Consumer Magazine Report: Issues & Answers – EDITORS TO WATCH

Frank Lalli – George
Lalli, a Time Inc. vet and former Money managing editor, took over as editor in chief of George after the death of founding editor John F. Kennedy Jr. (Executive editor Richard Blow oversaw editorial operations in the interval before Lalli’s hire). The magazine’s future had been uncertain before the tragedy, and many wondered about its chances of survival without Kennedy at the helm. But with a juicy presidential race in progress, this could wind up being George’s year. “The biggest challenge is to stay half a step ahead of all these political events this year,” says Lalli, who has dispatched correspondents to follow the campaigns. “Because of the race, there’s a lot of media coverage. Our readers read the newsweeklies, they watch the Sunday-morning political talk shows, they watch cable for those shows as well, then they come to the magazine still wanting a fresh insight and a fresh point of view and things they haven’t read before–and we have to deliver that.”
Meanwhile, George has a new design team, led by Worth’s Phil Bratter. In May it will go back to its original size (about an inch wider) and it will switch to a matte paper stock for what Lalli calls “an edgy, modern feel.” Overall, Lalli says he wants readers to feel like George helps them understand how the country is changing. “That’s our goal.” –K.F.
Cynthia Leive – Self
The women’s health and fitness category is robust, which presents a problem for Cynthia Leive, who took over as editor of Self from Rochelle Udell last August. “I think my biggest challenge is to find a way to break news in an environment where more people than ever are reporting on women’s health,” she says. “Five years ago, you could own those stories. Now, you have a million Web sites devoted to health. Every women’s magazine has fairly strong women’s health coverage.”
Her first step: redoing the entire front of the book. She’s added “Happiness Handbook,” which covers mind, body, and health issues, and a new section called “Health Hotline.” And she has expanded the magazine’s Web presence, to compete against all those online health sites. “One of the things that I’m really excited about is adding new energy to the Self Challenge [a fitness and nutrition plan that runs in the magazine],” she says. “You can sign up for the challenge and keep your logs online. And you can get e-mail reminders every week from the magazine to keep up with the plan.”
But she doesn’t want readers to think of Self as one more pill to swallow. “My absolute goal for Self is to make this a magazine that you read not because it’s good for you; it’s something that you read because it’s great fun. –K.F.
Bob Wallace – Talk
Taking on any new editing job is a challenge, but at a start-up, the stakes are much higher. When Bob Wallace decided to come to Tina Brown’s Talk from St. Martin’s Press, he immediately had to think about how the hotly anticipated title could deliver on the promise of its splashy Sept. 1999 launch.
For Wallace, it’s all in the edit. “I’d like to do the kind of journalism that people talk about, stories that make a difference,” he says. “I think there has become a certain amount of formalism in how stories are told, to the point where you know what a certain story is the minute you look at it. And I think it’s the challenge for an editor at any magazine to try to break down that formalism and come up with new ways of looking at things–anything that expands or extends the reporting, the analysis, or the narrative voice on a subject.”
After six issues, Talk is far from being fully formed, says Wallace. “It’s very much a work in progress here”, he says. “We fret and stew every day about what’s in the next issue, and wonder how we can make it better. But I think we’re also at a point where the horizon line has moved further away and we can see longer into the future that we’re going to be around. That can’t make us complacent, because we have to still prove ourselves every issue, but I think the fundamentals are sound.” –K.F.
Terry McDonell – Us Weekly
At Us, former Men’s Journal editor Terry McDonell will not only be overseeing the magazine’s transition to a weekly but will also be refocusing the book. The target audience, he says, “is much more media and popular-culture savvy than any of the magazines that they now look at give them credit for being.” The Us Weekly he will roll out on March 17 will be “unique and artful. If it has no irony, if it has no humor, if it is not smart, it won’t work. That’s the challenge.”
To create this new magazine, McDonell is beefing up the fashion pages–“10 or 12 a week,” he says–and plans to showcase “some interesting directions in photojournalism.”
McDonell doesn’t see any one magazine as competition, focusing instead on carving out a unique identity. “Us Weekly will be a magazine that will be far more selective [than other entertainment magazines], that will try to define itself by its choice of what to review.” And by the quality of its writing. He’s already hired Nancy Griffin from Premiere; author Rachel Abramowitz; Doug Stanton from Men’s Journal; Pete Wilkinson from Rolling Stone; and Thelma Adams from the New York Daily News. “This is not going to be a magazine that is going to have a single voice,” McDonell says. –K.F.
Ruth Reichl – Gourmet
Making a 59-year-old title look fresh is the challenge facing former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, who took over Gourmet last spring. Accessibility is at the center of the Reichl regime. “Everybody eats,” Reichl says. “If you’re writing about food and you don’t have something to interest everyone, you’re really failing.” Her aim is to make the magazine “a complete meal,” so that even if it’s the only magazine readers get to that month, they will have gained practical information about travel, food, and living well in general.
“The world has changed a lot since the magazine first appeared, and who a gourmet is now is not the same as it was 59 years ago,” says Reichl, who describes the gourmet of the past as someone who is “older, fat and rich.” Today, she says, “we all think of ourselves as a gourmet,” so the book needed to be retooled in order to speak to a less specialized audience, including changing the tone of the recipes. “The thing that this magazine needs to have is both authority and accessibility. It had the authority.”
Accessibility, in Gourmet’s case, has a lot to do with storytelling. “This magazine will live and die on the quality of its writing,” says Reichl, who has brought in esteemed scribes Pat Conroy, Spalding Gray, and others. After having added new departments and amped up the quality of the writing, Reichl is now turning to what she calls the “architecture” of the magazine. She recently brought in art director Diana LaGuardia from House & Garden. “We want to see how to make it more navigable for readers. That’s my biggest new challenge.” –Kristina Felician