Where is the boundary between “mission-driven journalism,” as GOOD prides itself in doing, and social activism, which is something journalists have traditionally stayed away from? Is that boundary obsolete?
Having a mission isn’t the same thing as having an agenda on an activist front. Most magazines have had mission statements that they strive to fill and for us that’s definitely true.
When GOOD was founded in 2006 they sought to occupy a media space between social justice do-gooder media, the mainstream media and cool-hunting or hip kids media. GOOD is a creative and social good-oriented magazine, but it’s also high quality and playing the same game as more established media.
Being mission-driven makes people understand what it’s all adding up to when they come to your site or read your magazine. It’s not that we are covering a geographic area or industry. We’re sort of illuminating a point of view on the world and creating a body of work for people who share a similar approach to the world.
During your SXSW panel you mentioned that even though your title is Executive Editor, you spend half your time talking to the sales team. And your title does seem to indicate that you straddle both sides of the Chinese wall. So is your role content-oriented, business-oriented or both?
My number one responsibility is to make good media, so it’s content-oriented. That means supervising the team that makes good media and also, realistically, ensuring that we are able to continue to do that, which means also working with the sales team.
I’m frequently surprised that media survived as long as it did with such a strict wall between the editorial and business sides. This is not to say that GOOD is exemplary at every level in terms of how we negotiate this.
Every partnership we forge is different and essentially our entire business model is built in a grey area. What that really requires is a lot of trust from the folks who are outwardly representing what we do to clients and partners. It’s also important that those folks understand enough about what we do to really respect the lines we draw and for us to all be on the same page about what we want to make.
Speaking of business models, how does GOOD make money?
Really what we sell against is brand. We do sell banners and use e-mail sponsorships and other things that are closer to the realm of traditional advertising. But we also have a really awesome creative services team that makes custom content for partners.
Much of that appears without the GOOD brand on it but they are purchasing our brains and our sensibility, which in a way is much more of a hybrid agency model along with a traditional sales team.
We’ve also seen a lot of success with our existing editorial series. For example, we do a weekly feel-good feature called “People Are Awesome” which is our version of everyday heroes, and partners will help us underwrite this material.
It’s much easier to inhabit that grey area if all partners are paying for is profiles of people, or if their sponsorship is helping us do something that we’ve always done. We don’t have to worry about stepping on any toes because we’re partnering with a client in one area to underwrite content in another area.
Like lots of media brands, GOOD has branched into the event space. I think the way you put it at SXSW is that “events are just another way of consuming GOOD.” Can you unpack that?
This is sort of something that’s in GOOD’s DNA. In the really early days, instead of trying to do direct mail or a lot of traditional magazine approaches to gaining subscribers, they threw parties. We still host a lot of parties related to magazine issue launches, we also do things that are a little more action-oriented.
For example, we created a human infographic in downtown L.A. to raise awareness about traffic issues. For that we did some work with the city and partnered with an ad agency. It was an attempt to say, “okay, if you read GOOD you probably care about people getting around the city and transportation issues and are also interested in getting out of your house and physically being a part of something.”
The staff is not huge here so we’re always thinking about ways that we can also enable people who are into the idea of doing good things that make sense with our brands and we can support them and then have them sort of run with it.
GOOD is a print magazine as well as an online platform. What’s the relationship between the two products and how do the conversations that take place on the website inform the print edition (and vice versa)?
The print magazine definitely has a quarterly vibe; it comes out four times a year, the stuff in it is longer and it’s always more in-depth explorations of stuff we write about day in and day out on the website. So inasmuch as those daily and weekly discussions are informed by our community, they trickle up and inform the feature assignments we make and how we form our print magazine.
Then there’s the feedback loop, where once the magazine is on newsstands and we put all the content from the print magazine online we get people weighing in on it.
For example, we have this 12-page infographic explaining the U.S. economy that we put online after the issue was on newsstands and I actually think it will pay dividends in a long-term sense.
When we write about things that are economy-related we can take portions of that infographic, we can link to it; it becomes this base of knowledge that we can build on with our online community.
We’re huge design geeks at Sparksheet and one of the things you guys are known for – and have won awards for – is design. What’s the connection between your obvious emphasis on good design and GOOD’s mission?
What’s really important about GOOD is that we fill the ‘social good’ role that could easily tend to ‘boring’ or ‘eat your vegetables.’ Design is a really important way that we live out the creative, innovative part of that mission and brand identity.
Practically speaking, as a journalist, working in close collaboration with designers is totally essential to making reported work come to life in a meaningful way.
We have a team of designers who really think the best use of their skills is making narrative, reporting and all things related to helping people understand the world better.
The economy infographic that I was discussing is also a collaboration between me as an editor and reporter and the designer who worked on it. I didn’t just write it and then hand it off to a designer. There was a whole discussion about how best to convey this complicated information visually.
And that’s in the DNA of how we work. It all comes back to brand identity. We want to be a space for creativity and fun just as much as we’re a space for learning and social good.