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Q&A With Saveur Editor James Oseland

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Yesterday, Saveur publisher Merri Lee Kingsly chatted about her magazine's recent success in a world where myriad print magazines are struggling. Today, as promised, here is part two of the mini-series: a discussion with editor-in-chief James Oseland, also of Top Chef Masters fame.

Let's start with the same question that we posed to Ms. Merri Lee Kingsly: What is Saveur doing correctly? Yeah, we're the anomaly, huh? We're having sort of a parallel universe moment here. We were always the little magazine that could but suddenly we're the magazine that really could. As far as what we're doing right, it's a difficult question to answer. I think we're steadily staying the course and steadily developing the content and sticking to the content that excited us as an editorial content team.

Which brings us to the editorial content; what's the mission? I don't know if it's good business planning but what our small and merry band of editors think is that, if were interested in it, then our readers will be interested in it. I honestly don't mean that in any holier-than-thou way but it's our honest to goodness take on it. Ultimately, every month we put out this magazine, we put out a magazine that we want to read, stories that fill—and sometimes expand—our minds in the world of food, or recipes that make us want to spend a few hours on Saturday afternoon rattling around the kitchen.

What's your relationship with the business side? I've been in this publishing world for 17 years or so, and rarely have I seen such autonomy between the editorial and advertising sides. Our trains glide alongside each and we're only beholden to each other in that our endeavors create the same magazine ... Saveur doesn't cost millions and millions to create. We're still making the same magazine in many of the same ways as when it started in 1994. How so? It's not too different to what your site does. I shoot a lot of the stories myself. You know, when we have to shoot a can of baking soda, I go and get my Canon out of the closet. Sometimes I wonder if it'd be better if we had a huge staff with 10 writers per story and food-stylists and a huge photography team, and I'm not convinced it would be better.

What's on tap in 2010? We have a great readers' issue coming up with some amazing reader submissions. How else would we have a Filipino crispy pata from [San Francisco suburb] San Bruno in a national magazine? In March, we're dedicating the entire issue to Los Angeles. I really have a profound love for LA as an ethnographic food city, and going back these last two times for Top Chef Masters, I was reminded about what a great food city it is. We sent four photographers there for a week and put them up in a little Chinatown hotel and they went wild for a week.

Reader-generated content and super-local focus. There are a lot of new media aspects in there. Totally, one thing in all the editorial meetings is that let's bring the energy of the amazing blogs and food websites into this magazine. It doesn't have to be this stale, ivory tower kind of thing. It can be vigorous, in some cases kind of rough and sometime polished.

What are your thoughts on the future magazines, and print journalism in general? You know it's funny, I don't know if I'm just like the Doubting Thomas but I don't fear too much about the death of media and magazines, if they're going to be around in 10 years. Maybe it's a kind of narcissism but I wonder what do you do with a very print specific topic? Even Kindles aren't the same as reading actual pages. Not to sound corny, but there really is something about the medium that is irreplaceable—and I mean this when the magazine is good. Maybe things will evolve, and maybe I'm off the mark, but in my mind, I can't imagine it, at least yet. There's something real specific about reading pages—when a magazine is good. That said, in the thousands and thousands of magazines that get published in America today, maybe some aren't so good so maybe it's best that they go the way of the dinosaur.

· Saveur Publisher Talks Magazine Success as Chefs Party [Eater National]
[Photo: Krieger, 12/8/09]

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