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Steven Dinkelspiel | Photo: Sara Lafleur-Vetter | January 6, 2012
“So what the heck does a publisher do, anyway?”
As I’ve mentioned in this column before, I get asked that question with some frequency, and I have tried to answer it a number of times.
But now I will tell you the whole truth. The publisher is responsible for all sorts of fascinating and fun things: representing the magazine in the community, going to all kinds of events, helping to sell ads and market the product, watching the bottom line, and writing notes like these.
The publisher’s most important job, though, is to find a fantastic editor and then get out of his or her way. Sure, you have to help define an overall tone and voice for the magazine and be the editor’s sounding board, encouraging supporter, and most honest critic. But the real trick is to recruit an editor who is much smarter and more creative than you are and give that editor the room he or she needs to create a fantastic magazine.
I got very lucky at a lunch with Bruce Kelley 11 years ago. I was looking for a new editor-in-chief, and Bruce told me he wasn’t interested in the job because he didn’t like my magazine very much. Instead of getting defensive, I told him I agreed; I had great aspirations for San Francisco, and I needed his talent to help me realize them. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. (And a great collaboration.)
But this is Bruce’s last issue at the helm of San Francisco. He has accepted a position as a deputy editor at ESPN The Magazine. So what if its circulation is 26 times ours and he gets to hang out with all kinds of sports idols? It’s in Bristol, Connecticut, for god’s sake. Bruce is a Bay Area native. What’s he going to do when he craves some fresh Dungeness crab?
I’m not yet ready to forgive him for leaving me, but I owe him a ton and I wish him well. Bruce showed me that for a magazine to be superb, it needs to listen to
and understand its readers; it needs to be clever, insightful, and always useful; and it needs to devote pages to beautiful images before committing to longer narratives, but having both is the very best. He taught me that spotting and defining trends before others recognize them, rather than simply reflecting on where we are or where we’ve come from, makes a magazine an essential read, and that wit and a point of view keep us all engaged. Put these things together, as Bruce did, and you just might win a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in Edit and Design, as San Francisco did in 2010.
Thank you, Bruce, for being a great editor and friend. But be forewarned. I am busy looking for your replacement and just might find someone who tells me, as you did 11 years ago, that he or she has a lot of wonderful ideas for how to make the magazine different—and even better. I hope I am still smart enough to spot the talent, and to give your successor the room to build on your success.
Let me know when you crave that crab. I’ll send it to you overnight—and I promise it will be locally sourced.
Steven Dinkelspiel, President