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In their own words

Maer Roshan: 'Radar Magazine Will Be Under the Microscope as Soon as It Debuts'
The editor of the soon-to-launch title says that new magazines can succeed in tough times "if they stay lean and provide content or an attitude readers can't find elsewhere."

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 02/18/03

Maer Roshan is the editor of the upcoming Radar magazine, one of the most anticipated magazine launches of 2003. Roshan previously was a deputy editor at New York magazine before Tina Brown hired him to be the editorial director of the high-profile Talk, which folded early last year.

Roshan spoke with I Want Media about his goals for Radar, the advantages of working within a tight budget, why readers may find "a little bad taste" in his new magazine, and how generating buzz can "cut both ways."

I Want Media: Describe Radar. What is it about?

Maer Roshan: Radar is a smart, opinionated magazine about news, pop culture, style and politics that's geared to a young, urban audience. It's an independent, irreverent general-interest magazine. At a time when magazines have become increasingly bland and celebrity obsessed, we'll try to offer an alternative -- a magazine that won't talk down to readers, pander to publicists or be edited by focus groups. We can't even afford focus groups, actually.

IWM: When will it launch? What will be its frequency?

Roshan: Radar will launch on April 15 -- which I just learned is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Our first three issues will be monthly. In early September we hope to go biweekly, which means we'll come out twice a month, like Rolling Stone, Fortune and ESPN magazine.

IWM: Who is the typical Radar reader?

Roshan: The magazine is aimed at educated readers in their 20s and 30s, media-savvy urbanites with a sense of humor and $3.50 to spare. There's a whole generation of young readers who share a unique sensibility and common values. [This is the audience] behind the success of "Sex and the City," "Six Feet Under" and "The Daily Show"; the people who've turned Dave Eggers, Candace Bushnell and David Sedaris into best-selling writers. Five million people subscribe to HBO just for "Sex and the City." Radar would be a success if it reached just 10 percent of them.

IWM: Who are your backers?

Roshan: Some of our backers, like Michael Fuchs, have chosen to publicly discuss their involvement in this project. But most of them have preferred to keep their anonymity, and I think it's wise to oblige them.

IWM: One of your backers, Michael Fuchs, recently was quoted as saying this "isn't the best environment to come out with a new magazine." Would you agree?

Roshan: I'd be an idiot not to concede that the industry has seen better times, but it's also true that while tech or business magazines have been hit the hardest, other categories, especially general-interest magazines, are doing just fine. Michael said in another interview that there's no bad time for a good idea, and I agree with that.

Ultimately, Radar's success or failure will be determined by its concept and content. If we're able to connect with our readers and fulfill a need, we'll do very well. There's a long list of magazines, from Fortune to The New Yorker, that were founded in lean economic times. In some ways, I think starting up during a recession can be good for a new publication. Austerity imposes a discipline that's very positive in the long run.

IWM: You have already lined up an interesting array of writers, including Jonathan van Meter, Jake Tapper, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Mark Leyner, Katherine Rosman and Toby Young. Is Radar already staffed? Do you plan to work with many freelancers?

Roshan: We've been fully staffed for about a month now, but we're certainly interested in freelance pitches. Many of the writers I'm bringing to Radar worked with me at New York and Talk, but other editors have brought their own writers, and we're always looking to add new voices to the mix.

IWM: Your former boss at Talk magazine, Tina Brown, will be working for you as a contributor. Will editing her work feel strange or uncomfortable?

Roshan: I also edited Tina at Talk. I assigned her to write her "Diary" for my first issue [at Talk], in September 2001. Compared to some writers I've worked with, Tina's actually a pretty easy edit, though [Talk senior editor] Sam Sifton worked with her more closely than I did.

IWM: Would you describe Tina Brown as your mentor?

Roshan: She's certainly one of them. I have great admiration for her perseverance, and her intelligence and her wit -- and for the profound effect she's had on modern magazines. We worked well together at Talk. When I was in college at NYU I wrote a term paper on Tina, which proved helpful during our occasional disagreements. She'd lecture me about a spread she found vulgar, and I'd say, "Who was it that told '60 Minutes' the key to a great magazine is a little bad taste?"

IWM: Will readers find "a little bad taste" in Radar?

Roshan: Bad taste is in the eye of the beholder, don't you think? We're not going to do anything gross or prurient, if that's what you're asking. But we'll also try not to play it safe all the time. Radar should surprise and provoke its readers intellectually and aesthetically.

IWM: What did you learn from your experience at Talk magazine?

Roshan: Accept a three-year contract when you're offered one.

IWM: Tina Brown has said that Talk magazine could have been a success if it had been given more time. Do you believe that its backers, Miramax and Hearst, pulled out too quickly?

Roshan: I wasn't happy when our backers pulled the plug, but I won't second-guess their decision. I wasn't privy to the details of Talk's financial situation, but I know that after the ad market dried up on September 11, the outlook seemed pretty grim. But most magazines need five years to show a profit, and Talk, after a shaky start, was headed in the right direction. Shortly after the magazine folded, ABC audits revealed that Talk's circulation had grown by 16 percent during its last five issues, a growth rate similar to Maxim's. In two-and-half years, Talk achieved a circulation higher than that of Esquire and just about equal to GQ's. If we were granted a little more time, I think we could have pulled it off.

IWM: Tina Brown was quoted in the Wall Street Journal in October saying, "The big, traditional, commercial magazine launch is a very antediluvian beast. If I was to do Talk again, I would do it on the Web." How do you feel about such sentiments?

Roshan: I think she's right. Certainly, one doesn't want to be antediluvian. The era of the big, traditional launch is over, but that's not what we're setting out to do here. Recent startups like Blender and Budget Living have proved that magazines can succeed if they stay lean and provide readers with content or an attitude they can't find elsewhere. You can't work at an independent magazine and expect a Conde Nast lifestyle. We don't have a town car service or an account at the Four Seasons. Thankfully, there are some really talented people willing to sacrifice a degree of comfort or income in exchange for editorial independence and job satisfaction -- both increasingly rare commodities in the magazine business these days.

IWM: What sort of Web presence are you planning for Radar? Will the magazine's articles be online?

Roshan: We're developing our site right now, and it should be up next month. What we have up now is just a Web version of our media kit. The real site will feature a good portion of content from the magazine, message boards and a few items unique to the site. I suspect the intern cam will be a real hit.

IWM: Wouldn't people be more interested in an "editor cam" aimed at you?

Roshan: Actually, the intern's a lot better looking.

IWM: "Radar" is an interesting name. How did you come to choose it?

Roshan: Shortly after we thought up the magazine, I pitched the concept to American Media and they asked me to make a presentation. The night before I had to fly to Boca, [Fla., American Media's headquarters,] we still hadn't settled on a name. A bunch of us sat around over drinks and threw out ideas. Finally, at around 4 a.m., [deputy editor] Andrew Lee threw out "Radar." We went with it, though I remember a violent, drunken argument about whether it was "too nineties." But people seem to like it.

IWM: Launching a magazine is a very challenging endeavor. What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs who dream of launching a magazine?

Roshan: Marry rich. Believe in your vision. Develop a thick skin.

IWM: Radar is generating a lot of pre-launch buzz. But even a tremendous amount of buzz -- as Talk magazine demonstrates -- will not keep a magazine in business. How will you keep Radar from Talk's fate?

Roshan: I'll hire fewer publicists! Actually, the coverage we've received so far has been helpful in attracting investors and advertisers, but it's a bit unsettling as well. As you've noted, Talk proved that buzz can cut both ways. Building something that will last takes time and money, and one benefit of anonymity is that it gives you time to get everything up to speed. You can work out the inevitable kinks while flying under the radar, so to speak.

As a consequence of all this build-up, Radar will be under the microscope as soon as it debuts, and I know how distracting and debilitating that can be. Ultimately, there's not much you can do to control this kind of thing. You just have to ignore the noise and keep focused on the vision. That's all that really matters in the end.

IWM: You have apparently helped Radar generate quite a lot of pre-launch buzz. Are you positioning yourself as something of a male Tina Brown?

Roshan: A male Tina Brown? There's a thought. Unfortunately, I don't have the wardrobe and can't quite pull off the accent.




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