Say it loud, I work in mags and I'm proud

 
Like any self-respecting reporter I’m determined, walking up to the
front desk of Condé Nast’s plush offices, to clear my mind of the
stereotypical image of freebies, fashion and frivolity that this empire
might conjure up.

This is one interview involving Dylan Jones, I
tell myself, that won’t be littered with names of A-list brands and
expensive accessories.

A courier brushes past, delivering the
biggest ribbon- festooned hamper the world has ever seen. As I sign in,
it’s picked up by a screaming-yet-immaculate Condénasta wrapped in a
fur jacket.

A well-groomed, blazered young man ushers me into the
GQ editor’s office, which is swamped with Christmas cards bearing
highly-visible branding: Armani, Gucci. They’re all there.

Dylan Jones’s crisp white shirt greets me warmly.

“I’ll
offer you a cappuccino just as soon as my PA gets back from the Prada
sale.” Maybe this is going to be more difficult than I thought.

Still,
after five years in the job, and many more spent bonding with industry
fashionistas, Jones seems happy to embrace with open arms the image
that the industry has woven around him.

“I imagine a lot of
people are very jealous of the world we live in,” he says of other
journalists’ view of his part of the business. “Some probably admire
what we do and I would think there are others who despise everything
that we stand for.

“I think you could say we inspire a wide range
of emotions.” But in fact we’re here so that Jones can champion the
cause of all magazine editors, even those whose closest brush with
A-list branding involves buying Marks & Spencer sandwiches to eat
at their desks.

He’s this year’s chairman of the British Society
of Magazine Editors, and he’s approaching the task with the same
detailed rigour that he brings to the day job.

All editors, he
says, have as tough a job today as at any other time in history. “We’re
all in this together and so I’d like to see us flying the flag for
magazine excellence, almost in spite of commercial constraints.

There aren’t many outlets which take magazine journalism seriously.

“One
of things that I’ve always found interesting about the BSME is that I
don’t think that it shouts enough about the way it celebrates editorial
ideas and editorial accomplishment.

He’d also like to see the BSME become a little more outward looking to other parts of the industry.

There’s
no reason, he says, that it couldn’t strike up more of a relationship
with orgainsations such as the PPA, or the Society of Editors, whose
members tend to come more from newspapers and broadcasting.

“It’s about being proud of magazine journalism.

And
trying to make the environment of magazine journalism more interesting
and getting people to talk to each other. Celebrating ourselves, in a
way.” He’d also like to inspire more of a sense of community among the
editorial creatives within the industry.

“From outside it can sometimes look, much like Fleet Street, that we all hate each other,” he says.

“And
in fact that’s not true.” No doubt rival editors including Anthony
Noguera and Greg Gutfield ( Arena and Maxim respectively)n will be
delighted to hear it. Although the three have traded regular insults in
the media pages, Jones says he is conscious of not doing too much
slagging off on this occasion (although this comment is preceded by an
assertion that “Arena is just a porn mag with a trendy designer”, so
we’ll take it with a slight pinch of salt).

Still, his point
holds. The explosion of media over the past decade means that editors
are not only competing against each other but against so many other
forms of entertainment. “The iPod is as much a threat to a consumer
magazine as other consumer magazines,” he says.

The result is
that editors have had to become more commercially-minded. They have to
be experts in marketing, advertising sales, publishing business
practice. They have to be acutely aware of everything that goes on in
the marketplace. It can be something of a two-edged sword. The danger
is, of course, that the commercial part of the equation starts to
obscure the editorial.

“In one way it’s a good thing. However,
readers’ antennae are attuned to the ways in which they might be being
manipulated.” A lot of newspapers, he feels, assume a higher level of
cynicism on behalf of their readers than is needed.

“Readers are
very clever people. They’re more aware than some editors may believe.”
He says it’s important for magazines not to become just another
delivery system for news and information that is available elsewhere,
something he believes newspapers have a huge problem with.

“The
important thing is to have a personality. I would hope that people buy
GQ because they like the way we say it, rather than just what we say.

You
don’t just want to be considered a conduit.” The flagship event of the
BSME’s year will continue to be its awards, which take place in the
autmun. But there are many other gatherings planned between now and
then. Conservative leader Michael Howard is a guest speaker at the Soho
Hotel on 26 January, and Jones will be hoping to attract other big
names for subsequent events.

There will also be an event at which
editors are encouraged to bring along their work experience students
and work assistants. On that theme, Jones believes that the level of
talent in the industry is the highest it has ever been. “I’ve been in
the business for 20 years and in consumer journalism the quality of
young people coming in at entry level is incredibly high. There’s a lot
of jostling for position because it’s very tough, but that obviously
benefits the magazines.

“I’d say it’s probably more difficult to
hire good executives than it is to hire good writers.” When he was at
The Sunday Times he recalls seeing youngsters on work experience
wasting their opportunities without realising how lucky they were.

That’s something you rarely see now, he says.

“You look for people with enthusiasm and ambition.

Lots
of people who have come in on work experience end up working for us. I
find those much more interesting. There are few things more exciting
than seeing someone come in on work experience and a few months later
they’re writing cover stories. And there’s no reason why that shouldn’t
happen.” So while we’re celebrating the good things in journalism, I
ask him what’s out there there particularly impresses him at the
moment. He selects The Economist without a second thought (“what you
don’t realise is that it’s a fantastic features magazine”), The
Independent (“fantastically successful, has redefined itself not just
editorially but commercially” unlike The Times , “a newspaper that
doesn’t know what it is or who it’s talking to”), The Mirror ,
particularly under Piers Morgan (“every day was like a kick in the
head”), The New Yorker and Vanity Fair .

He says: “When you see
an issue of a magazine and you think, ‘God that’s good, that’s clever,
fantastic’ that’s what it’s all about. That’s why we’re all in this
business.

“What we’ve got to try and do is shout about it a bit
more. I’m quite good about shouting about GQ, so I should be OK
shouting about the industry for the BSME.”

More information:
www.bsme.com

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