When it comes to covering the world’s bumps and scrapes, I’ve been witness to a few. When I arrived at the bbc in 1989 Aids, and the activism surrounding it, was a top story. The crisis dominated public and private-sector agendas, public-awareness campaigns were unmissable and people felt a mix of fear, anger and optimism. Shortly after, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Middle East lit up. There was a civil war in Liberia. And with the fall of the Iron Curtain, Europe was patching itself back together.
In that gentler era of desktop phones and fax machines, brown-envelope internal mail and nightly newscasts, information travelled remarkably well. Most of the time it landed with not just decent velocity but a high degree of accuracy. If I think back to my news diet in 1989, I was reading The Independent and the International Herald Tribune, watching cnn and the Nine O’Clock News on the bbc, and dipping into the World Service. From time to time I would struggle through Der Spiegel and Il Tempo. I would go down to Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus to buy Rolling Stone and New York magazine. I thrived on this diet until I went through my own bumps and scrapes in Afghanistan (shot twice, lost the use of my left hand; you’ve likely heard this story) and started to rethink how I wanted to work as a journalist.
Rather than throwing everything into becoming a better foreign correspondent I decided to go into business and launched the magazine Wallpaper*. I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs (my mom is an artist, my father was a professional sportsman) so I didn’t grow up in a household where brands were being built, deals struck or funds cleverly invested. Nevertheless I waded into the media business with the help of friends, the patience of colleagues and the wisdom of a number of advisors and collaborators – thank you Paul, Herbert, Alexander, Anne, Nancy and Nancy, Isolde and Patrick. Shortly after we launched in 1996, it looked like this internet thing might turn into something. Did we really need to start using email?
For a brief span we managed to ignore the digital creep but soon it proved to be a bump for the traditional media sector. It was on the verge of getting seriously out of hand until September 2001 and all that came after – a halt to much global air travel, a whole new era of security and an end to cockpit visits for kiddies and aviation nerds. The world recovered after a while and, just as it looked as though we would sail out of the decade richer and digitally enlightened, along came the collapse of 2008 – more than a bump and scrape: a proper implosion.
At monocle we see that as the year our message – keep an eye on your core mission, remain positive, stay engaged and get out in the world – started to come good. I’m reminding myself of this mantra given the current situation with coronavirus. As the flow of information isn’t quite as linear as it used to be, the days running up to the completion of this issue were filled with a minute-by-minute stream of updates telling us about every infection, event cancellation and stock-market dive. At the same time, the commercial corners of our business were being thumped by advertising cancellations, logistics disruptions and everything else that comes with a nasty virus, which has revealed that, no matter how many bad movies have been made on the topic, we lack a proper, joined-up plan.
I’ve long believed that you need to be out there, confront risks and face the odd fear. At the time of writing this (2 March), I’m sitting on a Finnair flight bound for Helsinki. I’m sticking with my agenda as it was set in the middle of February and, while I’m skipping Seoul, I’m still seeing partners in Finland and will spend the balance of the week with my colleagues and collaborators in Japan. By the time you receive this issue we might see improvements in some corners of the world – but it seems unlikely. Regardless, we need to keep the pilot light of the global economy flickering – particularly among vulnerable start-ups and smes. We will weather this and it is going to be tough.
As this publication relies on advertising, we’re facing some slim months and it’s for this reason that it would be wonderful if you took out a subscription (if you haven’t done so already) – you’ll get a smart tote too. Better yet, introduce a few friends and colleagues to monocle. We expect to see newsstands particularly challenged over the coming months, so the best way to ensure speedy delivery of your magazine and also help bolster our offer is a good old subscription. And yes, we’re working on a digital concept as well. As ever, do drop me a note (email@example.com) with your thoughts, comments and questions. Cheers and thank you for your support.