It’s been a week since Daily Show host Jon Stewart sliced and diced some of the top consumer magazine editors
at a Magazine Publishers of America
Ad Week panel in New York. And judging from some of the cacophonous buzz since, you would think the history of magazines will be divided henceforth into two time periods: B.S. and A.S. (“Before Stewart” and “After”).
It seems that whatever publishers;including the panelists
;thought of the event, it struck a nerve with more authority than any MPA event has before (Mediabistro's FishbowlNY
bloggerista Rachel Sklar devoted 7,100-plus words over
, not including a summation
three days later, for one measure). Nonetheless, there are at least two questions that have bubbled to the surface in the event’s aftermath: Did Stewart’s criticism of magazines’ relevance;rendered however funny;ring at all true? And should the MPA have spent a hefty sum;reportedly $150,000 for Stewart and $100,000 on the event;for Stewart to rip into magazines in front of a roomful of advertisers?
The answers, predictably, have been mixed.
“Comedy is reductive,” says Esquire editor David Granger. “In order to make a joke, you’ve got to reduce the joke to its most ridiculous point. He did that, but it’s an exaggeration. He does the same thing for every medium and just about every facet of human endeavor.”
“Stewart chose to chide magazines for not being an immediate source of information,” says Granger. “That’s only one function of magazines.”
“Since Jon Stewart’s job is to be funny, not to champion the magazine industry, it sounds like he did his job,” says Time Out New York president and group publisher Alison Tocci. “Yes, it was a little bit at the expense of the industry and some of its greatest egos, but it’s great publicity nonetheless. Sometimes I wish the industry would be a little less defensive.”
“To avoid becoming irrelevant, magazine publishers need to stop pretending we're the only game in town,” says Travis Daub of Washington, D.C.-based Foreign Policy. “If more publishers wake up and realize this as a result of Jon Stewart's talk, then that $250,000 was the best money MPA has spent all year.”
Others were not so sure. “Certainly for niche publishers, this kind of event is totally irrelevant and a total waste of money,” said one MPA member who declined to be identified. “There's no way an executive in the magazine business loved it,” said another major consumer magazine publisher, “but the clients I talked to afterwards actually enjoyed it, so my attitude changed a little bit.”
Stewart's outsider perspective was a breath of fresh air to some. “I never have a problem with anyone questioning our industry's conventional wisdom,” says Aspire Media’s Clay Hall. “To not question it and to not evolve is to die a slow, painful death.”
“Anyone who is trying to pretend magazines are the number one media are seriously delusional,” says Daub. “I get the sense Jon Stewart was picking up on some of those delusions when he gave his speech, and it's just that sort of tunnel vision that makes me worried for the magazine industry's future.”
“Now, with that said, I do not agree that magazines are irrelevant,” Daub adds. “I wouldn't work on a magazine if I felt that way.”
Others felt Stewart's apparent lack of respect for magazines was exaggerrated too. “Does anyone really think Jon Stewart doesn't read and respect the magazines he personally likes?,” notes Spin publisher Jake Hill. “Or that he trusts the blog-of-the-moment more than Seymour Hersh?”
“I do have a problem with the MPA spending $250,000 for members' entertainment,” says Hall. “For $2.50, any number of us in the industry would have happily delivered the message (that) our industry's current delivery vehicle (print, paper, postage) is doomed and that we must find new ways for content delivery. Nevertheless, none of us could have delivered the message quite as humorously or articulately.”
Adds Granger: “I think Jon’s off-the-cuff remarks about the value of magazines should be considered in the light of how eagerly and often he has agreed to appear on their covers and in their pages.”