January 26, 2012
/ by Kevin Miller
How would you like to learn about caffeine inhalers, interview the creator of smokable chocolate, or spend the day in the interactive studios of some of Hollywood’s veteran animators as they branch out on a new venture? In the United States, a plethora of startups sprout up daily in the innovative-business world, and it’s the job of the writers and editors at publications like Fast Company to sort through fresh ideas and let their readers know what’s new, what’s trending and what is going to be the next big thing.
As a recent addition to the Next section, senior editor Neil Janowitz joined Fast Company in December 2011 to manage what new innovations in technology and business the magazine highlights as being on the horizon of greatness—or just plain interesting and making a splash in their industry.
“It’s a magazine that I’ve always respected,” Janowitz, who is also a subscriber, said. “I was very fortunate that they reached out to me.”
After leaving his position as an editor and writer for ESPN The Magazine, Janowitz spent a few months freelancing for several publications before being offered a position at the progressive business authority that is Fast Company.
“I knew a few people over [at Fast Company] that I had crossed paths with in the journalism world and when they had an opening to fill, they knew that I’d left ESPN and they invited me in for an interview. I was flattered and actually pretty stoked that that was the opportunity that presented itself.”
Making the transition from sports writing to business, technology and design was easier for Janowitz than one might think, but required a change in vetting philosophy from the typical, straightforward coverage of sports teams, players, and breaking news that came with ESPN.
“[In sports reporting] there are a certain number of teams, and those teams have a certain amount of players, and we know which ones of those are legitimate and which ones aren’t. There is a whole established community and industry,” Janowitz explained. Sports writers know what they are getting into when covering a particular team and know the precedent for comparison.
With Fast Company, he must take a different approach.
“There are so many companies and there are new companies every day with great new ideas; it’s a matter of determining when a company has reached a point in which they’re legit and they’re going to have a future,” he said. But he added that you also want to get to them early enough, “and in their infancy so you can be the first to tell their story, and so you can add some perspective on it.”
The Next section is located in the front of the magazine and includes smaller pieces on original concepts in technology and business, profiling the creators and their ideas, inventions, products, and companies. While it seems like an unlimited supply of interesting new businesses and innovations would make for a constant stream of fascinating articles, the trick for Janowitz is in finding original ways of presenting the types of articles that have become standard for the section, even if the topics are far from.
“To add different voices, different tones, different paces; that’s basically what we want—to turn Next into a very strong magazine section.”
Currently, Janowitz believes the section has strong articles and was well-edited before his arrival, “but we want to kind of elevate it, and make it a really compelling read that’s more memorable.”
To that effect, Janowitz plans to use humor and a shakeup in tone and attitude as a means to grant the reader an unforgettable reading experience. He looks to implement more service-type elements as well as possible multimedia components for the website to supplement articles in print.
“One of the articles that we ran in my section… I thought lends itself to video and I’ve been working with the writer of that piece to put together a small video-companion that will go, I think, on our iPad app.”
Once he gets a handle on the print responsibilities of the section, Janowitz plans to better familiarize himself with the Web team, learning their approach and mission, as well as understanding the best methods of employing the website as an enhancement of the print publication.
He cautioned, however, that it may be too soon to tell if adding a multimedia component such as video will be feasible on a regular basis and stressed the importance of the print product over any future plans for online content.
“At the end of the day, I do still want to focus on print and work with my new coworkers to develop new [ideas] and change certain sections. No one is completely satisfied with the front of the book right now. I would be remiss to focus on video or other components rather than develop those sections, which is one of the things that appealed to me in the first place.”
Janowitz doesn’t plan to completely reorganize and reboot Next, just to highlight the strengths and broaden the variety of styles employed in their section’s voice.
“The one thing we’re talking about is making the section funnier, not silly-funny, but just adding some levity to it in different ways, diversifying the article-mix so that there are some fun pieces in there—some kind of magazine-type pieces that break up a series of narratives that we typically have.”
Janowitz wants to remind PR professionals that, “Fast Company is all about people doing innovative things, and people who are kind of changing directions and trying new things.”
He does not want blind pitching about CEOs and business leaders because of their experience, but because of what groundbreaking ideas and approaches they’re taking in business. Tell him why and how they’re doing unique things with their business.
“It’s not our game to look at struggling companies and talk about how moribund they are, maybe what they could do,” he added.
“We’re talking about those companies that are already doing something different and who maybe recognized they were failing and now they’re having success because they changed in a particular way. We’re looking at that particular way that they changed, and how unique, and how other companies can learn from that.”
Contact him via e-mail and find him on Twitter @neiljanowitz.
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