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Long Before There Was President-Elect Trump… Playboy’s Hefner Discovered The TRUMP Brand

November 19, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

trumpLong before there was a President-Elect Trump, long before there was a Trump Tower, and long before there was a Trump brand, Hugh M. Hefner, the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine owned and launched Trump magazine in 1957, almost three years after he launched Playboy magazine.

Needless to say Hefner’s Trump magazine did not have the same success as Playboy magazine, however it is quite intriguing to see what the premise of Trump magazine was as stated in the prospectus of its very first issue in January 1957.

trump-3The prospectus reads:

This Prospectus shall set forth our purpose.
Trump proposes to be a magazine with ideals.
Trump proposes to be a magazine that will hew to its ideals with a steadfastness of purpose.
Trump will not be distracted nor frightened.
Trump will work toward our goals, unbiased.
This, then, shall be the purpose of Trump.
Making money.
You have the money.
You give the money to us.
This is our Prospectus. We invite you to stand at the magazine rack and examine our product.
-the editors

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Runner’s World Magazine: 50 Years Of Running The Publishing Marathon With No Signs Of Slowing Down Now – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With David Willey, Editor In Chief, & Jessica Murphy, Managing Director, Runner’s World Magazine…

November 18, 2016

“And I do think that there is a lot more disruption coming, 2017 is going to be just as disruptive as the past two years have been, especially for television, in particular. I don’t think the disruption will ever stop, but once things start to normalize, quality journalism is going to be a key differentiator. We’ve seen that in the election, with all of the fake news and some of the other controversies around how news stories are elevated on social media, like Facebook. And maybe I’m idealistic, but I really do think that people will demand and choose high quality information, entertainment, storytelling and journalism. And that’s going to be the key to our success going forward.” David Willey…

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“I feel like Runner’s World.com serves a much more utilitarian purpose. A lot of times people come to search and they’re looking for very specific information, such as on an injury or training or they’re coming through social because they’ve seen a very specific piece that they’re interested in. There is still joy in magazines where it’s very purposefully put together by an edit team and that magazine may serve you a piece of content that you weren’t expecting. So, even though print publishing is challenged, we still believe in the value of the medium; we just may be using it in different ways so it balances with all of our other digital channels.” Jessica Murphy…

Recently, I have been celebrating the milestone anniversaries that many, many magazines are seeing these days. Print has a way of outlasting most any other medium of information that I know of. And Runner’s World magazine is no exception to that rule as the magazine is observing and extolling its 50th year of publishing nationally and globally its highly runner-engaging journalism. And I use the word “journalism” instead of content because I happen to agree with Runner’s World’s Editor in Chief, David Willey, when he said, “I’m optimistic actually that the business models will emerge and that quality journalism, and I’m using that word instead of the buzzword “content,” which I’m so sick of; it’s so commoditized and I think it doesn’t actually do us any favors to talk about what we do in a commoditized way. What we do is make great journalism and that takes many forms. That can be service journalism; it can be storytelling; it can be investigative reporting; and I think that’s what we as an industry do and do very, very well.”

Mr. Magazine™ couldn’t have said it better himself. And while David said that in no way was he saying that people who use the word content are in opposition to journalism, he does feel as though it’s a catch-all term. But in a world of newsfeeds, notifications and any number of other disruptive distractions; Mr. Magazine™ would agree that at the end of the day magazine makers are journalists and they produce journalism. And the journalism that Runner’s World creates is unparalleled in the world of running.

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I spoke recently with David and the newest member of the staff, Managing Director, Jessica Murphy, and we talked about this milestone 50th anniversary the magazine is celebrating. In addition to the quality journalism the magazine produces, the Runner’s World brand also has many tracks that lead to its compelling information and storytelling, including great events, one being the very recent International Shoe Summit which was held in the magazine’s New York office. The event hosts teams from all 20 global editions and industry executives from companies such as Nike, Brooks Running and New Balance. Following this event, the brand celebrated its 50th Anniversary at the Robert at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC and announced this year’s International Shoe Awards.

The Runner’s World brand has evolved many times over the 50 years it has been publishing, but as David and Jessica both agree, while in today’s world, evolvement is necessary, the root quality and mission of this brand’s journalism needs no evolution. Storytelling, reporting and great design and photography bring the magazine’s readers the addictiveness they require to keep coming back for another 50 years.

So, I hope that you enjoy this very “sole-ful” (sorry, but Mr. Magazine’s™ sense of humor, you’ll have to admit, does have “traction”) interview with two people who know a thing or two about running and the world of marathons, David Willey, editor in chief, & Jessica Murphy, managing director, Runner’s World magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the magazine turning 50 years old (David Willey): It’s never been lost on me that Runner’s World has been around for five decades and has been such an important part of our readers’ lives. It’s done certain things very well and it’s really reflected the times that we’ve lived in. And running has changed so much. It’s been really interesting with this anniversary to look back and see how the magazine over the years has reflected the eras in which it was living.

On Jessica Murphy’s (the new managing director) plans for the next 50 years (Jessica Murphy): I’m extremely honored and excited to be a part of the brand. I’ve been a fan of the magazine for as long as I’ve been a runner myself. My first training program, I obsessed over the magazines’ and the websites’ content as I trained for my first marathon. I think what gets me excited is the strength of the brand and knowing that as we evolve into new channels that also stay true to who we’ve been for the past 50 years, and even though there are a lot of new plans in the space as the running industry has grown and also as the number of runners that are running around the world has increased, no one can duplicate the authenticity and the heritage of the brand.

On her prime focus for the future (Jessica Murphy):
There are a couple of pieces; one is taking a look at our print and digital business and seeing how we can innovate there. And then there’s also a big focus for us to really understand what Runner’s World means when it comes to events. We obviously have our own Runner’s World Half & Festival, which we launched five years ago, but the number of events has increased across the country and across the globe, as running participation has increased. And we’ve really not has as solid or robust of a strategy when it comes to thinking about what Runner’s World means at these events.

On why he thinks it took the magazine industry as a whole many years to realize that magazine media can exist on all platforms and it’s not print versus digital or this versus that (David Willey): That’s a good question that probably has a complicated answer, but I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that for decades we had this perfect business model of distributing this product, a print magazine, and people loved print and the primacy of print was certainly much higher over those decades and there were these two beautiful revenue streams; you had advertisers that wanted to reach the audience, and the audience was actually also paying to have this very high quality product delivered to them every week or every month, or they were buying it on the newsstand. I think as an industry we got very comfortable and maybe even a little bit spoiled by that amazing business model.

David Willey

David Willey



On whether he thinks his job as editor in chief is easier or harder today than it was before he had infinite space (David Willey):
I think it’s become harder. I think all editors in chief have harder jobs than they had a decade ago. It’s been so interesting to be in this field and to have this career for the past 20 years or so, because it really has coincided with the digital revolution and the evolution of the Smartphone and the tablet; all of these things. I’ve been fortunate enough to live through, and actually work through these things.

On whether she feels she could do her job if the print component did not exist (Jessica Murphy):
I don’t see a time for Runner’s World where the magazine does not exist, because it is such a vital storytelling channel. We are spending time making sure the magazine does what it does best, which is bring to life stories in immersive ways that make the reading experience fundamentally different if you were to read the content online. We’re probably spending even more time thinking that through because yes, you can read a lot of the magazine pieces online, but how do we create this feeling with our readers where they cannot wait to get the magazine every month? And when they read it the magazine feels like it’s a reflection of them and David’s thing is that he wants people to read Runner’s World and feel inspired to go for a run immediately after.

On the concrete difference between being in the journalism business and the content business (David Willey): I would say that we’re in both. I think a lot of people just use content as an umbrella term and I don’t necessarily mean to suggest that people who use the word content are in opposition to journalism. I think it’s just sort of a catch-all term. But I do think there are differences, at least in my mind. And I think content includes things like training plans and it includes different mediums like video and audio. And it includes tips about topics that we know our audience comes to us for, such as training and nutrition; injury prevention and running shoe reviews. All of that stuff is content for sure. And we used to make the best stuff and put it out there and wait for people to go get it. And that model is gone, or nearly gone. So, what that means is today as journalists we still need to think every day about making the best stuff, but we need to be just as good at getting that stuff directly under people’s noses or the first part doesn’t matter nearly as much, the first part being making it in the first place.

On the recently named “Best Shoe in the World” by Runner’s World and whether they’re the only qualified brand in the world to name that honor (David Willey): The answer is yes, no question that Runner’s World really is the only brand, media property, magazine; whatever word you want to use; no one else can do that. And that’s for a few reasons. Number one: and Jessica just touched on this, one of the first things I did when I started this job was set up what we call the “Shoe Lab.” And it’s a big investment every year, and we conduct mechanical tests on hundreds of shoes every year that, to be honest, most shoe companies don’t even do. It’s very rigorous; we’re tearing shoes apart; we’re pounding and prodding them; we’re getting amazing amounts of objective, scientific data. And then we’re combining that with the human runner feedback; the subjective data that we get from the 300 or 400 wear-testers that we have around the country.

On anything either of them would like to add (Jessica Murphy): I think overall I’ve been here just under three months and I’ve had a really great experience learning the team and getting an understanding of how we operate, and I feel like everyone is inspired and excited to do some new and exciting things, and so my job will be identifying where it makes sense for Runner’s World to play and finding the right place for us to intersect our brand with helping runners get better and better, whether that’s losing weight or staying fit; running to destress; just whatever their needs are.

Jessica Murphy

Jessica Murphy



On anything either of them would like to add (David Willey):
I’ll add a couple of thoughts. Back to your question about what goes on in my brain; one thing that’s interesting about this brand and something that I want everyone to be aware of is we are a dual gender audience. We’re pretty much straight up, 50/50, male/female and that shifts a little bit with every MRI study; maybe we’re a little bit more female in one reporting period, a little less, but basically we’re 50/50. That’s pretty rare these days.

On what someone would find them doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at either of their homes (Jessica Murphy): In my downtime I do a lot of running, no surprise there, but that normally happens in the mornings. So, at night I’m relaxing pretty well, because I wake up early to run. I love to cook, so when I have time I’ll be at home cooking and I do spend time binge-watching something on Netflix. I’m a big fan of House of Cards, but I actually have recently read a book about trying to get better sleep to improve your health, which involves turning off the screens before bedtime, so I am trying to get more into listening to Podcasts at night and also reading books.

On what someone would find them doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at either of their homes (David Willey):
My wife and I have three kids and our life is quite an adventure. We have a teenaged daughter and two boys, 12 and 7-years-old. So, I spend as much time as I possibly can with them in the evenings. And I’m very conscious about not having screens around when I’m with them. I put the phone away; I put the iPad away; and on a good night we eat dinner together. That happens a couple times per week. Often we’re outside, especially the boys. They’re still at the age where they want to throw the football in the backyard with their dad. And do stuff like that.

On what keeps them up at night (Jessica Murphy):
I’m still fairly new at my job, so we’re obviously in our 2017 planning season, and I think I’m in information overload. I have had back-to-back meetings with so many people and I see the potential and the opportunities here and I just want everything to happen right away. So, what keeps me up at night is I want to develop the right plan to make sure that we can have the right process in place to implement change and making sure that we can move fast enough for the industry.

On what keeps them up at night (David Willey):
One of the great things about being a runner and training for things like triathlons and marathons is that I’m pretty damned tired at night. Every now and then I’ll wake up in the middle of the night because of something stressful going on at work or just uncertainty about our business and our industry. This field that I got into a couple of decades ago because I loved it so much; there’s a small part of me that’s definitely sad. I don’t think it’s dying, but it’s certainly changing.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Willey, editor in chief, & Jessica Murphy, managing director, Runner’s World magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on turning 50 years young in 2016. That’s quite a milestone.

David Willey: Thank you. I can accept those well wishes as the editor of Runner’s World and I can also accept them personally because I turn 50-years-old next year, so I’m roughly the same age as the magazine. (Laughs) I actually wrote something in my editor’s letter in the anniversary issue about this. I am simultaneously amused and humbled in a very cool way by the knowledge that this magazine was born a year or so before I was. And I’ve been here about 13½ years now and I’ve always thought of my job as being a sort of caretaker of this institution that’s been around for a long time and really one that hasn’t had that many editors in chief. Amby Burfoot preceded me here and he’s been associated with the magazine for almost 30 years.

So, it’s never been lost on me that Runner’s World has been around for five decades and has been such an important part of our readers’ lives. It’s done certain things very well and it’s really reflected the times that we’ve lived in. And running has changed so much. It’s been really interesting with this anniversary to look back and see how the magazine over the years has reflected the eras in which it was living.

But it’s also not lost on me that we’re in a different place now. The media space is very different and we need to change; we need to evolve. And it’s been a secondary reminder when we were looking back at five decades of issues, that’s what Runner’s World has always done. It started with a completely different name; it started with the name Distance Running News, and then evolved into The Runner’s World. The word “the” was dropped and then the magazine was sold to Rodale and it was combined with another magazine called The Runner, so it has always evolved. It has never been the same thing for five decades.

And that’s been very encouraging because we know that we need to continually reach new audiences and make sure that the brand Runner’s World is expressing itself in the best possible way today. And the brand is a print magazine, and of course, it’s a website, but it’s lots of other things as well, including video, audio, social media, products and events. And I feel like we’re really well-positioned to continue to serve this amazing audience that we have in all of these new ways. We can be wherever they need us and want us to be.

It can be hard for a brand that’s 50-years-old to be in that position, but I think we’re pretty unique in that way. I’m actually more encouraged that we have this heritage than I am worried that we’re wedded to the past.

Samir Husni: Jessica, let me ask you as the new managing director, you have a major brand that’s been thrown into your lap, one that’s globally known; what’s the plan for the next 50 years?
Jessica Murphy: I’m extremely honored and excited to be a part of the brand. I’ve been a fan of the magazine for as long as I’ve been a runner myself. My first training program, I obsessed over the magazines’ and the websites’ content as I trained for my first marathon. I think what gets me excited is the strength of the brand and knowing that as we evolve into new channels that also stay true to who we’ve been for the past 50 years, and even though there are a lot of new plans in the space as the running industry has grown and also as the number of runners that are running around the world has increased, no one can duplicate the authenticity and the heritage of the brand. And we have to lean into that while also evolving where we stand.

runners-world_december-2016-cover-eileen

Samir Husni: If we’re sitting down and having this interview again in one year; what would you hope to tell me? From your 50th anniversary, which we’re discussing now, what are your future expectations for the magazine now that you’re onboard?

Jessica Murphy: There are a couple of pieces; one is taking a look at our print and digital business and seeing how we can innovate there. And then there’s also a big focus for us to really understand what Runner’s World means when it comes to events. We obviously have our own Runner’s World Half & Festival, which we launched five years ago, but the number of events has increased across the country and across the globe, as running participation has increased. And we’ve really not has as solid or robust of a strategy when it comes to thinking about what Runner’s World means at these events.

And we know races are so important to runners; it’s where they see the culmination of all of their hard work and dedication, so it’s a very important interaction for us to understand. And then we need to think about how events can scale into those places.

And the other piece is training. As I mentioned, my first marathon training program was a Runner’s World training plan, but obviously there are a lot more players in the space, and the way people approach training is a lot different than they used to.

For us, I think it will be evolving training beyond just what it is right now, which is kind of like your basic training program telling you what miles to run and how fast to run them, without thinking through the whole approach. So, that’s my other big project. And again, all of these I think are at the core of what Runner’s World needs as a brand and will come to life in ways that go beyond what you see now, which is the magazine and the website.

Samir Husni: And David, the brand is on every platform that has so far been invented. You can find Runner’s World in print, digital, events; you name it. Why do you think it took the magazine industry as a whole five to six years before they recognized that we can exist on all platforms; it’s not print versus digital or this versus that?

David Willey: That’s a good question that probably has a complicated answer, but I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that for decades we had this perfect business model of distributing this product, a print magazine, and people loved print and the primacy of print was certainly much higher over those decades and there were these two beautiful revenue streams; you had advertisers that wanted to reach the audience, and the audience was actually also paying to have this very high quality product delivered to them every week or every month, or they were buying it on the newsstand. I think as an industry we got very comfortable and maybe even a little bit spoiled by that amazing business model.

And I don’t mean that to sound overly critical; I think this industry is full of incredibly creative and innovative people. And a lot of it was just because that became kind of our core business; the creation and distribution of this certain kind of product in a certain kind of way that became very efficient and was really a very successful model for a long, long time.

It can be really hard to evolve away from something like that, especially in an environment where it’s not so clear that the audience is willing to pay for content in these new ways. And if they are willing to pay, they’re probably not willing to pay the kinds of prices that they’re used to paying for print. And it’s not entirely clear that advertisers necessarily want to pay the same kinds of CPMs (cost per thousand); they don’t have to in the digital realm, where it’s much more driven by programmatic buying and lower CPMs and all the rest. So, suddenly, these two unassailable revenue streams, at least they were unassailable for decades, have become quite vulnerable.

So, suddenly as an industry I don’t think we were operating from a position of strength from a business model standpoint. And we’re still probably reckoning with the decision we all made individually a decade or so ago, but sort of as an industry too, that we would give away a lot of content on the web for free, and it’s harder to move from that toward charging for quality content now digitally.

And of course, there has been the evolution of the Smartphone, which is really becoming THE number one way that people consume all kinds of content, whether it’s print, or video, and increasingly audio. It’s a small screen and it’s a platform that’s really dominated by the big tech companies like Apple, and it’s not entirely clear where the publisher’s place is in that ecosystem. So, I think it’s taken us a long time because it’s been very hard and there has been so much disruption, both in people’s habits and also in the new players that are kind of dominating the media sphere, some of whom didn’t even exist a decade ago.

Again, I think there are a lot of very innovative and creative people in our business and I’m optimistic actually that the business models will emerge and that quality journalism, and I’m using that word instead of the buzzword “content,” which I’m so sick of; it’s so commoditized and I think it doesn’t actually do us any favors to talk about what we do in a commoditized way. What we do is make great journalism and that takes many forms. That can be service journalism; it can be storytelling; it can be investigative reporting; and I think that’s what we as an industry do and do very, very well.

And I do think that there is a lot more disruption coming, 2017 is going to be just as disruptive as the past two years have been, especially for television, in particular. I don’t think the disruption will ever stop, but once things start to normalize, quality journalism is going to be a key differentiator. We’ve seen that in the election, with all of the fake news and some of the other controversies around how news stories are elevated on social media, like Facebook. And maybe I’m idealistic, but I really do think that people will demand and choose high quality information, entertainment, storytelling and journalism. And that’s going to be the key to our success going forward.

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Samir Husni: This is the first time that I’ve heard someone differentiate between content and journalism. I was reading a lecture from one of my professors from Missouri recently that was written in 1970, and he was talking about the demise and decline of journalism. And in one of his quotes he said, “The minute a journalist starts commenting on the news, he or she is no longer a journalist.” So, I love that differentiation between content and journalism, and you being the ex-president of ASME (American Society of Magazine Editors) and very involved with the industry as a whole, besides just Runner’s World; if I go inside your mind, how do you decide what’s great for the magazine or mobile or the web? Has your job become harder or easier because of the infinite space now available?

David Willey: (Laughs) I think it’s become harder. I think all editors in chief have harder jobs than they had a decade ago. It’s been so interesting to be in this field and to have this career for the past 20 years or so, because it really has coincided with the digital revolution and the evolution of the Smartphone and the tablet; all of these things. I’ve been fortunate enough to live through, and actually work through these things.

When I started here, really my only job was to make the best magazine that we could make every 30 days. If we had a national partner we communicated with them a bit, and we had a website, but it was sort of managed by a couple of other people who sat – well, I’m not even sure where they sat. I had nothing to do with the early website; it really was just make a magazine, the best magazine you can; that is our business. And now that’s just a sliver of what my job is and what my team’s job is.

Let me give you an example that I hope will answer your question and it’s a very good question. Over the summer, and I’m sure you remember that there were those three murders of female runners within nine days of each other. They were unrelated, and the stories were national news. Of course, they brought a lot of commentary from the mainstream media about how running can be dangerous and what female runners in particular need to do or not do to stay safe. And we had an editorial meeting to talk about all of these things and to discuss what, if anything, we felt like we should publish about these murders and the commentary that surrounded them.

In that meeting I learned from some of my female staffers that being abducted or attacked or God forbid, murdered, was fortunately incredibly rare, something like that rarely, rarely happens to runners. But what is incredibly common for female runners is to be harassed while they’re running. And I was totally unaware of that and I even asked, “What do you mean harassed? What kind of harassment?”

And several members of my staff started talking about how pretty much every time they went out running by themselves or with other women, they would get catcalls and propositioned and even followed sometimes. And it was clear that this wasn’t just annoying to them, although it is annoying, I’m sure. It can also be really frightening. So, this was clearly a story that wasn’t being talked about and it hadn’t been reported anywhere before, so we immediately started a print story, but it was also immediately a web story because we put a survey up on our website to ask our own readers about this topic and we received over 4,500 responses. It was really overwhelming. And we produced a very strong print piece that because of timelines and lineups and all of the rest, we weren’t able to publish until our December issue.

But I pretty much knew going in that we were going to lead with this story online. And we were actually going to publish our work on our website before anyone saw it in print. And I also pretty much knew that we were going to create some audio content on this for one of our podcasts So, 10 years ago this story would have taken much longer to do because we wouldn’t have been able to get so much response from our readers as quickly as we did. It would have gone into a print issue that would have been shipped on a certain date and read by the audience two to three months later. And now we’re at a time where the print schedule still happens, but we have the opportunity to publish it in real time; we have the opportunity to publish multimedia around this and make it a much more immersive and impactful and emotional kind of story.

So, that’s harder on one hand, because there’s more work to do and it’s more complex; the planning is more complex. You need to have the talent on your staff that can do all of that, but it’s also great to feel that you have that kind of versatility as a journalist and a storyteller to be as relevant as quickly as you can and to be as impactful as you can possibly be using all of these different tools.

Samir Husni: Jessica, can you do what you’re doing, in terms of your role at the magazine, if you do not have that print component?

Jessica Murphy: I don’t see a time for Runner’s World where the magazine does not exist, because it is such a vital storytelling channel. We are spending time making sure the magazine does what it does best, which is bring to life stories in immersive ways that make the reading experience fundamentally different if you were to read the content online. We’re probably spending even more time thinking that through because yes, you can read a lot of the magazine pieces online, but how do we create this feeling with our readers where they cannot wait to get the magazine every month? And when they read it the magazine feels like it’s a reflection of them and David’s thing is that he wants people to read Runner’s World and feel inspired to go for a run immediately after.

I feel like Runner’s World.com serves a much more utilitarian purpose. A lot of times people come to search and they’re looking for very specific information, such as on an injury or training or they’re coming through social because they’ve seen a very specific piece that they’re interested in. There is still joy in magazines where it’s very purposefully put together by an edit team and that magazine may serve you a piece of content that you weren’t expecting. So, even though print publishing is challenged, we still believe in the value of the medium; we just may be using it in different ways so it balances with all of our other digital channels.

And I actually think as we accelerate our innovation on our digital channels, the website and social; it will invite even more people to the magazine, because there are still millions of runners out there who aren’t subscribing to the magazine and I think as we increase our exposure to them on digital and social, that will invite them into the brand.

Samir Husni: David, I want to expand a little on that differentiation between doing journalism and doing content, because I’ve heard from a few folks in the industry, including some CEOs, who have said that we’re in the content business, but you’re telling me that you’re in the journalism business. Can you give me a little more concrete difference between the two?

David Willey: Yes, although I would say that we’re in both. I think a lot of people just use content as an umbrella term and I don’t necessarily mean to suggest that people who use the word content are in opposition to journalism. I think it’s just sort of a catch-all term.

But I do think there are differences, at least in my mind. And I think content includes things like training plans and it includes different mediums like video and audio. And it includes tips about topics that we know our audience comes to us for, such as training and nutrition; injury prevention and running shoe reviews. All of that stuff is content for sure. And we need to be great at producing it and we need to be just as good, and this is another key difference in my job and really any editor’s job; we still focus everyday on making the best stuff.

And we used to make the best stuff and put it out there and wait for people to go get it. And that model is gone, or nearly gone. So, what that means is today as journalists we still need to think every day about making the best stuff, but we need to be just as good at getting that stuff directly under people’s noses or the first part doesn’t matter nearly as much, the first part being making it in the first place. We have to make it and we need to get it under people’s noses. And that’s part of our job as journalists.

So, I’m not opposed to the term content, but when I think the difference between content and journalism really matters is when it comes to things like long form storytelling; and investigative reporting; and great graphic design; and memorable, high-impact photography; those elements that take time, skill and take investment in the form of money and talent, often get lost or go by the wayside when people are building and sort of thinking of themselves as content factories.

I guess what I’m talking about is quality and a commitment to quality and a commitment to not necessarily knowing that what it is you’re working on is already guaranteed to be clicked on by your audience.

Jessica Murphy: I would also add that our shoe guides are a great example of the quality journalism produced by Runner’s World, because there are a lot of newer outlets that will review shoes, but not in the same rigor or process that we do at Runner’s World. The number of different types of runners who will test the shoe, or own shoe lab; so to me that’s a perfect example of what we’re known for, one of our most important facets of the brand. And why we’re so different from other outlets that do it, that may be producing content and writing about the shoe, but the process in which they go about it is much different.

David Willey: I think one of the things that I object to with the term content, and again, I don’t mean to impugn people across the board, but sometimes in the digital sphere particularly, content just means words and pictures. And words and pictures are pretty much anywhere. We can get words and pictures from our audience. Entire companies have been founded and gone bankrupt on the model of user-generated content.

And as a journalist what I have been heartened to see is that I think there is a realization now that content is not easy. Content is actually hard. It’s not just words and pictures and an article template and a social media post. It’s actually judgement and reporting skill; the talent that goes into finding stories that aren’t right there on the surface; and it’s surprising and delighting people in ways that they don’t expect. And that doesn’t show up in their algorithms and the cookies that everybody has attached to them as they move around the Internet.

So, I think it’s important to do both; I really do. I don’t want to sound overly high-minded about this. It’s an important job at Runner’s World to deliver the quick hits of advice and training plans, and a lot of people would consider that content, but I think that if that’s all we do, then we’re going to be in trouble. It goes back to creating a feeling and hitting on our audience’s emotions and their practical needs, but also their heart and soul. I think Runner’s World as a brand needs to be tools and tips, but it also has to have heart and soul.

Samir Husni: Recently you announced the “Best Shoe in the World” and it involved all 20 of your editors in the global editions of Runner’s World. Do you see that as something only Runner’s World can do, not only the best shoe in the United States, but the best shoe in the world?

David Willey: (Laughs) The answer is yes, no question that Runner’s World really is the only brand, media property, magazine; whatever word you want to use; no one else can do that. And that’s for a few reasons. Number one: and Jessica just touched on this, one of the first things I did when I started this job was set up what we call the “Shoe Lab.” And it’s a big investment every year, and we conduct mechanical tests on hundreds of shoes every year that, to be honest, most shoe companies don’t even do. It’s very rigorous; we’re tearing shoes apart; we’re pounding and prodding them; we’re getting amazing amounts of objective, scientific data. And then we’re combining that with the human runner feedback; the subjective data that we get from the 300 or 400 wear-testers that we have around the country.

We put these shoes on their feet and they give us regular feedback and it’s those two channels that really inform our shoe reviews. And nobody else does that; there is no other magazine or brand that does that.

And then the second piece is as you said earlier in the conversation, we have editions in 20 countries now. So, for the “Best Shoe in the World” it’s sort of like the crème de la crème; it’s a subset of the best shoes we can test throughout the year here in the Shoe Lab and then we get together with the experts in our international editions, and they’re factoring in their opinions of the shoe and what they’re hearing from their audience, and sort of narrowing it down into one overall winner. It’s pretty good branding. The “Best Shoe in the World,” it’s pretty clear and unassailable and it’s cool to be able to do it that way.

And again, I just want to emphasize this isn’t opinion or we’re not going from press releases; we feel like we’re able to kind of stand up and say something so declarative because of what we put into our testing process.

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

Jessica Murphy: I think overall I’ve been here just under three months and I’ve had a really great experience learning the team and getting an understanding of how we operate, and I feel like everyone is inspired and excited to do some new and exciting things, and so my job will be identifying where it makes sense for Runner’s World to play and finding the right place for us to intersect our brand with helping runners get better and better, whether that’s losing weight or staying fit; running to destress; just whatever their needs are.

I think on top of the publishing industry and the media industry becoming so complex, runners have also gotten more complex. Ten years ago most people running, there was a smaller universe of runners who were a lot more likeminded and tended to be a more competitive runner. And now the running industry has boomed so much, you have a lot of people who are running for fun or running for charity; it’s amazing. So, we’ve had to kind of think about how we serve all of these new people, which is great, but also challenging on top of the channel mix that we’ve already discussed.

Overall, for the future of Runner’s World, I think we have a lot of opportunity and hopefully in another year we’ll be talking about all of these exciting new things we’re doing.

David Willey: I’ll add a couple of thoughts. Back to your question about what goes on in my brain; one thing that’s interesting about this brand and something that I want everyone to be aware of is we are a dual gender audience. We’re pretty much straight up, 50/50, male/female and that shifts a little bit with every MRI study; maybe we’re a little bit more female in one reporting period, a little less, but basically we’re 50/50. That’s pretty rare these days.

And we think about that every time we’re making the magazine; we think about it in terms of the visual; we make sure that we feel like every issue of the magazine speaks to all runners. But of course, you can’t do that on every, single page. But whether you’re a man or a woman or a new runner who isn’t even sure how to get started or someone who has been running marathons for 20 years, Runner’s World is for all runners. And that can be complicated when you’re thinking about dual gender and different stages of running experience. But it’s also a lot of fun.

And the other thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is others. Again, going back to this model that we’ve had for so long; the newsstand appears to be kind of going the way of the telephone booth, quite literally. I was in New York for a week for the marathon recently and I lived in New York for 13 years; and just walking around the City, I literally, several times, would stop and think to myself that there used to be a newsstand where I had stopped. And it was gone.

Just in the way when I lived in New York City in the early ‘90s, I used to walk around and there were pay phones there. There are fewer newsstands than there has been, and there will probably be even fewer a year from now. And the newsstands that are still around are carrying fewer magazines. They’re carrying more iPhone chargers and neck pillows and other high-margin knickknacks.

As an editor I think the question is what is the job of a magazine cover in 2016 and going forward? I’m not saying that I don’t want to sell copies on newsstands, of course I do, but I think a magazine cover’s job is more diverse and complicated than it used to be. It’s equally about share-ability on social media; it’s equally about saying something about your brand and reaching new audiences, while trying to speak to your core audience as well.

We had a really, really fun month right around our November, 50th anniversary issue, with the covers that we did, with Kevin Hart and Alexi Pappas, and the throwback covers. It was certainly a departure for us to do them in that way, but appropriate for a 50th anniversary. And the way that we went about it was we wanted to produce something that delighted people, both new runners and also our current readers. And that flew around the Internet with energy and enthusiasm and maybe got Runner’s World noticed by people who weren’t really paying attention to it to begin with.

Is that going to be our bestseller on newsstand? No, I can tell you that with utter certainty. But was it a successful cover? I think yes, it was. Again, because of the way that we editors need to think in a more complex way about what our covers are supposed to do in this media age.

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

Jessica Murphy: In my downtime I do a lot of running, no surprise there, but that normally happens in the mornings. So, at night I’m relaxing pretty well, because I wake up early to run. I love to cook, so when I have time I’ll be at home cooking and I do spend time binge-watching something on Netflix. I’m a big fan of House of Cards, but I actually have recently read a book about trying to get better sleep to improve your health, which involves turning off the screens before bedtime, so I am trying to get more into listening to Podcasts at night and also reading books.

David Willey: My wife and I have three kids and our life is quite an adventure. We have a teenaged daughter and two boys, 12 and 7-years-old. So, I spend as much time as I possibly can with them in the evenings. And I’m very conscious about not having screens around when I’m with them. I put the phone away; I put the iPad away; and on a good night we eat dinner together. That happens a couple times per week. Often we’re outside, especially the boys. They’re still at the age where they want to throw the football in the backyard with their dad. And do stuff like that.

And then once everybody is fed and in bed and that usually doesn’t all get accomplished until 9:00 p.m. or so, you’ll see a lot of books in my house. I love to read and I try to read as much fiction as I can, because my days are so consumed with journalism. Fiction really is a great way to unwind and sort of get lost in stories. And I love print books; I don’t like reading books onscreen. In my house, you would see some overstuffed bookshelves. I think I must have over 1,000 books in my house.

And believe it or not, I try to get to bed at a decent hour. On a good night I’m actually asleep before 11:00 p.m. I’ve been known to binge-watch some shows, certainly. But the problem with binge-watching is, I’ve also been known to start watching one show at 9:30 p.m. and it’s so easy to just say, “OK, I’ll just watch that next episode.” And Netflix and Amazon have gotten so good at making it so seamless and frictionless to just keep going. I’ve been downstairs at 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday night having just watched my third episode of House of Cards and I think how ridiculous that is. (Laughs) So, I actually binge-watch less now during the week than I used to and I’m up by 6:00 a.m. And I try to find the time to get a run or a bike ride or a workout in, either in the morning or during the day sometime. Kind of boring, but again, I’m a nearing-50-year-old dad who has a fun and crazy job. At the end of each day and at the end of each week, what I’m kind of going for is balance.

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

Jessica Murphy: I’m still fairly new at my job, so we’re obviously in our 2017 planning season, and I think I’m in information overload. I have had back-to-back meetings with so many people and I see the potential and the opportunities here and I just want everything to happen right away. So, what keeps me up at night is I want to develop the right plan to make sure that we can have the right process in place to implement change and making sure that we can move fast enough for the industry. That is something I have tried to push out of my brain for the last couple of weeks because I see the things that need to happen and I want them to happen right away, but I know these things take time. Really good quality takes time.

David Willey: One of the great things about being a runner and training for things like triathlons and marathons is that I’m pretty damned tired at night. Every now and then I’ll wake up in the middle of the night because of something stressful going on at work or just uncertainty about our business and our industry. This field that I got into a couple of decades ago because I loved it so much; there’s a small part of me that’s definitely sad. I don’t think it’s dying, but it’s certainly changing. And I think that there are some of the things that I value about t that aren’t as valued as they used to be by our readers. And stuff like that bothers me and occasionally it wakes me up at night, but a combination of being tired from running hard that day and grabbing one of those books off of the top of my stack next to my bed; in 10 or 15 minutes I’m good. I can sleep again.

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

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“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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More Anniversaries, More Celebrations, More Staying Power Of Magazines…

November 14, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

It is a fact that I enjoy recording births of new magazines rather than deaths of magazines. With every birth there lives the challenge of survival. Some new magazines survive to a respectable age and some are not so lucky; they barely celebrate their first year.

But what about those that survive not one, or two years, but ten, 20, 40, 75 and even 90 years and are still going strong? Well, in my book it is yet another reason to celebrate the power of magazines. Needless to remind you that by my definition “if it is not ink on paper, it is not a magazine.”

So, please join me as the magazine industry celebrates the 90th anniversary of World Literature Today magazine, the 75th anniversary of the Antioch Review, the 50th anniversary of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the 40th anniversary of In These Times and Lilith magazines, the 20th anniversary of Yes magazine, and the 10th anniversary of Good magazine.

And talking about good things, here are the anniversary covers of these celebrating titles:

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Until the next celebration, enjoy and may the power of magazines be with you.

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The Competitor Group’s John Bradley: Showcasing And Serving A Deeply Engaged Audience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Bradley, Senior Vice President of Media…

November 14, 2016

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“I think there’s that big emotional component that lends itself to some really dramatic photography, which just works better in print. And then there’s also a tremendous historical component. Anybody who is a cyclist can tell you who was winning the Tour de France in 1972 and they can talk about some of the famous climbs, so you can always talk about these historical stories and those just work better in print. You can sort of sit back and absorb the history and look at the old photos. So, the print component is still vital and if you look at any of our competitors, that’s what’s happened with their print products as well. There is always some sort of a historical story or a big photo issue and we’re starting to leverage print for that.” John Bradley…

“The doom and gloom that everyone talks about in print really ignores the emotional attachment that we know is there. We know because of the visceral reaction that people have when they hear a story is only going to be online instead of in print. So, we’re still trying to leverage that value as much as we can, while being realistic of the fact that we’re not a print entity; we’re not a digital entity; we’re not a video entity; we’re a storytelling platform and we tell those stories in the best way we can.” John Bradley…

Competitor Group is a company that celebrates the active lifestyle and serves its audience through events, print, digital, mobile and social media platforms. The company has four sports magazines that bring endurance sports fans the epitome of adventure and storytelling: Triathlete, Competitor, Women’s Running and the soon-to-be, 45-year-old VeloNews. The man in charge of those brands is longtime media veteran John Bradley.

John has good bloodlines, coming from Wired and Outside magazines, having been senior editor at both, and he not only brings experience to the table – 25 years of it – but he also brings a deep-seated passion for endurance sports, being an avid cyclist himself.

I spoke with John recently and we talked about VeloNews and the other brands under his watchful and keen eye. John is a firm believer in the art of print and that it still holds its own place in the marketplace, but he also has his finger on the pulse of the always-palpitating world of digital and knows that while they are both vital to magazine media, the two platforms are very different and offer different things to their readers, so they must be handled in different ways.

A good and spot-on perspective from a man who believes in giving his readers much more than just the winner’s name when they cover a race; he believes in weaving an experience. So, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Bradley, Senior Vice President of Media, Competitive Group.

But first the sound-bites:

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On whether he believes that the Competitor Group has been one of the hidden gems of the industry: One of the hidden gems? Yes, I would say that’s a fair statement. I think having this collection of titles, all built around endurance sports and that lifestyle, is a pretty great thing, because certainly, some people might define themselves as a football fan or a basketball fan, but if you’re a runner or a cyclist or a triathlete, participating in those sports; it takes over your life. You have to spend so much of your time training and you spend your available money on it, on equipment and traveling to races for it, that it really does become your identity in a way that I don’t think happens in other sports, especially spectator sports.


On a brief description of VeloNews, a magazine that’s been publishing for almost 45 years:
For VeloNews, it’s interesting. The word “news” in the title is not by accident. It started as a news publication. In 1972 if you wanted to know who won a big bike race in Europe, quite often you had to wait two or three months and hopefully you could see a photo somewhere. Even for the editors of VeloNews, they would have correspondents over in Europe who would send in a batch of photos by mail, and they would open up the photos two weeks later to see who won the race. So, it started as a way to help American race fans find out what was going on in the sport. And also even locally, even races in America, there was no one really collecting the results and talking about this sport as a spectator sport; it was a very fringe thing of people riding bikes.

On whether he feels his role as editor in chief today is more of a curator than a creator:
We still create; I curate the content that’s coming in from our staff and our freelancers, but our job is a little bit more challenging than it was 20 years ago in that the news happened. We didn’t have to go out and find stories; we just knew that if you showed up at this time and that place on a certain day, there would be a race and you would write up the story and that’s that. And it was the same if you covered NFL; you went to the game and you wrote a story, you maybe grabbed quotes from a couple of players and did a couple of smaller stories and that was it. And that’s not enough anymore; you really have to do a whole lot of context and explanation.

On whether he feels this is his dream job or another milestone in his journalistic journey: This is a pretty remarkable marriage of personal and professional. There has never been a time in my life where I wasn’t reading about what’s happening in cycling anyway. So to have that be my full-time job is pretty special. Sometimes I’m still at work, especially overseeing the whole media division, and navigating all of the challenges of the media space can still be a tricky thing, but the subject matter and the marriage of the personal and professional has been pretty fantastic.

On the stumbling blocks he’s had to face:
Enthusiast media is uniquely challenging. The running titles have bigger audiences, they can play a little bit in the non-endemic space as far as advertising, but for cycling and triathlon; these are very narrow worlds. The audiences are not big, they’re engaged, but they’re not so big that we can easily go out and sell advertising to Budweiser or United Airlines. They want to advertise on NBC or The New York Times, so we’re completely reliant on our narrow verticals. If the bicycle industry is down one year, even if the economy is doing well, but the bike industry happens to be down because of whatever trends in consumer buying habits, then we will feel that.

On what role he thinks print will continue to play in this digital age:
That’s an interesting question and we’re constantly grappling with that. I think for service journalism, which a lot of what we do in print right now ends up being more service oriented; how to train; how to travel for these sports; the buying guides, those sorts of things. I think print still works very well for that, and I think when you’re doing that service journalism it’s how to live that lifestyle. And it goes back to what I said earlier about the fact that we have these deeply engaged audiences built around these lifestyles, and print does really well showcasing how to live that lifestyle. It’s the content that you want to save.
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On whether he feels that if there were no print component to the brand, sports enthusiast fans might feel as though they were missing something:
In running, I don’t know as much, because of the three sports that we cover in endurance sports, cycling is the only one that’s really a big spectator sport. You are covering the news around races; there are a lot more ways to come at the content, because you have this huge spectator element. Running and triathlon, especially running, are largely participatory. People don’t read about other people running, they read about how to run. So, I think print is still important there; it’s engaging, but I don’t think it’s as vital as it is in the cycling space, where cycling has this very deep history and emotional connection.

On the most important thing he’s accomplished since coming to the Competitor Group:
The first thing we’ve accomplished since I’ve been here is the shift in content focus. What I said earlier about where before, who won the race was the end of our coverage and now that’s just the beginning. That I think has been the biggest shift, going into this sort of 360 degree contextual approach to covering our sport has been the most important change.

On anything else he’d like to add:
It’s interesting thinking about the difference between print and digital from our advertiser’s perspective and the brand’s perspective; the PR agency’s perspective. Quite often if we have a story that’s print only, the writer will be really disappointed because they know that the story is going to reach more people if it goes online. But when we have PR companies that know we’re going to be reviewing a product, they always ask if it’s going to be in the magazine. While all the news is about how print is dying, and we know the struggles in print and that everyone’s circulation is down, there is still an inherent value in print that we all know is there.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Before 8:00 p.m., you’re going to catch me playing with my son; I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, so before he goes to bed it’s all about him, although, he’s already been in his first bike race. (Laughs) So, quite often you’ll see me at the park teaching him how to ride his bike. After 8:00 p.m. I’m usually either reading, and now that’s it’s dark earlier, I’m usually riding a bike on a stationary trainer. When it’s still light outside I’m going for a ride. And then reading and writing; I’m working on a book right now. My evening free time is still generally either consuming content or creating content.

On what keeps him up at night: There has always been an attitude that because these spaces are small and that people will just read about cycling because it’s cycling; it hasn’t always been treated as a modern media entity. But I think that whether you’re reading about the 2016 Presidential Election or a small bike race that nobody has ever heard of, if those readers are coming to you they deserve a modern media experience. They deserve good writing and good video and some smart thinking about things. And they deserve evolving platforms; evolving ways to engage. So, what keeps me up at night is trying to do that across all of these titles, while working within the inherent limitations of being in a small vertical.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Bradley, Senior Vice President of Media, Competitive Group.

Samir Husni: Do you believe that the Competitor Group has been one of the hidden gems of the industry when it comes to your competitive field?

fc_vnapr_John Bradley: One of the hidden gems? Yes, I would say that’s a fair statement. I think having this collection of titles, all built around endurance sports and that lifestyle, is a pretty great thing, because certainly, some people might define themselves as a football fan or a basketball fan, but if you’re a runner or a cyclist or a triathlete, participating in those sports; it takes over your life. You have to spend so much of your time training and you spend your available money on it, on equipment and traveling to races for it, that it really does become your identity in a way that I don’t think happens in other sports, especially spectator sports.

So, as a result of that you get this incredibly engaged community, because the magazine becomes almost a newsletter for the club. I tell people that I’m a cyclist because it’s part of my identity. You have people engaging on a level that they don’t in a lot of other sports, and I know that having come from Wired and Outside magazines, and seeing the level of passion among the reader’s letters and comments on Facebook and on our stories. You see a level of passion that I haven’t seen other places.

So to have one company owning several different titles in all of these sports areas is pretty special. The audiences are huge by The New York Times numbers, but for our spaces the numbers are big. But then when you see the level of engagement, it’s pretty special.

Samir Husni: You’re editor in chief of VeloNews, which started the entire company in 1972, and now you’re the editorial director of all of the titles. As VeloNews prepares to celebrate 45 years of existence; how do you describe the different titles to someone who isn’t familiar with the company, from VeloNews to Women’s Running to Triathlete to Competitor? Can you give me a brief introduction to a magazine that’s been publishing for 44 years?

John Bradley: For VeloNews, it’s interesting. The word “news” in the title is not by accident. It started as a news publication. In 1972 if you wanted to know who won a big bike race in Europe, quite often you had to wait two or three months and hopefully you could see a photo somewhere. Even for the editors of VeloNews, they would have correspondents over in Europe who would send in a batch of photos by mail, and they would open up the photos two weeks later to see who won the race. So, it started as a way to help American race fans find out what was going on in the sport. And also even locally, even races in America, there was no one really collecting the results and talking about this sport as a spectator sport; it was a very fringe thing of people riding bikes.

It was the first platform in America for bike racing fans. There were other cycling publications about cycling as a hobby, but for cycling as a sport there was nobody in the United States doing that. So that was the start.

And the title has evolved as things have changed. Obviously now, the race news happens on Twitter, but there is a whole culture around being a fan and a participant of the sport, so the content has evolved with that. We still talk about the races, but 20 years ago talking about the race was the end of the coverage, and now that’s just the beginning of the coverage. There is so much that goes on afterwards, talking about the context, and not just who won the race, but why they won the race and why that race even happened and is the race going to happen next year, are the promoters losing money; so we’re going a lot deeper into the sport than we ever have before, which is just the reality of sports news coverage in general today, I think. ESPN is dealing with the same changes.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that your role as editor in chief today is more of a curator than a creator?

John Bradley: We still create; I curate the content that’s coming in from our staff and our freelancers, but our job is a little bit more challenging than it was 20 years ago in that the news happened. We didn’t have to go out and find stories; we just knew that if you showed up at this time and that place on a certain day, there would be a race and you would write up the story and that’s that. And it was the same if you covered NFL; you went to the game and you wrote a story, you maybe grabbed quotes from a couple of players and did a couple of smaller stories and that was it. And that’s not enough anymore; you really have to do a whole lot of context and explanation.

If you pick up a copy of Sport’s Illustrated, they’re not talking about who won the Super Bowl; they’re talking about the stadium planning and what the NFL Commission is planning for next year; and all of this context and backstory that gives you a much richer experience. They start talking about the tactics and all of the things around the sport that nobody ever talked about before. You have to find new ways in, because obviously, the readers know what happened, who won the game or who won the race on Twitter, so we have to provide a whole lot more.

So, no, I would say that I’m more of a creator than ever before because we’re not only creating the stories, we’re creating the opportunities to tell those stories. Instead of sending one person to a race to find out who won, we’re sending four people to a race and they’re finding different angles and context that we can provide that we never had to worry about before. I would say the creation job is even more important now than it was before.

Samir Husni: You’ve just returned from Japan, and you’ve worked in that country before. You’ve worked at Wired and Outside magazines; do you feel at home now? Is this your dream job or is this another milestone in your journalistic journey?

John Bradley: That’s an interesting question. All of those jobs; Outside and Wired and this one now, they’re all similar in that you look at the world through one lens. If you’re at Outside magazine, it all has to come back to that sort of adventure component and embracing nature and challenging yourself; and adventure sports, camping and mountain biking, just whatever the case may be.

At Wired, you had to look at the whole world through a lens of technology. You can’t just do a story; you had to do a story that came back to science and technology. How do we put the Wired spin on this?

So being at VeloNews or overseeing triathletes and running titles, the lens is narrower than it’s ever been before, but that’s the lens that I view my personal life through anyway. When I was at Wired and Outside, I was still always a cyclist. Quite often I would actually leave work from Wired and go up to the Golden Gate Bridge for a ride before I went home. So, that’s always what I’ve done in my free time.

And so this is a pretty remarkable marriage of personal and professional. There has never been a time in my life where I wasn’t reading about what’s happening in cycling anyway. So to have that be my full-time job is pretty special. Sometimes I’m still at work, especially overseeing the whole media division, and navigating all of the challenges of the media space can still be a tricky thing, but the subject matter and the marriage of the personal and professional has been pretty fantastic.

Samir Husni: What’s been some of the stumbling blocks that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome them?

John Bradley: Enthusiast media is uniquely challenging. The running titles have bigger audiences, they can play a little bit in the non-endemic space as far as advertising, but for cycling and triathlon; these are very narrow worlds. The audiences are not big, they’re engaged, but they’re not so big that we can easily go out and sell advertising to Budweiser or United Airlines. They want to advertise on NBC or The New York Times, so we’re completely reliant on our narrow verticals. If the bicycle industry is down one year, even if the economy is doing well, but the bike industry happens to be down because of whatever trends in consumer buying habits, then we will feel that.

So, when I was at Wired or Outside, maybe the watch industry is down one year, but that’s OK because we can still go sell ads to airlines and liquor and clothing, or whatever else the case may be. In enthusiast media you don’t have those release valves; you are very reliant on one, narrow slice of advertisers. And that can be challenging.

Also, in enthusiast media, we want to pay our salaries and be a profitable company, and with a lot of enthusiast media, you’ll be competing against people who have started a blog just because they love doing it. They’ll lose money or just break even on it, but they love having it there because, as I said, in these spaces people define themselves by loving these sports. So, you end up as a business competing against websites that aren’t really a business, they don’t have to worry about profit. And that’s also challenging.

It’s challenging when they can sell ads really, really inexpensively because they’re not worrying about actually making any money and we want to stay in business. The New York Times is not competing against news enthusiasts who are working for free. But in these spaces you do end up quite often competing against people who’re working for free. So, that’s another challenge for us. We overcome that, but those are things that you don’t find in broader media.

How we’re overcoming those; we do have more resources than some of the enthusiast publishers. We can get to the races that they can’t; we can get access to the riders in ways that perhaps they can’t, and so going back to what I said about the way that we provide context and became a whole lot smarter about how we cover the sport, that’s stuff that they can’t match. They can write about who won a race and perhaps sometimes they can get a rider on the phone and do an interview, but we can talk to the heads of the sport; we can get the riders on the phone all of the time; and we can come at the sport from a lot of different angles.

And then we have a very experienced staff. Most of our staff has graduate degrees of one kind or another; one is from Columbia Journalism School. So, we know how to think about storytelling; we’re starting to branch into video and podcasting and all of these other formats.

While it’s sometimes challenging to have the profit pressures of being a business, we are part of a bigger company. We have a bit of a corporate umbrella over us, and so maybe if one year the cycling industry is down, the running industry is up and so things kind of even out, whereas if you were out there just doing something about cycling, you don’t have the almost corporate socialism keeping things going. So, there are advantages and disadvantages to being part of a bigger company. But I think we’re getting a lot smarter about leveraging those advantages and getting smarter about how we differentiate ourselves by the coverage that we do.

Samir Husni: We can see the future heading into more niche titles; what role do you think print will continue to play in this digital age?

John Bradley: That’s an interesting question and we’re constantly grappling with that. I think for service journalism, which a lot of what we do in print right now ends up being more service oriented; how to train; how to travel for these sports; the buying guides, those sorts of things. I think print still works very well for that, and I think when you’re doing that service journalism it’s how to live that lifestyle. And it goes back to what I said earlier about the fact that we have these deeply engaged audiences built around these lifestyles, and print does really well showcasing how to live that lifestyle. It’s the content that you want to save.

For the most part, when you’re doing news stories or news analysis or the context around the sport, those aren’t the sort of stories that people want to save. They’re fine online and people read those for 24 or 48 hours and they start disappearing into the ether. If we use print for those things that people want to save, and also of course, for the big, glossy engaging photos that remind people of the passion of the sport; print still works for that. So, I think if you approach print as the newsletter for the people who follow these sports, it works really well. And then you use digital as the news and context component for that.

But I’m not going to lie; print is very much a challenge. It goes back to having these very narrow verticals. Your audiences are smaller and so you don’t have the economies of scale around printing and distribution and newsstand. Newsstand is very challenging; there aren’t that many people who buy triathlon and cycling magazines in the United States, and so newsstand is not super-effective a lot of the time, because how many people passing through bookstore happen to be passionate cycling fans? There’s not a lot. And as you know, being on the newsstand gets more and more expensive every year.

So, that’s tricky for us. We’ve become very reliant on subscribers and on trying to reach those subscribers through digital promotions with ways to remind them that this magazine is here and to invite them to come and subscribe. We’re trying to enter some subscription partnerships with different organizations and doing some of that.

We tend to be more effective with our verticals selling into specialty retail stores, selling into running shops and bike shops, but brick and mortar retail has their own challenges and they don’t always like to operate as a newsstand, dealing with the monthly returns and all of that. So, getting print to the readers now is much more challenging than it was even two or three years ago. It’s tricky.

And then because we are smaller and we have smaller staffs and print takes a lot of time and sometimes we look at the traction that we can get with a story online versus getting it into print and the math becomes very difficult. At VeloNews we compete against print-only entities and we compete against digital-only entities, so we’re fighting this twofold war. And knowing sometimes that people are running with a story online that we can’t run with because we have to get a print issue out of the door, can be kind of a challenge, but our brand is tied up in that print product that has been around for 45 years and that’s still our identity and our point of pride. So we have to keep doing it.

But it’s a challenge; I’m not going to lie. Justifying the print gets trickier every year. We’ve really had to evolve it. When I came here a year and a half ago, the print was still largely talking about who won the race and we’ve really moved away from that rapidly and gone to more of that contextualization that I was talking about earlier. And we’re doing that across all of our titles and really doing more of the lifestyle and service component that makes the magazine feel like something you want to save and maybe rip a page out and put it up on your cubicle wall to remind you why you love this sport. We’re trying to find new ways to separate those.

At this point, none of our magazines are just a print version of the website. They’re something else entirely. They have the same name, but they are completely different in the sort of content they do and how they approach those stories. But that’s how we’re trying to play that game. But as soon as we sort of figure something out, ad rates go up or it’s something else. So, it’s a constant adjustment.

Samir Husni: For someone like you who is a cyclist, unlike me, who is an armchair sports person, do you feel that if there were no print titles for the enduring sports fan, people who are actually engaged in doing all of these sports; do you feel that just covering it virtually wouldn’t be enough for them? That they might feel they were missing something?

John Bradley: In running, I don’t know as much, because of the three sports that we cover in endurance sports, cycling is the only one that’s really a big spectator sport. You are covering the news around races; there are a lot more ways to come at the content, because you have this huge spectator element.

Running and triathlon, especially running, are largely participatory. People don’t read about other people running, they read about how to run. So, I think print is still important there; it’s engaging, but I don’t think it’s as vital as it is in the cycling space, where cycling has this very deep history and emotional connection. Going out for a six hour ride on the weekend is a big commitment. You’re missing time with friends and family and other hobbies. You’re going up this mountain for fun and it’s so hard and it takes such a commitment. It’s unlike any other sport that I’ve ever been a part of.

So, I think there’s that big emotional component that lends itself to some really dramatic photography, which just works better in print. And then there’s also a tremendous historical component. Anybody who is a cyclist can tell you who was winning the Tour de France in 1972 and they can talk about some of the famous climbs, so you can always talk about these historical stories and those just work better in print. You can sort of sit back and absorb the history and look at the old photos. So, the print component is still vital and if you look at any of our competitors, that’s what’s happened with their print products as well. There is always some sort of a historical story or a big photo issue and we’re starting to leverage print for that. I’m not sure it works quite the same way in the triathlon and running spaces, especially not if you’re covering baseball or soccer or any of the traditional ball sports.

Samir Husni: What do you feel is the most important thing you’ve accomplished since you’ve been here?

John Bradley: The first thing we’ve accomplished since I’ve been here is the shift in content focus. What I said earlier about where before, who won the race was the end of our coverage and now that’s just the beginning. That I think has been the biggest shift, going into this sort of 360 degree contextual approach to covering our sport has been the most important change.

We also, five or six years ago, changed the name of the magazine to Velo; the website stayed VeloNews and the magazine became Velo. But there was no shift in the actual content, there was just a change in the name and it really created this sort of disconnect. And it also disconnected with the history because we had been VeloNews since 1972 and everybody who runs the whole cycling industry in the United States grew up with VeloNews, so it created a sort of weird disconnect.

When I came into this job, one of my demands was that we were going to go back to the VeloNews name, and we’ve done that, and I think that was important to acknowledge our history, because again, as I was saying, history is so important for cycling fans. So, we’ve acknowledged our history and our place, and honestly VeloNews probably isn’t the best name if you were launching this publication today, but that’s always been our name and that’s our name now. And we’re embracing that.

But while we went back to the history with our name, we have completely modernized the content in print and online. We’re not only moving into a whole lot more of the contextual blog-type content, but also moving into video and podcasting, and all of the other ways we can come at these stories.

And while I’ve always worked in print, I’ve also always worked online. I started working in media in 1994 and we had print and web then. And in fact, VeloNews.com launched in 1993, so we’re coming up on our 25th anniversary of a website as well. I didn’t enter media because I loved print or I loved digital; I entered it because I love telling stories. So, I think the biggest change is that we have not really wedded ourselves to a platform or format; we’ve wedded ourselves to trying to find the best way to tell any given story and make it the most engaging for our readers whoever they might be.

So, that would be the biggest change; this publication was always run by cycling enthusiasts, which is wonderful, but they weren’t necessarily always legacy media veterans, and so now while we are still 100 percent created by passionate cyclists, we’re also approaching it as a modern media entity, which is that you have to get those stories out there in the best way you possibly can and sometimes that’s a 5,000 word print feature; sometimes it’s a 2-minute web video and everything in between.

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

John Bradley: It’s interesting thinking about the difference between print and digital from our advertiser’s perspective and the brand’s perspective; the PR agency’s perspective. Quite often if we have a story that’s print only, the writer will be really disappointed because they know that the story is going to reach more people if it goes online.

But when we have PR companies that know we’re going to be reviewing a product, they always ask if it’s going to be in the magazine. While all the news is about how print is dying, and we know the struggles in print and that everyone’s circulation is down, there is still an inherent value in print that we all know is there. These brands that know we’re writing about their new bike or their new helmet, or whatever the case may be; new running shoes, they ask if it’s going to be in the magazine. So, we know the value is there and the disconnect in the circulation and the advertising front between the value that we know is in print and the value that we get out of print is frustrating. That’s something that we’re trying to navigate, but we love the print product. We love the digital as well; we love telling our stories.

The doom and gloom that everyone talks about in print really ignores the emotional attachment that we know is there. We know because of the visceral reaction that people have when they hear a story is only going to be online instead of in print. So, we’re still trying to leverage that value as much as we can, while being realistic of the fact that we’re not a print entity; we’re not a digital entity; we’re not a video entity; we’re a storytelling platform and we tell those stories in the best way we can.

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

John Bradley: Before 8:00 p.m., you’re going to catch me playing with my son; I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, so before he goes to bed it’s all about him, although, he’s already been in his first bike race. (Laughs) So, quite often you’ll see me at the park teaching him how to ride his bike. After 8:00 p.m. I’m usually either reading, and now that’s it’s dark earlier, I’m usually riding a bike on a stationary trainer. When it’s still light outside I’m going for a ride. And then reading and writing; I’m working on a book right now. My evening free time is still generally either consuming content or creating content.

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

John Bradley: When I came into the role running this media division, the Competitive Group was created eight years ago and Competitor Group is largely an events company, and I think they saw media as something that was sort of self-supporting and that would just be there. And they’ve realized that isn’t the case, so there was maybe a few years of the division not getting the attention and direction that it needed to.

They were running along fine, but they weren’t changing; they weren’t responding to the changing media landscape. And so we’ve fallen a bit behind in some that, so what keeps me awake right now is trying to find ways to, not just follow, but start leading in media. This is a time where nobody’s budgets are growing, so finding a way to grow on our existing budgets is a goal.

There has always been an attitude that because these spaces are small and that people will just read about cycling because it’s cycling; it hasn’t always been treated as a modern media entity. But I think that whether you’re reading about the 2016 Presidential Election or a small bike race that nobody has ever heard of, if those readers are coming to you they deserve a modern media experience. They deserve good writing and good video and some smart thinking about things. And they deserve evolving platforms; evolving ways to engage.

So, what keeps me up at night is trying to do that across all of these titles, while working within the inherent limitations of being in a small vertical. It’s a big challenge and does often wake me up at 3:00 a.m., but it’s also a really interesting one. When I came in here I was just getting to leave my fingerprint on VeloNews and now I get to leave it across four brands that have all existed for a really long time. So, that’s a pretty unique experience.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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GQ Style & Will Welch: Bringing The Human Soul & Style Together In The Most Wonderful of Ways – The Mr. Magazine Interview With Will Welch, Editor In Chief, GQ Style…

November 10, 2016

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“There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’” Will Welch…

Heart and soul for the brand, two of the most important passions a magazine maker can have. Add in an honesty that goes much deeper than just the pages of the magazine; a candor that comes from the actual depths of the human being creating it, and you have Condé Nast’s latest title and its editor in chief, Will Welch; a man who is redefining just exactly what a luxury men’s magazine is.

Will joined Condé Nast in 2007 on GQ’s editorial team, most recently serving as the magazine’s style editor. Today, Will is editor in chief of GQ Style and is bringing his own fresh approach to the art of being a man. There are no taboos when it comes to what goes with fashion, as far as Will sees it. His vision is clear and focused; men mix fashion with art, music and interior design every day, and that authentic direction, while unique, is also spot on with his readers.

I spoke with Will recently and we talked about his passionate and soulful belief and views about the magazine. His mission statement for the magazine is simple: how to succeed with style and soul. And for him that isn’t always about an expensive price tag hanging from the shirt. It’s about beauty, integrity and much more than the design of the jacket. In Will’s own words, “It is feeling like the stuff we are covering is coming from a really honest place and that’s the most important thing to me.” And you absolutely can’t argue with that.

In fact, Mr. Magazine™ was so impressed with GQ Style; I selected it as one of the 30 Hottest New Launches for 2016. It was a refreshing change of pace to have an editor in chief of a men’s magazine see that we males have quite a bit more on our minds than just clothes. GQ Style has put a new definition on the five-letter word. Being stylish involves a lifestyle more than just trendy attire.

So, I hope that you enjoy this refreshing glimpse into the world of a man who is not afraid to shake up the space of men’s magazines, especially when he does so with heart, soul, and a new type of “style” – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Welch, Editor in Chief of GQ Style.

But first the sound-bites:

Will Welch Photo by Jake Rosenburg

Will Welch
Photo by Jake Rosenburg


On why he thinks GQ Style wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago: There’s a real culture around fashion, art and interior design. The conversations I have with friends, and have had since I was in college, related to art had nothing to do with our means to actually buy a piece of art from a gallery. But, there was enthusiasm, excitement, awareness, and vocabulary built around that. What that means, for me, GQ Style was able to be really organic, authentic, and this word might be a stretch but I think I can explain it, and I put it on the cover of the first issue for a reason – soulful. That created the dialogue, discussion, and presentation of all of these elements that can be defined as luxury or lifestyle and culture in magazine form.

On how much of his own soul he puts into the magazine: (Laughs) There are a few things that I invest myself in. I think of things that my wife and I are interested in and conversations we have that aren’t in the magazine. But pretty much a huge portion of what I’m invested in, finds itself in the magazine in one form or another.

On the Holiday issue that features a 20-page Jazz portfolio: Again, just really investing in things that we believe are a little bit outside of what everybody might be talking about in the culture of the moment or they seem a little bit offbeat. I feel like the key to GQ Style connecting with readers and an audience, and the key to being relevant for us is to continue to throw ourselves at the stuff we really believe in, whether it’s huge and mainstream or tiny and niche.

On whether that portfolio could only be achieved in print: You can’t achieve the same portfolio in digital. You can do a piece about the same guys, in the same attitude and same spirit and make it every bit as impactful and as much of a document of the moment in time. But, it would have to be rethought. Video and audio would have to play an important part of it. You would really want to conceive of it outside the standard idea of still-photography, written words, and the design that brings the two together.

On what role he thinks GQ Style plays in today’s digital world: There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’

On if there have been any stumbling blocks: Well, to be really honest, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Of course, there have been challenges along the way. There are quirky aspects of the way that GQ Style is designed and the way it operates that require some problem solving and some patience and smart thinking.

On writing an introduction for the Rick Ruben interview with Kendrick Lamar: I felt like there needed to be a moment where, especially because GQ Style is such a new magazine and such a new title across the platforms, there needed to be a moment where our readers understood why we had chosen Kendrick Lamar and why now.

On coming up with cover stories: It can be a moment in the middle of the night. It can be that for me or any member of my team, or someone from the GQ staff, like ‘You know who I’ve been thinking would be really cool for you guys?’ Because we all work on the same floor here together and there’s a constant ebb and flow of communication and ideas and just hallway communication like any cool collegial office. So it’s sort of like a nonstop topic of conversations.

On his expectations for GQ Style one year from now: I feel very strongly that the first three issues have been successful in that they’ve defined and sort of laid out the case for GQ Style, and why what we’re doing is relevant, and what a reader can gain by coming to us in all of our forms, social, GQStyle.com, GQ Style in print.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly to his home one evening: Evenings at home are usually spent on the couch with my wife, and I’m not too proud of this, but we’ll be having dinner next to each other on the couch with two cats around, and there’s always a series of things going on, it could be a football game or a TV show on, or my wife might be reading a book and I might be on my phone at the same time or vice versa.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is family-related, I’m 35 years old and it just seems to be an interesting time in my life, there are all of these opportunities for me to grow and mature, so I’m sort of trying to evolve as a man and a husband and a son and all of these things, and elements of that keep me up at night. But what pertains to GQ Style is usually there is a story I want to tell and there are some elements blocking it, it could be a budget thing or a talent booking issue, or a photography or a photographer-booking question.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Welch,
Editor in Chief, GQ Style.

Samir Husni: You redefined luxury in the magazine with the first issue and you created a magazine that technically you have admitted would not have existed just a few years ago. Why do think that GQ Style would not have existed 10 years ago?

Will Welch: There are a couple of reasons, but the place I’d like to start is with the awareness of men’s style and men’s lifestyle pursuits, including fashion, interior design, design, architecture, art and travel. Men have this awareness and ease with the vocabulary, and excitement about these topics has grown. The amount that these topics are a part of their lives and conversations, let’s just ballpark within the last 16 years, has really accelerated, but especially within the last 10 years. That allowed GQ Style to tackle those topics with real passion, they’re not floating off in the abstract and they’re not these exclusive pursuits of the rich and well-heeled, or people with money to burn.

There’s a real culture around fashion, art and interior design. The conversations I have with friends, and have had since I was in college, related to art had nothing to do with our means to actually buy a piece of art from a gallery. But, there was enthusiasm, excitement, awareness, and vocabulary built around that. What that means, for me, GQ Style was able to be really organic, authentic, and this word might be a stretch but I think I can explain it, and I put it on the cover of the first issue for a reason – soulful. That created the dialogue, discussion, and presentation of all of these elements that can be defined as luxury or lifestyle and culture in magazine form.

I feel like in a way, GQ style was made possible because of the culture among American men. Over the last 16 years it has been evolving at a clip that made a magazine where the discussion of this stuff was really natural and not in anyway forced. That cover line from our debut issue, which came out in May with Robert Downey Jr. on the cover, was sort of presented as the cover-line selling the Robert Downey Jr. story. But to me, it was secretly the mission statement of the magazine, which is how to succeed with style and a soul. That was my way of sending a coded signal that the content of this magazine isn’t going to be fancy, expensive or luxury just for expensive sake, and I think there’s a history of luxury magazines participating in that and I wanted a clean break. I felt that the culture had created a moment that was ready for GQ Style. So, that’s what we’ve been striving to make and we have three issues that have come out so far and it’s feeling good. It’s feeling like the stuff we are covering is coming from a really honest place and that’s the most important thing to me.
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Samir Husni: Will, you are now 35, so how much of your own soul do you put into this magazine to make it even more soulful.

Will Welch: (Laughs) There are a few things that I invest myself in. I think of things that my wife and I are interested in and conversations we have that aren’t in the magazine. But pretty much a huge portion of what I’m invested in, finds itself in the magazine in one form or another.

For example, in the debut issue, there was an 8-page spread on Sid Mashburn store. Which I think is one of the very best stores in the country. It was started in Atlanta and now posted in D.C., Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Sid Mashburn is an incredibly interesting guy who has started this store. He comes from a family that had small town stores in the American south, where it was really about community and value and he doesn’t use this word but I would, soul, as much as it was about clothes or profit margin. It’s just a store in Atlanta, but to me there’s something going on there and there’s a story to tell. He’s doing something really unique that brings new ideas to bear on fashion and retail and getting dressed and all these topics that are relevant to GQ Style that I felt like eight pages made perfect sense.

In the Holiday Issue there’s a four-page story on the shop in Los Angeles called RTH, which was founded about 7 years ago by this designer, but even designer feels like too small of a word. He’s really a creative and a maker of interesting worlds named Rene Holguin. It’s just a shop in L.A., they have no e-commerce presence and it’s two stores that are just three doors down from each other. You walk in and find that he has created this whole world that is truly immersive. It’s like falling down a rabbit hole to walk into this store. I thought to myself, yes this is just a store in L.A. but this deserves a feature. I knew that Erykah Badu is also a huge fan of RTH, and by chance she discovered it the year it opened so we interviewed her about her love for RTH and what she knows about Rene Holguin, who founded it.

I guess what I’m saying is that these are small passions of mine. These are two little stores that I love, but to me there is something happening in both of them that is much bigger than just the footprint of their shops, so we wanted to give them a big space in GQ Style.

Also, in the Holiday Issue there is a 20 page Jazz portfolio. Again, just really investing in things that we believe are a little bit outside of what everybody might be talking about in the culture of the moment or they seem a little bit offbeat. I feel like the key to GQ Style connecting with readers and an audience, and the key to being relevant for us is to continue to throw ourselves at the stuff we really believe in, whether it be huge and mainstream or tiny and niche.

Samir Husni: That was my next question to you because when I saw the piece on jazz, I noticed some of the people featured reached the age of 91. That’s where I felt the soul of the magazine was. When I saw that feature, I felt like nobody thinks about jazz artists and what they wear, but rather they just enjoy their music. But you were able to turn it around and it was a combination of everything.

Will Welch: I think it was interesting because basically what happened is GQ’s great, longtime design director, Fred Woodward, who’s also the design director at GQ Style, although I think he brings out a very different style of himself when he’s working of GQ Style versus GQ. We were in an ideas meeting and he says to me: ‘Think of all the great lions of jazz that are still alive today. Not only are they alive but they’re still playing, they’re still making music, still playing at Village Vanguard, still releasing new albums. We talk about soul and passion and he was fired-up when he brought up this idea. He felt like it was something that was not only a nice piece for the 3 months that this issue is on newsstands, but it could be something that would really be a permanent document, a marking of this moment.

Any good magazine strives to be a document of the cultural moments of its time. So, we started going through the list and it was unbelievable, some of the histories of these guys who are still doing it. There were a couple key things for us. One, I think that jazz is synonymous with men’s style. The way that the jazz musicians, even going back to the 1920s but especially the 40s, 50s, 60s and even early 70s. I was talking with a friend and we were joking about the dashiki period of jazz, where the style of dress changed along with the sound of the music that was constantly happening. The jazzmen were some of the most stylish men of their times and so let’s work with these guys and do a portfolio, let’s collaborate with them. Our fashion editor, Mobolaji Dawodu did just a beautiful job styling the piece. But our vision for the photography and the fashion went hand-in-hand. Let’s not try to freeze these guys in time. Let’s not do classic black and white portraiture of guys who in their 60s, 70s, and as you mentioned, even 90s. These guys were, and are, visionaries.

The piece is called ‘The Explorers Club’ and these guys really used their instruments to explore the human condition, both internally and externally. We think about space travel when we think about a lot of these musicians like Pharoah Sanders. I also think about the exploration of the human interior of the human consciousness, and so we wanted to make them look futuristic now, not freeze them in stone. That was the director for both Christian Weeber, who is an incredible photographer and did a beautiful job with this portfolio, but also the director for Mobolaji Dawodu’s work with the fashion. You know, these guys are incredibly opinionated, his (Dawodu’s) stories coming back from set were hilarious like: ‘Hell no, I’ll never wear that. Get that out of my face.’ He would slowly find a rhythm with each of them. But taking that idea and believing it. Finding a way to not do it the expected way, but to make it fresh. Then to really invest in it, as far as the pages we are giving over to it. I guess if you really include the appendix where we talk about some of their greatest albums of all time, it’s like 26 pages of content.

Samir Husni: You look at those pages and flip those 26 pages and see the life and soul of the music. Is there a way you can do that in digital or can you only achieve that same portfolio in print?

Will Welch: You can’t achieve the same portfolio in digital. You can do a piece about the same guys, in the same attitude and same spirit and make it every bit as impactful and as much of a document of the moment in time. But, it would have to be rethought. Video and audio would have to play an important part of it. You would really want to conceive of it outside the standard idea of still-photography, written words, and the design that brings the two together.

I absolutely think you could do something that ambitious, and of course we are trying to do both. When we are commissioning the piece we are thinking about the digital version of it and trying to prepare for that. We have some interesting things in the works right now so that it really is compelling in something more than just a print piece translated online in an unsatisfying way when we launch it on GQStyle.com. The two have to be conceived independently from one another. For digital to be impactful it has to be thought of as digital.

Samir Husni: Nobody can accuse you of not being a digital native at your age. (Laughs)

Will Welch: (Laughs)

Samir Husni: So, as a digital native, what do you feel the role of print, as exemplified in GQ Style, is going to be for your generation?

Will Welch: I think when we are designing new print products or if someone young takes over a preexisting magazine, you have to toss out some of the institutional memory of the way a magazine is constructed. I tried to do that with GQ Style. This is oversimplifying a little bit but the traditional way a magazine is structured is there is newsy and small bits orientated beginning of the magazine called the front of the book. There is some different modular mid-length storytelling that is usually deemed the middle of the book. Which are all single pages that have ads next to them. Then you fit the feature-well, at which point the vast majority of the spreads are all editorial. There are no longer ads breaking up the editorial and that’s when you save your big visual moments and your long-form pieces. So, that is the way a magazine, again oversimplifying a little bit, but traditionally been structured.

With the launch of GQ Style, and I think anybody else my age who has the opportunity, rare though that may be these days, to launch something or alter something in print, has to look at that with a very critical eye and wonder how much of it is still relevant. I mean, a front of book news section, for a quarterly magazine especially, but I think even in a monthly as well, you’re just never going to keep up with the Internet so why even try?

So, really what happened with the launch of GQ Style, I spent a lot of the early days trying to think about, in the age of the internet, this is not the age of both the internet and print, this is the age purely of the internet, what can print do? What service can print provide the reader that they can’t already get online? I tried to build; of course with collaboration from my colleagues here, particularly Fred Woodword, the Design Director and Chris Opresic, the Photo Director, we tried to build a new structure that is specific to the digital age, specific to the concerns and topics of the imagined audience of GQ Style. This also included the out publisher Howard Mittman.

Howard deserves a lot of credit for understanding why that was going to make a difference, why that would be modern, why his advertisers would be okay with that, why that would help the fact that we cost $14.99 on the newsstand. I mean that was very collaborative and a huge leap of faith on his part and I thought pretty visionary to see the value in that and to know that that made sense from a business perspective. One very unique, and favorite aspects, there are a lot of readers who probably wouldn’t even be able to tell you that it’s happening but they feel it is that once the editorial section of the magazine begins, and earnest is all editorial spread, all the ads are backed upfront, maybe a couple in the back and add the back cover. But what would traditionally be a front of book, middle of book, and feature well is all editorial spreads. We have really tried to take advantage of that. Again, whether the reader knows it or not, they feel the difference.

There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’

Samir Husni: In fact, that’s what caught my attention. When I told Howard after I saw the first issue, “I have to interview Will.” I felt like you put your thumb on the heart of the problem. I am so glad you explained it the way you did. I always tell my clients or if I’m ever doing consulting, if you’re still doing the magazine as if it’s 2007 we have a problem.

Will Welch: Yes.

Samir Husni: Yours is a great example. I show my students your magazine. In fact, my teaching assistant, this is his favorite magazine. He’ll sit down and stop working to read GQ Style.

Will Welch: (Laughs) That gives me great, great joy. I’m so happy to hear that, thank you for passing that along.

Samir Husni: I mean the combination is really a new way of putting a magazine together, whether it’s a fashion magazine or any magazine that’s going to be in print.

Will Welch: I think that has to be the way to do it right now.

Samir Husni: So tell me, has it all been great, no stumbling blocks? Everything was as though you should have done this 3 years ago?

Will Welch: Well, to be really honest, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Of course, there have been challenges along the way. There are quirky aspects of the way that GQ Style is designed and the way it operates that require some problem solving and some patience and smart thinking. But those are little pebbles compared to the stuff about it that’s felt really great.

I think crucially it has broadened the power and the reach of GQ. I feel like the existence of GQ Style has not only been a success in its own terms but has also been a list for GQ and just the umbrella brand. One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot last week in particular, and I’m going to digress a little bit with the holiday issue; we launched it two weeks ago and we had this interesting cover package built around Kendrick Lamar. I had asked Rick Rubin, the legendary music producer, to interview Kendrick for the print piece. He and Kendrick also agreed to have that conversation videotaped and we did it at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studios outside in Malibu, which is how Rick Rubin likes to do things, and I said let’s do a cut. And we had 3 cameras on them, and we did a cut that was all 55 minutes of this interview and put it online. I can’t remember the exact timeline, but in a week and a half or so, it hit about a million views on YouTube alone. You know that doesn’t count all of the plays on GQ and GQ Style’s websites. It was a very proud moment for us that it got to a million views that quickly just on YouTube.

I realized that the only way to think about this title, GQ Style, in this moment, is what GQ Style is to each reader. In each moment whatever piece of content is in front of them. So, I’ve been really working, starting with myself and also with my team, as well as with Howard and his team, that how do we get rid of the idea entirely that GQ Style is a print magazine that is supported by social channels, video content, GQStyle.com, that its print with these other supportive elements or buffers.

How do we realize that if somebody is reading? If a tweet or Facebook post or something else comes across a reader’s trance at any given moment that is from us that is GQ Style, that’s what GQ Style is in the moment. In fact, with this Kendrick Lamar and Rick Rubin video the fact that it had found that big of an audience that fast meant that GQ Style is this YouTube video to more people than it is anything else so far in our very young life. So, we have to think about the brand holistically but we also have to think about each tweet, each Instagram, each Facebook post, each story in each issue, all of those things, each picture that we publish, the way that we represent ourselves as we move around the world, or do interviews, or go out on meetings. GQ Style is whatever that thing is to that person in that moment. I think it is of upmost importance that my team and myself digest that in order to have success, managing all of the many elements of this new entity.

Samir Husni: I noticed in that specific interview that Rick Rubin did with Kendrick Lamar, that you wrote an introduction to that interview, which is unusual. In the traditional way of doing magazines, you ask the person who does the interview to do the introduction or also the lead.

Will Welch: Yes, absolutely, and I just felt like it needed a moment because we had asked Rick to do this interview and he had so graciously agreed, and I had sort of said you should ask Kendrick whatever you want. I felt like there needed to be a moment where, especially because GQ Style is such a new magazine and such a new title across the platforms, there needed to be a moment where our readers understood why we had chosen Kendrick Lamar and why now. I was present for the interview and sort of done a lot of the arranging, so I felt like there should… you know it’s only a could of paragraphs long you know, it’s very short, but just a quick taste for like its only our third issue, it’s our first ever holiday issue here’s why we’ve chosen Kendrick Lamar for the cover and here’s why Rick Rubin is interviewing him and here’s just a little bit of insight into what happened that cool day in Malibu, and then I kind of get out of the way and let the two of them talk.

Samir Husni: So how do those cover ideas come to you? Do you lie in bed and think ‘Oh, we need to have Kendrick Lamar on the cover?’ Or, if I am to go inside your brain, how do you reach those moments in selecting your cover story?
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Will Welch: It can be a moment in the middle of the night. It can be that for me or any member of my team, or someone from the GQ staff, like ‘You know who I’ve been thinking would be really cool for you guys?’ Because we all work on the same floor here together and there’s a constant ebb and flow of communication and ideas and just hallway communication like any cool collegial office. So it’s sort of like a nonstop topic of conversations. I mean we’re talking about, of course, the spring 2017 cover which is our next issue that we’re currently putting together, but we’re really taking about the next year of covers, and I find myself thinking about it while I’m riding the train in the morning or driving, or on planes.

Names come up out of conversations that are completely unrelated to like editorial coverage, just some conversation with a friend or acquaintance that mentioned somebody. You kind of go ‘Wait a minute, that person could be really interesting’. From there, it’s really just about, well, another thing that I think is crucial to these early days of GQ Style is that I was kind of obsessing about this and the first couple of weeks that we had announced this launch, I was like how do you break through like we’re going to be doing this new thing and how do we break through?

Everybody knows how noisy of a time it is for media, but not just for media, there are kids with twitter accounts who have a louder voice than some of the most storied media entities in the world. I mean it’s a really intense and tricky time for any new launch; it could be a new fashion brand, I don’t know a new brand of kale chips, whatever the case may be, or in my case this new magazine title like how we break through? I think the key to it is you have to know who you are and you have to digest that and feel it in your bones. Then, you have to move forward always looking for new and interesting ways to do your thing whatever that might be, but it always has to be anchored in a real knowledge of who you are, and by who I am I mean what GQ Style is and what it’s all about.

So, I spend a lot of time in my own head and the notes folder in my iPhone and then once I kind of put a staff together with developing this together with my staff and it’s changed as different personalities have come on board and added their ideas to the mix, but we’ve really just been honing this idea of just what GQ Style is, what it’s all about, and then it gets really interesting when you’re thinking of new ideas and who should be on the cover to take this. You know for our covers so far they’ve all been celebrities, to take these celebrities and say what do they have to do with this idea of GQ Style that we’ve been talking so much about. Do they twist it in an interesting way or are they not related to it or are they perfect on message, do they seem like they’re related to what we’re doing but maybe it’s a year down the road? So, its like there’s this litmus test and you’re kind of bringing different people, different ideas, different stories, different kinds of storytelling into the mix and trying to figure out what that means for this central idea that you’re defining.

Samir Husni: If I speak with you a year from now, what would you hope to tell me about GQ Style; what are your expectations?

Will Welch: I feel very strongly that the first three issues have been successful in that they’ve defined and sort of laid out the case for GQ Style, and why what we’re doing is relevant, and what a reader can gain by coming to us in all of our forms, social, GQStyle.com, GQ Style in print. I’m very proud of the content that we’ve made.

I think we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, but evolve that in 2017 as well. We have the opportunity to really think outside the box and be creative in the way we use all of these tools that are currently at our disposal, which could be Facebook or an event that we throw, it could be any number of things. I think we’ve created a pretty cool product, I really believe that, but we need to raise awareness and there’s the opportunity to do that in new ways, print magazines certainly, but media entities in general haven’t breached yet. We’re a really small team but I think we have the creativity and the brainpower and the resources to be innovative. I hope that’s the story of 2017, I hope that’s the story we get to tell when the time comes.

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; having a glass of wine; watching television; or something else?

Will Welch: Evenings at home are usually spent on the couch with my wife, and I’m not too proud of this, but we’ll be having dinner next to each other on the couch with two cats around, and there’s always a series of things going on, it could be a football game or a TV show on, or my wife might be reading a book and I might be on my phone at the same time or vice versa. So, it’s interesting to think how that relates to GQ Style; we’re relaxing but there’s also this mix of print, digital, fiber optic cable, all of this stuff swirling in the mix you know? Sometimes, like now, it’s starting to get cold so there might be a fire going and just books, but usually the TV’s off and on, books and magazines and newspapers are in the mix, but so are our iPhones, and dinner and our two pet cats.

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

Will Welch: What keeps me up at night is family-related, I’m 35 years old and it just seems to be an interesting time in my life, there are all of these opportunities for me to grow and mature, so I’m sort of trying to evolve as a man and a husband and a son and all of these things, and elements of that keep me up at night. But what pertains to GQ Style is usually there is a story I want to tell and there are some elements blocking it, it could be a budget thing or a talent booking issue, or a photography or a photographer-booking question. You know to tell a successful story there are always a lot of people and a lot of talents and expertise moving in the same direction. That usually takes some finesse, so sometimes I’m up at night figuring out the right way to finesse.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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It’s The Best of Both Worlds When It Comes To Magazines…Maybe The Election Process Should Take Notice…

November 8, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

Mr. Magazine wearing "the best of both worlds." Photo by Anna Grace Usery

Mr. Magazine wearing “the best of both worlds.” Photo by Anna Grace Usery

As I sit here pondering the fact that today is Election Day – and the choices are pretty cut and dried; either/or, I think the phrase is, an interesting idea weaved its way into my politically-overloaded brain, why can’t candidates and the entire election process be more like the world of magazines, where more often than not – we have the best of both worlds; a clear choice, if you will, and not just the lesser of two evils.

Throughout this entire mud-covered presidential campaign (on both sides) we have endured the candidates adding not only insult to injury, but ridiculously absurd and lewd epithets that have left most of us with our mouths hanging open. The rhetoric has been beyond the pale with both the democratic nominee and the conservative choice – I don’t even feel compelled to write their names as by now it’s a moot point. But voting is vital to the democratic process, and while many of us have been disillusioned somewhat, the overall good will always overshadow the bad. That is something we must remember.

easy-rider-rated-geasy-rider-rated-r1And when it comes to the magazine environment – the field of choice is usually ripe with clear-cut picks that really comes down to either the customer’s moral preference or simply the mood of the moment. For example, look at Easy Rider magazine. Since 1971, the magazine has sought to provide its core audience with the type of content they were and are still looking for. And in doing so, have offered on the newsstand, not just in subscriptions, both a G-rated cover and an R-rated cover, letting them know exactly what was between the pages by those simple earmarks. And while the content of both has the best Easy Rider information the magazine can provide, it also brings the more raw style of content to the forefront for the reader should they desire it, and clearly shows that difference. It offers them the best of both worlds.

There are no surprises. You get what you select. Why can’t the election be as simple? Republican or Democrat; none of us desire a candidate that we can’t tell the difference between. Their individual policies have been overshadowed by the R-rating of their campaigns.

While back in the world of magazines, life is simple and good – we have choices, both G and R choices – it’s all up to us. The best of both worlds becomes much more than just a song a Disney character made famous.

Until the next Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

Go vote!

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