Gaudoin was editing Luxx in London when she was offered the job at WSJ. Planning for a glossy was already underway when her hiring was announced, but the Journal insider widely expected to conceive and edit it was unceremoniously taken off the project. For the last eight months, she has been prepping for her editor-in-chief debut on American shoes, tapping a handful of luxury and lifestyle editors who might otherwise have never been on the paper's radar. Mediabistro spoke with Gaudoin on the eve of the magazine's launch about the culture of the Journal, her tiny staff, and an autobiographical roman a clef -- Not Just Prada: Real Life Adventures In Magazines -- she's proposed but hasn't sold or written about (you guessed it) her adventures in the magazine business.
Were you surprised by the lack of humor in American magazines, and how Americans approach luxury?
I can't speak for anyone else, but my perspective is that if you are spending money or living a particular lifestyle you have worked very hard to achieve, you want to have some fun with it. You want to have fun spending your money and living your life, and that's what we have tried to inject into this magazine. Do I think a sense of humor in Americans is missing? No, I do not. I think it's a different sense of humor. It might be less arch, but it's certainly apparent in some magazines.
What's your favorite story in the first issue, or what story is most representative of what you're trying to do?
What we tried to do was use people we think Journal readers would be interested in who exemplify the way they might want to live their life. So, for example, I have a piece about a trial lawyer who changed his life entirely and became a chocolate maker. I have a "Humorous Review of the Mundane," and starting off we're doing a review of airline safety videos. I have a bigger piece about competition, which is called "The Competition," knowing full well a lot of Journal readers are in business and that their whole mindset is in doing better or succeeding. I have a piece about [Oracle chief executive] Larry Ellison and [aerospace engineer Ernesto] Bertarelli going head-to-head for the America's Cup. And I have a piece about collecting, and why American folk art is the new collectible.
|"Our readers are so discerning and so vocal that [a luxury advertising vehicle] is not something they would accept. I didn't set out to create a catalogue of luxury goods that people could buy."|
How did you go about assembling your staff? Your masthead is notable in the sense that you built a team from scratch from Men's Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Tatler, and House & Garden. Was it your decision to bring in so many outsiders to create this magazine, or were you yourself part of that decision?
From the outside, it looks different than what it really is. I knew I was going to be using a lot of Journal staffers for reporting and some editing, so what I looked for was what the Journal reporters didn't have experience in -- and that was working in a magazine environment. What we tried to do was compliment the staff we already had with some "outsourced" luxury magazine people, if you like.
How does your staff here compare with your resources running Luxx, and with the famous British magazine model, with much smaller staffs. If I recall correctly, you ran Luxx with six people.
There are eight people running this magazine. The model there is much more lean, definitely, and yes, I have brought that with me from Europe. But in the same way that I ran Luxx with a stable of staff, I had the outsourcing at hand with the Times [of London] reporters I used, so the principle remains the same. I have a small staff here, but then I outsource a lot to general reporters. The resources I need are there, but I don't need a big staff to run a magazine. (I might regret that quote later; don't use that.)
What's the strategic role of WSJ. within the paper and within Dow Jones? One of great ironies of both magazines and newspapers at the moment is that while neither medium seems to be doing particularly well at the moment, lifestyle magazines published by newspapers are advertising magnets. Is your job to create a vehicle for doing the same?
To bring you back to what The Wall Street Journal stands for -- it has a very strong separation between church and state. I can't speak for other luxury magazines, but I can say that there is definitely a clear line drawn between advertising and editorial -- if that is what you are getting at.
Then, if you're asking me, "Do I feel embarrassed about the fact that this is a luxury advertising vehicle?" the answer to your question is: I would be, if it were, but it's not. And I'll tell you why it's not. Our readers are so discerning and so vocal that it is not something they would accept. I didn't set out to create a catalogue of luxury goods that people could buy. I set out to create a magazine about a lifestyle that people might want to participate in.
Why did you accept this assignment, and why were you seemingly the first choice to do it? (If there were other names floated, none were ever leaked to the press.)
I had always wanted to work back in the States. I had lived and worked here before [as a junior member of Liz Tilberis' team at Harper's Bazaar], and I had worked very closely with Robert [Thomson, the Journal's now-managing editor] at the Times [of London] for five-and-a-half years, and Robert was coming here and it was that segue that led me here. It took me five minutes to make up my mind.
|"I have in fact written a book, but I haven't signed a contract. It exists, but I have no idea when I'm going to publish it."|
A practical question: how should freelancers approach WSJ.? Between your own staffers, the Journal reporters available, and your own openness to freelancers, what should they be pitching you? What percentage of the magazine will be freelance-driven?
We're still working it out because this is our first issue, but I think ultimately we'll probably take about 30 percent freelance. The way that works is that people will contact my senior editor Janelle Carrigan or my deputy editor Owen Phillips and talk to them about ideas for stories. What am I looking for? I'm looking for curious, intelligent reporting, and I'm looking for the story-behind-the-story, because I feel so much that you can understand a lot about the product or a person generally through general media. What readers are really looking for is more information and a different story. How do you get product? How did they get to where they were? What do we know about them that we didn't know already? It's just a different angle -- a more questioning angle, really.
How does this experience compare with your stint at Liz Tilberis' Harper's Bazaar?
Look, that was just the most amazing experience. Working with Elizabeth Tilberis... she's a genius. Fabien Baron, he's equally a genius. It was a very intense, glossy magazine experience working with amazing photographers -- those sorts of opportunities do not happen every day. That was then, this is now, as you know and I have described to you. This experience is very different. I was much more junior when I was at Harper's Bazaar, but I did have a great time, I've got to tell you.
The weight of launching something like this is quite considerable given the brand, given the expectations, and given the readership. This is a tricky job, it's an enjoyable job, but I knew this wasn't going to be easy.
Do you think that your experience at Harper's Bazaar -- the enormous budgets, the stop-at-nothing pursuit of luxury and glamour -- is a thing of the past? Is the essence of editing a magazine today doing more with less?
Listen, I don't know what people spend anymore because I've been in the newspaper world for quite some time now. But I think it's a lot and you just can't justify those budgets any more, certainly from where I'm sitting -- they might have very different things to say at Conde Nast and those magazines -- but from where I'm sitting there's no space for that.
Please pardon me if I've mistaken you for a different Tina Gaudoin, but Amazon U.K. contains a listing for a book entitled
Not Just Prada: Real Life Adventures in Magazines, by one Tina Gaudoin. Is that you, and if so, what exactly is the book about? Based on the publisher's description, it appears to be a novel about a "Tina" working in magazines.
I've got to tell you that, that is indeed me. I have in fact written a book, but I haven't signed a contract, so I'm kind of curious as to where that's coming from. It exists, but I have no idea when I'm going to publish it. You can tell I'm really surprised that it's there, so I'll have to go and take a look. But that's all I can say right now about that.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]