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Seven Questions for Print‘s New Editor-in-Chief Emily Gordon

Emily_Gordon.jpgIt’s been an exciting year for Print. The magazine took home a National Magazine Award for general excellence and a Magazine of the Year silver medal from the Society of Publication Designers. Now it has a new editor-in-chief. Former managing editor and Emdashes founder Emily Gordon (pictured at right) has replaced Joyce Rutter Kaye in Print‘s top editorial post, and amidst the whirl of new responsibilities, she made time to tell us about her plans for the magazine, which is “just a few years younger than John McCain and a heck of a lot hipper,” and how her path to Print was paved by an eccentric Victorian-era literary superstar.

1. What led you to Print?
A keenly eccentric Victorian named Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer led me to Print. The magazine’s then-managing editor, Todd Pruzan, published a piece in 2005 in The New Yorker about Mortimer’s bestselling 1850s-era travel books, and the paradoxically provincial life that went along with them. (One of my favorite details is that she washed her pet parrot with soap and water, and tried to teach her donkey to swim in the ocean.)

I was so dazzled by Todd’s writing and his story of being so irresistibly drawn to a vintage book that he ended up scouring a British graveyard for the author’s headstone, and eventually republishing bits of her books into an anthology, that I wrote a post on Emdashes—a blog about The New Yorker I’ve done for nearly four years—raving about it. Todd and I began corresponding, and he sent me some issues of Print. I was struck by the gorgeous layout and the excellent writing and criticism—and by the fact that I, a hopeless magazine addict, had never read it before. Eventually, I contributed a review of the Complete New Yorker DVDs. The following year, my editor Jeremy Lehrer left the magazine to freelance, and I was hired to replace him as senior editor. Shortly thereafter, Todd went off to other things, and I became managing editor.

Read on for Emily’s plans for the magazine and why Print (and print) is alive and well, both on paper and online.

2-3. And now you’re editor-in-chief. Can you tell you us a little bit about your plans for Print? Are there areas that you want to increase coverage of; any stories, people, or themes that you are itching to tackle?
First of all, it’s a tremendous honor and responsibility to edit such a storied magazine. I’ve heard it said that no one cares about anniversaries except the people having them, but Print is turning 70 in 2010, and I think that’s a mighty achievement. After all, we’re just a few years younger than John McCain and a heck of a lot hipper. I intend to celebrate yearlong with features and interviews, in print and online, revisiting some of Print‘s strongest issues and most talked-about themes over the decades. And readers should look for products and events that make the Print community more tangible and far-reaching over the next few years, especially for the reader outside the design community, but deeply engaged in the subject matter nonetheless.

Speaking personally, I’ve always been interested in everything we cover, but didn’t realize it all fell under the umbrella of a single and extremely wide-ranging discipline. My mission is to both serve the design community as well as we possibly can, materially and spiritually, and to reach the millions—yes, millions—of readers and viewers who will be amazed to find there’s a publication that exactly scratches their itch for riveting visual content and intelligent, readable analysis of the world around them.

4. Any plans for Print‘s online presence?
On the online front, we’re in the process of redesigning our website, and I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say that we can’t wait to start blogging. Inviting people into the Print family who write exceptionally well and bring dogged and thoughtful reporting skills to their pieces will continue to be a priority for me, as well as honoring and benefiting from the knowledge of longtime designers who may no longer be buzzed about but whose work redefined the field and, therefore, the world.

The editors and designers on staff, as well as all our freelancers and contributing editors, are making all the difference as I make this transition; I have never known a magazine staff so hardworking and easy to get along with. I have a good feeling about working with David Sloan, who was recently brought in as our new publisher, as well.

5. How do you describe Print to people who are unfamiliar with the magazine?
When I’m not speaking to designers, most of whom don’t need Print explained to them, I say we’re the culture magazine you aren’t reading yet, but should be. Social networking, fashion, iPhone apps, animation, rock posters, campaign graphics, graffiti, film, book design, the Sleepytime Tea rebranding, cool historical ephemera, sustainability, sex—we cover it all.

It’s not surprising that we would publish many of the leading visual-culture critics of our day, from our beloved Steve Heller (who now writes a “Daily Heller” newsletter for us) to Virginia Postrel to Debbie Millman to Rick Valicenti to Paul Shaw to George Lois to John Canemaker to Carlo McCormick to Rick Poynor to Alice Twemlow, to up-and-coming writers like Aaron Britt, Alissa Walker, Bill Kartalopoulos, and Douglas Wolk. But not everyone knows how much our community has expanded in the past few years to include writers like Clive Thompson, Michael Musto, Penny Wolfson, Sukhdev Sandhu, Richard Lingeman, A. O. Scott, Ted Allen, Leslie Savan, Tom Vanderbilt, and Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan from Go Fug Yourself.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be half as exciting an experience to open the magazine without Kristina DiMatteo‘s masterful art direction. On the visual side, a few contributors that come to mind are Christoph Niemann, Steve Brodner, Peter Arkle, Camilo Jose Vergara, Maira Kalman, Andrea Dezso, Paula Scher, Kate & Camilla, Abbott Miller, Gregory Crewdson, Honest, Project Projects, Danny Gregory, Gluekit, Mark Mahaney, Sam Potts, Nicholas Blechman, Paul Davis, and Giampietro+Smith. There are far too many great people to name!

Another magazine’s art director recently told me he sees Print as a magazine for people who work on a larger scale than their city or their studio, who engage with the world at large, who want to be inspired. He’s referring to designers and the other visual communicators whose work we feature in the magazine, from filmmakers to web designers to calligraphers to typographers to street artists, but I think it applies to all of our readers. They know visual culture shapes the world and vice versa, and they love to read engaged critiques of it and interviews with the people who do it best.

6. What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from former editor-in-chief Joyce Rutter Kaye?
Joyce has a gift for seeing how a staff will knit together well in advance and trusting them to help her take the magazine to new places. The Sex Issue—a 2004 special issue on the relationship between graphic design and sexual imagery—got an unprecedented number of letters to the editor, both enthusiastic and outraged that a dignified design magazine would run photos of stylish sex toys. It also got a nomination for best single-topic issue at the National Magazine Awards, and was in the same category as Newsweek‘s coverage of the presidential election (which ultimately won).

Even when Joyce set out to make waves, it was always in the service of advancing the cause of design and design journalism. Not only is she supremely well organized, she’s always current, and never became complacent, either, even after ten years at the magazine and numerous National Magazine and Society of Publication Designers awards. This also goes for longtime editor Martin Fox, who was at Print for 40 (!) years and continues to inspire and educate me, and the wonderful Julie Lasky of I.D.

7. Finally, next spring you and Michael Bierut will be teaching a course in SVA’s D-Crit program. Can you tell us a little about the course?
Alice Twemlow’s D-Crit program is one of the most exciting opportunities to result from my work with Print thus far. I met much of the incoming class the other night, and was bowled over by how energetically bright and diverse the students are. I wasn’t the only new faculty member who said aloud that I wish I could enroll in the program. I am not co-teaching with Mr. Bierut, although I really look forward to exchanging ideas about our courses and our shared students. We’re teaching alternating sessions in the spring term about online design writing. Mine is called “Print Meets the Web” and will focus on the ethics, standards, and social dynamics vital to responsible participation in the design blogosphere; Mr. Bierut’s is a “Short-Form Essay Workshop,” appropriately enough, given the thoughtful and essay-rich environment he’s helped foster at Design Observer.

So it all comes down, once again, to blogs, magazines, paper, screens, and the intersection of all of the above. I feel very lucky—and ready to work hard for the magazine and for the good of print culture, on paper and online.

(Photo: Caleb Crain)

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