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  ON A WING AND A MAER, RADAR MAGAZINE PUTS OUT AN UNDERHYPED SECOND ISSUE.  
   
   
 

The first issue of Radar magazine generated so much press, the magazine itself was almost besides the point. People were so eager to comment on the new hyped magazine, they barely even noticed that Radar itself was a scrappy, plucky upstart looking to shake the publishing trees. In the strange vortex of media time, it almost seems like it has been years since the magazine actually launched.

Well, it hasn't. It has only been a month, and now the second issue is on newsstands. Radar editor-in-chief Maer Roshan sat down with The Black Table to discuss the rather fierce reaction to the first issue, what the future of Radar holds, why he enjoys receiving excrement in the mail and why he likes it when The Black Table makes fun of him.

 

 
 

Black Table: The first issue is out. Every bored magazine pundit, wondering when someone was gonna launch something, anything, has taken his/her potshots. Everyone is now back to talking about something else, whether it's Jayson Blair or … um … well, Jayson Blair. Is this a good thing for you guys? Are you better off without as many spotlights on your every move?

Maer Roshan: The biggest challenge for any new magazine is getting anybody to notice it, so the early publicity we received was really helpful, especially as an indie venture up against magazines like Lifetime, which launched on the same day we did backed by a million-dollar promotional push. When you're lacking such amenities, becoming a media whore turns out to be a crucial necessity: In New York, L.A., Miami, and Chicago, Radar virtually sold out in its first few weeks on the stands. But not all the press was positive, of course. The first issue of any magazine is a work in progress, but everything in Radar's debut was so relentlessly scrutinized and critiqued and debated and analyzed that some people seemed to forget we were a start-up. The media carping and occasional bitchy swipes were things we had expected, and were ready for. But it wasn't always fun.

 
 

 

BT: At the airport newsstand in Des Moines, the first issue of Radar was sandwiched between Elle Girl and Cosmopolitan. What's up with that?

MR: I'm thrilled that a magazine conceived in my kitchen is getting any play in the Des Moines airport at all. And in terms of placement and prominence, being sandwiched between Elle Girl and Cosmo is a pretty good place for a new magazine to be. Far more perplexing to me is what you were doing in Des Moines airport.

BT: You were recently in Milan, "trolling for advertisers," as you said. Are you still fundraising? Who you going after? Do you have a magic number of cash you're trying to raise? We've heard Harvey Weinstein is an investor. Is that true? If it is, dude, what's with his skin?

MR: I trolled pretty successfully, I guess. We came home with lots of new advertisers, and we're continuing to make steady progress on fundraising as well. In our first round we raised more than $1.5 million, at a time when squeezing money out of investors was as difficult as finding a three-syllable word in Lucky. We estimate that we'll need $10 million or so to take the magazine to profitability. It certainly won't be easy, but our launch issue was very successful, and the economy seems finally to be going our way, and there are lots of smart people helping out and lots of interest from intriguing quarters, so I'm feeling pretty confident. But who is this Harvey you speak of?

BT: Are you still planning on going bi-weekly in the fall? How about that second issue?

MR: Our second issue was supposed to hit the stands June 9, but many newsstands rushed it out earlier to meet demand. I would love to eventually publish Radar as a biweekly, but how quickly we make that transition will depend on our financing.

BT: We have a small bone to pick. You are a startup magazine, with the budgetary restraints that inevitably come with that, yet you're still running tried-and-true, easy-cash-for-little-effort, "name" writers like Anthony Haden-Guest, Candace Bushnell and Bret Easton Ellis, who, frankly, was already stale when he was flopping around at Gear three years ago. Where are all the young upstarts? I mean, Spy was making superstars out of its interns. You've got the great Meghan Daum (who wrote the best story in your first issue, if you ask us), but after that, it doesn't seem like you're showcasing too many fresh turks ready to take over the world. Is that a magazine-wide philosophy? Which direction do you plan on going with that?

MR: It's certainly important to me that Radar becomes a magazine that discovers and nurtures new talent, but that doesn't mean you have to disqualify anyone with a track record. I think Candace and Brett -- and for that matter Jake Tapper, Anthony Haden Guest and Tina Brown -- are interesting, accomplished writers who have a lot to say. And none of them is exactly breaking the bank. If you look closely, however, you'll find that in addition to the superb Meghan Daum, our first two issues have featured plenty of other talented writers -- people like Katie Rosman, Paul Belden, Emily Nussbaum and Derek De Koff -- who were responsible for some of the most prominent pieces in the magazine. Not to mention our intern Andrew Goldstein, who is mere steps away from superstardom. I have always tended to rely on and promote younger writers rather than old, established ones. Not only because they're often hungrier and more hard working, but also because they tend to be a lot cuter.

 

 
 

 

 

THE WEB'S ON ROSHAN'S RADAR SCREEN, REALLY.

Forget the speed dial, The Black Table wanted to find out more about Maer Roshan's favorites list. What's the editor of Radar magazine reading when it ain't his own magazine? Here's his steady diet of Internet:

MR: My regular media menu includes:

























I check all of the media sites. Plus, of course, The Black Table to see what public mockery you'll subject me to next.

 

 

BT: We were looking through the first issue and found something clearly missing: Much about the Web, at all. You guys don't really have a large web presence, and the magazine seems almost to consciously avoid it. Any reason for that? What about the notion that some have said, that Radar has a sort of Webzine feel?

MR: We definitely should have had more Web-related stuff in the first issue. It was an oversight that we've begun to correct in issue two. Elizabeth Spiers, the empress of Gawker, just signed on as a regular Radar contributor. Among other things, she'll oversee our new web section in the Information, where we also cover books, movies and music. The June issue includes a pretty funny chart about online dating sites from Nerve to J-Date to gay.com, and a remarkably candid interview with Matt Drudge by Camille Paglia, which I think a lot of people will find very surprising.

BT: We like Radar, but you guys clearly aren't reinventing the wheel. The content has new concepts, but in a way, it's like any other general interest mag: Front-of-the-book curiosities, feature stories, back-of-book reviews, so on. Are you guys interested in pushing the envelope a bit, or are you comfortable just being a particularly good newsstand mag?

MR: If you believe the pundits, coming out with a new general interest magazine is radical enough, so I wasn't terribly concerned with reinventing the wheel in the process. The problem with most magazines today doesn't lie in their architecture, anyway. Where we tried to shake things up was in the tone, in the range of content, in the design and the sense of humor, in our approach to celebrity culture. It was important to us that Radar was new and quirky and colorful and raw. There are not a lot of national magazines publishing essays on Kinko's, or charts on gay animals, or poking at the Hollywood and media establishment. I think we're pushing the envelope in a lot of ways.

BT: Here's the obligatory Talk question: How do avoid the trap that Talk kind of fell into? That is to say, the lovely, talented and charming Tina Brown seemed to

 
 

have a hard time of breaking outside her insulated media world to find out what was actually happening outside, and many say the magazine suffered. In a world where my Central Illinois mother thinks Jayson Blair is a small forward for Purdue, how do you cross over to the people who, well, aren't New York media dorks like us?

MR: I think the real problem at Talk was that it took too long to define its audience, which is something we've taken pains to avoid. I agree that media people tend to be an insular and smug. They also have this condescending attitude which presumes that they're far more sophisticated and knowledgeable than their readers are, and therefore need to dumb everything down for them. The fact is, thanks to the Internet and cable, anyone with a modem can be an insider now. Housewives in Dubuque fluently opine about Mario Buatta because he's a regular on the Style network. Drudge draws billions of hits a year with content that's very heavy on media and Hollywood. And Jayson Blair made the cover of Newsweek! The truly revolutionary thing about the web is that it's given the general public access to information that was once the province of the elites. In general, Americans are smarter and more sophisticated now, which is reflected in on T.V. in shows from Oz to The Daily Show to Will and Grace that are both smart and sophisticated. Millions of people subscribe to HBO just to tune into Sex and the City, which features repartee and references more edgy and insider-y than anything in Radar. But as TV gets smarter, magazines, for some reason, get dumber. The conventional wisdom is that for a new publication to succeed it has to be as simple and bland and inoffensive as possible. I guess we'll see.

BT: Is this your ideal job? There's a perception that Radar is small almost out of a reaction to Talk. And in that way, you seem to more of a traditional editor than, say, a big-shot synergistic entrepreneur-type. Is there still a place for that? Could you fall behind at all? When you're out trolling for advertisers and what-not, do you miss the newsroom?

MR: I am a traditional editor. I love assigning stories and shaping them. I love words and ideas and pictures and the self-contained, intimate little worlds that magazines can create. I started Radar because I was unemployed, and because I saw this obvious gap in the market, and because I felt that doing this was the most constructive and fulfilling thing I could do with my life right now. The creative part of this venture is what really drives me -- I still stay up most of the night editing and planning issues, so it's not that I've given that up. But I also know that the only way I can fulfill my vision for this magazine is by ensuring that it succeeds as a viable business. I'm not in this alone. Paul Fish, my partner in this venture, is the former CFO of Dennis, where he helped start Maxim, Stuff and Blender. Elinore Carmody and Larry Burstein are among the best and most experienced publishers in the industry. I am just blown away by the dedication and quality of our staff. The truth is, before I did this, I never thought of myself as much of a businessman. But a lot of it is just common sense, really. How can you deliver the best product to the widest group of people at the lowest cost? You don't have to be a master of the universe to master that. In fact, when you look at the lamentable state of the magazine industry today, you realize that it's those "big shot synergistic types" who got us here in the first place.

BT: Who would you be really excited to learn reads Radar? We're not talking about ideal demographics; just somebody really cool. Like, we'd be thrilled if we learned that, like, Jon Voight reads The Black Table, or Randy Newman.

MR: I was surprised by the people who responded to the first issue. Last month, on the very same day I got a very nice note from Michael Eisner, whom I've never met, I also received a box of shit from "Suge Knight," which turned out to be the, uh, handiwork of Stuff's Greg Gutfeld. I thought it was one of his more impressive accomplishments as an editor. In general, I'm honestly not that interested in celebrities. As trite as it sounds, I get the biggest kick watching normal people pick up the magazine and flip through it at newsstands. One day I'm going to be arrested for loitering in the racks at Barnes and Noble.

BT: Seriously … what is the ultimate goal of all this? What does Radar need to be to satisfy you? Who do you want to be when you grow up? Graydon Carter? Tina Brown? Kurt Anderson? Tommy Lee?

MR: I'll be very satisfied if Radar survives and thrives and makes all of our investors tons of money and allows me and my staff to have fun, and to do the kind of work we're interested in. I'll be thrilled if, after all their nay-saying and dire prognostications, we're able to prove all the doubters wrong. Then I can sell out and go to Vanity Fair.

BT: Do you think Harvey Weinstein would fund The Black Table? We run very cheap. Just give us Budweiser and butter. And maybe pay the cable bill.

MR: Give it a shot. Just tell him Greg Gutfeld sent you.

 

*BT*

Will Leitch is the managing editor of The Black Table.