SPI Steps Out: (Literary) Beauty and The Beast

As NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute entered its third week, students were invited to visit magazine and digital media companies to get an inside glimpse of their offices, missions, and methods for engaging audiences. In groups of 15 or so, SPIers headed off to visit Travel + Leisure, The Daily Beast, Rachael Ray Every Day, The Hive at Vanity Fair, and The Paris Review. We asked student Francesca Cocchi to report on her group’s visit to The Paris Review and student Nina Rodríguez-Marty to tell us about The Daily Beast. Read on for two unique viewpoints on two very different worlds:

The Paris Review: Tradition over Traffic

I headed to Chelsea’s famous art district last week with virtual reality, chatbots, and voice control on my mind. Earlier in the day, my fellow NYU SPI students and I had learned about technological innovations in media and what lies ahead. At our industry visit to The Paris Review, however, we encountered a quite different model — one unapologetically steeped in tradition.

“This is it,” Nicole Rudick, Managing Editor, said as we settled into an assortment of couches and wooden folding chairs to the right of an open kitchen. “There’s no real tour to give.”

The 64-year-old literary magazine has only seven other full-time staff members, who worked around us in silence. Framed illustrations and covers spotlighting some of the magazine’s many celebrated interview subjects — William Faulkner, Graham Greene, and Irwin Shaw, to name a few — adorned the walls. Rudick passed out copies of the recently published summer issue, and we couldn’t help but flip through the stories and poems inside.


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Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, walks NYU Summer Publishing Institute students through the magazine’s history cover by cover.

Our primary speaker was Lorin Stein, who became the magazine’s third editor in 2010. One of his first moves was to direct a redesign. With thicker paper stock, a matte finish, and smaller dimensions, the magazine’s new look recalls its roots. But respecting the past is more than an aesthetic choice at this publication; it’s a mindset.

The editors receive approximately 200 unsolicited submissions per month, all via snail mail, and they respond to each one. “We accept less than one percent of what we get,” said Stein, who previously worked as a fiction editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He edits on paper, and when he cuts down an interview transcription from 500 pages to 20, he uses scissors and tape.

Even the magazine’s web editor, Dan Piepenbring, doesn’t concern himself too much with the clicks and visits that seem to keep the rest of the magazine industry up at night. “I don’t want to say we don’t care about traffic,” Piepenbring said. “But it’s not as important.” His rationale for selecting essays on news, arts, and culture for the site is straightforward: “It has to be a good piece.”

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Nicole Rudick, Managing Editor of The Paris Review, (left) and Dan Pipenbring, the publication’s Web Editor, (right) speak to NYU Summer Publishing students in the magazine’s Chelsea office.

Despite the magazine’s old-fashioned quirks, Stein and his team have found ways to benefit from recent technology. Earlier this month, The Review locked the entire digital archive of its renowned interview series with writers behind a paywall and saw its subscription volume double. Digitizing the archives was one of Stein’s most important contributions to the magazine even before monetizing them. The archives create a link that defines the publication’s identity, according to Rudick. With ease, readers and editors can navigate to interviews with writers such as T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, or Ezra Pound, as well as to every piece of fiction and poetry in the magazine’s archives — content that isn’t going to expire any time soon.

The process of monetizing the site is an important step toward minimizing loss, since The Review is a non-profit. There is no marketing budget and limited advertising space.

“This magazine has never had a profitable year,” Stein said. “We are built to lose money, so we have to ask for money.”

In addition to fundraisers such as the “Spring Revel,” The Review relies on financial support from its board of directors. “We are custodians of something they have been part of for a long time,” Stein said.

by Francesca Cocchi

The Daily Beast: Scoops, Scandals, and SPI

“We need to be happy warriors who love confronting bullies, bigots and hypocrites on either side of the aisle,” John Avlon, Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of The Daily Beast, wrote on October 2, 2016. He voiced it again to a small band of NYU SPI students during our industry visit.

There’s a sense of moxie, a sharpness of tongue that pervades the voice of this digital-only publication. Perhaps it’s due to a staunch penchant for “quality over quantity,” a phrase Avlon voiced repeatedly throughout our question-and-answer session.

John Avlon,  Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director at The Daily Beast,  talks to NYU Summer Publishing Institute students about the mission of his brand.

“I think the real value comes from breaking news,” said Avlon. He spoke of the company’s “no strike zone” policy – when it comes to quality reporting, nothing is off limits. And in the midst of mass regurgitation, second-hand news, and the commodification of opinion on the internet, this commitment to investigative journalism sets The Beast apart.

“Life is a struggle between the urgent and the important,” explained Avlon. “It is our job to say, ‘No, we’re going to stay focused on these important stories’.”

Sticking to the important, however, does not mean renouncing pop culture. In fact, there’s a reason The Beast’s tagline is “Scoops, Scandals and Secret Worlds” (and why I found a piece of breaking news after an article on Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West’s possible surrogate for their next baby).

John Avlon (center) poses with students in The Daily Beast‘s office overlooking the Hudson River.

That said, Avlon recognized what he calls the “high-low ethos,” or the awareness that people enjoy stories about politics and sex. The Daily Beast has made sure to deliver both, designing a framework for organizing content that reflects their readers’ actual thinking habits. Located alongside each article, the “Read This List” highlights stories on a variety of topics. “It keeps people in and offers a taste of what we’re about,” described Avlon.

Nevertheless, the company’s obsession with quality remains, and for that I am grateful. “We need to entertain while we educate,” Avlon told us. With headlines such as “ACLU Sues D.C. Police Over Journalist’s Inauguration Arrest” juxtaposed with “The Sometimes Sh*tty History Between Humans and Dogs,” I think he really meant it.

by Nina Rodríguez-Marty


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