Archive for the ‘Redesigns’ Category

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

June 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first, the sound-bites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Samir Husni: Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

May 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites:

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

Richard Klein, publisher and creative director, FourTwoNIne magazine

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

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

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

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

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

Maer Roshan, editor in chief, FourTwoNine magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Maer Roshan: …if that gives you some idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Yes.

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

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

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

Maer Roshan: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

March 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay Fielden: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

November 15, 2016

che-anthology-cover

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

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

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

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

First issue of The Chronicle

First issue of The Chronicle

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites:

Liz McMillen photo by Jay Premack

Liz McMillen photo by Jay Premack

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

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

The newly redesigned Chronicle...

The newly redesigned Chronicle…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chronicle before the redesign...

The Chronicle before the redesign…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The newly redesigned Chronicle...

The newly redesigned Chronicle…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

August 16, 2016

COVER_HI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara O’Dair: Yes, it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara O’Dair: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

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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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