as Family Circle.

Samir Husni: And then was it on purpose that you had seven words that started with a capital C on the cover lines of the September issue?

Linda Fears: That was not on purpose. (Laughs) I didn’t even realize that. The fact that we know our readers love cleaning tips and they love learning how to be more organized and to clear clutter; it was a coincidence.

This is actually our biggest issue in two years, which is really exciting and there are a lot of major advertisers in this issue.

Samir Husni: Why do you think it took the magazine media world, the editors and publishers, so long to discover that it’s not print or digital, it’s both?

Linda Fears: Honestly, I don’t know. A long time ago people thought that with TV, radio was going to die, and then with the Internet, TV was going to die. I think that people just assume that the next new thing is just going to completely take over and that’s never the case, except maybe with DVR’s. (Laughs)

But I don’t know why it took so long, except I think that it’s unfair to assume that people aren’t going to read print anymore. I have three kids and my two older ones are in their twenties and they both read magazines still. They practically don’t watch any TV, except for Netflix on their laptops. But they do read magazines.

My oldest son is 25 and had started reading books on his iPad, then one day he discovered that he didn’t like reading on a screen anymore. He really missed holding a book and having the satisfaction of closing it after he was finished. And I just thought that was really interesting. And for our audience, they do like the tactile feel of a magazine. Not to say that they don’t read online content, of course they do. But when you have a magazine that’s very visual and has a lot of content that people want to keep and share with friends or family, it’s not easy to do that in a digital form. And we know our readers keep the magazine and share it.

Unfortunately, we sometimes have to wait until the shine wears off on whatever is new and different out there for people to figure out how it’s going to fit into their lives and what they will continue using and what they will give up. And I don’t think magazines will ever go away. There is just something really lovely about sitting down with a magazine and potentially ripping out pages that you want to save. And I think advertisers have found that they’re not getting that return on their investments online, so all of that is being rethought as well.

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

Linda Fears: We’re introducing a couple of new columns in the new issue in areas that we received a lot of positive feedback from with our research. One is “Social Circle,” which is going to help our readers connect to the largest social media communities through snapshots of popular polls and pins that we’ve shared on our channels, upcoming photo campaigns like contests we’re planning. It’s kind of a landing page for if we’re doing a Facebook poll and we want to reveal the results or if something is particularly trending on Instagram that we want to share.

We’re also adding a new column called “Creative Spaces,” because we know so many women in our audience work either part-time or full-time in their home, or they just like to have a place in their house that is just for them. So, we’re looking for the most creative spaces and photographing them, and interviewing the women who created them to help our audience create something in their home that works for them. I’m excited about these two new additions and I think people will really like them.

Another thing is that we’re enhancing our 360-approach to wellness. And even though we have always done women’s health and children’s health; family health, whether that’s a spouse or elder care, and also incorporated psychology and relationships within those pages, for this issue and going forward, we’re looking to some popular bloggers to infuse the content with a little more energy. We went to Instagram for September, to some of the biggest Instagram fitness stars and shared a move from each of them. So, that’s fun.

I think that readers will recognize that we are including content from a lot of places that they’re looking at and also traditional expertise within our pages. And as we were talking about before, family is forever; people are always going to have family and be raising children. We are the experts in providing content for healthy families and happy, healthy kids.

When we started our column “Modern Life” two years ago, it was in an effort to be inclusive of all kinds of modern families and you will see that going forward. In this issue we were actually able to, since it was a big book, have three pages on our “Modern Life” and we have two moms raising their teenaged daughter. We’ve done families with transgendered kids and families who are single-by-choice; we’ve done adopted families, step families; a couple who moved back in with one of their parents; couples that work at home together; farm families. There’s just an endless supply of American families out there that could be featured. And I think we’re unique in that. To be a family lifestyle book that really showcases every sort of family that you would encounter. We feel very confident that readers are going to like it, so we’ll see.

And I think our September cover is a really good preview of what’s inside because you’ll see a lot of the new fonts on the cover; we have the giant word ‘sweet’ on the cover. We’re not going to do that every issue, we’re going to do the giant word when it makes sense to. We have a lot more colors on the cover and we have foods shot in more natural light and looking more natural.

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

Linda Fears: Cooking. I cook dinner every night. I’m passionate about cooking; I love it. I just renovated part of my home and that included my kitchen. So, it’s a lot more fun than it used to be. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: And do you use your Family Circle recipes or do you reach out to your cousins, some of the other Meredith titles?

Linda Fears: I don’t exclusively use Family Circle recipes, but I do use a lot of them. I know how well they turn out and that they’re triple-tested. But no; I use a lot of recipes from other Meredith titles, and beyond Meredith. I like to experiment and I like trying different ethnicities. I really cook anything and everything. But I use a lot of Family Circle recipes. In fact, I make some of them so often I don’t even have to look at the recipe anymore.

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

Linda Fears: Lately, it’s my third child leaving for college. (Laughs) As far as my job, it really doesn’t keep me up at night. I feel like we’re in such a good place right now. We didn’t redesign because there was anything broken. We didn’t feel that we were in trouble in any way or that there was something that needed to be fixed.

I think that even though every time I’ve had the group redesign, I’ve loved it; I feel like this is the best one that we’ve done so far. And I love that it’s based on good research. So, my work doesn’t keep me up at night, my kids do. (Laughs again)

No matter what you do, if you’re a parent, your kids come first. It’s what you worry about and what you put a lot of your energy into. I think understanding what that life stage is really like helps me be a better editor, particularly since the majority of women work these days. It’s challenging. And I think it’s our job at Family Circle to help make their lives easier in any way we can.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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The Old Farmer’s Almanac At 225 Years: Still Useful With A Pleasant Degree Of Humor, And A Fresh New Look – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Sherin Pierce, Publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac

August 4, 2016

old-farmers-almanac-2017“It’s been the kind of product that’s been passed down from generation to generation and print was how it was passed along. And I think that’s been essential to the longevity of the product, because you have the history of the product in print going back to 1792, those original editions. And there’s something so tangible about a product when you can feel it in your hands and look at the date and see an edition from the 1800s or the very first edition, and you’re holding it in your hands. So, print has been the most essential element in keeping this product alive.” Sherin Pierce

 

When readers pick up the 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the subtle changes and nuances that have been implemented with the new, polished design. As the Old Farmer’s Almanac, North America’s oldest continuously published periodical, celebrates its 225th edition, the time-honored publication also extols a few updates that have given it a fresher, sharper focus and look.

Sherin Pierce has been publisher of the Old Farmer’s Almanac since 1994 and is very familiar with the beloved publication, more so than just about anyone else. I spoke with Sherin recently and we talked about the reasons for the enhancement and polishing that brought about this revitalization. With their digital footprint growing daily, Sherin said they felt that the time had come to set up the visual presence for the next 225 years. The challenge was to do that without being disloyal to the brand’s legacy look and feel. As Sherin put it, “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” That’s why a “fixing” wasn’t called for, just a bit of refurbishing. After all, how many other publishers can say they work for a publication that’s celebrating such a milestone as a 225th anniversary? How about, no one else?

And now, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman whose magazine definitely doesn’t look its age, no matter the couple of centuries or so that it has been around, Sherin Pierce, Publisher, the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

But first the sound-bites:

sherinOn what keeps the print edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac going after 225 years of continuous publishing: The simple answer is the incredible love and affection that people have for the Old Farmer’s Almanac and that love started in its print form. Of course, that’s how the Almanac began back in 1792 and it developed a reputation of being credible and trustworthy, and something that people welcomed into their families and homes.

On whether she can think of any other product that has stood the test of time the way the Old Farmer’s Almanac has: Maybe some food products, such as Baker’s Cocoa. They were some of our first advertisers in the Almanac. And Arm & Hammer, which is also in the Almanac, however it’s morphed into being more of an ingredient in laundry detergent and toothpaste rather than baking soda. I think the difference is that these products may have lasted as long; they’ve stood the test of time, some molasses brands and baked beans and things like that. But how much do people hold them with real affection? I think that’s part of the charm of the Almanac. People really have a great reservoir of love and respect for the product as well.

On the magazine’s recent redesign: We called it polishing the brand because we didn’t change anything; we took that cover engraving and illustrated it again. The font was something that we had developed as a custom font for the Almanac, and that was one of the most dramatic changes, but if you look at the 2016 Almanac versus the new one, you’ll see that it just brings everything into a sharper focus.

 On making it fresher, rather than a complete redesign: If it isn’t broken, you don’t fix it, so we enhanced it rather than a complete redesign. It’s such a recognizable cover and you don’t want to do anything to damage that, but you want to, again, enhance certain elements that may have faded a bit over the past decades.

 On the tagline, useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor: That was from Robert B. Thomas and he wanted to make sure that all of the intimation that we had was useful, whether we talked about the weather, the planets, stars, food; whether it was anecdotes or pleasantries, gardening, just whatever we talked about had to be useful information. But at the same time we wanted to have a pleasant way of presenting that information, so it wasn’t like lecturing people.

On the biggest stumbling block that she’s had to face and how she overcame it: Well, because the Almanac is sold at retail and it just dominates so many markets, I think one of the biggest challenges was the whole change in traditional newsstand. With the Almanac we have bookstore distribution and we have direct sales distribution into all of the hardware chains, so we had amortized our risks, but still the newsstand was the major source of distribution for the Almanac.

On the fact that the Old Farmer’s Almanac trademark of the hole in the upper left-hand corner of the magazine can’t be recreated online: (Laughs too). No, but you know what, we have the ‘hole’ story and we tell it online, but it’s not the same. See, that’s why when people said that print was dead, we always knew that for the Almanac to survive, we had to have print. We just had to. People need that and they want to see it.

On anything else that she’d like to add: When we looked at the Almanac this year, part of the reason that we wanted to look at the brand again was because the online presence and the social media presence has been growing by leaps and bounds. Our Facebook is at 1.4 million; Instagram is about 70,000; Pinterest and Twitter; all the ways in which we’re communicating on a daily basis and finding new people to come to the Almanac brand. We wanted to make sure that whether it was online, social media or print, every time someone accessed us they knew they were coming to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We wanted to make that very clear, visually and in tone and voice.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: I’m on my road bike cycling. And then when I get home I go to a Zumba class or a yoga class. After being behind a desk all day, I cycle to work as well, in the summertime, not in the wintertime; I’m doing something very physical and active. I exercise and then I come back and garden. And at the end of the day I usually read.

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night are deadlines that may be missed. Also, I sometimes wonder why we can’t be more decent and civilized to one another. We’re all in competition as publishers, but we’re civil to one another. And I wish the way we all work together professionally could carry over into our daily lives. The divisiveness and the rhetoric that we’re hearing now are very upsetting and it’s hard to imagine that our lives are so governed by negativity.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sherin Pierce Publisher, the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on reaching such a milestone, the 225th edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Sherin Pierce: Thank you.

farmers-almanac_0Samir Husni: After 225 years of continuous publishing and in this digital age, and I know that you’ve expanded and are everywhere, from the web to mobile, but what keeps the print magazine going after all of this time?

Sherin Pierce: The simple answer is the incredible love and affection that people have for the Old Farmer’s Almanac and that love started in its print form. Of course, that’s how the Almanac began back in 1792 and it developed a reputation of being credible and trustworthy, and something that people welcomed into their families and homes.

So, it’s been the kind of product that’s been passed down from generation to generation and print was how it was passed along. And I think that’s been essential to the longevity of the product, because you have the history of the product in print going back to 1792, those original editions. And there’s something so tangible about a product when you can feel it in your hands and look at the date and see an edition from the 1800s or the very first edition, and you’re holding it in your hands. So, print has been the most essential element in keeping this product alive.

It has morphed into other platforms, but it really all started with print. And that’s something that we understand and respect. For many of our readers who still want the Almanac in print, we’re always going to have a copy for them in print as well as our other platforms.

Samir Husni: For a magazine historian like me, the Almanac started just 51 years after the very first magazine was ever published in the United States; can you think of any other product that has lasted through thick and thin like the Almanac has? That’s still as fresh as it was 225 years ago?

Sherin Pierce: Maybe some food products, such as Baker’s Cocoa. They were some of our first advertisers in the Almanac. And Arm & Hammer, which is also in the Almanac, however it’s morphed into being more of an ingredient in laundry detergent and toothpaste rather than baking soda.

I think the difference is that these products may have lasted as long; they’ve stood the test of time, some molasses brands and baked beans and things like that. But how much do people hold them with real affection? I think that’s part of the charm of the Almanac. People really have a great reservoir of love and respect for the product as well. So, besides the longevity, we also have that going for us.

Samir Husni: You’re in a unique position; you’re the only publisher that I know of that can go to someone in the industry and say, we’ve been publishing this magazine for 225 years, especially this year with the redesign and everything that you’ve done. What’s different now with the redesign?

Sherin Pierce: When we looked at the cover of the Almanac, we looked at just polishing it a bit. It’s like when you have your reading glasses on and they’re a little foggy, you clean them and then you look at something and you see everything with clearer, fresher eyes.

We called it polishing the brand because we didn’t change anything; we took that cover engraving and illustrated it again. The font was something that we developed as a custom font for the Almanac, and that was one of the most dramatic changes, but if you look at the 2016 Almanac versus the new one, you’ll see that it just brings everything into a sharper focus. It’s still the familiar yellow cover; it’s still the familiar engraving; the four seasons; Ben Franklin and the founder, Robert B. Thomas, look like real people. And you can actually see the engraving of the four seasons. Everything has just come to life and in a sharper focus.

It looks very much the same, but just polished. And it’s just so much clearer and so much more eye-catching. It’s something that we needed to do; we really needed to polish the magazine a little. Developing that font was essential because we use that font now across all of the products that we do and online and on Facebook, so that’s the recognizable font of the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It’ll be across all print, social media and online as well.

Samir Husni: When I saw the new redesigned cover, I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh it looks, but I didn’t feel I was looking at a stranger; that this wasn’t my old friend, the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Sherin Pierce: That was part of the challenge. If it isn’t broken, you don’t fix it, so we enhanced it rather than a complete redesign. It’s such a recognizable cover and you don’t want to do anything to damage that, but you want to, again, enhance certain elements that may have faded a bit over the past decades, and just bring it into sharper focus, so that when people look at it they can still see the same Old Farmer’s Almanac, but with a clearer, fresher look.

And I think we achieved the pleasant surprise that we wanted. We didn’t want it to be unrecognizable; we just wanted people to feel that there was something a bit different about it that they couldn’t really put their finger on, but that there was something fresher about it.

Samir Husni: The tagline: useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor…

Sherin Pierce: That was from Robert B. Thomas and he wanted to make sure that all of the intimation that we had was useful, whether we talked about the weather, the planets, stars, food; whether it was anecdotes or pleasantries, gardening, just whatever we talked about had to be useful information. But at the same time we wanted to have a pleasant way of presenting that information, so it wasn’t like lecturing people.

We wanted to have a pleasant degree of humor, permeate everything we do with that humor. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our work very seriously. So, we want people to feel good about getting the information from the Almanac, because humor is so essential in life. If the information is just dour and straightforward facts, people aren’t going to come back to the magazine time and again to get this information. Let’s be honest, you can find this information anywhere if you search long and hard, but we curate it in a way that’s useful and we add a special tongue-in-cheek sense of humor in everything that we present. So, it makes people feel good. They have the information and they enjoyed the entire process of getting it.

And whether we do it online or in print, it’s a touchstone for us. Anytime that you have a touchstone that you can go back to and ask whether something really lives up to what the founder wanted 225 years ago; I think that’s remarkable. Everything we do is governed by those few words: useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.

Samir Husni: You’ve been the publisher since 1994 and you’ve seen a lot of changes; what has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face over the years and how did you overcome it?

Sherin Pierce: Well, because the Almanac is sold at retail and it just dominates so many markets, I think one of the biggest challenges was the whole change in traditional newsstand. With the Almanac we have bookstore distribution and we have direct sales distribution into all of the hardware chains, so we had amortized our risks, but still the newsstand was the major source of distribution for the Almanac.

And when the newsstand began to implode in the 1990s, with The Anderson News grabbing the chains and you start seeing all of these mega wholesaler groups forming, the demise of the small wholesaler, the smaller stores that sold the Almanac, all the small mom-and-pop stores that the smaller wholesalers could send copies to; when they became these big wholesaler groups, all they were interested in were the big chains. That’s all they could service, and losing all of those tens of thousands of smaller towns and the smaller wholesalers, it hurt us.

And so many of our customers in those C and D counties, there are no major chains, this is what they depended on, the smaller wholesaler service these smaller towns. That was a big challenge for us, to have to figure out with people losing the ability to buy the Almanac locally, how could we get it to them? So, we did start marketing the Almanac more aggressively and began shipping it to people. So, that was one way we overcame that whole thing.

And we went online in 1996; almanac.com was established 20 years ago. And we learned very quickly how to take the Almanac and not just put the whole issue online for free. We took elements of the Almanac and built our website to reflect all of the different sections of the Almanac. So, you could get a sense and a feel and an up-to-the-moment look at the Almanac, but the print was still the annual publication and it was different from what you got online. And we also developed a way to sell the Almanac as an online publication as well.

So, I think that transition, especially when everyone kept saying that print was dead; we never gave up on print, but that transition showed that we could coexist. Print and online could coexist; there’s no reason one has to die for the other one to live. We developed our E-book versions for Kindle and iPad; we kept our page-turner version on almanac.com, but we continued in print as well.

We went from a high in the 1990s in print of about 6.3 million and now we’re holding at 3 million. And most of that is due to the challenges of distribution on the newsstand. With the number of wholesalers you can’t put more copies out there, the capacity just isn’t there. And that was one of the challenges that we had to face. As wholesalers get bigger and bigger, the demands get greater. And for an annual publication, we have to have everything working perfectly because we have one chance every year. We have one chance and we have to get it right, so all of the planning and printing and distribution; it all has to come to fruition and it has to work. We have several redistributions, obviously, but everything depends on that one opportunity to get the job done correctly.

The average newsstand sale is not 26%; we’re regularly in the high 30’s and even though we look back nostalgically at the days when we were in the 40’s and even 50’s, it’s still pretty good, given the amount of copies that we put out. Every year we begin with zero orders and we have to build that whole print order year after year. Nobody ever gives you anything; you have to fight for it. Every year you have to plan and think about what you need to do and that’s going to be the ongoing challenge. Also with scan-based trading and Pass Through RDA, every year more and more pressures are put on publishers who sell at retail. There is a lot of pressure and again, it’s constant evaluations. Those are the challenges that are going to be ongoing.

The good news is in certain chains, like the specialty accounts, such as Lowe’s, Tractor Supply and Home Depot, we do very well. When you’re selling in the 70% in those places, it offsets some of the other issues you have on the newsstand.

Samir Husni: I know you’ve recreated a lot on digital and online, but what do you do with that trademark of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the hole in the upper left-hand corner? You can never create that in digital, can you? Nobody is going to drill a hole in their computer to make that. (Laughs)

Sherin Pierce: (Laughs too). No, but you know what, we have the ‘hole’ story and we tell it online, but it’s not the same. See, that’s why when people said that print was dead, we always knew that for the Almanac to survive, we had to have print. We just had to. People need that and they want to see it. We have several versions of the Almanac; our hardcover version doesn’t have the hole, but it’s a collector’s edition. It’s sold with the one hundred year or two hundred year and the current Almanac, so we do the reprints of those. For instance, in 2017 we’ll reprint the 1817 and the 1917 editions. It comes as a package. So, you’ve got 200 years of Almanac publishing. So, that’s a collector’s edition.

People want that familiar hole; the more things change, the more people want some things to remain the same. It’s that kind of stability in this ever-changing world. You’re bombarded with so much and then there’s this little yellow book that stands for simpler times. And it’s still so relevant.

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

Sherin Pierce: When we looked at the Almanac this year, part of the reason that we wanted to look at the brand again was because the online presence and the social media presence has been growing by leaps and bounds. Our Facebook is at 1.4 million; Instagram is about 70,000; Pinterest and Twitter; all the ways in which we’re communicating on a daily basis and finding new people to come to the Almanac brand. We wanted to make sure that whether it was online, social media or print, every time someone accessed us they knew they were coming to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We wanted to make that very clear, visually and in tone and voice.

And I have to say, we’re not owned by a big, mighty conglomerate; we’re a small and independent publishing company, but we have really talented, hardworking people. Everyone has a focus and a great commitment to what they do. And with those words of advice from our founder and such a committed staff; a hardworking, smart and talented staff, I think we can really keep this brand and give it all the accolades that it needs for 225 years, and then also position it for the future as well. I won’t be here for the next 225 years, but that’s OK; we’ll leave it in a good situation so that someone else can take it forward. Honestly, it takes a village. (Laughs)

And whether it was what happened inside this building or outside, it’s the people who helped us with the redesign, illustrator Steven Noble, Sam Berlow and David Berlow of The Font Bureau, Ben Scott and Lainey Fink at Bluerock Design, and all the other people who helped, it really took a village. Everyone wanted to be a part of keeping this historical legacy going. I’m very lucky to have the support system that I have.

 Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, reading your iPad, watching television, or something else?

Sherin Pierce: I’m on my road bike cycling. And then when I get home I go to a Zumba class or a yoga class. After being behind a desk all day, I cycle to work as well, in the summertime, not in the wintertime; I’m doing something very physical and active. I exercise and then I come back and garden. And at the end of the day I usually read. I read the paper that I’ve read for the last 30 years, the Wall Street Journal. I might watch some TV; I love comedies and I love watching some of the political shows as well, so I will watch a little TV. But it’s really a variety of things. More or less, as I get to the end of the day, I switch off the electronics and unwind with print.

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

Sherin Pierce: What keeps me up at night are deadlines that may be missed. Also, I sometimes wonder why we can’t be more decent and civilized to one another. We’re all in competition as publishers, but we’re civil to one another. And I wish the way we all work together professionally could carry over into our daily lives. The divisiveness and the rhetoric that we’re hearing now are very upsetting and it’s hard to imagine that our lives are so governed by negativity.

I’m an optimistic person and I’m always trying to see how I can do things better and how I can learn. I’m very curious; I love to learn. I love history and I try to look at it as examples of the mistakes that have been made and I try not to repeat them.

I hope that in some small way the work we do makes people’s lives better and brings them to a place of a bit more peace and tranquility. When you’re looking at the things that are the most essential, you can look at the sky and the beautiful moon every month and understand more about nature and figure out who we are in the context of nature. It’s a time of a little introspection. And to take away from some of the anger and angst that seems to govern our lives every day.

I just hope that the Almanac can bring that because that’s what I hope for people. I would like to make the anger and violence disappear and try to introduce a level of tranquility into their lives. And I think we do that with the little yellow book. And that’s what I hope to accomplish. I have kids and I want this world to be a place where they can flourish and live in safety and harmony. That’s what I hope for.

And unfortunately, I think the web has given people an opportunity to be so anonymous in a way, there’s no face-to-face, the things that are said online when you read some of the comments; it’s horrifying. If you were face-to-face with someone, you would never say that. Behind that wall of anonymity, people say whatever they want. We have to have filters and to think about the impact of what we’re saying.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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Skaaren Design: Editorial & Good Design – What Magazine Making Has Brought Together, Let No Shrinking Budget Put Asunder – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Cody Skaaren, Creative Director & Designer, Skaaren Design

July 28, 2016

Ethisphere Cover Award Winner“I think budgets have shrunk a little bit and a lot of people are interested in digital magazines over print magazines; we get a lot of calls and a lot of interest in doing digital magazines. I think they believe it’s going to be much cheaper, but when they dig into it and realize how much a digital magazine actually costs to do right; basically the same price except the advertising isn’t as expensive. You can’t make as much money on advertising with a digital edition as you can in a print edition, for the most part. So, I see a lot of interest, but I see a lot of interest wane once they get into it. I think people kind of see digital magazines like a website, where it’s not going to cost much money.” Cory Skaaren

 “I find that working closely with the client is almost a necessity. So many people want to hire you and just tell you to do what you do and that’s just a recipe for disaster. We always try and sit down, and I can’t use the word education enough, and educate our clients, and not just about the business of magazines themselves, sometimes they know that kind of stuff, but I really like to talk about the process of design and setting up a magazine that is great, but giving it room to evolve. And, I want to know certain things too. I really need to understand the editorial model. If we’re not a part of creating the editorial model, then I want to understand why the editorial model is the way it is. Why they’re writing the kind of articles they are. I want a 360 degree understanding of that magazine or I can’t design it.” Cory Skaaren

What is good design? According to Cory Skaaren of Skaaren Design in Phoenix, Arizona, good design is the marriage of all elements of the process. From the editorial to the original photography, to the typography and the illustrations; good design is more than filling 96 pages and calling it a completed magazine. There is the flow and the feel; the life of the content that literally breathes from the pages. And Mr. Magazine™ would definitely agree. The magazine is certainly a living, breathing entity.

cory_portrait_01_111213I spoke with Cory recently and we talked about the genetics that make a healthy magazine; one that’s not only easy to absorb, but also highly successful. After 20 years in the design and visual communication business, Cory makes it abundantly clear that narrative is everything. The stories are as much a part of the design as the grids are. And it’s definitely a marriage made in heaven when it’s done right.

From Kono, a martial arts magazine for children, to Ethisphere, a quarterly magazine that’s dedicated to information on ethical leadership for CEO’s, directors and other business professionals, to Beyond Cinema, all about the film industry; Cory has experienced great design firsthand, his own. With Skaaren Design he works with many new magazines as he designs, consults and shares how important the art of storytelling really is to good design.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who knows good design is much more than lines and grids, Cory Skaaren, Creative Director & Designer, Skaaren Design.

But first the sound-bites:

On the difference between how design and creativity are implemented today versus prior to the digital explosion: I think budgets have shrunk a little bit and a lot of people are interested in digital magazines over print magazines; we get a lot of calls and a lot of interest in doing digital magazines. I think they believe it’s going to be much cheaper, but when they dig into it and realize how much a digital magazine actually costs to do right; basically the same price except the advertising isn’t as expensive. You can’t make as much money on advertising with a digital edition as you can in a print edition, for the most part.

On whether all of these changes are helping or hurting the creative industry: Well, I guess I think it’s hurting it. We just have to keep justifying the importance of the psychological effect of good art and good design and good flow. I work with a lot of people who are doing a magazine for the first time, so we’re ushering them through the process. And I think sometimes part of the reason why they decided to do a magazine was because they thought it was going to be cheap because they’ve heard about stock photography and all of these things that are easy and fast and relatively cheap to get.

On whether he encourages or discourages people who have no magazine experience when they come to him with an idea for a new launch: Some of the best experiences I’ve had with people and magazines are newcomers to the publishing space because you’re kind of starting clean with them and you can explain things and as long as they’re reasonable, I think you can get to the heart of the matter pretty quickly.

On a few determinates that are a must in today’s creative design marketplace: Being a designer I really don’t work on magazines that don’t have an art budget. I think original photography and original art is vital to just the life of the magazine. That’s probably a pretty cliché answer, but I also think editorial structure and the flow of the magazine is something that’s very important and a lot of people don’t even consider, going back to the people who are entering publishing for the first time, it’s surprising sometimes that they don’t understand the very basics of the front of the book and the back of the book, and the well, things like that.

On how he made the transition from starting out drawing comic books to designing magazines: I was in college; I was going to design school and I was doing the cartoon for a local nightlife magazine in Phoenix, Arizona. I was basically a glorified intern; I really hadn’t designed anything of note. I had just been an illustrator. Late one night I walked into the office to turn in my cartoon and the publisher’s wife was there and she said that the art director had just quit and asked me to design the magazine. And I just said yes because that’s what we were taught to do; you never said no. So, the next day I started designing the magazine.

On the biggest stumbling block that he’s had to face and how he overcame it: I really believe in the importance of good design. Obviously I see, even though I’m a writer and I’m probably more hands-on with my magazines than a lot of “creative directors” are, we help direct and create editorial. A lot of the magazines that we’ve done over the last 10 years, we helped create and launch. But getting people to understand the importance of good design and spending money on good design; and when I say design I’m including illustration and photography and good writers even for that matter. And I think the only way to truly overcome that is to spend a lot of time with the client educating them on what makes a magazine good.

On his most pleasant moment: When you find a client who really understands and who wants to build something with you; that’s great. And they’re in it for the long haul; that’s when magic really happens. My favorite thing about doing a magazine, obviously besides the design and working with illustrators is working with the editor and working with the editor in chief. During the production of one of our magazines, I’m probably on the phone with an editor in chief almost every day, talking about things, going over articles; what we can do to make them better; what information we can add to make the content better.

Kono BatsOn which of the magazines that he works on he would use as an example to a potential client: I think the best magazine that I ever worked on was Kono magazine, which was a martial arts magazine for kids. But it was really a kid’s lifestyle magazine. That magazine just had a lot of life and it caught on with the readership very quickly. We broke almost all of the rules of magazine design; we didn’t have a baseline grid. The whole magazine was designed as if a kid made it.

On the new magazine he’s launching this summer: We’re launching a new magazine called Hyper and it’s kind of a continuation of what we did with Kono. Even though we built Kono from the ground up, Kono wasn’t my idea. Kono was an idea of two guys who were in the martial arts industry and who realized that every kid in the United States took martial arts at some point in their lives. It’s actually one of the largest sports for kids in the United States; more kids are in martial arts than football or little league baseball. And there are around 35,000 martial arts schools across the United States. And they didn’t have a media platform.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: It’s a challenge sometimes, because doing magazines, and we’re doing four magazines right now, so there’s always a magazine to do. A lot of time magazines can kind of weigh on your psyche a little bit because there’s no respite from it. There’s so much to do that you finish one and the next one just starts; you don’t even get a breath sometimes. I think the challenge of just getting it right is enough for me. I take it very seriously that someone has decided to give me a fair amount of money to design their magazine.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up one evening unexpectedly at his home: I’m probably watching a movie on Apple TV.

On what keeps him up at night: Print deadlines. (Laughs) Print deadlines and the million unknowns that can happen overnight. One of the dangerous things about being an outside counsel to clients is you’re not in the room with their employees, so a lot of discussions take place on their side of the fence that you’re not privy to. So, sometimes you wake up to a decision and that decision could go either way; it could be an amazing decision or it could be a bad decision. And sometimes you have to spend the time to walk them back from that or you just have to change course or go with it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Cory Skaaren, Creative Director & Designer, Skaaren Design.

Samir Husni: You’ve been a creative director for some time now; what do you think are the major changes in design and creativity when it comes to print, before 2007, and after 2007? Do you feel that there’s been a line drawn in the sand; this is how we used to do it and this is how we do it now?

Cory Skaaren: Yes, I think there is a difference. May I ask why you chose the year 2007?

Samir Husni: That’s when the Smartphone arrived on the scene, and then in 2010 here came the tablet. Supposedly, that was the beginning of the digital explosion, which actually hit in 2009.

Cory Skaaren: I think budgets have shrunk a little bit and a lot of people are interested in digital magazines over print magazines; we get a lot of calls and a lot of interest in doing digital magazines. I think they believe it’s going to be much cheaper, but when they dig into it and realize how much a digital magazine actually costs to do right; basically the same price except the advertising isn’t as expensive. You can’t make as much money on advertising with a digital edition as you can in a print edition, for the most part. So, I see a lot of interest, but I see a lot of interest wane once they get into it. I think people kind of see digital magazines like a website, where it’s not going to cost much money.

But I think the bigger thing is just the rise in popularity of these design element sites, like Creative Market and obviously stock photography just gets cheaper and cheaper every year. I really have to struggle to get people to spend money on original art and original photography sometimes.

BC Hawke SingleSamir Husni: Do you think that all of these changes, including the budgets and the tightening of the budgets and this myth that people can go digital and will not cost them anything to print or to distribute; is this helping the creative industry or hurting?

Cory Skaaren: Well, I guess I think it’s hurting it. We just have to keep justifying the importance of the psychological effect of good art and good design and good flow. I work with a lot of people who are doing a magazine for the first time, so we’re ushering them through the process. And I think sometimes part of the reason why they decided to do a magazine was because they thought it was going to be cheap because they’ve heard about stock photography and all of these things that are easy and fast and relatively cheap to get, and you kind of have to walk them back from that a bit and talk them into spending a little more money so that they’re investing in something that people will actually care about in the long term.

Samir Husni: If someone came to you today and told you they were starting a new magazine, would you encourage or discourage them in today’s market? They have no background in magazines whatsoever, just that fascination that they have an idea no one else has ever had and they want to launch this new magazine.

Cory Skaaren: Some of the best experiences I’ve had with people and magazines are newcomers to the publishing space because you’re kind of starting clean with them and you can explain things and as long as they’re reasonable, I think you can get to the heart of the matter pretty quickly.

But I do say this is not a short-term way to make money. I tell them if you want to make money in publishing, it’s going to take a lot of infrastructure and a lot of building and it’s a long-term investment and depending on, obviously their industry and what they want to accomplish with their magazine, I give them a general ballpark of what it’s going to cost.

And reasonable people understand that and they thank you for being honest with them and then there’s some people that you can’t reason with and they’re just going to go to someone else and they’re not going to be around after their third issue.

So, it’s a pro and con there, but I’m a big believer that part of my job is to usher the client through the process of any design project, whether it be a logo design, a magazine design, or anything, and try to get them to think about it a little differently and how we can do it; get more bang for our buck, because that’s a big deal today. And how to do it faster and easier, because let’s face it, there are a lot of hands in the pot when it comes to magazine design, or magazine creation, I guess.

Getting all those people on one page and getting people to focus on their jobs; that can save a client a lot of money just by developing a creative process that works within their structure and allows us to do the magazine without 400 revisions for every page.

Samir Husni: If you were to have a formula; although I know that in the business of design there’s no such thing as formulas, but if you were to come up with some determinates that you think makes a good design for a print magazine and its website in today’s marketplace, could you name two or three things that are a must?

Ethisphere-MagazineCory Skaaren: Being a designer I really don’t work on magazines that don’t have an art budget. I think original photography and original art is vital to just the life of the magazine. That’s probably a pretty cliché answer, but I also think editorial structure and the flow of the magazine is something that’s very important and a lot of people don’t even consider, going back to the people who are entering publishing for the first time, it’s surprising sometimes that they don’t understand the very basics of the front of the book and the back of the book, and the well, things like that.

I have loved magazines since I was a child. I started in this business in comic books, so that story structure meant a lot to me, so whenever I picked up a book in my formative years, the impact of how that story was structured meant a lot to me, and the comfortability of a reader being able to pick up any issue of Rolling Stone and going right to the movie reviews or right to the music reviews; that consistency and quality over time, that’s really what I drill into them from the first meeting.

Samir Husni: I too fell in love with comics. Those were my magazines when I was growing up in Lebanon. The storyline; the whole aspect from A to Z was what moved me into this magazine direction. Where did you grow up?

Cory Skaaren: I grew up in Minnesota, but my first job in this business was drawing comic books.

Samir Husni: How did you make the transition from drawing comic books to designing magazines?

Cory Skaaren: I was in college; I was going to design school and I was doing the cartoon for a local nightlife magazine in Phoenix, Arizona. I was basically a glorified intern; I really hadn’t designed anything of note. I had just been an illustrator. Late one night I walked into the office to turn in my cartoon and the publisher’s wife was there and she said that the art director had just quit and asked me to design the magazine. And I just said yes because that’s what we were taught to do; you never said no. So, the next day I started designing the magazine. I had never designed a magazine before. I thought I understood magazines, but that magazine was horrible. I did a horrible job designing it. They paid for my education in print production and how to set up Quark. This was back in the day of Quark XPress.

So, that’s how I got into it; really by accident. Coming from comic books, I really and truly understood the structure of a story; how to illustrate a story; how to create a flow through 84 pages. I just kind of got onto it. And what I realized living in a town like Phoenix, which is certainly not the publishing capital of the world, there was a lot of magazines being published out of here at the time and I was someone who had some experience, so I just slowly started doing it. And now it’s about 50% of my business.

Samir Husni: What’s the other 50%?

Cory Skaaren: Mainly branding and brand consulting. But we do a little bit of everything.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Cory Skaaren: I really believe in the importance of good design. Obviously I see, even though I’m a writer and I’m probably more hands-on with my magazines than a lot of “creative directors” are, we help direct and create editorial. A lot of the magazines that we’ve done over the last 10 years, we helped create and launch. But getting people to understand the importance of good design and spending money on good design; and when I say design I’m including illustration and photography and good writers even for that matter.

And I think the only way to truly overcome that is to spend a lot of time with the client educating them on what makes a magazine good, and how that affects the bottom line, and so many of them believe that if they make it, readers will come. And so many go into it with the idea that all they have to do is get that first issue printed and the advertisers will come flocking. It’s a pretty rude awakening when that doesn’t happen.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you during your career?

Cory Skaaren: When you find a client who really understands and who wants to build something with you; that’s great. And they’re in it for the long haul; that’s when magic really happens. My favorite thing about doing a magazine, obviously besides the design and working with illustrators is working with the editor and working with the editor in chief. During the production of one of our magazines, I’m probably on the phone with an editor in chief almost every day, talking about things, going over articles; what we can do to make them better; what information we can add to make the content better. Those are the things that I really enjoy. I enjoy creating content and then visually realizing it.

I find that working closely with the client is almost a necessity. So many people want to hire you and just tell you to do what you do and that’s just a recipe for disaster. We always try and sit down, and I can’t use the word education enough, and educate our clients, and not just about the business of magazines themselves, sometimes they know that kind of stuff, but I really like to talk about the process of design and setting up a magazine that is great, but giving it room to evolve.

And, I want to know certain things too. I really need to understand the editorial model. If we’re not a part of creating the editorial model, then I want to understand why the editorial model is the way it is. Why they’re writing the kind of articles they are. I want a 360 degree understanding of that magazine or I can’t design it. And it’s hard to do that long-distance.

And there are a lot of litmus tests that people need to pass before they get into the magazine business. I think that’s one of the big misunderstandings. Publishing is still kind of sexy; owning a magazine is kind of sexy. And it gives you entrée into a lot of things and people get caught up into that, but they don’t realize that they’re going to lose money for a fair amount of time. And they have to have a decent enough runway to let the magazine be successful. And that’s a challenge.

Kono was a very interesting business model, because what we did was create our own distribution model. I think we put about 8 to 10,000 magazines on the newsstands and we sold individual subscriptions. But the bulk of our sales, because the martial arts industry didn’t have a media platform, we would print the magazines and then martial arts schools would buy them from us in bulk and give them to their students as a retention tool. In one year we went from; the first magazine we printed, I think we sold 60,000 copies, by issue #10; we were selling 275,000 copies per issue. We were actually profitable in 10 issues, but it was a very non-traditional hands-on approach to it.

Samir Husni: I’m a potential client and I have a magazine idea, so I ask you to send me a sample from all the things you’ve done, which magazine would you send me?

Cory Skaaren: I think the best magazine that I ever worked on was Kono magazine, which was a martial arts magazine for kids. But it was really a kid’s lifestyle magazine. That magazine just had a lot of life and it caught on with the readership very quickly. We broke almost all of the rules of magazine design; we didn’t have a baseline grid. The whole magazine was designed as if a kid made it. The demographic was like 6 to 12. So, we kind of went at the design with the mindset that if a kid who was 6 to 12-years-old designed their own magazine, what would it look like? We designed the entire magazine out of clipped paper and things were taped and pinned to the pages; it was very interactive.

I think that I would show that only because it showcases thinking outside the box and not everything has to be based on a grid system. It really ignored all of those traditional rules of magazine design.

Samir Husni: You said you were in the process of launching a new magazine this summer, could you tell me about it?

Cory Skaaren: We’re launching a new magazine called Hyper and it’s kind of a continuation of what we did with Kono. Even though we built Kono from the ground up, Kono wasn’t my idea. Kono was an idea of two guys who were in the martial arts industry and who realized that every kid in the United States took martial arts at some point in their lives. It’s actually one of the largest sports for kids in the United States; more kids are in martial arts than football or little league baseball. And there are around 35,000 martial arts schools across the United States. And they didn’t have a media platform.

Kono, unfortunately, was kind of shut down due to the recession. It was a very successful magazine, but we were so new that we couldn’t really survive that. So, Hyper is a continuation of that, but we’re gearing it more toward a slightly older demographic, like 12 to 16-year-olds. We’re taking everything we learned from Kono and putting it into an older demographic.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Cory Skaaren: It’s a challenge sometimes, because doing magazines, and we’re doing four magazines right now, so there’s always a magazine to do. A lot of time magazines can kind of weigh on your psyche a little bit because there’s no respite from it. There’s so much to do that you finish one and the next one just starts; you don’t even get a breath sometimes.

I think the challenge of just getting it right is enough for me. I take it very seriously that someone has decided to give me a fair amount of money to design their magazine. You and I both know that magazines are not cheap, so to have that faith and hand over that money and say to me, do the best job you can and get it right is something that I take so seriously that it almost drives me crazy.

And I think that there are so many challenges in there because if you’re a designer magazines are really a boot camp for design, because everything is in there. There’s typography, photography, editorial, copy fitting; you name it and it’s in there. And it all has to be functioning. We never get it 100% right, I don’t think. But maybe that’s just me never being happy with it, but there’s always some challenge to every issue, no matter how many issues of the same magazine that you do; there’s always something that can be improved or that you didn’t quite have the time to get 100% right, and that’s the challenge for the next issue. So, I think that drive to just get it right is what keeps me going.

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

Cory Skaaren: I’m probably watching a movie on Apple TV.

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

Cory Skaaren: Print deadlines. (Laughs) Print deadlines and the million unknowns that can happen overnight. One of the dangerous things about being an outside counsel to clients is you’re not in the room with their employees, so a lot of discussions take place on their side of the fence that you’re not privy to. So, sometimes you wake up to a decision and that decision could go either way; it could be an amazing decision or it could be a bad decision. And sometimes you have to spend the time to walk them back from that or you just have to change course or go with it.

So, that really keeps me up at night. Sometimes I wonder: what’s being talked about right now that’s going to affect my day tomorrow that I’m not going to know about until it’s too late.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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Pacific Standard Magazine – A Magazine Worth Printing With Stories That Matter – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Nick Jackson, Editor In Chief, Pacific Standard Magazine.

July 25, 2016

COD_PacificStandard_w_580“We had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else? And for us that are the stories that we’re going to put months of work into; we’re going to dedicate extra research toward, whether that’s through fact-checking, copyediting, or just research and report. Also, I think that as much as people have tried, you can’t really replicate the print experience in any other medium.” Nick Jackson

“I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.” Nick Jackson

 Making the worlds of research, media and public policy, not to mention academia and technology, engaging and compelling to the general populace is something that Pacific Standard’s new redesign is setting out to do.

Launched originally in 2008 as Miller-McCune magazine by Sara Miller McCune, the founder and head of Sage Publications, the name was changed to Pacific Standard in 2012. The magazine has always striven to publish stories that are important and matter, covering topics that are left untouched by many other publications.

However, today’s Pacific Standard, with its compelling new redesign, has taken the maelstrom of hot topics that are splashed across today’s mediums and featured them within the pages of the magazine to captivate readers with timely information in a new and deeper format that brings the art of long-form journalism back to the forefront.

Nick Jackson is editor in chief of Pacific Standard and has brought the brand into this redesign boldly and confidently, anxious to show readers the positive changes that have been made. Nick comes from a background that includes such giants in publishing as The Atlantic, Slate and Outside magazines. He knows his stuff and is proud to be cultivating stories that inform and change people’s lives.

I spoke with Nick recently and we talked about the magazine’s new look and more poignant perspective. It was an interview that was filled with focus for the brand’s future and excitement for its present, without discounting its esteemed past, recognizing the brilliance of Sara Miller McCune, founder of Sage Publications, who launched the magazine.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who is helping his brand to continue to raise the “standard” in today’s journalism, Nick Jackson, editor in chief, Pacific Standard magazine

But first the sound-bites:

08 Nick_PacificStandard_0817_webOn his definition of a magazine “worth printing” in 2016: We need to differentiate ourselves from what everybody else is doing. We have a pretty robust presence at this point. We’re not huge, but we’re up to the point where we’re publishing 10 to 12 original, non-aggregation pieces a day on our site. So, we had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else?

On how they’re using digital to enhance the printed product: I actually think that’s something that I’m proudest of. My background is almost exclusively in digital. I got my start at Slate and The Atlantic years ago. And we’ve really created a truly hybrid newsroom; it’s a small newsroom, but it really is platform agnostic and informs everything we do.

On how the brand is doubling its efforts to utilize more research and investigative reporting in both the printed magazine and on its website: I think first of all; we have to do that. There’s really sort of a mass versus class situation in publishing right now. We don’t really aspire to be a BuzzFeed or even a Vice or Vox. And so we thought that it was really important to double down on our mission, which I think is something that not a lot of other places are doing. It’s really a couple of different factors for us and part of that is the academic background. A lot of our work is informed by the latest research, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, rather than just relying on an anecdote.

COD_PacificStandard2_w_580On the redesign issue’s second cover: The other cover is Ralph Nader. We have special distribution on Capitol Hill, in airport lounges and a couple of other places. One of the things that we want to do is affect policy one way or another and I think that it helps for us to do hand delivery on Capitol Hill, where we thought Ralph Nader would resonate a little more strongly.

On whether the magazine’s targeted audience is shrinking or expanding in today’s world: For us, the audience is expanding. I don’t know what the larger groups of those sorts of people are; they’re difficult to reach. That’s the future. We were founded by Sara Miller McCune, whose background is in starting Sage Publications 50 years ago, which is an incredibly successful academic publisher, but that’s an entirely different business where you have to publish in those journals to go up for tenure.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face during the redesign and how he overcame it: It would probably be finding that balance. We’re more focused on our mission than we’ve ever been. And I’ve worked with a lot of people here on narrowing that down. Knowing that we want to reach our audience and ultimately everybody wants their stuff to get out in front of as large an audience as possible.

On what has been the most pleasant moment during the redesign: It’s hard to pick just one. It’s been a lot of fun. At its best, magazine making is just a really fun and collaborative project, and over the past year or so while we were remaking the magazine we were also building out a new office space that has more room for us to grow into. So, we were actually making the magazine, and I talk about meeting in coffee shops and other things in the editor’s letter, but that’s completely true. (Laughs) A lot of this was made on the fly around California while we were building this new office space, while we were getting ready to grow and expand.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: I’m probably reading a magazine. I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: It’s the magazine we’re putting out. As I said, I worked at The Atlantic, Slate and Outside, and I did a lot of work there that I’m really proud of. Those are incredible publishers doing great work today, but a big chunk of my time was thinking through things such as; I’m going to send someone to live on Everest and report on the plight of Sherpas there, which is something that we did when I was at Outside.

On what keeps him up at night: Fact-checking. (Laughs) Fact-checking headaches. We’re about to close a food issue and for us that’s a big feature on food safety; an issue that involves 46 or more government agencies. So, the headaches of closing a piece like that are many. But, they’re very exciting challenges to work through. But they’re still challenges. So, you’re constantly worried.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Nick Jackson, Editor In Chief, Pacific Standard Magazine.

 Samir Husni: Congratulations on the new and improved Pacific Standard magazine. You wrote in your editorial that you decided to actually create a magazine worth printing in 2016. How would you define a magazine “worth printing” in today’s digital age?

Nick Jackson: We need to differentiate ourselves from what everybody else is doing. We have a pretty robust presence at this point. We’re not huge, but we’re up to the point where we’re publishing 10 to 12 original, non-aggregation pieces a day on our site. So, we had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else?

And for us that are the stories that we’re going to put months of work into; we’re going to dedicate extra research toward, whether that’s through fact-checking, copyediting, or just research and report. Also, I think that as much as people have tried, you can’t really replicate the print experience in any other medium. So, we’ve put a lot more energy, resources, time and money into our art and photography and we’re really trying to create this object that people want to keep.

One thing that I’m constantly thinking about is what National Geographic was to people in the 1980s and 1990s, which was a magazine that lived on the newsstand, but was also a magazine that people kept and collected. We’re trying to capture some of that in 2016. We want to last more than just a moment. We don’t want to compete with newsweeklies or other printed products. We want to create something that you’re going to keep and share and pass around; something that you’re going to refer back to over and over again. Those are the kinds of things that you can do in print in a way that you can’t do online. So, that really began the whole discussion about redesigning the magazine.

Samir Husni: I was looking at the redesigned issue and reading your letter from the editor and saw the accompanying photo. In that picture you’re using digital devices as you create this magazine, so how are you using digital to enhance this new Pacific Standard magazine that you’re trying to create?

Nick Jackson: I actually think that’s something that I’m proudest of. My background is almost exclusively in digital. I got my start at Slate and The Atlantic years ago. And we’ve really created a truly hybrid newsroom; it’s a small newsroom, but it really is platform agnostic and informs everything we do. Being platform agnostic is something that everybody talks about and aspires to, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about industry wide for five or six years now. But every place that I’ve worked there’s still people who work in digital and people who work in print. And for some places that works very well. You can look at Hearst where they’ve completely split the two.

Every single person on my team is working on both and that’s made both products better. For us that means that if we have someone who is primarily responsible for assigning featured stories, they can say this story is going to benefit from a quick turnaround time; maybe there’s news pegged like the upcoming election that we want to push out online, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense in print because of the long lead time. So, we really have people who are able to, because they’re working across platforms; decide something works best here or there. This is the story that’s going to be better if we put a couple of months of editing into it for the print magazine.

And that’s also helping our website. We’re doing more fact-checking and copyediting and some of the more traditional print processes; we’re doing more of that online that a lot of places are, so it’s making our website better too.

letter from the editorSamir Husni: You mentioned that in both, the print and the PS mag.com that you’re doubling down on the mission to combine research with narrative and investigative reporting; give me some examples of how you’re doing that.

Nick Jackson: I think first of all; we have to do that. There’s really sort of a mass versus class situation in publishing right now. We don’t really aspire to be a BuzzFeed or even a Vice or Vox. And so we thought that it was really important to double down on our mission, which I think is something that not a lot of other places are doing.

It’s really a couple of different factors for us and part of that is the academic background. A lot of our work is informed by the latest research, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, rather than just relying on an anecdote.

Another differing factor is our core focus areas, where we focus on educational, economic and social justice, and the environment, which largely is a lot of climate change for us now. But you can see those in almost any story we do, so the new redesign issue’s cover for newsstands is “The Addicted Generation.” We had a separate cover for some of our special distribution, but that’s another conversation.

“The Addicted Generation,” which is a traditional magazine piece in that there was weeks’ worth of reporting and dozens of sources of people in their late 20s and early 30s, largely millennials who grew up on Ritalin and other ADHD drugs and who are now struggling, trying to get themselves off of it. They would consider themselves addicted, that’s a word that we don’t use lightly, but it comes up over and over again in our reporting on this.

But it’s more than just their stories. We actually in print and we struggled with this a little bit online, where you can see the packaging of print really is something special. We moved a lot of their individual and personal stories into sidebars, and ran them like “as told” and we focused the feature itself around what the research really told us about how people become dependent on these drugs or don’t become dependent; where’s the research at? The core of the feature is really written with the people studying this issue and the doctors at the heart of it, and then we moved the actual effected millennials into the sidebars.

So, that’s probably a slightly different approach than another magazine would have taken on this story, but I think it really sets us apart and offers something unique and important to our readers.

Samir Husni: You’ve piqued my interest by mentioning another cover; what’s the other cover?

Nick Jackson: The other cover is Ralph Nader. We have special distribution on Capitol Hill, in airport lounges and a couple of other places. One of the things that we want to do is affect policy one way or another and I think that it helps for us to do hand delivery on Capitol Hill, where we thought Ralph Nader would resonate a little more strongly.

I mentioned this in the editor’s letter too; in the redesign we opened up the feature well a little bit, we’re going to be running four features an issue instead of three and with some of that extra space we’re going to be doing more photo essays and more long-form interviews. So, Ralph Nader is our first long-form interview.

We’ve paired with Lydia DePillis, who used to be a labor reporter at the Washington Post and is now at the Houston Chronicle down in Texas. But she has a deep background in a lot of these issues that Ralph Nader’s been involved in for 40 or 50 years at this point. We paired them up and had them talk a lot about the election and what’s coming up. We thought the timing would do well, so he’s our first. And then we have a couple more in the works, but the long-form interview is something that I think we want to do more of and we’re hoping that opening up the feature well will allow us to do that.

That’s the first time that we’ve done a split cover, I don’t know if we’ll keep doing it, but we have been playing around a lot with covers lately. Even the previous issue, which was an entirely water-themed issue; we did a wraparound cover and because we’re a non-profit, we’re in a slightly different position than other places. That back page real estate is less important to us for advertisers and I think it really helps differentiate us. We’re going to try and do some more wraparound covers. I think it gives this thing more of a book quality than a traditional magazine.

back cover useSamir Husni: I love your insect and spider back cover. It’s been said that 55% of people in the Western Hemisphere start reading the magazine from the back.

Nick Jackson: Right. We’ve been working on this redesign while putting out the magazine for 9 or 10 months or so, and there are a lot of obvious things that we wanted to do: expand the feature well, bring more art and photography in, eliminate stock completely; probably the most difficult thing to come up with was what to do with that back page. Not the back cover, but that last page in the magazine. I think everybody in the industry talks about it, and I think only a few magazines have figured it out. You think about The New Yorker cartoon, or maybe the Proust Questionnaire at Vanity Fair, but it’s such a difficult piece of real estate.

Samir Husni: I think even with the prison tattoo; it’s a very captivating last page.

p useNick Jackson: Yes, we’re just going to try and keep it really bold and bright; just focus on a single object that’s related to some of our core coverage areas and tell a brief, little historical story about that object. It was fun, because we actually had someone create that prison tattoo gun before we shot it, so we have it here in the office. I talked about using it to maybe give myself a small Pacific Standard tattoo or something. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Let’s talk a little about your targeted audience. “You’re trying to reach civically engaged citizens interested in improving both private behavior and public policy to promote a more fair and equitable world.” I read that from your letter from the editor. Is that audience shrinking or is that audience expanding? Do we have such an audience in the country as we see it today?

Nick Jackson: For us, the audience is expanding. I don’t know what the larger groups of those sorts of people are; they’re difficult to reach. That’s the future. We were founded by Sara Miller McCune, whose background is in starting Sage Publications 50 years ago, which is an incredibly successful academic publisher, but that’s an entirely different business where you have to publish in those journals to go up for tenure.

We know that most academic papers are only read by three or four people and there’s really important work being done in the space, and that’s really why we put out this magazine, which is how do we take some of the best research happening today and package that in a way that gets people excited.

I just talked about Ralph Nader being our first big interview; we don’t do the big celebrity profile; we don’t do the extended service package; we don’t do a lot of the things that are easier sells to an audience for other people. We’re doing some pretty deeply investigative reporting. We’re doing a lot of scientific work; how do you package that in a way that gets people excited about it and engaged with it?

That’s really why we redesigned the magazine. We’re constantly thinking about how you get in front of those people; how do we stay true to our mission and reach them? So, we know that our audience is expanding.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face during this redesign and how did you overcome it?

Nick Jackson: It would probably be finding that balance. We’re more focused on our mission than we’ve ever been. And I’ve worked with a lot of people here on narrowing that down. Knowing that we want to reach our audience and ultimately everybody wants their stuff to get out in front of as large an audience as possible.

So, a lot of it was thinking, OK – we have this front-of-book that’s largely built around the academic work that is our foundation, but maybe it’s too academic in its presentation. We were doing a lot with citations to journals; we had a lot of departments named after things that hinted back at the university and the Ivory Tower. Maybe it was a little off-putting for just your general reader, which is really who you’re trying to expose with new information.

A lot of that we worked on, and I think we’ve landed in a place that we’re pretty comfortable with. We have pushed what used to be our prospector section, as a sort of short front-of-book stuff, with this new section called “Field Notes,” which is really our version of Talk of the Town. They’re very short, very fun pieces and they’re lighter on the research than a lot of the other stuff we do. So, trying to find that balance is always tricky for us.

But it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to stray from our mission too much and just do work to attract an audience, because if that’s what we wanted to do, we would work elsewhere. I worked at The Atlantic and Outside and at a bunch of big publishers and had a much larger audience than we do here, but the reason for me coming to Pacific Standard was that I wanted to do work that I felt was important. I wanted to do stories that mattered, which we make our tag on. And work that feels like it can make a difference, whether that’s affecting public policy like we talked about, even if it’s affecting private, individual behavior in some way.

Obviously, with everything going on now we’re doing a lot of work around the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence. If you can just use the latest social behavioral research to get people to think about their actions and maybe change them, instead of, I don’t know, creating some quiz or list or something that’s been done in the past, then that’s the most important thing, even if you’re not reaching a huge audience.

Trying to find that balance is always hard. I’ve got a lot of people who have left bigger and more well-known magazines to come out here and try to work on this, because they think everybody is excited about having some affect. So, you’re looking to give up the scale for the impact. Trying to measure impact and trying to figure out what the right equation is will always be tricky.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment during the redesign?

Nick Jackson: It’s hard to pick just one. It’s been a lot of fun. At its best, magazine making is just a really fun and collaborative project, and over the past year or so while we were remaking the magazine we were also building out a new office space that has more room for us to grow into. So, we were actually making the magazine, and I talk about meeting in coffee shops and other things in the editor’s letter, but that’s completely true. (Laughs) A lot of this was made on the fly around California while we were building this new office space, while we were getting ready to grow and expand.

And just getting this brain trust, this group of people who have come from all over the country to work together on this magazine, to think through things such as if we start from scratch, and there are a lot of things that have remained the same from previous iterations because they work, but let’s think about it as though we’re creating a magazine from scratch and we have the resources to do that; how do we make a magazine that we’re excited about putting out?

And it’s really the collaborative nature of magazine making that’s a great joy. The best part about it is that it doesn’t end when the redesign is ready and that’s a daily process. I’m in the middle of shift week right now and I have a lot of people huddled around, trying to put out the best thing they can on a timeline. And that’s always so much fun.

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

Nick Jackson: I’m probably reading a magazine. I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.

So, I’m probably reading a magazine; maybe I’m reading other stuff online. There’s very little I’m doing that’s not related to my work, which may sound sad to some people, I guess, but it’s how I found my way into this. I went to a boarding school for math and science geeks and thought I would become a physicist, and only decided to get into journalism and magazine making because it was sort of my hobby and my interest on the side. And I thought if I can make that a career, then that’s the way to go.

When your put in a position when you seem to have a clear trajectory in one direction and you shift from that because you’re so passionate about whatever it is that’s pulling you in another direction, then that shows in your work.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Nick Jackson: It’s the magazine we’re putting out. As I said, I worked at The Atlantic, Slate and Outside, and I did a lot of work there that I’m really proud of. Those are incredible publishers doing great work today, but a big chunk of my time was thinking through things such as; I’m going to send someone to live on Everest and report on the plight of Sherpas there, which is something that we did when I was at Outside.

But I also have to think about how do I put together a great service package for somebody? Or how do I grow the revenue streams on the website? And that’s something that we’re still sort of thinking about here, but most of our energy and focus goes into just putting out great stories, which I think is what everybody who gets into this business wants to do, but realizes at best that can only be a percentage of what they do. Here, it’s a much larger percentage than anywhere else.

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

Nick Jackson: Fact-checking. (Laughs) Fact-checking headaches. We’re about to close a food issue and for us that’s a big feature on food safety; an issue that involves 46 or more government agencies. So, the headaches of closing a piece like that are many. But, they’re very exciting challenges to work through. But they’re still challenges. So, you’re constantly worried. The difference with print over web is that I have a ship date that I have to meet; these stories have to be ready at a certain time. No matter what they have to be ready to go out the door. And that can be tricky.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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