NYU Summer Publishing Institute: Star Power at 35

Students gather for the annual SPI Alumni Party.
Students gather for the annual SPI Alumni Party.

NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life is humming with a mix of nerves and excitement. The crowd is comprised of everyone who’s who in book and magazine media, including leading publishers and editors. And there are plenty of students sitting there in anticipation: the NYU Summer Publishing Institute’s class of 2013, SPI alumni, and students in the NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program. It’s a big night for SPI, which is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the program. A star-heavy panel discussion (The NYU Media Talk) is coming up. And then, yes, there’s an anniversary party hosted by the Center for Publishing, of which SPI is a part.

Moderator David Carr, with panelists James Bennet, Joanna Coles, Chris Hughes, and Jane Pratt
Moderator David Carr, with panelists James Bennet, Joanna Coles, Chris Hughes, and Jane Pratt

Students straighten their name tags, rehearse their post-panel party pitches and chatter about the networking they hope to accomplish. After all, networking is essential in publishing.  Andrea Chambers, director of the Center for Publishing,  takes the stage to introduce the panelists for the 14th NYU Media Talk.Tonight’s moderator is David Carr, a columnist and reporter for The New York Times, and among other achievements, a bestselling author. The panelists include James Bennet, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic; Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan (also recognized by many in the crowd for her role as a judge on Project Runway); Chris Hughes, editor-in-chief and publisher of The New Republic as well as a co-founder of Facebook; and Jane Pratt, editor-in-chief of xojane.com and well-known in the publishing industry for her work on the magazines Sassy and Jane. As the panelists take their seats, the audience falls into a hushed silence and pulls out cell phones to snap photos.

The year’s NYU Media Talk focuses on the changing role of the magazine editor, including shifts in formats and formulas, content and commerce, strategies and synergies, and rebranding for a digital era.

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Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, responds to student questions.

Carr opens the discussion by asking each panelist: “What business are you in?”Pratt is first to answer, reassuringly: “The business I’m in is the business I’ve always been in – trying to make women feel good about themselves.” Coles agrees, adding that while the business is the same, the methods are constantly changing. “I always say:
‘We’re on a voyage of discovery,’” she explains. “Every day something in the industry is changing, and it’s up to us to adapt.”

Hughes expands on the importance of the magazine in our culture: “The type of journalism we do [at The New Republic] is good for society, good for democracy.” And if SPI has proved anything to the students time and time again, it is this – that magazines are indeed good for consumers; they are not in fact dying, but still play an essential role in readers’ lives by helping them define and achieve their aspirations, whatever they may be, in whatever magazine they might read.

The importance and relevance of print is also a theme of the evening. Jane is the only panelist who works exclusively in digital, and all express a high regard for the timeless physical quality of print. “[It] signifies intellectual jewelry,” Carr states.

That being said, digital and social media have an increasingly important role in the magazine field that completely differs from the print experience. Bennet explains that you must find the balance. “It’s not print versus digital; it’s good versus bad, importance versus trivial,” he points out. The talent, the true reporting, he notes, will always rise to the top.

Chris Hughes, editor-in-chief and publisher of The New Republic, and Jane Pratt, editor-in-chief of xojane.com
Chris Hughes, editor-in-chief and publisher of The New Republic, and Jane Pratt, editor-in-chief of xojane.com

The panelists close their discussion with expressions of  their love and passion for what they do. “It’s so much fun working in the magazine industry,” Coles shares. Hughes adds, “It’s more energizing than anything I’ve done.”

As the discussion comes to a close, Carr asks the panelists if they have any advice for the students in the audience. Among other pearls for those of us who hope to someday sit on a stage like that ourselves, the advice was simple: Tweet. Come up with great ideas. Show that you’re curious. And as David Carr put it, “I want to see what you made with your own two little hands.”

by Elizabeth Gorney

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