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IT’S REALLY FOR ME: Bloomberg Businessweek editor in chief Josh Tyrangiel refused to use a mic. He left his shirt untucked and kept his hands in his chino pockets, and let his voice drop to a stagey depth as he strutted in front of the room of Columbia graduate journalism students who had come Thursday night to hear him and Businessweek creative director Richard Turley reveal the recipe that has made the magazine a favorite among design lovers (and award-givers) since the two helmed its redesign two years ago.
As the pair walked the audience through a slideshow of some of the design-y covers with which they’ve seduced the media community, it occurred to an older member of the audience to ask Tyrangiel who the editor imagined the reader of his inordinately pretty business publication to be.
The dude-itor took it on. “To be totally honest, the target audience is me,” said Tyrangiel, who previously served as deputy managing editor of Time. “I endured a couple — I worked for a couple of editors who really believed that you could fictionalize your audience. And I remember one editor, who shall remain nameless, said, ‘No. Our reader is a 48-year-old woman. She’s a librarian. She has a graduate degree. She lives in Missouri.’ And I said, ‘That’s crazy.’ Not only is it crazy because it’s something you just made up, but it’s crazy because you are not that person.
“It’s a taste gig,” he added. “By and large my job is to be a proxy, and to have Catholic tastes. And if it doesn’t work, know that you’re going to get fired.”
But Tyrangiel wasn’t too reluctant to get specific about his publication don’ts. “One of my frustrations at Time was that I don’t think we were very disciplined. One week it’s ‘crisis in Israel!’ And the next week it’s ‘back pain!’ If you’re a reader, how do you know what you’re gonna get?” he said.
“One of the things I rebelled against when I was spending 10 years at Time was that the magazine was so heavily templated. You read the magazine and it could be — and I actually did the last resdesign of the magazine,” Tyrangiel interrupted himself, “so I’m partly to blame. But the magazine is so templated that it could be any year.
“You need templates, but break it. Show people that each page is an opportunity to say something and to catch their attention,” Tyrangiel said.
Turley had just put up an image of a sample Businessweek page, the text annotated with digitally printed handwritten notes in pink. “And so handwriting, like literally with a pencil, is just one of those ways to show, ‘Oh no, this page is a lot. It’s not what you think it is. There’s something else here.’
“You’re not your subscription price,” Tyrangiel continued. “You are what you put at the top right. So when it says $4.99, people evaluate, like, ‘Was five bucks worth of work put into this?’
He went on: “And that’s as much about what we’re doing. The fact that we pay attention to every page and there’s nothing that’s so formatted that we just say, ‘Right. Page 38 out the door!’ In this day and age, you’ve got to earn the five bucks every week.”
And when it comes to illustrating stories that don’t lend themselves readily to visualization, Tyrangiel said, “Who’s got the weirdest idea is usually where we’ll start.” An airplane mounting another midflight represents an airline merger, and so on. “You gotta look like yourself. And for better or worse, what we look like is something different.”