Men in Media: the case of FourTwoNine

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The dynamics of the web are changing the rules of the publishing game, animating a new species of independent magazine that not only is gaining traction, but also has solved the paper versus digital puzzle in a way that surpasses all expectations. In fact, despite the high-speed world of internet consumption, the allure of paper continues to hold its own, as can be seen from the vast and diverse offering of lifestyle publications that cast photography and art direction as the lead players and paper as the blank canvas of full expression to produce a performance of stunning creative impact.

But the greatest challenge faced by the publishing platforms, both new and established, is to deliver increasingly richer interactive content and to engage the reader in a one-to-one relationship. To learn more about this particular publishing story, we spoke with Richard Klein, founder of Surface magazine and now publisher of FourTwoNine, and Maer Roshan, the top journalist appointed to helm the magazine, which debuted in 2013. Founded as an independent endeavour to harness collective power through talks and meetings, the project then morphed into a glossy magazine featuring some of the globe’s top editors, artists and photographers. Every issue of FourTwoNine showcases the latest in fashion, design, entertainment, sport, technology, media, business and politics, shining the spotlight on the thought leaders and innovators who are guiding and influencing contemporary culture.

How did you get into publishing and what led to the launch of Surface?

 Richard Klein: My background is in design and art direction. I launched Surface when I was in my early twenties, originally as a gallery in the SOMA district of San Francisco. The idea was to create a social space to spotlight young artists and to bring creative people together to socialize and exchange creative ideas. FourTwoNine is similar in concept but leverages technology and a social network to connect and aggregate people. We organize conversation diary events, cocktail parties and other happenings throughout the United States to which we invite business and industry leaders to give thematic talks. We gave Maer Roshan the support needed to build on his extensive publishing experience (New York Magazine, details, Radar, Talk, Hollywood Reporter) and free editorial reign to take FourTwoNine in edgy new directions.

How did the idea of FourTwoNine come to life?

Richard Klein – Maer Roshan: FourTwoNine started off four years ago as a magazine and social network directed at the gay men, influencers and creative leaders that work and live in America’s major cities. Our current format builds on this important target market while embracing the fact that sexual orientation has changed significantly in the past decade, with the boundaries between gay and straight becoming much looser, especially among the younger generations. Many urban men don’t identify as gay but still share the same irreverent, creative, push-the-envelope approach to life. Moreover, we noticed that some of the magazine’s most enthusiastic fans were straight men and even some women so, although the website and the magazine will both continue to feature some gay content, most of our stories and style coverage will be broad enough to attract a wider audience.

How do you see the future for magazines versus the web?

Maer Roshan: FourTwoNine is designed around the fact that print and online publications have different strengths and metabolisms. The web is ideal for streaming new information as it breaks so the 429.com website gives us a way to dynamically enrich our content while informing readers about many of today’s trending topics in business, politics, culture, finance, style, travel, art and design, music and fashion. The challenge for magazines in the digital age is to offer something that the web cannot replicate. For me it comes down to aesthetics and the senses. Our focal point is photography and art direction. For example, our masthead cites not only some of the world’s top photographers but also some of the most talented emerging lens masters. There is nothing better than curling up and feasting your eyes on a beautifully curated magazine. The magic of a color photo on special paper cannot be appreciated on a screen. There’s something more enduring and special about a magazine that you can hold in your hands. It’s something to treasure and keep, unlike the seemingly ephemeral nature of most web content. In fact, my latest project is a perfumed issue of FourTwoNine in which each story will be infused with a specific fragrance that the reader can actually smell.  You can’t do that on the Internet.

From San Francesco to Los Angeles: tell us about the magazine’s new shift in direction

Maer Roshan: FourTwoNine is a national magazine that differs from America’s other publications in that it operates not out of New York but Los Angeles, which gives us a fresh and unique perspective. In recent years the pendulum of culture has swung dramatically from the East Coast to the West, where the obvious points of reference are Hollywood, Silicon Valley in San Francisco and Seattle’s music scene. But other West-coast cities like Portland and San Diego are creating their own political, music, art, fashion and food buzzes too. We want to give these local stories the coverage they deserve but don’t get in most magazines, while continuing our nationwide dialogue.

How will you avoid falling into the trap of gay stereotypes and clichés to, instead, offer a more compelling point of view?

Maer Roshan:  I am 100% allergic to clichés and stereotypes and believe the magazine reflects that. The latest issue of FourTwoNine features four guest covers: The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, the star of Moonlight Ashton Sanders, the iconic filmmaker John Waters, and the world’s first gay superstar Brian Anderson. This to show that being gay is not a question of one-size-fits-all and that our interests and tastes are wide-ranging. Gays live in a vast and variegated universe and different things appeal to different people, so gay issues are not something I feel the magazine needs to obsess about. In fact, rather than offering solely gay content, FourTwoNine builds on the creative sensibilities of the LGBTA community, breaks down boundaries and blends irreverence with style.

What does the future hold in store?

Maer Roshan:  We are keen to grow FourTwoNine as a cutting-edge magazine and to make the 429.com website even more dynamic and market responsive, covering the latest news and innovations in technology, entertainment, design, media and politics. Also the success of the events and conferences held across the United States means we will be organizing many more networking opportunities.
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