To subscribe to the BoF Podcast, please follow this link.
LONDON, United Kingdom — “Magazines bring the world to you more than newspapers do and more than books do,” Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fair and creator of email newsletter Air Mail, told BoF Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed in the latest episode of the BoF Podcast. “They bring the cultural nuances of what’s going on now to your door. They [tell] you about a world outside of the small town that you’re living in.”
Carter’s journalism career spans over four decades, during which he was a staff writer at Time and Life, co-founded Spy magazine in 1986 and served as the editor of The New York Observer. His "third act," the digital weekly newsletter Air Mail, employs a team of remotely working individuals from across the globe.
Carter shared his thoughts on the state of the publishing industry in this time of upheaval.
- An upended global economy is not uncharted territory for magazines. During the Great Recession, publications were hit hard as brands cut their advertising budgets to retain cash, Carter said. More than a decade later, magazines are faced with these same challenges, and for Carter, although there remains “a certain romance for magazines” the print industry “is going to have its issues and I think the strong magazines will survive and thrive and the weak ones will go away. That is a natural process in any industry.” The winners that emerge from this crisis will be the publications that form a connection with their readers. “You have to be the first or second favourite magazine of your reader… if you’re the fifth favourite magazine of a reader, they could probably do without you,” he said.
- During his time running Vanity Fair, Carter spearheaded several newsmaking issues, including the 2015 "Call Me Caitlyn" cover, revealing Caitlyn Jenner for the first time as a woman and the "Africa Issue" that was designed to amplify the region and came with 20 special covers fronted by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Dr Maya Angelou and Barack Obama. However, his leadership was not without controversy. In a recent Netflix documentary, “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich,” allegations resurfaced that Carter removed information about the sexual abuse of Annie and Maria Farmer from an article about the disgraced billionaire written by Vicky Ward in 2003. In response to the claims, Carter said: “The legal and fact-checking elements of Vanity Fair, which was quite extensive,... is your line of defence and my head of fact-checking, my legal review editor and the lawyer for the company said we simply do not have what we needed to print this and it came in late,” he said. “In this case, they said we did not have the information we needed to publish that little bit of information in the story... I feel great pain and sorrow for the women he took advantage of, it’s an appalling situation.”
- As the publishing industry pivots to adapt to a new normal, relying on digital tools like Zoom, cutting back the number of issues and reassessing the diversity of their organisations, Carter believes there are opportunities to be capitalised on. “I think there is more good journalism being produced now than there was 25 years ago… The fact is, now… you can start your own thing, you can do it on your kitchen table.” In a sea of start-ups it can be difficult to stand out, but “it’s just about being good at doing something that somebody else doesn’t do… You can make a name doing anything as long as it's done well."