To the masses, John Mack Carter was “the storied magazine editor who headed the nation’s top three women’s magazines, including a 20-year stint at Good Housekeeping.” Mr. Carter died last week at his home in Bronxville, N.Y., after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 86 years old.
To me, John Mack Carter was the father of new magazines and a mentor.
I met him the first time in the early 1980s when he came to the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism School to speak to our class. It was a dream come true and the beginning of a lengthy mutual friendship and professional relationship.
In 1987 he came to Ole Miss to speak to my students on “Service Journalism… Today and Tomorrow.” The picture above, from November 6, 1987, shows John Mack Carter, director of new magazine development, Hearst Magazines, and editor in chief, Good Housekeeping, seated to the left with James Autry, president of the magazine group at Meredith, and standing left to right, Pamela Fiori, editor in chief of Travel & Leisure, Dorothy Kalins, editor, Metropolitan Home, David Jordan, editor, Better Homes and Gardens, and Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni.
In 1995 John Mack Carter wrote the introduction to my tenth anniversary edition of the Samir Husni’s Guide to New Magazines. It sums up my relationship with the legendary magazine editor, creator and friend:
Whoever coined the phrase “There are no new ideas” was not only wrong, lacking in all imagination and probably a dunderhead – he or she was clearly not in the magazine business. Every year when University of Mississippi Professor Samir Husni comes out with his comprehensive report on the newest titles dawning in the magazine world, I’m awed by the scope of the bright new ideas out there and the ingenuity used by publishers to bring them to print. There are always curious new trends to ponder (Chicago Bride and Cincinnati Wedding suggest that the recent boom in wedding titles has gone, if not loco, at least amazingly local) and mysteries we may never solve (what’s behind those eight new magazines all about tattoos?). Only a few of the infant ventures will survive, of course, and indeed some are already dead as of this writing (Over the Edge, Pure). But that’s not always the point. To many publishers, the payoff is sometimes just the thrill of bringing these new titles to life and, in publishing’s maternity ward, it is Samir Husni who has established himself as the watchdog nurse on duty, our record keeper of birth certificates.
I first met Samir in 1982 when I arrived on the campus of the University of Missouri for a journalism conference and encountered a young grad student so exceptional that, in 1978, his professors back in his native Lebanon shipped him off to the U.S. to study “for four or five years, till the civil war cools down,” he says today, wryly. That hiatus was just about up when we met and he had to be thinking of his future while bombs continued to fall back home and faraway cousins dodged sniper’s fire as they zigzagged their way home through the Beirut streets. The newspaper headlines must have grown too much for this journalism student to bear because he turned his attention to magazines – more specifically to new ones. He did his doctorate dissertation on start-ups and, knowing that I share his odd passion for them, showed me the finished manuscript. “This should be a book!” I exclaimed when I saw how information-packed it was. He soon found a publisher and new editions have come out every year since.
Not surprisingly, Samir has a personality trait common to all smart publishers who attempt to launch new titles: he can spot a gap in a market and fill it. Back in the mid-1980s, academia had a need for an expert on start-ups, so soon after he got his Ph.D. this young man moved to Ole Miss and set himself up as the university world’s equivalent to what I was doing out of corporate offices in New York and we continued to be great friends. We worked together often, serving jointly on industry panels, lecturing to each other’s groups (me to his students at Ole Miss and him to my staff in New York and to the members of the American Society of Magazine Editors when I was its president) or just sharing wild ideas over breakfast when he happened to be passing through New York.
Being experienced in start-ups, I recently launched this new division at Hearst Magazines and made acquiring the publishing rights to Samir’s book one of my first tasks. We are now officially in cahoots with each other and have marked the occasion by overhauling this book for its milestone 10th anniversary edition. We’ve added hard covers, expanded the editorial content to include “The 50 Most Notable Launches,” given it a new graphic design and introduced color photos. My hope is that it continues to serve not only as the bible of our business but as an inspiration and invaluable resource to the publishing faithful whose new, daring ideas are poised to appear in our 11th, 12th and other future editions.
John Mack Carter
Hearst Magazines Enterprises
Thank you, John Mack Carter. I am sure you are more than proud of what you’ve accomplished and helped accomplish in the magazine world.
John Mack Carter, my friend and mentor, may you rest in peace.