Thriving, thrusting media should be the heartbeat of a city; in the thick of it, asking the big questions and entertaining commuters and natives alike. Monocle visits three outlets that set the agendas for their cities in print and across the airwaves.
It’s not surprising that New York magazine originated from the same person who delivered the “I heart NY” logo to the world. Just like the ubiquitous design, New York magazine is part of the fabric of the city. It’s everywhere and every New Yorker – from the neophyte to the born-and-bred native – feels a kinship with the title.
Milton Glaser, the man responsible for the magazine’s founding along with Clay Felker in 1968, has described the early years as a primitive operation. Forty-seven years later, editor in chief Adam Moss sits in a corner office on the western cusp of Soho overseeing an award-winning staff of nearly 250. There is nothing hodgepodge about it: the words “New York” splash across a bright red wall as you exit the lift to the expansive fourth floor on Varick Street, where the smart and edgy writers tap away, designers pore over layouts and the photo team obsess in the in-house studio over still-life shoots.
“Glaser and Felker viewed New York as the centre of the earth,” says Moss. “They wanted to cover it well but they also understood that New Yorkers were sophisticated people who were interested in the whole world.” That lens still shapes the magazine but the digital age brought its content to a wider audience: today more than 80 per cent of the online readership is outside New York.
Since beginning his tenure Moss has led an extensive digital expansion and in 2014 New York magazine scaled back from publishing weekly to printing 29 issues a year. Heartbeats fluttered and there was a resounding question: is print finally dead?
Moss and his staff saw it differently. A weekly was no longer relevant as a news source. Instead they would make a print magazine that was focused and tactile. “We hoped it would be better, richer and that people might appreciate that,” says Moss.
Readers have stayed enthusiastic and advertising hasn’t wavered. Digitally, it’s thriving. Since 2005, the publication has won 30 National Magazine Awards, many of which are for its digital presence. The golden trophies are sporadically placed around the sprawling editorial floor as if the magazine has run out of places to put them.
The digital arm, under the supervision of Ben Williams, still doesn’t lose touch with its voice even though it attracts a readership far beyond the city. “We went from being about a New York of a physical place to being a New York of the mind,” says Williams.
The staff connects with the mentality of a New Yorker and delivers in written content as well as photography and design. “One of the main things that I’m thinking about is moving the needle,” says photo director Jody Quon. “You don’t want the photography or the voice to be stagnant. You want a constant evolution.”
The city’s state of mind is fast-paced and evolving, demanding the same from the places that serve it. The publication is simultaneously accessible and progressive. That means smartly discussing everything from feminist issues to Madonna’s diet on its popular fashion and lifestyle section The Cut; lending its beloved art critic Jerry Saltz for an uninhibited session at Frieze New York called “Ask Jerry”; and nixing the anonymity of its long-time restaurant critic Adam Platt by photographing him for a 2013 cover story. At a towering 2 metres tall, Platt says he was never really that anonymous anyway.
The content is reflective of the city. The Cut is unafraid to be simultaneously frivolous and serious – even publishing internal conversations on its “Chat Room”, which reads like a group of well-educated women dissecting feminist issues over brunch. And Platt’s no-nonsense restaurant rankings are the pivotal resource on New Yorkers’ favourite pastime: dining out. “Restaurants are a window into the city,” he tells MONOCLE over a lamb burger at Greenwich Village bistro Claudette.
The requisite at New York magazine isn’t to publish stories first; what is essential here is its voice. “Our lens is our product,” says Moss. “The set of characteristics we ascribe to, what we do when we tell stories through words or pictures that point of view, those characteristics are those that we associate with New Yorkers.”
Designed in the mid-1960s by architect and urban critic Assem Salam, Lebanon’s Ministry of Information sits in a block of clean-lined, unassuming government buildings. It has an understated elegance; its green panels reaching upward from a handful of flowering trees. To reach the offices of Radio Liban, Beirut’s oldest and most erudite radio station, you enter the ministry and pass a dozen tiny broadcast studios, all of them reserved for the state-run Arabic stations. Climb a set of stairs and you arrive at a warren of deep-blue rooms lined with shelves full of records, reel-to-reels, cassettes and CDs meticulously arranged and eclectically selected. Birds of West Africa rests alongside Louis Armstrong’s Ambassador Satch, Richard Strauss’s Salomé and a documentary series looping from Nefertiti to Stendhal and Foucault.
Radio Liban broadcasts 12 hours a day in French, offering everything from serious classical music to obscure indie rock and freewheeling jazz. Interview programmes and three short daily bursts of local news pop up in-between. The staff of around 25 features artists (such as Gheith al-Amine) as well as impresarios of Beirut’s underground music scene (such as the inimitable Ziad Nawfal, host of much-loved shows Ruptures and Décalages). Prominent alumni include writer Médéa Azouri and award-winning curator Christine Tohmé.
At a time when boutiques and beauty salons tend to blast mainstream pop-music stations, when Arabic call-in shows are chaotic but popular and the Communist party still runs its own station (Sawt al-Shaab, Voice of the People) to compete with its right-wing rival (Sawt Lebnan, Voice of Lebanon), Radio Liban stands out for being serious about music and the range of its tastes. Its audience is primarily the educated francophone elite but it also draws in a niche that knows everything about music and still wants to hear something new. It reflects the part of Beirut that has always been cultivated and exposed to the world.
“It’s the only station that still has everything,” says Michèle de Freige, Radio Liban’s director. “People listen to us because we have everything.”
Founded by the French in 1938 and known in its first decade as Radio Orient, Radio Liban today is in many ways an anomaly. It is committed to broadcasting in French at a time when Beirut is more and more partial to Arabic and English. The station does not stream, cannot be listened to online and is only available on old-fashioned radio players as a live broadcast. There are no archives. There is no advertising, either. And although it is government-owned, Radio Liban runs like a family. “We are all volunteers here because we are very badly paid,” says De Freige, who joined the station as a young journalist in 1977. Back then she did a morning news show and played music at night as a way of to avoid the civil war, which had started two years earlier and, over the next decade, all but decimated the radio, its staff and its listeners before coming to an end in the early 1990s.
“It was a real battle to maintain and it still is,” says De Freige. “No one cares. But like everything else in this country, when you want something you do it. You don’t ask. I’ve told myself a thousand times that I should quit.” What keeps her going, she says, is the hyperactivity of Beirut’s cultural life and the radio’s ability to capture it all. “It’s a mad city. We are all crazy. But every day we have people coming and going, so much happening in art, music, fashion and design.”
“I love every kind of music,” she says. “I am not sectarian in my choices. And in terms of news and interviews, because we are in French, we have a certain liberty in speaking that we wouldn’t have in Arabic. We have to believe in what we are doing to carry on.”
“It’s 27c on Gran Vía, nine o’clock in Madrid and eight in Las Canarias,” announces veteran broadcaster Pepa Bueno as a punchy melody chimes into the day’s headlines. It is local and regional election season in Spain and for Bueno this means punishingly long days. Awake since 04.00, her morning news show Hoy por Hoy on Prisa Radio’s national station Cadena SER is the most listened to in Spain. Today her production team has descended from the eighth-floor studio, bringing along its more than three million daily listeners for a live pre-election debate at Madrid’s College of Architects.
For 90 years the broadcaster has been capturing the sounds and stories of the city and beyond. Founded by a dynastic media family and formally inaugurated by King Alfonso xiii as Unión Radio in 1925, prime real estate on Madrid’s central boulevard Gran Vía has placed the broadcaster in pole position. Perched atop what was once the Almacenes Madrid-Paris department store (today Inditex reigns below), la SER has shaped the daily debate from its soundproofed studios and chronicled events as they unfold on the street.
In 1931, when Republicans proclaimed the Second Spanish Republic from Puerta del Sol Plaza (just a few blocks away), they did so with a Unión Radio microphone. The Spanish capital was laid to siege during the civil war but journalists kept broadcasting until the very end – even as bombs rained down over the city. Many dark decades of Franco-imposed censorship ensued but as Spain prepared for democratic elections in 1977, the station (which became Cadena SER in 1940), was there moderating the debate. A mobile network of intrepid news journalists has been crisscrossing the city ever since, scooping an earful of exclusives along the way. In 1981, Madrileños listened intently as a live transmission from the Spanish parliament was interrupted by a military coup. The clandestine microphone stayed on all night as producers and presenters attempted to make sense of the live audio feed back at the Gran Vía studios.
Switch the dial forward to the present day and Cadena SER now boasts offices in more than 50 local, regional and national areas dotted across the country. Most of the action is concentrated in the capital, alongside several other popular Prisa Radio stations that dominate the Spanish airwaves. “We’re right in the city’s epicentre,” says Javier del Pino, who has been with the station for more than 25 years. “It makes it easier to bring high-profile guests into the studio.”
MONOCLE trails the Radio Madrid team down to the river as the city celebrates its annual San Isidro festival. Live music, chats with local celebrities and plenty of fiesta-fuelled city pride: it’s not every day you get to actually see radio.
A few blocks away, back at the College of Architects, Bueno’s debate is about to commence. Each politician has arrived with a generous entourage and the fanatical cries of their handpicked cheer squad punctuate every perfectly timed 30-second soundbite. Unruly and unpredictable; it’s live radio at its streetside best and, despite all the untamable noise, these microphones have already got the whole city talking.