Reuters’ branding push results in a luxury magazine that is, literally, for the Davos set

Posted on May 2, 2012

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By Joe Pompeo and Tom McGeveran

Over the past few years, Reuters has been adding an impressive array of magazine stars and other marquee reporters to its massive stable of journalists, in the hopes of becoming a more public-facing news and information brand. 

Now the 160-year-old news agency is putting out a magazine of its own where it can showcase this growing collection of print refugees.

The debut issue of Reuters, a slick and stocky standalone title with a cover that looks a bit like it could share shelf space with a hip comic novel, landed on our desk Wednesday afternoon.

A more official unveiling will be rolled out later this month in Davos, Switzerland, when the World Economic Forum meets there. (The forum also provides the magazine its organizing theme.)

“It was really a proof-of-concept exercise,” said Jim Impoco, executive editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and managing editor of the new publication, in a phone interview. “Can we do a print product as part of our consumer-facing push, one that takes advantage of our great photography and new and old stars?”

Reuters is not alone in shaking up its old-school wire-service mien. In addition to acquiring Businessweek in late 2009, Bloomberg has broadened its bench by building up a massive opinion operation. And even the staid Associated Press is making moves to distinguish itself; managing editor Mike Oreskes recently informed writers that the the A.P. is “going to be pushing hard on journalism with voice, with context, with more interpretation.”

But Reuters has gone farther than both in its quest for broader consumer appeal. (It even has a Tumblr!)

The magazine is the latest example of this transformation.

At 64 pages, Reuters has all the meat of a mainstream news magazine and none of the filler. (There are no ads, unless you count a few stray promotional placements for the company itself, which merged with Canadian information-services giant The Thomson Corporation in 2008.) The artistic side was helmed by veteran design duo Robert Priest and Grace Lee, both of whom had a hand in Condé Nast’s ill-fated business title, Portfolio —once employer to at least four Reuters contributors (including Impoco himself), by our count.

The thick, heavily varnished stock is luxurious enough for Davos, but gives the thing a bit of the feel of an alumni magazine; the pages are too heavy a lift to encourage browsing, an essential element in any real commercial magazine. And the typefaces, while correct, are somewhat par for the course: The similarity to the persistently common Mercury was enough to fool us amateurs (it’s actually Lyon, from the foundry Commercial Type).*

Recognizable too are Andy Friedman’s author-profile illustrations; you’ve seen similar art in every new magazine project of the last two years (Newsweek, for instance).

But to a nonspecialist the design is likely to make Reuters stand out in its competitive set. Most magazines these days can be defined by where they strike the balance between readability and zazz. Businessweek is beautiful, but quite sober in its decisions, really; Reuters seems to be putting itself in many of its pages more in the territory of Wired, with extravagant use of silver metallic ink and spot-varnish, ambitious infographics, crazily cropped and placed photography and lots of new ideas about leading and kerning.

All this adds up to a great sale to the Davos-goers, whose self-concept is after all forward-thinkingness; if Reuters is meant to remind a population of influencers that there is lots of stuff to read and look at on Reuters besides yesterday’s closing copper prices, it will certainly succeed, but it probably needs to get a little less luxe if it decides to go full-steam-ahead and find a large, general-interest audience.

As for the content, in addition to a front-of-book photo portfolio featuring a dozen iconic news images from the past year, flip through and you’ll find features and columns written by much of the talent Reuters has recruited in recent seasons.

Here’s Bethany McClean on “Faith-Based Economic Theory” in the Republican presidential campaigns; Jonathan Weber on the Arab Spring (accompanied by a sidebar of “Middle East uprising” tweets compiled by social-media superstar Anthony DeRosa); David Rohde on “The Drone Wars”; Chrystia Freeland on “The One Percent War” (billed on the cover as “THE HAVES VS. THE HAVE LOTS” and presented in a very Businessweeky layout); Jack Shafer on WikiLeaks.

What Reuters magazine would be complete without a wonky book review by Felix Salmon? Or a parting-shot conversation between Sir Harold Evans and Condoleezza Rice? And is that former Harper‘s editor-in-chief Roger D. Hodge we see lurking in the masthead alongside Sports Illustrated and Hearst alum Bob Roe? (Though not on staff at Reuters, they both pitched in as assistant managing editors.)

“We assembled a sort of Navy Seal team to put it together,” said Impoco, who’s also been an editor for The New York Times business section, among other publications. “I used to be at Fortune, and if we’d had a line-up like that, we’d have been doing the happy dance all through the ’90s.”

10,000 copies will be distributed, including 5,000 between Jan. 24 and 29 during the Forum—in conference centers; on British Airways; aboard the exclusive helicopter company commissioned to schlep attendees back and forth between events; in Davos’ 20 major hotels; and on the ground by way of “some very warmly dressed” street team members, said Impoco. (Individual copies will be mailed directly to a “very select list of top clients,” he added.)

The plans for Reuters were hatched back in October by Freeland, former U.S. managing editor of The Financial Times, current editor of Reuters Digital and a regular on the cable news circuit; and Stephen Adler, the former Businessweek editor hired as editor-in-chief of Reuters last February.

With Bloomberg L.P.‘s purchase of Businessweek it was speculated that a staff of magazine editors would be mostly turning copy meant for distribution over Bloomberg’s research terminals into magazine copy, but in fact the magazine has staffed up all on its own and is largely a marquee entity with little relationship to the Bloomberg daily churn of news.

Nevertheless, it’s done what it is supposed to do: It burnished the Bloomberg brand and made it resonate with people who don’t have access to much Bloomberg content.

In May of last year, a poll conducted by Vanity Fair and “60 Minutes” found that 36 percent of respondents had no idea what Reuters was. 42 percent said it was a global news agency. That was correct, but the fact that the question “What is Reuters?” was asked in the first place would have been cause for worry, surely.

If they were looking for a place to concentrate their message about the Reuters brand to a small but heavily networked band of influencers, they could not have chosen better than to distribute a fancy magazine at Davos.

Impoco, they decided, should run the thing.

After returning from a meeting with Adler one afternoon, Freeland, who shares an office with Impoco, turned to her deputy and said: “What do you think about doing a magazine aimed at Davos?”

His initial reaction was one of panic, given that there were only about three months to pull it together.

“But she gave me that Slavic look of hers and said, ‘You can do it,’ and I said, ‘OK,’” Impoco said.

“It wasn’t a hard sell” to get people on board to contribute, he said. “People were really thrilled.” (Most of them are former print folks, after all.)

“I was very happy to talk ideas with Impoco and write the piece for him,” said Shafer, who came to Reuters after the online magazine Slate laid him off last summer. “The only real difference between writing for glossy and for the Web is that the editor has more time, hence leverage, to request revisions. In my case it was a good thing!”

Some contributors were mistaken, however, in thinking they were working on the first-ever Reuters magazine. In fact, the company published one back in the early 2000s, but it was discontinued

And in the future?

“There’s a possibility of another issue for sure,” said Impoco.

Perhaps even a third or fourth issue? Maybe eventually one that ads will be sold against?

“All of those options are being considered, but no final decision has been made,” he said, though he stressed that digital still comes first: “99.999 percent of what we do is going to remain electronic.”

Maybe so, but “everybody loves print,” Impoco said. “At the end of the day, it feels good to hold a magazine in your hands and cuddle up with it.”

*CORRECTION: I am a little ashamed to admit I misidentified one of the typefaces, which, if I’d asked I could have avoided; that will teach me to be overconfident in my type recognition skills. Priest + Grace gracefully set us straight, for which I am thankful. – Tom McGeveran

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