Summer Publishing Institute Day One: “A Universe That’s Unique”

Esquire Editor-in-Chief David Granger giving the keynote speech
Esquire Editor-in-Chief David Granger gives the keynote speech on day one of SPI.

“I’m going to talk about eighteen things,” said David Granger, Editor-in-Chief of Esquire, to a room full of anxious and eager recent college graduates ready to learn about the changing publishing industry. Granger was the first of a number of leading publishing professionals presenting to the students on day one of NYU’s 2015 Summer Publishing Institute. Funny, irreverent, and at times self-deprecating, Granger began, “My remarks will be wide-ranging and unfocused!”

In honor of his eighteenth anniversary with Esquire, Granger presented his list of 18 key magazine moments (ranging from what he called, “magnificent to idiotic”) that have resonated with him during his time as editor of the legendary men’s magazine.

One of his most memorable moments was the publication of the article titled, “The Falling Man,” written by Tom Junod for the September 2003 issue. Granger told the class that it was the most widely read story of the 21st century. He read aloud the moving first paragraph of the article about a man who jumped from the burning World Trade Center during 9/11. He explained that publishing a deeply moving, seminal story that lives on in multiple formats and multiple minds was one of the reasons he finds working in the magazine industry so profoundly important. Granger said he greatly values the chance to work on, “something timeless, something that will last.”

Granger ended his list with the best pitch he had ever heard. “A Thousand Dollars for Your Dog” was a story suggested by a writer who wanted to travel to Chicago to see what personal items people would give away in exchange for $1,000. “The story started out as a stunt and became something profound,” Granger said, noting that it explored issues of what we value on many levels. “It [the results] was something you just didn’t expect.”

After Granger concluded his talk, Michael Clinton, President, Marketing, and Publishing Director of Hearst Magazines, outlined the positive future for print magazines during the program’s business keynote speech. “Print is our bricks and mortar,” Clinton claimed. “Consumers still want a physical product despite what they can get on a tablet.” He noted that one of the most challenging parts of his job was countering the mantra that, “print is dead.”

Hearst Magazines' Michael Clinton
“Print is our bricks and mortar,” says Michael Clinton of Hearst Magazines.

Clinton said that he began his publishing career at age 22 when he moved to New York City with $65 in his pocket. He slept on his aunt’s couch until he took his first job at NBC collecting data for news polls. “Twenty-five years later, I think I’ve done okay,” he said with a smile.

At Hearst Magazines, Clinton now oversees a long list of magazines including Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Esquire, Food Network Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s BAZAAR, HGTV Magazine, Marie Claire, O, the Oprah Magazine, Seventeen, Town & Country, and more.

He emphasized the need for new interactive content in both digital and print. “If consumers didn’t want print, then the new ideas would be dead upon arrival.”

Clinton claimed that the companies are now interacting with the consumer, and have changed from yesterday’s print magazines to today’s magazine media companies. The vital element, he said, is “consumer demand, which is the key to vitality.” He advised students to always ask about this when talking to potential employers: “Tell me about your readers. Tell me about your metrics.” The consumer-facing, multi-platform innovations of the industry are so exciting to him that he admitted: “I am angry that I have 25 years behind me and I don’t have 25 years ahead of me!”

ELLE's Robbie Myers talking to SPI students after the
ELLE‘s Robbie Myers talks to SPI students after the “Future of Content” panel.

After a lunch break, Mark Jannot, Vice President of Content at National Audubon Society, moderated a panel titled, “The Future of Content.” He began by asking his three panelists what constitutes a magazine in a time when a company’s content expands so far outside of print. Robbie Myers, Editor-in-Chief of ELLE, responded: “It is something well and deeply reported. People understand a magazine to be something more thoughtful.”

The panelists then launched into conversation about maintaining a magazine’s voice across print and digital platforms. Robert Safian, Editor and Managing Director of Fast Company, stated that the company must be agnostic about the way the consumer wants to access content. “That’s the job,” he said. “We have to create a universe that’s unique.”

Susan Kittenplan, Vice President and Executive Editor of Digital Magazines at Yahoo!, believes that for Yahoo!, lacking a print medium is not a disadvantage for establishing a voice. She stated: “We have embraced the large audience and we can reach people very quickly. There’s something liberating in that.”

When Jannot asked for questions from the students, a wave of hands shot into the air. One student asked how it is possible to stimulate creativity in a field that explodes with information. “We get bored easily,” Safian concluded. “There’s so much content out there. And if we’re excited, then maybe consumers will be, too.”

After listening to the innovators and risk takers of the publishing world, the students left the classroom with an arsenal of inspiration, ready to take on their launch projects for hypothetical magazine brands, and to learn more about the publishing world. The students discussed one of David Granger’s comments on the subway ride home: “A magazine has the ability to take ideas and images and aspire to something beautiful, something that lasts. It’s different from what you see on your phone.”

by Lauren Grygotis

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