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Jeremy Leslie
19th October 2017

Modern Magazine 2017: Q&A with Jeremy Leslie

“The first ModMag in 2013 was the start of a fightback. I’d been to one too many conferences promising an all-digital future.”

Jeremy Leslie founded Modern Magazine in 2013. An annual day-long event packed with talks from designers, editors and publishers behind some of the world’s most creative magazines, it has fast become a staple in the magazine publishing calendar.

This year’s event takes place on 2 November at Conway Hall, London. As usual, the day’s line-up is pretty spectacular. Speakers include Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, the editor-in-chief and founder of Vestoj; Nicholas Blechman, creative director at The New Yorker; Owen Pritchard, It’s Nice That’s editor; and Lydia Garnett, the co-editor-in-chief of Accent. There will also be a panel discussion with a handful of past speakers, chaired by Jeremy, reflecting on the last five years in the magazine world.

With the fifth edition of Modern Magazine creeping up, we caught up with Jeremy to find out what goes on behind the scenes of one of UK’s most important magazine events.

What’s the value of having a symposium dedicated to magazines?

The first ModMag in 2013 was the start of a fightback. I’d been to one too many conferences promising an all-digital future. Such ideas were being presented by the very people who had overseen the running down and commoditisation of magazines in the first place. The air of despondency surrounding these events felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It was important to highlight the positives of print, and ModMag has grown as the indie magazine revolution has spread. The event is now a celebration of magazine making in all its forms. Of course, digital has a role, but print and digital go hand-in-hand. It’s important to have an annual date in the diary to celebrate print and I like to think that ModMag has exerted some influence on the bigger mainstream magazine events.

MagCulture on John Street.

How do you go about curating the speaker line-up? What do you look for in your line-ups?

It’s much like editing a magazine: I want a mix of the old and new, the known and unknown, men and women, editors and designers. Some will be invited to talk for longer than others, based on the nature of the story they have to tell. So it’s carefully programmed and paced in that sense. Most of the day will be speakers talking about their work, but there’s always one other form of presentation and this year we have a panel discussion looking back at the last five years featuring speakers from previous ModMags.

Are speakers given carte blanche or do you ask them to discuss particular subjects?

I directly brief all the speakers. We encourage them to move beyond their standard talk and highlight the aspects that are important or particularly relevant in the ModMag context. A part of this is understanding the day as a whole – it’s always exciting when speakers echo one another but we hope to avoid the same thing being said over and over by different people.

A magazine to feed every craving

Most memorable Modern Magazine talk to date and why?

There have been so many great talks. When you feature people like Gail Bichler, Adam Moss and Penny Martin you know you’re going to get strong, intelligent presentations. But it’s the surprises that stand out. Last year Rebecca Nicholson seamlessly integrated news of her decision to leave her full-time job to return to freelancing into her talk about online content at Vice; and in 2015 we gambled with Mushpit who at that stage had never presented the magazine. They stole the day.  

Who’s your audience? Do you attract to a certain profession?

We don’t pitch it as a magazine-only event, but of course the majority of the audience are either working in magazines or aspiring to be. It’s a mix of professionals and students, with a good mix of nationalities.

The 2017 event is hosted in a new space. Tell us a little about the space and the significance of the move?

Central Saint Martins has been a great home but we outgrew its theatre. Last year we couldn’t accommodate everyone that wanted to see the talks so we’ve moved to Conway Hall, a beautiful village hall type venue in central London that will be more cosy and self-contained. We’re still working with CSM and its students, and have an exciting one-off event scheduled in its theatre that we’ll be announcing at ModMag17.

ModMag 2016

The Modern Magazine publication has just landed on our desk. It’s beautiful! What’s the thinking behind it?

We often get asked why we don’t video ModMag. The answer is that however strong live talks are, as soon as they’re reduced to a video feed they lose their soul. So instead, at last year’s ModMag we promised everyone involved  – attendees, speakers, sponsors – a printed record of the day. We hoped to distribute it some time ago, but it took an age to complete. It’s just gone out, partly as a teaser for this year’s ModMag.

We wanted to reflect the different types of content and the various participants so we came up with the idea of producing a mini version of each of the magazines using their logos and design direction. The design emphasises how each title is a unique shape and size and uses different paper stocks.

Who designed it?

I designed it here at the magCulture Studio along with assistant Clara Metter. It was a really enjoyable project to produce and I hope it captures the excitement and fun of the ModMag day while giving a flavour of the day’s content.

Jeremy at ModMag 2016

What excites you most about the magazine industry today?

The new generation of people making magazines about the things that concern and affect them are incredibly inspiring. The sense of excitement and creativity is palpable. I hope their voices will soon begin to find their way into the publishing mainstream.

Book your ticket for ModMag 17 here.

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