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Ellies 2007: So What Do You Do, Jay Stowe, Editor, Cincinnati?

A regional editor cops to being "totally stoked" to score an Ellie nod

By Noah Davis - April 25, 2007
ellies_hardware.jpgLeading up to the May 1 2007 National Magazine Awards, is publishing a special package of our popular interview series, "So What Do You Do?," with daily interviews of selected nominees, ranging from well-known to obscure. Today we chat with Jay Stowe, editor of Cincinnati.

See our other interviews with Ellie 2007 nominees: Joyce Rutter Kaye, Editor, Print; David Granger, Editor, Esquire?; Moisés Naím, Editor, Foreign Policy; Ted Genoways, Editor, Virginia Quarterly Review; Mark Strauss, Editor, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Name: Jay Stowe
Position: Editor, Cincinnati
Last three jobs: Features, then executive editor at Outside, senior editor at The New York Observer, associate editor at Spin
Birthday: August 9, 1967
Hometown: Cincinnati
Education: B.A. in history from the University of Virginia
Marital status: Married
First section of the Sunday Times: "It toggles between the front page and the Styles section. If I look at the front page and go 'uh, not immediately,' I'll go to the Styles section."
Favorite television show: "I tend toward comedy, so Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Larry Sanders Show."
Guilty pleasure: "Wow, I'll have to get back to you on that one. My wife and I just had a baby, so whatever guilty pleasures I might have once had have been completely erased from my brain." [The next day, Stowe emails "vinyl records."]
Last book you read: Dog of the South by Charles Portis
Last song you put on your iPod: "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse
2007 Nominations: One (Profile Writing)

Has Cincinnati ever been nominated for an Ellie?
Yeah, it got nominated in 2001 -- well, technically in 2002, but for an issue in 2001, before I got to the magazine -- there had been some riots that took place in April of 2001 in Cincinnati. There was a single-topic issue in the August issue, which was pretty much as soon as they could get it in, because we are always operating two or three months in advance. They did a special issue on growing up young, black, and male in Cincinnati, and that got nominated in the single-topic issue category.

Were you surprised by the nomination [for Kathy Y. Wilson's piece "Is Bill Cunningham a Great American?"] this year?
Oh, totally. Not because I don't think it's a great story -- I do -- but the judges are so fickle at these things that you never know what's going to pop up. To be honest, I think city and regional magazines have a tougher time breaking through into the higher echelon of nominees than the national publications do.

The story is up against some pretty heady competition [National Geographic, The New Yorker, New York, and Vanity Fair]. What do you think of your chances, or are you just happy to be there?
I'm just happy to be there. We're just stoked. We can't believe that we got the nomination, and we're just delighted. Frankly, I really don't feel any competitiveness at all with The New Yorker, National Geographic, New York or Vanity Fair. It's just incredible to be in their company. Whoever wins, wins. That's already been decided, and I have no idea who [it will be].

Who does Cincinnati compete with?
We don't have a direct magazine competitor in our market. There are a bunch of smaller and different, weirder little offshoot things, but they aren't built like a city magazine. Our biggest competition is the Enquirer, which is the major daily here and there's a weekly alternative paper called CityBeat that is pretty good -- but, it's a different audience pretty much, as most alternative audiences are. We don't really have a direct [competitor], but we have other ones we kind of compete with.

"I'd be talking out of my ass if I started to talk to you about what I think economic trends are and how they affect the magazine industry."

How did you get to be the editor of Cincinnati? Did you want to move back to your hometown?
That was part of it. I'd been at Outside, which is located in Santa Fe, for five years at that point -- it will be three years in June that I've been here. I had a great experience at Outside and really liked everybody I worked with and loved the magazine, but I was a little frustrated with my job at that point, feeling like I'd done what I'd come there to do, and I was on repeat mode. I wanted to do something different.

A friend of mine had gone to Texas Monthly, which is owned by the same company [Emmis Communications] as Cincinnati. I didn't know that at the time, but I inquired about it, and the balls just started rolling from there. I ended up talking to the editorial director at Emmis, and she said "Well, the person who's the editor at Cincinnati let me know that she's gonna be leaving sometime in the next X number of months. There's no set time, but let's keep talking." That's basically what happened, and the previous editor here announced she was leaving, and everything happened really fast because they wanted to make a decision as quickly as they could.

To be honest, when I made the decision, I wasn't sure I made the right one. We loved living in Santa Fe, and I loved working at Outside, but I was a little frustrated. It was kind of like "Should I do this? Should I not?" It was a lot of upheaval in our lives, but it's turned out all for the best. It's been a good thing.

What's a typical day like for you?
Usually between 6:30 and 7am , my nine-month old daughter starts crying, and I go in and change her, and that's how the day begins. Walk the dog, all that stuff. I get to work between 9:30 and 10:00. I probably should be getting to work earlier than that -- sometimes I don't even hit that -- but that's because I'm here usually 'til 8.

It seems like every day is a little different. There's always some meeting -- it seems like meeting are unavoidable. They drive me nuts, but they have to happen or, I don't know, the wheels of the office will come off. It's a lot of putting out little fires constantly, all day. My door's always open, and I don’t have an assistant, so it's like people are constantly walking in and asking me questions about something, or needing my advice for something, or whatever. In the midst of all that, I'm supposed to be editing stuff because I read everything that goes in the magazine and I edit a lot of it -- not all of it, it's a small staff here, like nine people -- but we're all doing at least three things. I feel like I'm doing a million, but I know I'm not alone. I've met enough editors at national publications who feel the exact same way. So, I'm editing stories, I'm trying to map out future issues, to come up with lineups and good story ideas. I'm sitting with my editors and thinking about how we can improve upon from what we did last month, all the time.

Then, at about 7:30pm I give up at my desk, and I just kind of expire and fall beneath it and wake up the next morning.

And then you get up and do it all over again?
Yeah, it's like Groundhog Day.

What do you feel about the state of the industry? Do you feel sheltered from it because you are out in Cincinnati and away from the spotlight in New York?
I wouldn't say sheltered. The interesting thing that I heard recently was that city and regional magazines actually had quite a good year compared to national magazines. I couldn't for the life of me tell you why that is. I guess the conventional wisdom would be if national publications are having a tough year, then everybody is having a tough time. But, that was not the case.

What that means though? I don’t know. I'd be talking out of my ass if I started to talk to you about what I think economic trends are and how they affect the magazine industry. But, there's a war on for one thing, and the war is sucking a lot of money out of the American economy. The housing industry -- finally the bubble burst and that, without a doubt, is going to have some effect on other sectors of the American economy. And last, but certainly not least, there is the Internet, which is definitely pulling dollars away at an ever-increasing rate from print journalism, whether it's magazines or newspapers.

The thing is, these are all major concerns -- no one is sticking their head in the sand about them -- but I don't think that this is the death knell for magazines nor for newspapers. Now, having said that, there's a lot of work the print world has to do to shore itself up if it wants to -- not remain in existence, but remain as a viable option for people, for readers out there. I think that can be done. I think that there's enough people and enough brains out there that the magazine companies are going to figure out how to make those ends work. I think there's a way to make money off of the 'Net and still make money off of print.

Along those same lines, how important is the Web for Cincinnati? Do you have an in-depth Web site?
We don't. It's important, and we are finally, because of funds -- we aren't a big magazine at all, and staying afloat was the major important thing we had to do -- but we had a good year last year, so this year, we are able to put a little more brainpower and a little money toward revamping the Web site. We have a Web site, it does exist, but it's not something that anyone's been able to fix. If you went to it right now, you'd find a whole lot of promotional stuff and marketing stuff, but very little editorial stuff on there. All I can say about that is, I was hired to run a print magazine, and to try to conceive of and run a Web site is a whole other level of a job which I'm going to be forced to have something to do with. I'm happy to be able to do that, but at the same time, it's hard to put out a magazine also. But, we're trying to figure out how to do that, and we finally have a plan in place to put more editorial stuff, more bells and whistles.

It's kind of weird. I saw this presentation a few months ago [at the Emmis corporate managers' meeting] by this guy, Rob Curly. I don't know what his exact title is [vice president of product development at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive], but he works for the Washington Post Company and he's kind of the media guru or whatever the hell they want to call him. He'd only been there a short time, so he hadn't done much at the Post, but the places he has worked were at the Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas and Naples Daily News in Florida. Those were the places where he had all the examples of what he had done, to essentially create the Web sites the papers have now. That was really cool to see, because he had done a ton of stuff that was above and beyond what the paper was actually giving people.

I don't, frankly, pay enough attention to the Web. I'm Mr. Analog. I don't have a typewriter on my desk -- I do have a computer -- but I don't spend a lot of time cruising around on the Web, so I haven't spent enough time looking at other people's Web sites. But, when I saw what this guy had done at these newspapers, I thought "Okay, that makes a lot of sense to me with what magazines should doing, and they're not." I'm sure there are magazine Web sites out there that are doing the same type of thing with providing all this extra features and extra stuff that's not even in the magazine. It's like a whole other magazine, but it's got the same name on it. That's where I feel like print publications need to be headed if they are going to make money off the Web and, therefore, survive. People don't just want to read exactly what you printed again on the screen. They may want to get it in an archive, so you may want to provide that for them, but you need to have other stuff for them there.

A site that I look at at least once a day is The New York Times Web site, and I think they do a great job with that because they've slowly -- well, actually pretty quickly -- figured out that it's not just reprinting the paper, it's actually adding video and commentary and other stuff, and actually doing some Web-only features that I think are really cool.

I don't really know enough about it to really comment, except to say that [the Internet] is the future, and anybody in print who doesn't think that the Web is the future is going to go belly-up at some point.

What are you going to be wearing to the Ellies?
[Laughs] Clothes. Well, it's supposed to be black-tie, so I guess I'm wearing a tux.

[Noah Davis is assistant editor at He can be reached at noah AT mediabistro DOT com.]

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