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

March 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay Fielden: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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ROVA Magazine: A New Magazine For Millennials Who Love Their RV’s & Hitting The Open Road For Epic Adventures – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Gemma Peckham, Publisher & Editor, ROVA Magazine…

March 3, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

ROVA Issue 1“Sometimes I stop and wonder if I’ve gone a bit crazy, but I think those segments of millennials and younger people who are really into things that are a little bit retro, and who want authenticity and something that they can actually touch and hold; perhaps they even have a little bit of Internet fatigue, you know? There is a lot of scope for a magazine like ROVA, which is a niche area for these millennials who are out there on the road traveling. What I’m hoping is that it sticks to them and they enjoy reading it every few months.” Gemma Peckham (On whether she’s out of her mind for launching a print magazine for millennials)…

RV’s and millennials, the two haven’t necessarily gone together in the past, but a new title called ROVA thinks that they certainly do conjoin on today’s modern roadmaps. Gemma Peckham is a publisher and editor who works for an Australian company that has decided the United States has the right canvas to paint this particular portrait of millennials and RV’s on. And from the feedback she said she is receiving from the magazine’s premiere issue, they seem to be right.

I spoke with Gemma recently and we talked about the uniqueness of the concept. The premise is many millennials and Gen Xer’s are taking to the open road to work, explore and experience authentic, retro life. It’s a niche area usually reserved for retirees, but Gemma said that is no longer the case. From research she conducted herself; she discovered that RV buyers in the U.S. were getting younger by the mile and were off to find epic adventure in their homes on wheels.

Gemma herself is a digital nomad, as she describes younger people who like to jump in an RV and go, she loves road travel and she loves print magazines. And she believes that many millennials are a bit Internet fatigued, as she puts it, and Mr. Magazine™ would have to agree with her. There is nothing like the tangible print experience.

So, grab your paper map and your homey RV and let’s hit the road with Gemma Peckham, publisher and editor, ROVA magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

Gemma PeckhamOn whether she thinks she’s out of her mind for launching a print magazine for millennials: (Laughs) That is a very good question, and one that I’ve been asked numerous times. Sometimes I stop and wonder if I’ve gone a bit crazy, but I think those segments of millennials and younger people who are really into things that are a little bit retro, and who want authenticity and something that they can actually touch and hold; perhaps they even have a little bit of Internet fatigue, you know? There is a lot of scope for a magazine like ROVA, which is a niche area for these millennials who are out there on the road traveling. What I’m hoping is that it sticks to them and they enjoy reading it every few months.

On what her thinking was behind the premise of RV traveling for millennials: I’m from Australia and it came about because I work at a publishing company there, which I’ve brought here to New York, and we had a magazine there for RV traveling and it was called “Caravanning Australia” and it was very targeted toward the retired market, the audience had an average age of about 60 or so. When I decided to come here and bring the company over to the states, I looked at RVing here, because obviously we have experience in that area. And I did a bit of research and one of the things that I discovered was that the largest group of people buying RV’s currently is between the ages of 35-44. So, the demographic is slowly, but surely getting younger.

On the biggest challenge she faced in launching this first issue: Number one for us is this is the very first magazine that we’ve made in the United States. So, in terms of just making people aware of who we are and what we do, and then also trying to communicate the idea for this magazine to them was a bit of a challenge. And I guess that relates to advertising as well, as you said, some people asked were we crazy for doing a print magazine for millennials who are RV enthusiasts. They thought it was a very strange concept.

On how she is combining her passion for the magazine with business: In ROVA’s case, this is both. The stories that we have here and the kind of content that I’m curating for the magazine is really what I would like to read and other travelers that I know would like to read. We’ve created the design so that it appeals to people in my age group. But by the same token, I’m fully aware of the fact that we really need to make sure that what we’re putting into the magazine is really appealing to advertisers, because without them it’s not going to work.

On the future and other plans in the works: We definitely have more plans. ROVA is obviously our flagship publication at the moment, it’s the one we’ve been able to promote and it’s doing quite well. We think it’s doing quite well from the feedback we’re getting. The plan for ROVA is just to grow it, make it bigger and get it out there, and build on that. But Executive Media Global is a publishing company that’s based on a model in Australia where we have 50 or 60 different titles that we produce every year.

On her plan for connecting ROVA with its audience: Digital is a big part of it for us, simply because that’s where millennials and Gen Xer’s go to get their information. Other than that, we’re going toward a number of RV shows. For example, Escapees, which is a big RV club and they have a big yearly event. So, we have a booth and we’re going out there, where we’ll actually be talking to people and connecting with them, and showing them the magazine. We have plans to do a few of those over the next few months to get this first edition out there.

On whether she found any differences in traveling with an RV in the United States versus Australia and New Zealand: It’s very similar in one way, which is the size of the country. The size of the U.S. is very similar to the size of Australia. Road trips are a really big part of the way people explore their own countries. So, that’s very similar, both here and in Australia.

On any plans to take the magazine to Australia: I don’t know. I believe Australia is moving in a similar direction with the age of the people who are taking up the RV way of traveling. It could work. I think probably what we would do, because this is a very U.S.-centric publication, we could potentially make an Australian focus, and I think that’s definitely something that isn’t out of the question. It’s something that we have the resources to do.

On anything she’d like to add: The main thing that I’m experiencing is I have been so overwhelmingly pleased with the feedback that we’ve gotten and the way that people receive new magazines here. It’s very different than t is in Australia; people really give you kudos if you have an idea and you take it to the market and if you have passion behind the product, I think that people react in a really positive way. And that’s something that I’ve been really surprised by; the support and encouragement that we’ve gotten for this magazine. And that’s one of the things that make me happiest and most satisfied doing this, just seeing the reaction from people. And feeling like that we’re on the right track.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: It will depend upon how hard the day was. After a very hard day, yes, it will be binge-watching TV and having a glass of wine. Otherwise, I know it’s very strange, since I work in publishing, but I like to read when I go home. I’ll read the latest book that has caught my attention, or just having dinner with my husband and chatting, just catching up on the day.

On what keeps her up at night: Usually I go to sleep pretty quickly, but the status of politics in this country probably keeps everyone up. (Laughs) But usually I’m just daydreaming about different things, whether it’s personal or something to do with the magazine. And new ideas, imaginations, travel destinations, things like that. I’m always thinking of what’s next in my life, so that takes up a lot of my headspace when I have free time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Gemma Peckham, publisher and editor, ROVA magazine.

Samir Husni: You’re embarking on this new venture, a print magazine, for millennials. Are you out of your mind?

ROVA Issue 1Gemma Peckham: (Laughs) That is a very good question, and one that I’ve been asked numerous times. Sometimes I stop and wonder if I’ve gone a bit crazy, but I think those segments of millennials and younger people who are really into things that are a little bit retro, and who want authenticity and something that they can actually touch and hold; perhaps they even have a little bit of Internet fatigue, you know? There is a lot of scope for a magazine like ROVA, which is a niche area for these millennials who are out there on the road traveling. What I’m hoping is that it sticks to them and they enjoy reading it every few months.

Samir Husni: Not only is there a tendency for people to think you might be crazy because this magazine is targeted toward millennials and it’s in print, but you might be considered double-crazy because it’s for millennials who also like to travel in RV’s, rather than retirees. When most people think about RV travelers, retirees come to mind. What was your thinking on this?

Gemma Peckham: I’m from Australia and it came about because I work at a publishing company there, which I’ve brought here to New York, and we had a magazine there for RV traveling and it was called “Caravanning Australia” and it was very targeted toward the retired market, the audience had an average age of about 60 or so.

When I decided to come here and bring the company over to the states, I looked at RVing here, because obviously we have experience in that area. And I did a bit of research and one of the things that I discovered was that the largest group of people buying RV’s currently is between the ages of 35-44. So, the demographic is slowly, but surely getting younger.

And that seemed very positive to me, because I’ve been all over RVing myself, and I’m just a millennial, right on the cusp between a millennial and Gen X, and I’ve driven an RV across the states, around New Zealand, and in Europe. And to me there is a culture there that is really growing that isn’t necessarily catered to by any of the publications out there at the moment. The main RV magazines in America are “MotorHome” and “Trailer Life” and they do incredibly well. They’re geared toward the older, retired RV users, but there is this whole contingent of people who are missing out on a quality, print product that speaks to them and shows the kind of experiences that they want.

So, we set up shop and we’ll see how it goes. There’s obviously a bit of a lack in the market. We thought that we could reach a younger audience and appeal to millennials. And we’re giving it a shot. We’ll see how it goes. So far, the feedback has been great. We’ve managed to sell some advertising, and obviously that was a very important thing. I’m hoping that it will keep growing.

Samir Husni: As I look at the first issue, which recently hit newsstands, what was the biggest challenge that you had to face in launching it and how did you overcome that challenge?

Gemma Peckham: Number one for us is this is the very first magazine that we’ve made in the United States. So, in terms of just making people aware of who we are and what we do, and then also trying to communicate the idea for this magazine to them was a bit of a challenge. And I guess that relates to advertising as well, as you said, some people asked were we crazy for doing a print magazine for millennials who are RV enthusiasts. They thought it was a very strange concept.

Being able to communicate this vision that was something a bit different and probably unexpected was a bit of a challenge. But when you have something that you really believe in as we do, it’s easier. I have a vested interest in it just because this is the kind of stuff that I love. Our sales team is really excited about the product, so all of that has really helped to communicate to people what we’re doing. And it’s turned out well. In the first edition we have something like 15-16 advertisers, and in the next edition, which we’re working on now, we have a similar amount already, so it looks like it’s going to be a little bit bigger.

In terms of challenges, just really making ourselves known and getting the word out about what we’re doing would be the number one challenge.

Samir Husni: You wrote in the first issue that you started ROVA because you love road travel and you love print magazines. So, is it a magazine based on passion? How are you combining the passion part with the business part?

Gemma PeckhamGemma Peckham: It’s definitely a bit of both. When I was in Australia I tried to start a similar magazine, but it was more global travel than RV travel. And that was something that was definitely a passion for me, because I have traveled a lot and it was something that I felt really strongly about. And I think we did have a really strong niche for that magazine, but it was competing with a lot of other travel magazines and it just wasn’t getting the advertising that it needed to. From that experience I learned that it doesn’t really matter how much passion you have for something, if it doesn’t fit into a market in some way, it may not work.

But in ROVA’s case, this is both. The stories that we have here and the kind of content that I’m curating for the magazine is really what I would like to read and other travelers that I know would like to read. We’ve created the design so that it appeals to people in my age group. But by the same token, I’m fully aware of the fact that we really need to make sure that what we’re putting into the magazine is really appealing to advertisers, because without them it’s not going to work.

We’ve put a lot of effort into marketing; we had a 1,000 followers on Instagram before the magazine was even launched, which was great. It’s really a matter of balancing the two. I’ve been working in magazine publishing for 10 years and over that time I’ve learned that no matter how much you want something to work, it’s not going to unless you have a business plan in place as well.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little about your future plans. You’ve established a magazine and yourselves in the United States; what’s next? Is ROVA going to be the entire ball of wax or you have other things in the works?

Gemma Peckham: We definitely have more plans. ROVA is obviously our flagship publication at the moment, it’s the one we’ve been able to promote and it’s doing quite well. We think it’s doing quite well from the feedback we’re getting. The plan for ROVA is just to grow it, make it bigger and get it out there, and build on that. But Executive Media Global is a publishing company that’s based on a model in Australia where we have 50 or 60 different titles that we produce every year.

So, what we’re trying to do here is build a publishing company in a similar way and it will take a while. We already have another magazine that we’re working on, which is a custom publication for a private club in New York City, in Manhattan. What we do for them is produce a magazine for their membership and the magazine is sent to every member of this club, as well as targeted to essential members. So, that’s another aspect of the business that we established in Australia and we’re trying to establish here, custom publishing on behalf of organizations, clubs and those sorts of things. And that’s what we’re looking at for the moment, just trying to get some partnerships happening and build a stable of publications.

Samir Husni: What is your mechanism for connecting ROVA, the printed magazine, with its audience?

Gemma Peckham: Digital is a big part of it for us, simply because that’s where millennials and Gen Xer’s go to get their information. Other than that, we’re going toward a number of RV shows. For example, Escapees, which is a big RV club and they have a big yearly event. So, we have a booth and we’re going out there, where we’ll actually be talking to people and connecting with them, and showing them the magazine. We have plans to do a few of those over the next few months to get this first edition out there.

Other than that, just reaching out to PR companies; sending out press releases. We’ve been interviewed by a couple of the online RV news sources, industry people, manufacturers and dealers. So, it’s really just a matter of finding the kinds of people that we think would disseminate this kind of information, putting ourselves in front of them and hoping they see enough value in our product to tell their audiences about it.

Samir Husni: Content-wise, you mentioned that you’ve taken a few trips in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Did you find any differences between traveling with RV’s here, in the United States, versus other countries?

Gemma Peckham: It’s very similar in one way, which is the size of the country. The size of the U.S. is very similar to the size of Australia. Road trips are a really big part of the way people explore their own countries. So, that’s very similar, both here and in Australia.

But I do think that in the United States there’s a bigger group of younger people who are doing this. What they’re trying to do is get out and see their country, have these really authentic experiences. They’re all about living life on their own terms, so they’re trying to make a life for themselves that they enjoy. A lot of them work through this too; they call themselves digital nomads. So, they might be graphic designers or writers or photographers. There’s a lot of that happening here; instead of people doing a normal 9 to 5 job, they decide to get out and work from there. And I think that’s something that’s a lot bigger here than it is in Australia. In general though, the cultures are pretty similar. Hit the road, drive to the place that you’ve always wanted to see, interact with people along the way, and just enjoy yourselves.

Samir Husni: I noticed that the company that’s publishing the magazine, Executive Media Global, lists not only New York, but Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Any plans to take the magazine to Australia?

Gemma Peckham: I don’t know. I believe Australia is moving in a similar direction with the age of the people who are taking up the RV way of traveling. It could work. I think probably what we would do, because this is a very U.S.-centric publication, we could potentially make an Australian focus, and I think that’s definitely something that isn’t out of the question. It’s something that we have the resources to do.

The thing with launching a magazine here as opposed to in Australia, we just have such a huge audience as a population; I can’t remember what exactly the difference in population is, but it’s quite substantial. Australia only has 20-25 million people, where the U.S. is around 370 million. I think ROVA is working because we really do have a large audience, but in Australia, we did very well with “Caravanning Australia” magazine, so it’s definitely something we’ll look at down the road.

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

Gemma Peckham: The main thing that I’m experiencing is I have been so overwhelmingly pleased with the feedback that we’ve gotten and the way that people receive new magazines here. It’s very different than t is in Australia; people really give you kudos if you have an idea and you take it to the market and if you have passion behind the product, I think that people react in a really positive way. And that’s something that I’ve been really surprised by; the support and encouragement that we’ve gotten for this magazine. And that’s one of the things that make me happiest and most satisfied doing this, just seeing the reaction from people. And feeling like that we’re on the right track.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home unexpectedly one evening, what would I find you doing; watching TV with a glass of wine; flipping through a magazine; or on the road in an RV?

Gemma Peckham: (Laughs) It will depend upon how hard the day was. After a very hard day, yes, it will be binge-watching TV and having a glass of wine. Otherwise, I know it’s very strange, since I work in publishing, but I like to read when I go home. I’ll read the latest book that has caught my attention, or just having dinner with my husband and chatting, just catching up on the day. Or I’ll go to the gym, if I’m feeling really energetic.

Samir Husni: Are those books you read ink on paper or e-books?

Gemma Peckham: Right now, I’m reading a paper book. But generally, I read on my Kindle, because it’s so much easier to store, because I travel with it. I just love being able to carry a 1,000 books with me if I want to.

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

Gemma Peckham: Good question. Usually I go to sleep pretty quickly, but the status of politics in this country probably keeps everyone up. (Laughs) But usually I’m just daydreaming about different things, whether it’s personal or something to do with the magazine. And new ideas, imaginations, travel destinations, things like that. I’m always thinking of what’s next in my life, so that takes up a lot of my headspace when I have free time.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Foreign Affairs Magazine: Tapping Into The Demand For Reasoned Analysis & Real Truth In This Age Of “Alternative Facts” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Dr. Gideon Rose, Editor, Foreign Affairs Magazine…

March 1, 2017

fa-ma17“When I was thinking about going digital I decided that the last thing we should do is think about this as taking Foreign Affairs in print and putting it online. That’s not how you should think about these things. Instead, go back to basics and ask yourself why are people reading Foreign Affairs in the first place? What is the brand proposition? What is the value proposition for the brand? And can we come up with a digital version of that, which is consistent and works well together with our print magazine as well?” Dr. Gideon Rose…

Foreign Affairs magazine, the world’s leading forum for serious discussion of global issues, has for the first time passed a total paid circulation of 200,000, according to the Alliance for Audited Media’s December 2016 Snapshot. This marks an increase of 30 percent over the past five years, and of 100 percent over the past twenty. Foreign Affairs is also enjoying strong single-copy sales, posting 17.5 percent gains. The magazine currently ranks ninth out of all titles in single-copy sales growth, and second among smaller-circulation titles.

Foreign Affairs’ circulation growth accompanies a period of continued success across the entire operation. Recognized by Forbes as one of “10 Journalism Brands Where You Find Real Facts,” Foreign Affairs was also recently nominated for a third consecutive finalist nomination for a National Magazine Award for General Excellence. In January 2017, ForeignAffairs.com received more than 903,000 unique visitors and 2.3 million page views.

So, what’s up with this print and digital success story? How is Foreign Affairs doing what many other political weeklies only dream about? To find those answers, Mr. Magazine™ spoke with FA’s editor, Dr. Gideon Rose, recently about what he believes is the key to the brand’s phenomenal success in this digital age of magazine and magazine media upheaval.

One thing that Gideon strongly believes in is the accessibility of FA’s content to everyone, across all platforms. And to support and serve not only FA’s readers, but the roster of professionals, experts and authoritative voices that the publication utilizes and recognizes with every page in the magazine and every pixel on its website. In this chaotic and turbulent time that we live in, Foreign Affairs magazine is the voice of reason and sanity that strives for the truth of the brand’s legacy each and every day.

And now, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Foreign Affairs’ editor, Dr. Gideon Rose.

But first the sound-bites:

gideon-headshot_newOn why he thinks Foreign Affairs is doing better than most other political weeklies: I think there are two reasons for that. The first is that over the last several years we’ve tried to professionalize our operations more as a magazine. Foreign Affairs, for nearly a century, has been the central place for serious discussion of American foreign policy and global affairs. And we’ve always had a mix of authoritative substance and accessible presentation, or reasonably accessible presentation. In other words, the people who write for us are specialists or experts or major officials who know what they’re talking about. And we want their substance to speak to other professionals and carry on a real conversation about the most important issues in the world and what should be done about them.

On making Foreign Affairs accessible to all English-speaking people around the world: What we’ve tried to do is make that even more accessible and take advantage of the digital environment that is now possible to reach even more people and then reach anybody who wants to know what is happening in the world. What serious people debate when they talk about those things and our feeling is that should be accessible to anybody who has a basic high school or college-level understanding of English and of the world.

On being recognized by Forbes as being one of the 10 Journalism Brands Where you Find Real Facts Rather than Alternative Facts: I was delighted by that because it’s not anything new that we’re doing; my feeling is and our response to the current era is, all we have to do is be really good professionals and continue to do what we’re doing as well as possible. And what we’re doing is now in vogue, so there’s never been any doubt in our minds about what constitutes a fact and what doesn’t. What constitutes a legitimate argument and what doesn’t. What constitutes evidence and what doesn’t. What constitutes expertise and authority and what doesn’t. Our job is figuring that out on a regular basis and putting smart, serious people with real facts and real arguments inside our pages and making their views accessible.

On his view of the journalism Foreign Affairs does today: The journalism that we do comes in the presentation, but the substance is really linked more to the professional communities in the policy and academic fields that we focus on. As a journalist, we’re obviously doing journalism and writing it, but we are really a source for the professional communities that relate to foreign police, national security, public policy, more generally, and things like that.

On how he decides what goes on the website and what goes in the magazine: We decide what goes into print versus what goes online only based on how timely something is, whether it needs a lot more space, and how many sets of people are interested. There is no quality difference; it’s not like the good stuff goes into print and the second tier stuff goes online. Nor is it the opposite, where the really important stuff goes online and we just put the long, boring stuff that no one cares about in print. It’s rather that the stuff that is online needs to be dealt with in real time, or tackles an issue that may not be of general interest, but is an important interest for a smaller community. Or things that could be in print, but we already have done something in print on that and it was a good piece, so we run it online as well. Where the things in print are things that can stand being, in effect, a slower moving, longer-termed drop that isn’t going to be overtaken by events; it’s something that provides some general ways of thinking about an issue or requires a long serious argument to develop.

jf17-fa-coverOn the moment he realized he had the perfect job and he was extremely happy to be at Foreign Affairs: I was the managing editor for 10 years before that; I was the number two. And even before that, the previous number two, my close friend, Fareed Zakaria, who I filled in for as an understudy a couple of times during his tenure when he went off on a writing leave. So, I have been around the magazine for a long time. What actually hit me overtime was the extent to which that now that I was the boss, I could do things even more differently, especially as we entered the online realm and really started to grow there. As I mentioned, we launched the website in the spring of 2009 and I moved into the top job in the fall of 2010. So, in many respects, my tenure has coincided with or overlapped with our making a bigger digital push.

On anything else he’d like to add: I would add one thing. The Trump era is challenging for us, but the substantive challenge this current era presents to us is really just a continuation of what we’ve always been doing. We’re in the business of providing accessible serious debates on public policy. I say that our mission is the application of reason to public policy for the greater good. That mission hasn’t changed one whit from over the years. So, we’re doing the same thing that we’ve always done. That’s the first and most important point.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: Shuttling my daughter back from soccer practice, and trying to avoid my staff’s and author’s emails about the entire backlog of things that I am holding them up on.

On what keeps him up at night: Whether there is actually a possibility that this new administration in Washington can screw-up the world order that has managed unprecedented global stability, security and prosperity over the last seven decades.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dr. Gideon Rose, editor, Foreign Affairs magazine.

Samir Husni: While most of the media appears to be struggling, Foreign Affairs is doing very well. You’re up on the newsstands; you’ve almost doubled your circulation in the last few years, things a lot of the other political weeklies haven’t seen. Why do you think Foreign Affairs is bucking the trends and doing so well?

fa-nd16Gideon Rose: I think there are two reasons for that. The first is that over the last several years we’ve tried to professionalize our operations more as a magazine. Foreign Affairs, for nearly a century, has been the central place for serious discussion of American foreign policy and global affairs. And we’ve always had a mix of authoritative substance and accessible presentation, or reasonably accessible presentation. In other words, the people who write for us are specialists or experts or major officials who know what they’re talking about. And we want their substance to speak to other professionals and carry on a real conversation about the most important issues in the world and what should be done about them.

But we also pay attention to presentation, because our assumption is that there are a lot of people beyond the experts who actually want to know what the experts think about things, and so we’ve paid attention to trying to make our content as accessible as possible for a general audience, even though it’s written by an expert author pool.

Now, that’s been our formula for nearly a century and we’ve done pretty darned well over that century with that formula. What we’ve done in the last decade or so, increasingly I think, is to take our role as a magazine somewhat more seriously and provide to professionalize ourselves as a magazine across the board. Everything from the look to the distribution, to the presentation, to the business practices. And all that means we’re upping our game across the standard, professional best-practices, which has improved our performance.

At the same time, we are in a period in which the subject matter of what we do, major public policy, international events and affairs, American foreign policy, and American relations with the world in general, are fully in the news and people are caring about them more in many respects than ever. And so, as we have been continuing to do our jobs, but to do it better as a magazine, the public is finding that they’re interested in this and they want to know more. So, I think the combination of better supply and increased demand together is what accounts for the increased performance.

Samir Husni: My early memory of Foreign Affairs, when it was that bulky journal, goes back to my high school years in Tripoli, Lebanon, and visiting the public library there in my hometown. It was a must-read for anyone who spoke English, if we really wanted to know what was going on around the world.

Gideon Rose: I hope that’s still the case. And what we’ve tried to do is make that even more accessible and take advantage of the digital environment that is now possible to reach even more people and then reach anybody who wants to know what is happening in the world. What serious people debate when they talk about those things and our feeling is that should be accessible to anybody who has a basic high school or college-level understanding of English and of the world.

If we’re doing our jobs properly, we are allowing everybody to participate in and follow the discussion that the world’s most serious experts are having on the world’s most important public policy questions.

Samir Husni: When Forbes recognized you as one of the “10 Journalism Brands Where you Find Real Facts,” what did you think?

gideon-headshot_newGideon Rose: I was delighted by that because it’s not anything new that we’re doing; my feeling is and our response to the current era is, all we have to do is be really good professionals and continue to do what we’re doing as well as possible. And what we’re doing is now in vogue, so there’s never been any doubt in our minds about what constitutes a fact and what doesn’t. What constitutes a legitimate argument and what doesn’t. What constitutes evidence and what doesn’t. What constitutes expertise and authority and what doesn’t. Our job is figuring that out on a regular basis and putting smart, serious people with real facts and real arguments inside our pages and making their views accessible.

On the other hand, we’re also deeply, and I wouldn’t say non-political, but we’re non-politicized. And we’re non-partisan. And we don’t have any additional positions, just like our parent organization, The Council on Foreign Relations, So, our job is essentially to run a disinterested forum for serious people and let the conversations go where the logic and intelligence of the subject itself takes it.

Samir Husni: As a journalist, are you happy with the environment that we’re living in now; or are you in disbelief at the way journalism looks and works today?

Gideon Rose: This may sound strange, but for me journalism is a third professional identity. The two professional identities that in my own mind I actually privilege first for me are a potential scholar, an academic looking at the subject; I’m a trained international relations professor. And the other is a policy wonk; I had the honor of being a very junior official on the NSC (National Security Council) staff years ago when I was trained by serious professionals.

For me, the journalism that we do comes in the presentation, but the substance is really linked more to the professional communities in the policy and academic fields that we focus on. As a journalist, we’re obviously doing journalism and writing it, but we are really a source for the professional communities that relate to foreign police, national security, public policy, more generally, and things like that.

What we’re trying to do now in the wake of the current turbulence, or in the midst of the current turbulence, is do everything that we’ve always been doing, but to do it where it’s even more accessible than it has been in the past. Our feeling is we’re now supplying the set of groups that have always been valuable, but the people seem to appreciate it more because so much more craziness is going on.

Samir Husni: If you put your journalist hat on, your third profession cap, how do you decide what goes on the daily website and what is specifically for the magazine?

Gideon Rose: We were very slow to go into the digital realms. It wasn’t clear that what we did, long, serious analysis of important issues, was necessarily ideal for digital presentation. And the audiences and constituencies that we both rely on and serve as our primary core constituencies weren’t necessarily looking for us in the digital realm early on. Many of our older readers are still print passionate, rather than digital readers, so when we finally did decide to go to digital in a big way, we faced the question of how to take our brand in a digital direction.

Now, we made a couple of choices. When I thought about this very carefully; we launched the modern Foreign Affairs.com in 2009, and we redesigned it a couple of years ago, but it’s essentially our modern digital existence, which really stems from 2009. And when I was trying to think about what we should do as we were putting together our first major digital initiative, I asked myself, what is a non-commodity business? What are the barriers to entry? Why should anybody read Foreign Affairs?

The stopping point that I came to was there are a lot of other organizations out there, a lot of other media outlets and places that are much larger, much better resourced, much nimbler and quicker, and much more dynamic and entrepreneurial. So, if we do something that’s a commodity business, we will be beaten by other people who can do that commodity business better. We can’t compete on price; we can’t compete on speed; we can’t compete on comprehensive range of everything, so why do people read FA?

When I was thinking about going digital I decided that the last thing we should do is think about this as taking Foreign Affairs in print and putting it online. That’s not how you should think about these things. Instead, go back to basics and ask yourself why are people reading Foreign Affairs in the first place? What is the brand proposition? What is the value proposition for the brand? And can we come up with a digital version of that, which is consistent and works well together with our print magazine as well?

When we thought about that we decided those things at that time which were fairly common on the digital side: headlines, blog, short and quick takes; these are all things that you didn’t need us for and that someone could probably get better from other places, because we didn’t have the staff or the mindset or the resources to do that kind of stuff.

On the other hand, running a bimonthly print magazine; it’s pretty hard to stay in touch or on top of breaking events, and, obviously, we also have very limited space in the magazine. And there were a lot of issues that we would have liked to have covered but couldn’t, because we didn’t have enough space.

So, we decided that what we should do digitally with our content strategy was to supply additional, high-quality content that was, in many respects, sharing a DNA with our print content. And that had the same kind of authoritative substance, that tackled the same kind of issues and that relied on the same kind of authors, so that our common brand propositions of authoritative substance and accessible presentation would be common across both print and digital. I wanted us to be platform agnostic, both in a business way and intellectually, while taking advantage of the opportunities that digital offered for quicker takes, rather than things that were dramatically longer to bring about. And we could go after smaller slices of things and do some micro-targeting to audiences and issues that while important and legit, were perhaps not of as mass appeal.

When we think of the difference between print and digital, for us, I kind of think of them as siblings; we have the same DNA. We get our DNA from the same parents. And all of our digital side and our print side; print first, because everything goes digital eventually, print first and online only; they’re all members and children of the same family. But they have different attributes.

These days what we’ve actually groped our way towards is that we can use the print magazine for larger, longer, more widely, perhaps desirable, pieces that are the functional equivalent of, let’s say, aircraft carriers. And our digital content is the rest of the aircraft carrier’s battle group, the PT Boats; the Cruisers; the Destroyers; the anti-submarine boats; the naval planes, etc., things that can swarm around the big aircraft and continue the fight, but do so much more nimbly and quickly.

On something like Brexit, we have not only covered something like Brexit in big pieces in the magazine, but we’ve also covered it online in real time with the same quality and the same content and the same author pool, such that the actual day of Brexit, or the day following Brexit, was our biggest traffic day on the site ever, because we had so much content that was so good, so targeted and so timely that people wanted it.

We decide what goes into print versus what goes online only based on how timely something is, whether it needs a lot more space, and how many sets of people are interested. There is no quality difference; it’s not like the good stuff goes into print and the second tier stuff goes online. Nor is it the opposite, where the really important stuff goes online and we just put the long, boring stuff that no one cares about in print. It’s rather that the stuff that is online needs to be dealt with in real time, or tackles an issue that may not be of general interest, but is an important interest for a smaller community. Or things that could be in print, but we already have done something in print on that and it was a good piece, so we run it online as well. Where the things in print are things that can stand being, in effect, a slower moving, longer-termed drop that isn’t going to be overtaken by events; it’s something that provides some general ways of thinking about an issue or requires a long serious argument to develop.

We just ran a major piece on financial reform by Timothy Geithner, and I loved the piece, it was an important piece. Robert Samuelson just did an entire column in the Washington Post where he literally just used his column to summarize the piece, but that piece is not going to be of mass interest. It will be of deep interest to anyone who does finance, but those tend to be our traditional legacy audiences to some extent. And it was 7,000-8,000 words of relatively dense prose by the former Treasury Secretary on financial reform. That was sort of a perfect example of a print piece for us, while the breaking stories about what’s happening on the travel ban, or whatever, are obviously going to be something we need to do on the digital side. And then there are some things that literally could appear in both. And the important thing for me is do readers who are looking at our content, do they think that all of this bears a familial resemblance because of a shared DNA, and displays the essential qualities of our brand, which are authority of substance and accessibility of presentation.

Samir Husni: You’re starting your seventh year as editor of Foreign Affairs; you got the job in June, 2010. During those seven years, can you pinpoint the moment in time when you realized you had the perfect fit and you were ecstatic to have the job?

Gideon Rose: I was the managing editor for 10 years before that; I was the number two. And even before that, the previous number two, my close friend, Fareed Zakaria, who I filled in for as an understudy a couple of times during his tenure when he went off on a writing leave. So, I have been around the magazine for a long time.

I guess what I’ll say is two things struck me. One is it was interesting to realize how much autonomy and freedom of choice the magazine actually had to tackle things and to go about its business. When I was the number two at an existing long time publication, there were obviously very established ways of doing things. And as the number two, I was number two for a decade; my job was not to just make the magazine as good as possible, but to make sure the trains ran on time and essentially execute the existing plans. And as you’re doing that, you think of all sorts of things that you want to do slightly differently or things that you might want to try that haven’t been tried yet. I loved my boss, Jim Hoge; I feel deeply indebted to him. I think he ran a great magazine.

When I took over, I basically ran his magazine with some tweaks here and there that I had saved up. I stopped doing some things that had been bugging me and I started doing other things that I had wanted to do. But what actually hit me overtime was the extent to which that now that I was the boss, I could do things even more differently, especially as we entered the online realm and really started to grow there. As I mentioned, we launched the website in the spring of 2009 and I moved into the top job in the fall of 2010. So, in many respects, my tenure has coincided with or overlapped with our making a bigger digital push.

The radicalness of autonomy as you approach your digital strategy; what is it that you’re going to do? It’s an entirely new realm and you have lots of choices. You have lots of things that you can do. That was a very interesting challenge to address, because you really had to make all sorts of choices to design things from scratch, everything from presentation to your business strategy to your content strategy.

At the same time, the main constraint that I labor under, in addition to institution and resources constraints, is the professional responsibility of the field. I see myself as editing Foreign Affairs on behalf of the professional communities that work on issues we cover. Readers are crucially important, but they’re crucially important as the target of our stuff. And the people who are our core constituencies, the authoritative experts, are even more important constituencies, in terms of our substance and author pool, and I need to be constantly aware of my professional colleagues, substantive professionals in academia, government; in policy realms relevant to what we do in journalism. I need to be aware of what all of those communities think we should be doing and think what is best-practices and responsible stuff, and find a way to manifest that in the magazine and execute it in a way that is effective.

There is a whole lot of autonomy and a whole lot of freedom of choice, but there’s a goal, which is to use that as wisely as possible to make these serious discussions among experts accessible in a responsible way, to as broad a public as possible. That’s the basic challenge that we wake up every day trying to do.

And then try to make all of that as profitable as possible. We are a non-profit and we are published by a non-profit. I almost like to think of us as a B corporation. I would like us to be as efficient, as dynamic, and as aggressive as any for-profit media company, but to do so on behalf of our subject matter. And that’s the challenge. In the non-profit world, it’s all too easy to take the lack of a goal of making a profit as an excuse to avoid grappling with the real challenges of giving audiences something good enough and desirable enough that they will want to pay for.

We are a non-profit; I don’t get a bigger salary if our circulation increases. We don’t go on luxury trips. We don’t upgrade our paper copy necessarily. But the fact is that the better we do, the more aggressive we are, it’s good and it’s a useful challenge to think of how can you get more people to pay for this? How can you reduce costs? I find our sort of partial market orientation a very interesting and useful and appropriately challenging mix, because the instructions from the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes Foreign Affairs, is essentially, yes, we would like you to do as well as possible economically. We don’t want to subsidize you if possible, and if you could subsidize us, that would be great too. But your primary mission is substantive. So, do as well as you can in the marketplace and we will make up the difference as necessary, or deploy the resources as necessary.

But that kind of challenge is really great, because the markets and competitions definitely up your game. And keeping an eye on things like newsstand sales, and asking how you can increase newsstand sales is not in the slightest bit incompatible with high-level substance and successful presentation. I remember my feminist sister back in the day having a shirt that read something like “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backward and in high heels.” So, that’s the way that I think of some of our aesthetics, which is that we are trying to compete with much larger, much more efficient and professional, for-profit magazines on things like newsstand sales or general journalism, while laboring being under a small, non-profit, with relatively limited resources. So, that’s an interesting challenge.

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

Gideon Rose: I would add one thing. The Trump era is challenging for us, but the substantive challenge this current era presents to us is really just a continuation of what we’ve always been doing. We’re in the business of providing accessible serious debates on public policy. I say that our mission is the application of reason to public policy for the greater good. That mission hasn’t changed one whit from over the years. So, we’re doing the same thing that we’ve always done. That’s the first and most important point.

And all we need to do, I tell my team, is the same thing we’ve always done, because we have a good formula and we have a good model and it works well. The increasing returns have demonstrated that, I think, because the biggest and most interesting thing that I’m most proud of is the business side gains that we’ve achieved have not come at the expense of substance in any way, shape or form. We haven’t dumbed ourselves down in the slightest, and yet still managed to increase our business. We just have to keep going forward in the same way.

But the incredibly polarized environment makes it even more difficult for us to retain, not just our sense of objectivity, but our perception by others that we are non-partisan, dispassionate and objective.

So, the challenge in a divided country and in such a divided political environment is to be a place where one hopes that everybody serious of all persuasions, all views, all serious professionals of any kind, will find us their home. That’s very difficult to operationalize right now, because it’s a lot of time, effort and care, both with me editing and the article selection.

Things are changing so fast and are still so uncertain that it’s really kind of hard. I was on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show over the weekend and I was chatting with the producers and they were saying that they had done four consecutive live shows and that they had never done that before. And I told them that they should talk to my staff because they’re freaked and stressed as well because we’ve had to basically rip up issues, redesign covers, put articles in and out, to deal with the incredible pace of events which are literally changing week by week in our area.

If we had not developed our digital side the way that we have developed it in the last several years, we would never have been able, not just have the successes that we’ve had, but to cover this era appropriately at the breakneck speed with which events are evolving.

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

Gideon Rose: Shuttling my daughter back from soccer practice, and trying to avoid my staff’s and author’s emails about the entire backlog of things that I am holding them up on.

I realized when I took over the editorial…let me put it this way; I got the top job based on my substantive intellectual and editing chops. I didn’t get it because I was a great CEO or people thought that I was the most responsible, organizational leader. When I took over the top spot, however, I realized that if I wanted to realize my ambitions for the magazine under my tenure, I would have to surround myself with people and build a team that was far more responsible, professional, efficient and punctual than I was. And so I spent a lot of time and effort pulling together a great, great team. And the result is that at this point any credit for FA’s success really goes to the fabulous and incredible hardworking staff that I’ve managed to pull together and beg to retain. They kind of see me as a crazy, irresponsible guy at the top who has the ideas, but needs to be managed to make sure things actually get done. And they’re probably right about that. So, dodging the various bullets about my deficiencies, while taking my kids to and from soccer practice is probably what I would be doing.

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

Gideon Rose: Whether there is actually a possibility that this new administration in Washington can screw-up the world order that has managed unprecedented global stability, security and prosperity over the last seven decades.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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act7Magazines Matter. Print Matters. That is the theme for the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT (Amplify, Clarify, Testify) 7 Experience that will take place April 25 to 27. Space is limited, so check the agenda and register to join us for an experience of a life-time.

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Country Living Magazine: Taking The Mission Of “Country Coast-To-Coast” To The High Seas – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Rachel Barrett, Editor In Chief, Country Living Magazine…

February 27, 2017

cl-july-august-2016-cover-unit“I think Country Living is in a unique space because our readers tell us that we’re a breath of fresh air delivered to their mailbox every month. And so we are a brand that represents slowing down, life doesn’t have to be that hard; so the idea of this magazine arriving in their mailbox is that moment on the porch for them.” Rachel Barrett

“Country Living in print is very important because it’s this tactile experience that represents relaxation, but then they also consume our brand through digital, video; who doesn’t love an adorable puppy photo? It’s interesting as an editor to see what resonates online, and it may not necessarily resonate in the magazine, because the magazine experience is slightly different. But I do think it’s really promising to see how our readers have a hunger for the brand through all of these different channels. And hopefully that continues.” Rachel Barrett

For the first time ever, Country Living magazine will set sail for the brand’s “Country Coast-to-Coast Cruise,” leaving from Fort Lauderdale March 12-19, 2017 aboard the luxurious Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam. The Country Living Coast-to-Coast Cruise will bring the magazine’s content to life over the seven day voyage and give cruisers a chance to meet Country Living editors, contributors, and special guests including the Junk Gypsies, Amie and Jolie Sikes. Passengers will also have the opportunity to participate in a number of interactive classes and demos in between stops in Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, St. Maarten, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Rachel Barrett is editor in chief of Country Living and has used the authenticity of the magazine’s relatively new home in Birmingham, Ala. to bring a subtle trueness and real vision to the magazine. From the first-ever guest editor, country music superstar, Miranda Lambert, two years ago, to today’s mission of taking “Country Coast-to-Coast,” Rachel’s passion for the brand and her team player spirit is what adds to the genuineness of the brand.

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-5-50-34-pmI spoke with Rachel recently and we talked about where Country Living has been since its move to Birmingham, where it is today, and where it’s heading. The upcoming Coast-to-Coast Cruise is the type of event that does what Rachel and her team like, it gets them up close and personal with their readers. And that’s what’s most important to them.

The cruise will include bonafide junkers, Texas businesswomen, and all-around southern girls, the Junk Gypsies, Amie and Jolie Sikes, who will share their addiction to flea marketing and Americana-inspired design on the cruise through demonstrations, DIY projects, and Q&A sessions. There will also be a special “Junk Gypsy Prom”—a chance to dance the night away on the high seas in “junk fashion.” It sounds like a Country Living good time. And who would want to miss that?

So, join me for a conversation with a woman who is passionate, fun, and an absolutely firm believer in the attributes and benefits of “Country Living,” Rachel Barrett, editor in chief, Country Living magazine.

But first the soundbites:

CLX090116_006On what it’s been like since Country Living moved from New York City to Birmingham: Since we’ve been in Birmingham, just last year we ended the year three percent up on newsstand, which as you know these days is no small feat; the industry average is down 16 percent. And we did this all while raising our cover price from $4.50 to $4.99, so hopefully, everyone can see that it’s working.

On the most difficult challenge that she had to overcome since moving to Birmingham: What was really unique in that particular move was that we started from scratch, so everyone was new to their role. Usually with a magazine, even when you walk in as a new editor, there’s a staff in place and you can sort of recognize people’s strengths. Here, we were all getting to know each other; we didn’t know each other’s personalities; we didn’t have an existing workflow, so it was definitely a bonding experience. I felt like we all went through cowboy boot camp together. (Laughs)

On whether she believes her audience can detect the magazine’s change in venue, from New York to Birmingham: I don’t know that they’ve noticed a change. Even when I talk to readers at fairs, we have a fair in Atlanta, and so I’ll mention that this is a great fair, and they’ll ask why, and I’ll say because we were able to drive here. Then they’ll ask; where are you? So, I think there’s not necessarily this awareness with our entire audience that we’re a Birmingham-based magazine, and we didn’t want to change dramatically, to be honest, because it was a healthy brand when we inherited it, so we weren’t looking to make crazy changes.

On whether they aren’t doing anymore guest editors from the world of country music, such as their issue almost two years ago that had Miranda Lambert as the guest editor: Our readers do come to us for houses, and so the country music issue was so much fun internally and there’s so much momentum around country music, and our audience definitely aligns with a lot of that audience. So, we’re definitely not “not” going there, but as we were looking at issue themes for 2017, we did Miranda Lambert as our first guest editor and then Sheryl Crow graced the cover last June, and it did fine on newsstand; it wasn’t knocking out of the park, but obviously, celebrity shoots come with a lot more logistics too. So now, I think our approach is that we definitely want to check out country music artists and celebrate that lifestyle in the magazine, but we’ve shifted this year. Instead of June being a country music issue, we’re doing our Country from Coast-to-Coast theme that we did last July/August.

On how she can utilize the magazine to reflect the audience from Coast-to-Coast: I lived in New York for more than a decade and you can find yourself living in a bubble from time to time. And so I do think really celebrating just the reader all over the country is important. And I think that’s what people really like about Country Living is that these aren’t all designer projects; these are real people who have decorated their homes themselves, so we use the term “aspirational brand” a lot; we’re an aspirational brand for a mass audience. And I think that’s what’s great about the homes that we feature; they feel real enough and achievable for the average person. But they’re still elevated and beautiful.

cl-july-august-2016-sub-coverOn the brand’s first-ever Coast-to-Coast Cruise: We’ve teamed up with Life Journeys and Holland America Cruise ships to offer this cruise experience, where our Country Living readers can vacation alongside likeminded design enthusiasts, while getting hands-on experience, whether it’s making a DIY beach hat with our crafts director, or getting one-on-one style consultations with our style director. And so, I will be first in line. (Laughs)

On what role she thinks print plays in today’s magazine media landscape: Country Living is a really interesting brand because we are really diversified. When you look at the new magazine 360 numbers, Country Living is at, I think, 25+million now and print factors into that, digital; our social audiences are huge, Facebook has surpassed four million; our Instagram audience has just hit one million, and so I think our readers come to us from a lot of different directions. And I think Country Living is in a unique space because our readers tell us that we’re a breath of fresh air delivered to their mailbox every month. And so we are a brand that represents slowing down, life doesn’t have to be that hard; so the idea of this magazine arriving in their mailbox is that moment on the porch for them.

On whether it’s all been fun and a walk in a Rose Garden for her at Country Living or have there been some thorns along the way: I really do have that much fun and I am so passionate about this brand. I was a reader for a long time before I had this job, and I’m biased, but I think it’s the most fun magazine to produce. Our readers are so fun and so engaged, it’s such a positive vibe set when they’re coming to this magazine. It’s a really fun brand to produce.

On what she considers her biggest competition in the marketplace today: In the country category, there’s obviously Magnolia Journal that recently launched, and it’s a beautiful magazine and our readers definitely overlap, in terms of being a fixer-upper audience too. But we love what Chip and Joanna have been doing, they seem like great people, and have a really great aesthetic. It’s a little bit different from the Country Living aesthetic, but I would say that they’re emerging as a competitor, and then anything that falls into that shelter or lifestyle space. But the beautiful thing about the country is that there’s plenty of room for everyone.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: Probably having a glass of wine as I’m playing with my kids, and right now as we’re preparing this Country from Coast-to-Coast issue, we’re looking for reader spaces in every single state, so I’m probably obsessively searching Instagram, doing late-night deep dives searching hashtags such as #IdahoFarmhouse or #NorthDakotaDesigns… (Laughs), trying to find some hidden gems for that issue.

On anything else she’d like to add: I can’t say enough good things about our staff. We all work so well together, I think, because of that boot camp experience we had a few years ago. I’m constantly inspired by them. Right now we have 16 people on staff, so everyone pitches in and helps in different categories. Our copy chief does our cross-stitch that opens so well every single month, and our design director may produce crafts, so everybody really does pitch in and always in beautiful ways. It’s a small group in an old biscuit factory in downtown Birmingham, so it really is a fun place to work, so I have to sing their praises.

On what keeps her up at night: My oldest child just turned four and my youngest turns three this April, and even last night there were the calls for a sip of water or to cover them up again with their blanket, but they probably make me more productive at work, because after I wake up in the middle of the night for them, I end up on my phone. Who knows what sort of wonderful gem I might uncover; a great house that’s potentially a fit for the magazine?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Rachel Barrett, editor in chief, Country Living magazine.

Samir Husni: Give me an update on Country Living magazine after leaving New York City and moving to Birmingham.

Rachel Barrett: It’s been great. It’s such a unique experience to be able to be a magazine editor and not live in New York City, but I think for a brand like Country Living, it makes a ton of sense. The experience for our editors is really interesting as we’re talking about recipes. We’re aware that the grocery store down the street may not carry certain ingredients, but I think we’re a lot more in tune with the non-New Yorker. And for a brand like Country Living, obviously that’s a great thing.

And since we’ve been in Birmingham, just last year we ended the year three percent up on newsstand, which as you know these days is no small feat; the industry average is down 16 percent. And we did this all while raising our cover price from $4.50 to $4.99, so hopefully, everyone can see that it’s working.

Samir Husni: The newsstand is always the acid test for any magazine, so being up on newsstand is, like you said, is a great thing by itself.

Rachel Barrett: Yes, and I think Erynn Hassinger, our design director, has been in the fold for a little over a year now and I think she has a great sense of our reader. I’ve also gotten to know our reader much better and I do think that we’re benefiting as a brand. There’s this national move toward embracing a country lifestyle, an increasing hunger for this laidback life.

I’ll also say with our sales calls, the peach truck is the new banana stand. What I mean by that is it used to be that people would fantasize about quitting their jobs and someday moving to the beach to sell bananas, and that was their ultimate dream. But now there’s this whole set of younger consumers who really dream about picking up and moving to the country and selling peaches from their vintage pickup truck. There’s this desire to have that great country farmhouse, and have two dogs running all those wide open spaces, so hopefully we’re doing something right internally, but I think that there’s this national movement and momentum for the country lifestyle that is only helping our brand.

Samir Husni: As you move forward, can you recall the most difficult challenge that you had to overcome since moving to Birmingham?

cl-july-august-2016-cover-unitRachel Barrett: What was really unique in that particular move was that we started from scratch, so everyone was new to their role. Usually with a magazine, even when you walk in as a new editor, there’s a staff in place and you can sort of recognize people’s strengths. Here, we were all getting to know each other; we didn’t know each other’s personalities; we didn’t have an existing workflow, so it was definitely a bonding experience. I felt like we all went through cowboy boot camp together. (Laughs)

Now, being on the other side of it, it was great for the staff. We’re a very close knit staff; a very small group. I can’t say that there weren’t hiccups along the way. Even as we were staffing up, people would ask; what’s the job description? And I’d ask; what can you do? We weren’t filling this one particular void; we were filling this giant void. We had a student crafts director, for example, because I met Charlyne Mattox, who had worked at Real Simple and she could do crafts and she could do food, so we created a job around her skillset. It was a unique opportunity, but it came with plenty of challenges. But now, three years down the road, I think it’s been really beneficial for the whole staff.

Samir Husni: As you put your finger on the pulse of your audience, do you think they noticed your change in venue? Do you think they could see a difference from when you were based in New York to now, being in Birmingham?

CLX090116_006Rachel Barrett: I don’t know that they’ve noticed a change. Even when I talk to readers at fairs, we have a fair in Atlanta, and so I’ll mention that this is a great fair, and they’ll ask why, and I’ll say because we were able to drive here. Then they’ll ask; where are you? So, I think there’s not necessarily this awareness with our entire audience that we’re a Birmingham-based magazine, and we didn’t want to change dramatically, to be honest, because it was a healthy brand when we inherited it, so we weren’t looking to make crazy changes.

But I think there’s this subtlety of being a little bit more in our reader’s world, so even our offices here in Birmingham are in walking distance of a garden shop or an antique shop, so there’s this sort of natural reader experience that our editor’s get a chance to experience day to day, so hopefully it’s a subtle feel in the magazine.

Samir Husni: When we talked last time, which was almost two years ago, you had your first guest editor, Miranda Lambert; have you decided not to do that anymore?

Rachel Barrett: You know what’s funny, our readers do come to us for houses, and so the country music issue was so much fun internally and there’s so much momentum around country music, and our audience definitely aligns with a lot of that audience. So, we’re definitely not “not” going there, but as we were looking at issue themes for 2017, we did Miranda Lambert as our first guest editor and then Sheryl Crow graced the cover last June, and it did fine on newsstand; it wasn’t knocking out of the park, but obviously, celebrity shoots come with a lot more logistics too.

So now, I think our approach is that we definitely want to check out country music artists and celebrate that lifestyle in the magazine, but we’ve shifted this year. Instead of June being a country music issue, we’re doing our Country from Coast-to-Coast theme that we did last July/August. It was our big reader issue and we received so much great feedback from that particular issue. The theme was essentially 50 states, one state of mind, Country from Coast-to-Coast. And it was celebrating how mainstream county style and country culture had become, and we featured a reader space from all 50 states, which was no small feat for our homes department.

A lot of readers wrote in, and this was just July/August; a lot of readers wrote in to say that it was so refreshing to see America being celebrated at a time when the country felt so divided. And I think the country still feels a little divided, so we’re revisiting that theme this June and it’s really great, especially for readers. We feature plenty of houses in upstate New York, or we feature a lot of houses in California; we feature a lot of houses that are obviously close geographically because they’re more in our radar, but it’s so nice for our reader in Idaho, North Dakota and Delaware to see spaces in the magazine, but now if Carrie Underwood wants to submit her house for that issue, great. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Rachel Barrett: She can represent Tennessee. I think we’ve put the focus back on the reader, which doesn’t mean to say that we’re stepping away from the country world. I had an exchange with someone from the CMA organization in Nashville just the other day, talking about how we could collaborate down the road, but in terms of a dedicated issue theme, we’re going back to celebrating the reader as our celebrity.

Samir Husni: As you continue to make the magazine a reflector of the entire country, how do you think you can utilize the magazine to reflect the audience from “Coast-to-Coast?”

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-5-50-34-pmRachel Barrett: I lived in New York for more than a decade and you can find yourself living in a bubble from time to time. And so I do think really celebrating just the reader all over the country is important. And I think that’s what people really like about Country Living is that these aren’t all designer projects; these are real people who have decorated their homes themselves, so we use the term “aspirational brand” a lot; we’re an aspirational brand for a mass audience. And I think that’s what’s great about the homes that we feature; they feel real enough and achievable for the average person. But they’re still elevated and beautiful.

So, just making sure that we’re digging across the country and not just automatically looking at the projects that fall into our laps; if we haven’t featured a home in the Midwest in a while, we want to be sure that we’re showcasing how people live in the Midwest. If we haven’t showcased a home in California, we’ll make sure that we’re Coast-to-Coast digging. In any given issue of Country Living, I think you’ll notice the homes in the feature well are very geographically distinct, and that’s what’s so great about the brand.

Samir Husni: To continue that intimate relationship with your audience, you’re setting sail for the brand’s first ever Coast-to-Coast Cruise. Are you going on the cruise with your readers?

Rachel Barrett: I know when you hear the words Country Living, Caribbean Cruise doesn’t automatically come to mind, but we started researching the experiential cruise category and it seemed like there was a fit. Our readers are very much a community; we see them bonding while standing in line for the Country Living fairs. By the end of the day they’re grabbing drinks together, and we thought it would be fun to offer this once-in-a-lifetime vacation experience.

So, we’ve teamed up with Life Journeys and Holland America Cruise ships to offer this cruise experience, where our Country Living readers can vacation alongside likeminded design enthusiasts, while getting hands-on experience, whether it’s making a DIY beach hat with our crafts director, or getting one-on-one style consultations with our style director. And so, I will be first in line. (Laughs)

We’re really excited; it will be a really fun experiment, we’ve never done this before. I’ve been reading about other brands like Master Chef and The Biggest Loser doing these cruises and there is such an appetite for it. Even the Property Brothers from HGTV recently did a cruise, so we thought we’d dip our toes into those waters and see how readers react. What’s really fun is that this July/August we’re doing our first-ever water issue and so we will be able to recap the cruise in a natural way.

Samir Husni: Linda Thomas Brooks from the MPA said that 2017 was going to be the year for magazine media. Hearst is launching two new magazines in June; nobody is speaking the phrase “print is dead” or “print versus digital” anymore. What role do you think print plays today versus pre-digital days; pre-2007?

Rachel Barrett: Country Living is a really interesting brand because we are really diversified. When you look at the new magazine 360 numbers, Country Living is at, I think, 25+million now and print factors into that, digital; our social audiences are huge, Facebook has surpassed four million; our Instagram audience has just hit one million, and so I think our readers come to us from a lot of different directions. And I think Country Living is in a unique space because our readers tell us that we’re a breath of fresh air delivered to their mailbox every month. And so we are a brand that represents slowing down, life doesn’t have to be that hard; so the idea of this magazine arriving in their mailbox is that moment on the porch for them.

Country Living in print is very important because it’s this tactile experience that represents relaxation, but then they also consume our brand through digital, video; who doesn’t love an adorable puppy photo? It’s interesting as an editor to see what resonates online, and it may not necessarily resonate in the magazine, because the magazine experience is slightly different. But I do think it’s really promising to see how our readers have a hunger for the brand through all of these different channels. And hopefully that continues.

Samir Husni: You sound as though you’ve been walking in a Rose Garden at Country Living these days, are you really having that much fun, or have there been some thorns here and there along the way?

Rachel Barrett: I really do have that much fun and I am so passionate about this brand. I was a reader for a long time before I had this job, and I’m biased, but I think it’s the most fun magazine to produce. Our readers are so fun and so engaged, it’s such a positive vibe set when they’re coming to this magazine. It’s a really fun brand to produce.

Samir Husni: Looking at the marketplace, what do you consider to be your biggest competition today?

Rachel Barrett: Any magazine that touches on shelter or lifestyle I consider a competitor. I’m a naturally competitive person, so even magazines that probably don’t even fall into our competitive set, if they have a great cover; I get jealous when I’m staring at the newsstand. (Laughs)

But in the country category, there’s obviously Magnolia Journal that recently launched, and it’s a beautiful magazine and our readers definitely overlap, in terms of being a fixer-upper audience too. But we love what Chip and Joanna have been doing, they seem like great people, and have a really great aesthetic. It’s a little bit different from the Country Living aesthetic, but I would say that they’re emerging as a competitor, and then anything that falls into that shelter or lifestyle space. But the beautiful thing about the country is that there’s plenty of room for everyone.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening, what would I find you doing; having a glass of wine and reading a magazine; cooking; playing with the kids, or something else?

Rachel Barrett: Probably having a glass of wine as I’m playing with my kids, and right now as we’re preparing this Country from Coast-to-Coast issue, we’re looking for reader spaces in every single state, so I’m probably obsessively searching Instagram, doing late-night deep dives searching hashtags such as #IdahoFarmhouse or #NorthDakotaDesigns… (Laughs), trying to find some hidden gems for that issue.

Samir Husni: Are you going to visit all of these places?

cl-july-august-2016-sub-coverRachel Barrett: I wish we could. Someday maybe we’ll have the budget to go and knock on every single reader’s door. (Laughs) It’s really great in this day and age of social media; it’s fun to be able to search the Country Living hashtag a little too obsessively, but it’s so great to see how readers are experiencing the magazine. What are they doing that provokes them to tag a Country Living mag? Whether it’s a beautiful view of the countryside or they’re showcasing the magazine style beautifully on their dinner table. What represents Country Living magazine to them? But yes, someday I would love to be able to go and knock on everyone’s door.

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

Rachel Barrett: I can’t say enough good things about our staff. We all work so well together, I think, because of that boot camp experience we had a few years ago. I’m constantly inspired by them. Right now we have 16 people on staff, so everyone pitches in and helps in different categories. Our copy chief does our cross-stitch that opens so well every single month, and our design director may produce crafts, so everybody really does pitch in and always in beautiful ways. It’s a small group in an old biscuit factory in downtown Birmingham, so it really is a fun place to work, so I have to sing their praises.

And also working for Hearst is great. We were a little bit of an experiment, in terms of being a satellite office. Hearst has just done a really great job of making us feel in the fold. I obviously get back to New York fairly often, but our staff doesn’t necessarily, and they’re also very happy to be working for this company. We all feel taken care of and that’s very nice.

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

Rachel Barrett: My oldest child just turned four and my youngest turns three this April, and even last night there were the calls for a sip of water or to cover them up again with their blanket, but they probably make me more productive at work, because after I wake up in the middle of the night for them, I end up on my phone. Who knows what sort of wonderful gem I might uncover; a great house that’s potentially a fit for the magazine?

My assistant, Natalie, laughs because I’ll send her leads when I see them online at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. She’ll always ask, those kids weren’t sleeping last night, were they? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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act7Magazines Matter. Print Matters. That is the theme for the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT (Amplify, Clarify, Testify) 7 Experience that will take place April 25 to 27. Space is limited, so check the agenda and register to join us for an experience of a life-time.

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Curious Jane Magazine: Empowering Young Girls To “Think With Their Hands” Through Innovative Summer Programs & A Quarterly Print Magazine – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Samantha Razook Murphy, Founder, Curious Jane…

February 24, 2017

Curious Jane Super Silly issue

“A few other people have said that I was crazy to launch a print magazine and that I really needed to be in the digital space, but part of it is a personal passion, having a background in design and loving objects and paper and magazines. So, the print part was very important to me. But also our audience is 6 to 11-year-old girls, so they’re not really consuming online media in a way that say, a 12 to 13-year-old girl would, so the in-print aspect of it was important to us. But plenty of people asked and still ask what in the world was I thinking.” Samantha Razook Murphy…

A community of confident, inquisitive girls between the ages of six and 11, who like to make things, is the heart of Curious Jane magazine. And the woman who pumps that heart with her passion and dedication is its founder, Samantha Razook Murphy.

I spoke with Samantha recently and we talked about the genesis of Curious Jane, the projects and the summer programs, and we talked about Curious Jane, the magazine. All of which fall under one brand that has become quite popular with its audience and with those readers’ parents. Samantha actually gave birth to the idea for a great summer camp when her own two daughters were small and has worked hard to grow the business since then. The magazine was launched two years ago and has become an incredible tool to promote the brand and engage with readers. Today, you don’t have to live in the NYC area (which is where Curious Jane originates from, Brooklyn to be exact) to have a Curious Jane experience. It’s happening for girls all across America with the magazine.

So, I hope that you enjoy this interview with a woman who believes empowering young girls to “think with their hands” and be curious, while learning to create at the same time, is done best through an environment of projects, programs and print, Samantha Razook Murphy, founder, Curious Jane.

But first the sound-bites:

Samantha Razook MurphyOn the genesis of Curious Jane: When I started Curious Jane, I literally opened up a bank account with $500, so there wasn’t a business plan, it wasn’t funded, anything like that. It was just its own truck, sort of motoring down the road. And when we received this grant we were able to use some of that to work with a group, focus on how we might grow Curious Jane and the business. And one of the ideas that came out of it was taking all of these projects and activities that we had developed over the years with the summer camps and repackaging it into an in-print magazine for girls that was ad-free, subscription-based, so that girls in different parts of the country who certainly couldn’t actually attend the camp due to geography could be a part of the Curious Jane experience. And girls who were a part of our programs could continue to have those projects during the schoolyear, instead of just during the summers.

On whether anyone told her she was crazy to start a print magazine in this digital age: This man I was chatting with said to me that just because I was getting bored with the camps didn’t mean that I should start a magazine. And that was a pretty eye-opening statement, but it did help me to reframe. We continued with the magazine though, and I actually had lunch with him recently and told him that we had continued, but that his statement was very helpful in reframing my thoughts about it and about how the numbers work around the magazine.

On how she chose the name Curious Jane: The fact that there is a Curious George and that people know it and it sort of rolls off the tongue has certainly worked in our favor. Honestly, I think it was right before the first summer of camp and I was thinking about what to name this little thing that I was doing for my young daughters in order for me to be able to work, and I truly think it was one day when I was walking back from the laundromat and thinking what was the most important attribute that I wanted to instill in my girls? And it was curiosity. And something that I say even now when I work with girls is, think with your hands. Take the thinking out of your head and think with your hands.

Curious Jane Kitchen ChemistryOn the biggest challenge that she’s had to face: I think the biggest challenge that we’ve had and continue to have is how to make it a financially positive aspect of what we do. When we started we had a very small subscriber base, a lot of them were our campers and people who knew us. And then about a year and a half into it, a mother of one of our camper’s works with a group called Sterling Publishing. She came to me and asked whether I had ever thought about doing a book of our projects. And I told her that in my mind a book meant taking a lot of time and resources and not making any money. We’re such a small business, wearing a million different hats; I can’t devote the resources to that. And she said that they wanted to make it really easy on me by taking all of the content that we’ve produced for the magazine so far and repackage it for the book.

On her most pleasant moment: Every time we work on the magazine is the most pleasant moment. We have a great time working on the projects and the fun little tidbits that have come up into it. A lot of things have changed from the first issue, in both the trim size and the layout. With my background in industrial design, something that I think has benefitted me is the comfort level I have of getting something to prototype stage and then getting it into people’s hands, and seeing the feedback we get and how we feel about it.

On how she met Jack Kliger and John Griffin: I met someone who knew Jack, and when I was telling this woman that we had just printed the first pre-issue of the magazine, she said she knew a few people who might be of help. I wrote down their names and she asked if I would like her to connect me with them. And one of them was Jack. And at that time we were looking for funding, we’re always open to it. But I specifically wanted to pick his brain and get as much advice as I could, so I met him for coffee. And at that point I understood what his very large and successful background in publishing and magazines was, and something that I really appreciated was he was willing to talk to someone who had only printed the second issue of a magazine. It was ad-free, we had 250 subscribers and he was able to give me very specific and useful suggestions for the magazine. About a week later, he called me and asked me was I interested in a little bit of funding and taking on an advisory board. He had another friend, John Griffin, who he wanted me to meet. So, that’s how I met them. And then they did ultimately become investors, but really advisors, and not just in the magazine, but in Curious Jane as a company.

On anything that she would like to add: Via the magazine, which has been a great tool for us, when I think of Curious Jane, it started as a camp, now we have a magazine; I really think of it as a community. I want it to feel like a community for girls, where they make things and feel empowered and self-confident. And to remove fear of failure is really at the core of that as well. In the past couple of years we have been able to work with a few organizations that have a national audience, Amy Poehler, Smart Girls, Parents Magazine, Family Fun, and we have our book coming out, so these types of collaborations with other groups, and likeminded organizations are something that we really enjoy and that we want to encourage and continue to grow.

The Curious Jane team: Melisa Coburn (L) – editorial, Samantha Razook Murphy (M) brainstorming, projects and layout, and Elissa Josse (R) –  artwork, doodles, layout and project creation.

The Curious Jane team: Melisa Coburn (L) – editorial, Samantha Razook Murphy (M) brainstorming, projects and layout, and
Elissa Josse (R) – artwork, doodles, layout and project creation.

On what drives her and makes her get out of bed every morning: All of the things that drive me are getting to work with the amazing people that I work with; we’re a small office year round. There are three to four of us; a tremendous, awesome, fun group. And then during the summer we hire about 100 to 120 young women to work with us, and the type of people that Curious Jane attracts to work with the girls over the summer is outstanding. So, getting to work with them is a complete honor.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: I really value the evening time. You would find me cooking; I find that to be really enjoyable and relaxing. I put a lot of value on the family meal in the evenings. My older daughter is quite musical, and what you will find in my small, cozy, warm apartment is cooking and music and candles, things like that. I don’t have a television and I don’t really consume digital media, but I guess a lot of people don’t have a television anymore; they use their computers for that sort of thing.

On what keeps her up at night: That’s a good question and I have a very specific answer, which is that I constantly run numbers in my head. I’m very fortunate that I have two girls, sort of a reconstructed family, and none of these things keep me up at night. Everyone is doing great, knock wood. As far as enjoyment of my workday, all of that is wonderful. It’s the numbers and how to keep the business moving forward.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Samantha Razook Murphy, founder, Curious Jane.

Samir Husni: There seems to be a movement when it comes to launching new magazines for girls. In the last two or three years, I’ve seen at least five or six magazines that have come to the marketplace and each one of them are one-of-a-kind. Tell me about the genesis of Curious Jane.

Curious Jane Spa ScienceSamantha Razook Murphy: I have two daughters; they’re now 13 and 15. And I started Curious Jane nine years ago. It really started as a summer camp and continues as a summer camp. I did my undergraduate degree in Graphic Design at Yale, and then I moved to Brooklyn and did my master’s in Industrial Design at Pratt. And both of my girls were born by that time. They were young during the summers when I was pursuing my master’s at Pratt, and I directed all-girls residential programs on college campuses, so that’s how I go into the all-girls summer camp environment.

And then 2008/2009 rolled around and the economy took a nosedive and at that time my husband and I had to get a bit creative with what we did and how we stayed in Brooklyn, so I started an overnight camp program because that’s what I was familiar with and used to. But I needed something for my own girls to do; they were early elementary school aged, so I started Curious Jane. And it began truly as something for them and their friends to do during the summer months while I tried to get this overnight camp for girls off the ground.

That was the summer of 2009 and I hired a couple of instructors; I rented a van from a rental place in the city, we were living in Brooklyn and still do, and literally drove the camp van, picked up their friends, dropped them off at a school where we had rented some classrooms and the teachers were the instructors who taught the programs.

So, from that first summer of Curious Jane, the way the camp worked was girls could sign up for a week or two or three weeks, and then they would choose their favorite theme for the week. And all of the themes revolved around science, engineering and design. And that’s still what we do. That first summer we had just a handful of girls, but they could take a week-long class called “Why Buildings Stand Up,” which was architecture and engineering combined. They could take a week of “Toy Design.” So, these were the types of things that were the foundation of Curious Jane.

Then over the years Curious Jane really grew. People were really receptive to it; the girls loved it; the parents loved the idea of it, and in the end the residential programs certainly didn’t grow at the same pace and ultimately shrank. So, we stopped running the overnight program and only focused on Curious Jane. We added things like after-school programs, and we did run it in a few other states, but now we just focus on the New York City area.

In 2014, we applied for and did receive a small business grant; we are for-profit, so the word “grant” is a little bit misleading, but we applied via Chase through a program they had at the time called “Mission Small Business” and it was an unrestricted quarter of a million dollars. It was pretty competitive, I think there were around 35,000 applicants, and we were one of 12 recipients. And that helped us continue doing what we were doing and it also gave us the opportunity to work with, for the first time, a business development group and they were wonderful.

When I started Curious Jane, I literally opened up a bank account with $500, so there wasn’t a business plan, it wasn’t funded, anything like that. It was just its own truck, sort of motoring down the road. And when we received this grant we were able to use some of that to work with a group, focus on how we might grow Curious Jane and the business. And one of the ideas that came out of it was taking all of these projects and activities that we had developed over the years with the summer camps and repackaging it into an in-print magazine for girls that was ad-free, subscription-based, so that girls in different parts of the country who certainly couldn’t actually attend the camp due to geography could be a part of the Curious Jane experience. And girls who were a part of our programs could continue to have those projects during the schoolyear, instead of just during the summers.

We have been printing the magazine itself for two years now and it comes out quarterly. I think the issue you have is the “Super Silly” issue, and most of our issues revolve around our popular camp themes and we have used those projects to repackage into a magazine. The “Super Silly” issue was kind of a fun departure from that. It was a little bit more lighthearted and filled with different craft projects. But for example, some of the others were a “Spa Science” issue, girls could make anything to do with bath products and spas, and also learn about science in the process. We had a “Spy Science” one, which is very popular at classic camp, which is learning about detective work and things like that.

Samir Husni: You took your passion and your necessity and created Curious Jane, both the summer programs and the magazine. Did anybody tell you that you were out of your mind to start a print magazine for girls in this digital age?

Curious Jane Pre Launch IssueSamantha Razook Murphy: Actually, there was a conversation that I had a couple of years ago, because when we started the magazine it wasn’t as though we were receiving additional funding, the camp business was what was funding and continues to fund the magazine, so a couple of years ago before I met Jack (Kliger) and John (Griffin), I had lunch with a brother of a friend of mine and he has a private equity group, and his group particularly focuses on grants, so it’s sort of a niche area for private equity. And I think at that time we had printed the first, very slim pre-issue of the magazine at great expense, and when I say “we” I mean our small office of two to three people, where most of what we do is other business and then we have a sunny space in the office where we do all of the photography and layout, because my background is in graphic design; all of that is done in-house.

So, this man I was chatting with said to me that just because I was getting bored with the camps didn’t mean that I should start a magazine. And that was a pretty eye-opening statement, but it did help me to reframe. We continued with the magazine though, and I actually had lunch with him recently and told him that we had continued, but that his statement was very helpful in reframing my thoughts about it and about how the numbers work around the magazine.

And then a few other people have said that I was crazy to launch a print magazine and that I really needed to be in the digital space, but part of it is a personal passion, having a background in design and loving objects and paper and magazines. So, the print part was very important to me. But also our audience is 6 to 11-year-old girls, so they’re not really consuming online media in a way that say, a 12 to 13-year-old girl would, so the in-print aspect of it was important to us. But plenty of people asked and still ask what in the world was I thinking.

Samir Husni: I know the name Curious Jane is obvious, but tell me how you chose that name. Everybody knows Curious George. Is it the fact that you have two girls and you didn’t want them reading Curious George, you wanted them to have their own magazine?

Samantha Razook Murphy: The fact that there is a Curious George and that people know it and it sort of rolls off the tongue has certainly worked in our favor. Honestly, I think it was right before the first summer of camp and I was thinking about what to name this little thing that I was doing for my young daughters in order for me to be able to work, and I truly think it was one day when I was walking back from the laundromat and thinking what was the most important attribute that I wanted to instill in my girls? And it was curiosity. And something that I say even now when I work with girls is, think with your hands. Take the thinking out of your head and think with your hands.

Having spent eight years in an educational environment, graphic and industrial design, we’re basically studio classes. I mean, everyday you’re putting your work in front of someone and having it critiqued and talked about and given feedback on. So this idea of continuing to be curious and collaborative, and to feel comfortable putting yourself and your work out into the world in order to learn and grow from it, rather than to feel defensive about it, private about it, or shutdown about it; the idea of curiosity is very important to me for myself, my girls and what we do as a business. So, that word was set. And Jane is just the idea that I wanted it to reference every girl, Jane being a sort of “every girl” theme.

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

Samantha Razook Murphy: I think the biggest challenge that we’ve had and continue to have is how to make it a financially positive aspect of what we do. When we started we had a very small subscriber base, a lot of them were our campers and people who knew us. And then about a year and a half into it, a mother of one of our camper’s works with a group called Sterling Publishing. She came to me and asked whether I had ever thought about doing a book of our projects. And I told her that in my mind a book meant taking a lot of time and resources and not making any money. We’re such a small business, wearing a million different hats; I can’t devote the resources to that. And she said that they wanted to make it really easy on me by taking all of the content that we’ve produced for the magazine so far and repackage it for the book.

That helped us continue the magazine and it sort of balanced out the cost that we were using to get the magazine off the ground. In order to produce this book, she made it very easy on us. Sterling happens to be owned by Barnes & Noble and so via that she asked why I didn’t send some magazines over to the woman who runs newsstand for Barnes & Noble. And we did that, and she has been incredibly supportive. So, the issue that you picked up at Barnes & Noble is actually only the second issue that has been on newsstand.

The obstacle has been how do we continue to print this, grow the word, get it into girls’ hands, and thrive as a business.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most pleasant moment?

Samantha Razook Murphy: Every time we work on the magazine is the most pleasant moment. We have a great time working on the projects and the fun little tidbits that have come up into it. A lot of things have changed from the first issue, in both the trim size and the layout. With my background in industrial design, something that I think has benefitted me is the comfort level I have of getting something to prototype stage and then getting it into people’s hands, and seeing the feedback we get and how we feel about it.

So, the most pleasurable moments of all have been seeing the magazine itself. And I continue to look forward to working on it. Even for the next issue, which we’re working on now; we have new ideas for how we want to change a few things, really include more girls, that sort of thing. This growing organic product has been a huge amount of pleasure to me, and then also just the chance to actually work on the magazine is great fun.

Samir Husni: How did you meet Jack Kliger and John Griffin? These are giant names in the industry.

Samantha Razook Murphy: I really enjoy talking to people, learning about business, growing a business, and Curious Jane itself is a female-started and female-run business that, like I said, was started with $500 in the bank. A few years ago, we did cross the one million in revenue mark, which is somewhat of an indicator. So, we started connecting to other people in the business world. I like to meet other people. And they would tell me that more female business representatives were needed at such and such dinner and if I could please come.

So, through those channels I met someone who knew Jack, and when I was telling this woman that we had just printed the first pre-issue of the magazine, she said she knew a few people who might be of help. I wrote down their names and she asked if I would like her to connect me with them. And one of them was Jack. And at that time we were looking for funding, we’re always open to it. But I specifically wanted to pick his brain and get as much advice as I could, so I met him for coffee.

And at that point I understood what his very large and successful background in publishing and magazines was, and something that I really appreciated was he was willing to talk to someone who had only printed the second issue of a magazine. It was ad-free, we had 250 subscribers and he was able to give me very specific and useful suggestions for the magazine. About a week later, he called me and asked me was I interested in a little bit of funding and taking on an advisory board. He had another friend, John Griffin, who he wanted me to meet. So, that’s how I met them. And then they did ultimately become investors, but really advisors, and not just in the magazine, but in Curious Jane as a company.

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

Samantha Razook Murphy: What I would add is that we’re a small business, but we are completely committed to getting this off the ground and growing it. What I’m doing now is reaching out to as many people as possible to continue to spread the word, to grow subscriber base; and what I’m looking for is, in general, feedback and thoughts. I’m very open in that way in connecting and working with people.

Via the magazine, which has been a great tool for us, when I think of Curious Jane, it started as a camp, now we have a magazine; I really think of it as a community. I want it to feel like a community for girls, where they make things and feel empowered and self-confident. And to remove fear of failure is really at the core of that as well. In the past couple of years we have been able to work with a few organizations that have a national audience, Amy Poehler, Smart Girls, Parents Magazine, Family Fun, and we have our book coming out, so these types of collaborations with other groups, and likeminded organizations are something that we really enjoy and that we want to encourage and continue to grow.

Samir Husni: If someone were to stop you on the street and tell you that they had seen your brochure and that they knew you were the founder of Curious Jane. And they knew what all you did, summer programs, workshops, events and a magazine. And they asked you, with all of that, what drives you? What makes you get out of bed in the morning; everything or one thing in particular?

Samantha Razook Murphy: I do love getting out of bed every morning and coming to Curious Jane. That is something that I value so highly and have a great appreciation for. I actually had this conversation with my 15-year-old daughter the other night and we were talking about if you’re with a new social group, especially for adults, and they ask the common question: what do you do? And I said to her sometimes Eleanor, I’ll say to the person that I’m happy to tell you what I do, but something that’s even more relevant to me is “what do I enjoy about what I do?”

So, all of the things that drive me are getting to work with the amazing people that I work with; we’re a small office year round. There are three to four of us; a tremendous, awesome, fun group. And then during the summer we hire about 100 to 120 young women to work with us, and the type of people that Curious Jane attracts to work with the girls over the summer is outstanding. So, getting to work with them is a complete honor.

Getting to have a balance to my day; you know, sometimes it’s admin and paperwork, sometimes it’s getting to do photos for the magazine, sometimes it’s trying out a new project; there is so much variety. And then also there is challenge and that’s a complete pleasure. So, I would say that these things that create a work environment or a professional environment are what I enjoy so much. And then also I get to do something that has such a strong, positive social mission, and that’s a real treat.

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

Samantha Razook Murphy: I really value the evening time. You would find me cooking; I find that to be really enjoyable and relaxing. I put a lot of value on the family meal in the evenings. My older daughter is quite musical, and what you will find in my small, cozy, warm apartment is cooking and music and candles, things like that. I don’t have a television and I don’t really consume digital media, but I guess a lot of people don’t have a television anymore; they use their computers for that sort of thing. What you’ll see when you walk in is a guitar, a keyboard, a bass, a kitchen, a dining table, which is where we eat and do homework. It’s where we do crafts, when the opportunity arises I like to make things. But really the office is a great place to make things. And that’s what you would find me doing in the evening.

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

Samantha Razook Murphy: That’s a good question and I have a very specific answer, which is that I constantly run numbers in my head. I’m very fortunate that I have two girls, sort of a reconstructed family, and none of these things keep me up at night. Everyone is doing great, knock wood. As far as enjoyment of my workday, all of that is wonderful. It’s the numbers and how to keep the business moving forward.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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act7Magazines Matter. Print Matters. That is the theme for the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT (Amplify, Clarify, Testify) 7 Experience that will take place April 25 to 27. Space is limited, so check the agenda and register to join us for an experience of a life-time.

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From The Mr. Magazine™ Vault: Magazines From 1919 and 1932 — Similar Topics As Magazines From 2017, But Perhaps Better Coverage And Content?

February 21, 2017

Second of a Series of Mr. Magazine™ Musings About Classic Creative Innovation…

the-independent747the-independent-inside749the-indie-4752When it comes to the creative innovations of today, we have a tendency to think that 21st century humans are the “be all and end all” of everything. But Mr. Magazine™ is here to tell you that is simply not the case. Inside my classic vault of vintage magazines, you’ll find stories and articles that are 50 years, or much older, which cover many “cutting edge” topics.

For example, I have a copy of The Independent magazine that was published weekly by the Independent Corporation in New York. This magazine incorporated Harper’s Weekly within its pages. The lead story in this particular August 2, 1919 issue is “Can Congress Compromise?” The story talks about the divide between the Democrats and the Republicans (way before Presidents Trump, Obama, or Bush were even born, imagine that), and there is another article about “The British Ratification,” which is very similar to today’s British Brexit. There is a story titled, “Another Mexican Crisis,” one about “The Public Utility Crisis,” and one called “The Washington Riots.” An editorial about “The Black Man’s Rights,” and one titled, “The New Melting Pot.” Is any of this sounding familiar? If it isn’t, where have you been for the last several months and years?

And from the September/October 1932 issue of Asia magazine, an article entitled, “The Stars and Stripes Overseas,” in which the president of the American University of Beirut,(Lebanon), gives an observation on the appropriate conduct of Americans overseas, leading with principles by which our contacts with foreign nationals should be governed:

asia748I. We should not attempt to work abroad at all unless we can improve upon the methods of local agencies and take the time to carry on our activities in a thorough and creditable way.
II. Our contacts abroad should be based upon a sincere exchange of ideas. We should wish to learn as well as to teach.
III. We must base our success on personality rather than on organization, creed or propaganda.

The idea that the world we live in today is any different than the world people lived in decades ago is simply narcissistic. And the one thing that you can count on to show you that fact is a magazine. I have said it repeatedly; magazines are reflectors, mirror images of ourselves and what is going on around us. But rest assured, there is nothing new under the “creative innovation” sun when it comes to ideas, political landscapes, or the interaction between people of all cultures.

So, when you see the cover of your favorite magazine depicting our President as a strong leader or a shyster, because both sides are out there, remember that 75 years from now, President Trump may be proving another point besides the fact that he can indeed win an election; he might be proving that someone else isn’t the first of their ilk to do it!

Until next time…

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act7Magazines Matter. Print Matters. That is the theme for the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT (Amplify, Clarify, Testify) 7 Experience that will take place April 25 to 27. Space is limited, so check the agenda and register to join us for an experience of a life-time.

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There’s No Place Like The Newsstand…There’s No Place Like The Newsstand…

February 20, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

bikers-for-trump689rise-up687mad690golfer-in-chief688Some Yellow Brick Roads do exist and not just in the Land of Oz. If you follow the trail of what’s going on in our world today, the great and powerful Oz awaits you at the end of a road called “Newsstand.” And it’s there that you can find the stories that stimulate your brain; touch your heart; and more often than not; bolster your own courage as well.

In the life of Mr. Magazine™, there’s no place like the newsstand. It’s where I meet my new friends, old friends and my well-established friends; those who are very dear to my heart: my beloved magazines.

And with this Yellow Brick Road, you know what’s behind the curtain; you may not know what the exact outcome of that particular journey will bring you, but you can rest assured that it will be provocative and emotional as the magazines and their covers grab your attention and refuse to let it go. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the airport, train station, bookstore, or the supermarket; you know that the welcome mat is out, no one is going to tell you to “go away” and your friends will be there to meet and greet you.

As reflectors of the society that we live in, magazines do the same thing that they did yesterday and will continue to do tomorrow: they mirror our thoughts, emotions and the events that are happening in our lives. For example, as we hear all of the political rhetoric; the pros and cons of our new presidential resident and his team; or the assaults on the media or the assaults on the president; magazines play their own role in all of this, by being reflectors of these unsettling and unrestful times that we live in.

To show you what I mean, there is a commemorative issue on newsstands now called “Bikers for Trump,” which Easyrider magazine came up with in stalwart support of our new president. And then on another wave of the magical magazine wand, Condé Nast launched a magazine called “Rise Up,” a publication about the “Women’s March on Washington” in protest of President Trump. And then you have those magazines out there who illustrate yet another sentiment of folks who try not to take either political side, such as “Mad Magazine” that vowed on its most recent issue that they wished there was nothing about Trump between the pages of that particular issue. By the same token, just to show that magazine publishers can be magnanimous and shouldn’t be depicted by some as the Wicked Witches of the West, Condé Nast released not only the “Rise Up” issue to protest the president, they also did a magazine entitled “TRUMP, Golfer In Chief,” where their Golf Digest magazine published a special issue on President Trump and his “golfing” habits.

There are magazines out there that have a strong opinion and those that might have one, but have sworn to stay non-political. There are magazines that support Trump and magazines that do as much damage to his presidency as a falling house would, but you can rest assured magazines are out there to reflect on all sides.

So, when you need to step back and really see what’s happening in our world today, here is some aged and wise advice that was given to a young lady a long time ago; albeit this time around it’s the good wizard of the South, “Mr. Magazine™” who is offering it:

Just close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, “There’s no place like the newsstand; there’s no place like the newsstand.”

Until next time…

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act7Magazines Matter. Print Matters. That is the theme for the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT (Amplify, Clarify, Testify) 7 Experience that will take place April 25 to 27. Space is limited, so check the agenda and register to join us for an experience of a life-time.

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