James Harding, ex-BBC News chief, launches new slow journalism project Tortoise.

Jeremy Leslie previews next week’s ModMag London on The Stack.

Aperture gallery and California Sunday align exhibition and issue, At Home in the American West.

As she puts her Gather Journal ‘on hold’, Michele Outland talks about the redesigned Bob Appetit, ‘There is something about holding a magazine; it’s very captive in a way. Digitally, I just feel like we are exposed to so much content. I appreciate the escape that’s involved with print.

Emmet Smith, Creative director, National Geographic

This Monday we’re in Washington DC with National Geographic’s creative director, Emmet Smith. Before his talk at Modmag, Emmet gave us the low down on a typical Monday morning behind the scenes at Nat Geo’s offices.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
I drop the kids off at school around nine, then have a short walk to the Metro and a 20-minute ride in. On the train it’s music (the new Phosphorescent album is in heavy rotation) or the New Yorker, whose articles tend to be the perfect length for my ride.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
At National Geographic, all the offices are on the inside of the floor to maximise natural light for everyone, not just managers. So, my office looks out on the infographics and cartography departments and layout rooms where we review work.

My desk is a disaster. I’m banking on all those dubious studies that proclaim a messy desk the sign of a sharp mind.

Which magazine do you first remember?
Nintendo Power.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
Pottery Making Illustrated. Though I’d have a hard time making it through my week without The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Those two are really firing on all cylinders right now.

Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Arresting. Pioneering. Illuminating.

What are you going to be talking about at ModMag?
On a small scale, I’ll be talking about the redesign we just implemented. Pulling back a bit though, I’ll be talking about the amount of daily reinvention necessary to keep a 130-year-old book relevant today.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak alongside you at ModMag on 1 November?
Is everyone a fair answer?

What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
It’s always invigorating to get to meet new people who have the privilege of spending their days doing this odd thing that is magazine making.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Walking into the office just in time (let’s be honest, probably late) for a quick stand-up meeting with the directors of Design, Infographics and Cartography to talk through the day ahead.

@NatGeo ‏


Emmet Smith will be speaking at this year’s ModMag London conference on Thursday 1 November.
Book your ticket now.

Jana Al Obeidyine, a Dance Mag

Ahead of her talk at Modmag, we chat to Jana Al Obeidyine, the Beirut-based editor-in-chief of a Dance Mag, about her typical working week. One of this year’s most exciting launches, a Dance Mag made an immediate impression for its unique physical format and intelligent editorial concept.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
On Mondays, I am usually on the road driving from one meeting to another trying to cope with Beirut’s traffic.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
My desk is bit chaotic; beside my laptop, I can see my agenda, notebook, phone, Mastercard, glasses, eye drops, a mockup plan of issue two of a Dance Mag, The Outpost – Home issue, and two DVDs Loving Vincent and A Coffee in Berlin (still unwatched).

A butterfly entered the room this morning cheering me up.

Which magazine do you first remember?
The first magazine I remember is the comic Little Lulu (the Arabic version), it was one of my favorite childhood companions.

Later, I became really fond of Cahiers Du Cinema and I still think of it as one of the most impactful magazines I know. The magazine was the drive behind the French New Wave, which was an influential movement in the history of cinema.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I am currently having a renewed interest in The Outpost. The editorial note of the Body issue is what led me to contact its founder Ibrahim Nehme at the beginning of my project. But after a year of working on a Dance Mag, I am now seeing The Outpost in a new light.

Can you describe your magazine in three words?
I like how people describe it: eclectic, rich, and gratifying.

How did the idea for a Dance Mag emerge?
I wanted to make a magazine about dance because I believed that dance is an important aspect of our lives that we often underestimate and undervalue. So the starting point of the project was to highlight the role dance play in politics, identity formation, society, health, history, cinema, architecture etc. Ibrahim’s approach was more holistic, in the sense that he saw dance in everything. I guess the result was a combination of both visions.

How have you found the process of making a magazine?
The making of the first issue or the magazine was a long process, so it naturally had its ups and downs. Overall, I would say it’s a thrilling process but really stressful at times.

Have you been surprised by the reaction to your magazine?
Given that the project is unconventional, it was hard to predict how readers will respond to the magazine. So, we are excited to see that it is being very well received. We are getting positive comments and thank you messages. The Stack Awards shortlisting, in two categories, was also a delight. All this gives us more motivation to keep moving forward.

What can we expect from the second issue?
A new escapade! Our approach is still the same; the theme is the thread that leads us to new places, people and experiences. I don’t want to reveal the theme of the next issue just yet, but it’s an interesting transition from the Transcendence issue to more grounded themes.

What are you looking forward to sharing with the audience at ModMag?
I will talk about the making of a Dance Mag, what it stands for, and what it aims to achieve.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak alongside you at Modmag on 1 November?
It’s an amazing line-up! I am truly looking forward to hearing every single talk.

 What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
I was travelling almost all summer, so this week I scheduled meetings with some of our Indiegogo friends and supporters who are based in Beirut.

What will you be doing after this chat?
I will be heading to the bank.


Jana Al Obeidyine will be speaking at this year’s ModMag London conference on Thursday 1 November.
Book your ticket now.

Ian Birch, author, Uncovered

The new book ‘Uncovered — Revolutionary Magazine Covers’ offers real insight into magazine-making through a series of interviews with the people behind a selection of front cover designs from the last fifty years.

Author Ian Birch worked at Time Out and Smash Hits before launching Sky magazine in the eighties. At EMAP he  helped launch Red, Closer and Grazia, before moving to New York where he became editorial director at Hearst Magazines, responsible for titles including Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Men’s Health and Good Housekeeping.

We’ll be reviewing ‘Uncovered’ in more detail here soon, but ahead of that (and his appearance at ModMag in a couple of weeks) we put a few questions about the book to Ian.

What inspired you to produce this book?
Now that social media has replaced magazines as a primary engine of popular culture, it seemed the ideal time to chronicle and celebrate some of the industry’s key moments. Where better to focus than on covers? A great cover captures just such a moment and becomes a social document with a unique backstory.

My original proposal was a picture book with snappy captions but that soon felt thin and unsatisfying. I started to talk to some of the key people involved and quickly realized that was the way to go.

It would be an oral history, telling the stories of the covers in the words of the people who created them – the editor-in-chief, creative director, photographer, photography director, publisher, writer, stylist, illustrator and very occasionally the celebrity or a relevant academic. This meant I started in the late fifties because, prior to this, many of the key players are, sadly, dead or unavailable. I did more than 160 interviews.

What effect would you like the book to have on the magazine industry?
I didn’t write the book with such a grand aim in mind but if it encourages any of the iconic independent titles or the bigger media houses to pay more attention to their archives and realize the gold they contain, I’d be delighted. When I went to the New York offices of Interview , for example, they apologized about the parlous state of their back issues. Equally, some of the big newspapers seem to have little or no interest in their history – unless they think they can make some money out of it.

Which is your favourite cover in the book?
That’s an almost impossible question. The answer changes on a daily basis but today I’d say New York 27 July-9 August 2015 (above).

Accusations of sexual misconduct about Bill Cosby had been emerging which he vigorously denied. Photography editor Jody Quon felt the accusers were not being taken seriously enough and, despite quite a bit of skepticism within the magazine, slowly gathered together as many of them as she could for a shoot with Amanda Demme. It was, understandably, an emotionally charged session.

Demme wanted it to ‘represent taking back power but in a very elegant way…The empty chair was there just to show we had an uneven number and we needed one or three more people. But the magazine channeled my brain and turned that empty chair into an open seat. It was their time to have their voice and that’s why it worked.’ The cover helped re-introduce the case. ‘That’s what I think a great cover can do,’ said editor Adam Moss. ’It can change a conversation.’

Which front cover in your career are you proudest of, in the sense it might have been included in the book?
The most revolutionary cover I was involved in was never published. It was the cover of the first dummy for Sky which was originally conceived as a wildly ambitious dual sex, pan-European youth culture fortnightly in English. Designed by Malcolm Garrett and Assorted Images in late 1986, it combined the new soundbite editorial approach of USA Today which had been launched in 1982 with the convention-busting energy of i-D.

The cover was a gatefold with video grab of Madonna on the front and Sean Penn inside. The extraordinary paper technology made the whole issue interactive: perforated panels you tear out and keep; an 8-page ‘video spectacular’ of Grace Jones (above) enhanced by chevrons and quotes; a review section that had indented pages like the then all-pervasive Filofax. It was, inevitably, too much for Hachette and we eventually turned it into a dapper dual sex British-based monthly.

Sales figures weren’t a criteria for selection, but do you have a sense of how well or not the selected covers sold? It’s a mixed bag. Vanity Fair’s pregnant Demi Moore (above), not surprisingly, flew off the shelves. Esquire’s ‘White People’ was stapled to them.

Terry Jones took huge delight in his controversial Vogue ‘Green Jelly’ being the fastest-selling issue of 1977.

There are so many factors that determine sales: the competition that week, distribution problems, the weather, a national obsession like The World Cup, a cover so provocative that it turns at least half your audience off.

How do you feel when you look at a typical newsstand today?
There are fewer and fewer to look at. The accelerated death of general interest and me-too titles and the incredible surge of independent launches means that magazine outlets are going the way of vinyl: specialist shops like magCulture and subscription services like Stack launched by passionate print champions.

Does the book mark the end of an era? Can you foresee another such book in 50 years time?
Absolutely, I can see another such book sometime in the future. What is dying is the industry business model which has dominated since the ‘50s – not magazines themselves. The passion to publish will always be there especially now that technology has made producing a magazine easier than ever.

We live in fractured times and many people still feel their voices are missing from the mainstream. A magazine gives them that voice and creates a community with whom they can have a supportive and dynamic conversation.

Ian Birch will be speaking at this year’s ModMag London conference on Thursday 1 November. In a special session, he and Varoom! editor Olivia Ahmad will contrast some of the magazines from his book with more recent front covers.
Book your ticket now.

Order your copy of ‘Uncovered — Revolutionary Magazine Covers’ by Ian Birch from the magCulture Shop.

Jeff Taylor, founder, Courier

Today we look ahead at the week with Jeff Taylor, founder of Courier. Now a glossy bimonthly, the business/start-ups magazine launched as a free newspaper in London five years ago. Jeff is one of our speakers at ModMag on 1 November, when we look forward to hearing about the magazine’s shift frpom free to paid-for.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
Cortado and sometimes breakfast from Mae and Harvey (scrambled eggs with tomato and basil and bacon jam) on Roman Road or Allpress in Redchurch St (their breakfast plate is one of my favourite London breakfasts). I catch the number eight bus usually. If I have gym or a breakfast meeting, I’ll go to Shoreditch House.

Normally I’ll take in a podcast en route and flick through the Financial Times and Apple News to catch up on overnight news. I don’t live that far from the office so if it’s a nice morning I’ll work. We start the week with an all company status meeting, so I’ll normally be preparing for that and working through my priorities for the week.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
I try to keep my desk fairly neat. I have a small American football for throwing about when I’m thinking, a pile of magazines to review, a couple of plants and a pile of pens, plus normally a stack of A3 paper for jotting ideas and sketching layouts on. We’re lucky to have a really lovely space with big floor to ceiling windows that open up on to Hanbury St in Spitalfields. There’s a coffee shop below us and a large Bangladeshi supermarket over the road so there’s always street life to distract me out the window.

Which magazine do you first remember?
I wasn’t that much of a magazine kid, but I remember my parents would always have piles of titles like Vogue Interiors, Belle and Vogue Entertaining and Travel. At our beach house we’d have piles of old copies of loads of these titles too. And at the dentist, there would always be stacks of Country Life in the waiting room which I thought was really boring and odd given we were in Australia and it was all about England.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
Matters? I’d say The New Yorker and The Economist. These are times when rather than detach from politics or get our news from lazy sources we need to become better informed and support those sources that stand for ethical, honest and quality journalism.

Love? Lunch Lady is a title that I’ve recently discovered and really love. Also, Victory, Holiday and Casa Brutus are enduring favourites.

Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Serendipitous, humble, diverse

How is the shift from free to paid-for working out for Courier?
We’re really pleased with the jump. It was always something we’d wanted to do but the free title had such a following we kept putting it off. Finally, we bit the bullet. It’s been like launching all over again, with a whole lot of new learnings but it’s great. Now we’re on sale in over 25 markets and growing strongly.

You just held the first Courier Live event, you’ve launched a new London free mag… what else have you got up your sleeve?
We’re always looking for ways to help people work and live on their own terms more, and so that’s how we judge opportunities. There’ s a million things I’d like to do, but next year we’ll focus on growing internationally and really expanding our digital offerings to complement the print and event products.

What are you looking forward to sharing with the audience at ModMag?
I think the main thing is sharing a message that you can do things really differently from the norm and still succeed if you just stay really close to what your customer needs.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak alongside you at Modmag on 1 November?
It’s a great line-up so it’s hard to choose but like everyone I love National Geographic, so Emmet will be super interesting to hear. Also, I’m a big fan of Mundial so can’t wait to hear Dan talk about that too.

What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
I’m off to New York tonight with our editor and commercial director to meet readers, advertisers and dig up a few stories! We’re there all week.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Breakfast and a walk in the park, then clear my inbox, write a presentation for some client work, pack and head to the airport.




Jeff Taylor will be speaking at this year’s ModMag London conference on Thursday 1 November.
Book your ticket now.

The Guardian Weekly

The Guardian newspaper has been publishing an international weekly edition in print for almost a hundred years. An early vanguard of the newspaper’s new-found international audience, The Guardian Weekly has republished the best of the daily’s international news coverage for English-speaking readers across the world since 1919.

Following this year’s complete redesign of the daily paper, The Weekly was left in design limbo, an uncomfortable mix of new masthead, previous generation typography, and a page format that meant every copy had to be cut down from tabloid size – a waste in every respect.

In this cost-cutting era it might easily have been just the kind of side-project to be closed down, but instead The Guardian Weekly is relaunched today as a weekly magazine in the UK and internationally. The above image shows last week’s final newsprint edition alongside the smart new magazine format.

The team, led by editor Will Dean and director of publishing Mylene Sylvestre started with audience research and it was soon clear how devoted their readers were. ‘They have a really intense relationship with it,’ explains Dean, ‘One bloke started reading it in the forties in Burma flying in the Canadian Air Force and has read it ever since.’

Others valued the amount of content in The Weekly. ‘We heard “this is something I sit down and read over a week” from many readers. We realised it was regarded already as a magazine in the guise of a newspaper.’ said Dean. ‘We wondered… would it make more sense to start trying it as a magazine?’ This logic was supported by further research with non-readers.‘I remember a group in Paris who were unfamiliar with the old Weekly, and they were confused by the newsprint format.’

Fast forward to today, and now it’s a standalone magazine. Design director Chris Clarke has applied The Guardian’s new design language to a magazine environment and it works really well.

Newspaper designers talk of the difference between magazine and newspaper design, of the need not to distract from stories with design fireworks, and Clarke largely follows that direction. The new Weekly does not strive for the graphic flambouyance of, say, a Bloomberg Businessweek; yet it also more graphically ambitious than The Economist.

It makes strong use of the elements available in The Guardian house style. The boxed-in text columns, colours and the layered combinations of infographic and stock imagery (above) are all familiar from the daily newspaper. There’s still plenty to read but the smaller pages mean long texts are a little less daunting.

Although a digest of the week, the magazine must be ready to slot in a big story that lands at the last minute – the Brett Kavanaugh cover lead (above) in the launch issue being a case in point. This is not slow journalism – when asked about Delayed Gratification and Positive News, nobody bites – but clearly doffs its hat in that direction.

The Guardian Weekly has enough of its own identity that it will appeal to readers who maybe don’t even know of the daily newspaper – a key constituency according to Sylvestre, ‘Internationally, a lot of people are aware of The Guardian as a news site but they might not know that we have a daily paper.’ The team hope the new title will build on that growing web audience, reflecting a growing belief in print. ‘Readers were saying they wanted a haven, some calmness away from the crazy deluge of news,’ Sylvestre added.

As well as researching readers and potential readers, staff from the US and Australia newsdesks were canvassed. As a result both countries will have four pages of local stories in their edition of The Weekly.

Clarke had already led the design development of multiple supplements for the newspaper’s Saturday edition, but these didn’t need to sell on the newstsand. Was it hard to adjust to the harsher context of a paid-for title? ‘It was fun. The magazine has to have a presence on the newsstand that it may not have had before, but that doesn’t mean you have to always shout. You can whisper quite forcefully and still be seen.’

Its exciting and rare for a large publisher invest in such a creatively-orientated project these days. Time, money and creative effort have been poured into it and it deserves to be a success. Try it!

Asked whether the new publication is a first step towards the daily newspaper becoming a magazine, all concerned delivered a clear ‘No.’


Editor: Will Dean
Design director: Chris Clarke
Art director: Andrew Stocks
Director of publishing: Mylene Sylvestre