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David Hepworth on magazines and beyond

David Hepworth

Posted on: 03 October 2016

Young at heart

I’m not surprised Jeremy Paxman got cross when he found himself in the kind of country hotel that had copies of Mature Times all over reception. I’ve probably stayed there. 90% of the readers of this column have probably stayed there. We know we are “mature” but this is the stage we reached without every aiming at it. Nobody ever dreamed of being mature. These are the weasel words that we all know actually mean “old”. With the honourable exception of The Oldie, which took it on the chin by giving itself that name, none of the magazines aimed at the older demographic have solved the problem of what to call themselves. Somebody should do one called The Geezer. A good strapline would be those wise words of Keith Richards, “the older you get, the older you wanna get”. There’s one called Calibre. That’s a name that was once applied to a non-alcoholic lager and didn’t do a great job there. Calibre looks like Mojo or Classic Rock except its cover stars are the likes of James May and Vinnie Jones. The problem is that even older people don’t relate to images of older people. In our heads, we’re all twenty years younger than our birth certificate says. Look at the images on the cover of Mojo and Classic Rock. They’re all old pictures, taken when the subjects were young, beautiful and frankly immature.

“The problem is that even older people don’t relate to images of older people.”

Spurned by the Gray Lady

There’s recently been a wailing and a gnashing of teeth in that wider suburban area surrounding New York known as the “Tri-State Area”. This is because the New York Times has just announced it will no longer be writing about theatre, galleries and restaurants out in the ’burbs. This is a shame for the people who used to supply those reviews of good nights out which NYT readers could have within range of their homes. For the venues themselves, which have traditionally relied on a nice little down-page review in the Gray Lady to boost their footfall by as much as fifty percent, it’s a catastrophe. Responding to the objections, the paper’s public editor says, with some justification, “Why should a newsroom that just announced lofty international ambitions spend resources covering news of no interest to readers in Beijing or London?” That must have come as a shock to some long-time NYT readers who were probably under the impression that what they subscribed to was still something of a local paper. Of course it isn’t. It can’t be. I also just heard Sam Dolnick, a young digital editor at the Times, say that as far as he’s concerned, the job of the Times is “to make people’s lives better”. Compared to “all the news that’s fit to print”, this seems a bit woolly. But who’s to say he’s wrong? Dolnick’s opinions are interesting because he’s a scion of the family that owns the New York Times. Therefore, he has a greater investment in his vision of the future than most people. How many privately owned newspapers and magazines have the young master or mistress learning the business on the shop floor?

Chemistry lessons

Clearly Jeremy Clarkson had to go. You can’t hit people at work. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. But in believing they could replace him and his sidekicks with one radio star, an American sitcom actor, a woman, a person of colour and a senior, thereby ticking all the boxes that are the front of every one of their producer’s minds nowadays, they threw out the thing that made most people want to watch the show in the first place: the rapport between the presenters. Rapport takes ages to build up and, as we’ve seen, it takes no time at all to destroy. The re-born Top Gear was characteristic of the 21st century BBC. It made sense on PowerPoint. It didn’t make sense on TV.

Follow the leader


"When he gets bored, he goes off-script..."
If the high-flown derision of highly-educated newspaper commentators was something to be feared, Donald Trump would have been out of the presidential race months ago. As many of them have pointed out, on the face of it, he’s a truly terrible communicator. He looks ridiculous, can’t stick to the script and reaches for the word “beautiful” whenever he’s stuck for what to say next. But maybe that’s what a lot of people like about him. You only have to listen to the Today programme for ten minutes to realise that absolutely everybody in public life today sounds as though they’ve been on the same “how to be interviewed on the radio” course. They say, thanks to the programme for having them, speak in carefully modulated tones and slip in obligatory mentions of “vulnerable people” and “hard-working families”. Their only thought is to get through their allotted few minutes without bumping into the furniture or breaking anything.

Trump, on the other hand, gets bored as soon as it’s going too smoothly. You can hear it in his voice. When he gets bored, he goes off-script and sticks in one of those lines that would get the camera crew smirking if he used them on TV. What he most wants is to walk off the set - and don’t forget he’s a TV personality and so the whole world is just a series of sets - and see his people looking at him with that “what have you done now?” look on their faces. That’s what he lives for. While we’re on the subject of unlikely candidates, the reason lots of people support Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party is because he displays none of the characteristics of a leader in any walk of life. In fact, he says he’ll do whatever they want him to do. That’s the kind of leader some people appear to want. A follower.

“Everybody in public life today sounds as though they’ve been on the same ‘how to be interviewed on the radio’ course.”

Loadsamoney

It’s difficult to be in favour of inequality. It’s even more difficult to know what would remedy it. I’m writing this column just after transfer deadline day in football. This is the day in the calendar that football clubs take the money that Sky subscribers have paid out of their own pockets and fling it in the direction of some of the least deserving people on the planet so that they and their grandchildren will be able to buy more Italian sports cars. Now we all disapprove of inequality so you would think we would hate this. But apparently not. Are we standing on the sidelines tutting and restraining the people flinging the cash? On the contrary. We’re actively cheering as they fling our hard-earned in the direction of these people and their worthless intermediaries. And all this straight after the Olympics when we’ve almost made ourselves ill cheering on athletes who have been subsidised to do what they wanted to do in the first place by lottery money, which seen from certain angles is a way of diverting money from the poorest in society for the benefit of the most comfortable. What I would say to anyone who claims they have a magic wand to wave over inequality is this: start with sport. See how you get on with that and then report back.

It’s a man thing

You won’t catch a published author like this one criticising anyone who actually goes out and buys a book but over the summer months, I am brought face to face with the greatest limiting factor to the growth of the UK publishing business - the fact that most British men are of the opinion that they can only read one book a year, and that during the summer months. It’s always nice to hear from people who’ve read your book and enjoyed it but with some men who get in touch after they’ve finished (which, of course, social media allows them to do), it’s almost as if they’re looking for praise for simply having got through it. They have arrived at this view on where books fit into their lives, that they are so busy keeping the world going that it’s only when they go on holiday and are safely installed on a recliner, free from the cares of state, that they can devote themselves to a novel or a history book, because it helps shore up their sense of their own importance. Women readers, many of whom manage to combine reading with such trifling matters as holding down a job and managing a family, may find this less surprising than I did.

“It’s almost as if they’re looking for praise for simply having got through it.”

About David Hepworth
(Details last updated: 22 September 2017)

David Hepworth has worked in consumer magazines for over thirty years. As editorial director of Emap Consumer Magazines, he was involved with titles such as Smash Hits, Heat, Q, Mojo, FHM and Empire. He is a director of Mixmag Media, writes and broadcasts on media issues and is the author of the books, ‘1971: Never A Dull Moment’ and ‘Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars’.

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