NEW YORK, United States — Graydon Carter, the former editor of Vanity Fair, is starting Air Mail, an all-digital international news platform intended for worldly cosmopolitans, with Alessandra Stanley, who was a longtime critic and reporter for The New York Times.
Beginning this summer, Air Mail will be packaged as a weekly newsletter, featuring magazine-length original articles sent to subscribers on Saturday at 6 am. Stories and original podcasts will also be available on a website: AirMail.news.
According to Mr Carter, the idea is to keep well-heeled globalists up to speed on the latest fads, fashions, arts, riots, scandals, and political upheavals in Europe and Asia. Think of it a bit like The Economist with attitude, or maybe “the weekend edition of a nonexistent international daily,” he said, slouching in an office chair in his garden-level West Village office on a recent, chilly Monday. He was wearing gray flannel trousers, a blue fleece vest and his trademark curvilinear hairstyle.
Mr Carter also suggested the new venture might be like the weekend edition of the Financial Times, which he loves, but “is hard to get — you’ve got to be in the metropolitan city, it’s $7, or at least it is where I spend the weekends in the country, you’ve got to get out of your pajamas to get it.”
He and Ms. Stanley plan to start out with a small team of editors, many of them young, hoping to reach members of the Snapchat generation as well as people old enough to share Mr Carter’s romantic associations with those old-school Air Mail envelopes with the red and blue borders, which he still uses for bookmarks.
They want the readership of creative professionals who travel business class, know the latest vegan currywurst hot spots in Berlin, and crave more gravitas from foreign dispatches than, say, is in Monocle’s earnest short profiles on sustainability-minded Danish design executives.
“The marketing executive in Soho House with the shaved head — that’s the Monocle reader,” said Mr Carter, 69. “I don’t know what ours is yet, but I just have a rough idea. They’ll be a sophisticated person. They’re not backpackers, and they’re not in Las Vegas, drinking Champagne and sitting around in their heart-shaped bathtub.”
Air Mail will steer clear of Washington politics. The newsletter, Mr Carter said, is “designed to live in a Trump-free world” (he has been an antagonist of the president since the 1980s, when Spy magazine, which Mr Carter co-founded, branded Mr Trump a “short-fingered vulgarian”).
In his office at Vanity Fair, Mr Carter lined one wall with framed copies of the 49 tweets that Mr Trump had directed at him. (“I always used to say, ‘This is the only wall he’s built,’” Mr Carter said.)
With yellow-vest protests roiling France, Italian populists threatening an “Italexit” from the European Union, and a Chinese economic slowdown threatening the world economy, he and Ms. Stanley, 63, believe that American readers that are more interested than ever in matters abroad. “Trump has gone so inward, so nationalistic, that readers are rebelling by going more global,” she said by telephone.
Brexit is an obvious example. “To most Americans, Brexit is both an important but confusing story, that unfolds in a different direction every single week,” Mr Carter said. That is why the duo has commissioned Francis Wheen, from Private Eye, the satirical British news publication, to write a humorous column called This Week in Brexit.
But Air Mail does not seek to compete with, say, Foreign Affairs, the international-relations journal published by the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is not homework,” Ms. Stanley said.
Rather, it should feel like “a calm read for a weekend, where you may stay in bed for two hours,” reading about food, film and football, which is “bigger than Norad and NATO and the United Nations,” Mr Carter said.
One might fairly expect any publication of his to contain at least a smattering of aristocrats-behaving-badly stories, like the ones Mr Carter used to find in foreign newspapers to pursue for Vanity Fair. But “there’s not much in the way of high-end scandal in America right now,” he said. “We’re going through a drought of rich people knifing each other, or shooting each other, or cheating each other.”
What about the British royal family? “Unless Meghan Markle starts strangling Prince Philip or something,” he said, “I have no interest in them.”
And while Air Mail will sample articles culled from European and Asian publications, it will not be a globetrotter's Axios, boiling down the latest headlines into easy-to-digest morsels.
“These are fully formed narratives,” Mr Carter said. “Vanity Fair was in the excellence business, and I want to stay in the excellence business. We’re not after clickbait.”
A clickbait-funded model has undergone scrutiny lately after layoffs at Buzzfeed and HuffPost.
The subscription rate is still under discussion, but will be reasonable, and will, in theory, help Air Mail avoid the revenue shortfalls of media companies that depend solely upon advertising. “You know, if Howard Schultz gave away coffee for free, Starbucks would be the most popular food organization on Earth — for about two weeks,” Mr Carter said.
Air Mail has also secured backing from James Coulter, a billionaire investor whose private equity firm, TPG, has a stake in Creative Artists Agency and Vice, and whom Mr Carter knows socially. Each issue is intended to have a single sponsor, ideally a luxury advertiser drawn to an upscale readership.
And if none of those elites end up subscribing to Air Mail, he does not seem like he will be crushed. He recently spent a year in Provence (where he considered buying an English-language bookshop and settling full-time with his wife Anna), completed one chapter of a still-untitled memoir, and is resolute about being done with office towers.
“I never want to have a swipe card again,” he said.
By Alex Williams. This article originally appeared in The New York Times and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.