By: Caysey Welton
Fortune is growing in two places. One — video — you might expect. The other — print — you might not. Year-over-year the business publication, which was launched in 1929 by Henry Luce, is up 85 percent in its video viewership, and up 11 percent in print (plus digital edition readers) according to the February 2017 Magazine Media 360º Brand Audience Report. The magazine, like many, is undergoing a transformation, especially since Alan Murray stepped down as editor-in-chief earlier this month.
Murray is staying on with the brand as president of Fortune and, of course, is serving as Time Inc.’s chief content officer. But to fill his very big shoes, Murray called on his former deputy editor Clifton Leaf to step into the editor-in-chief role.
Leaf earned the promotion during a transitional period for the brand, and magazine media, in general. And while many newly appointed editors are still figuring out how to find the bathroom in their first couple weeks, Leaf has hit the ground running and already has big ambitions for Fortune in 2017 and beyond. We quickly caught up with him this week to learn more about his vision for the brand, as well as hear more about upcoming projects and products Fortune has lined up.
Folio: You worked alongside Alan Murray as deputy editor, and will continue to as he oversees the brand. How beneficial is that for you as you develop your editorial?
Clifton Leaf: It’s incredibly beneficial. For nearly the past three years, I have overseen the print magazine as Alan guided the brand overall into a wonderful period of renaissance. He has been a truly terrific mentor to me. And after years of working hand in glove with him, I am very confident that he’ll continue to be a fantastic partner as I work to refine the print magazine, improve and build upon our digital offerings and expand our extraordinary conference business into exciting new areas.
Folio: Do you have any new initiatives you plan to launch as editor or can we expect any big changes to the brand?
Leaf: We do have a few ambitious editorial projects in the works—and, yes, there will be some changes and refinements, too. We have some fun surprises brewing for our Fortune 500 issue and coverage online. We’re going to move our annual “Change the World” list into our fall double issue, for example, and expand that digitally in a big, big way along with a companion event. And we’re also working with a partner on, what I hope will be, an important new franchise slated for November, but I can’t yet reveal what it is. I will say, however, that this last project drives to the heart of what Fortune readers look for in companies. For now, I think it’s fair to say that our trajectory is more evolutionary than revolutionary. My aim is simply to make Fortune better, faster, timelier and a more urgent read in all of its platforms. With some luck—and with the amazingly talented staff we have now—I think we will do just that.
Folio: What excites you about the challenges of your new role?
Leaf: Well, I’m sure most of min’s faithful readers know the challenges all too well. In Fortune’s case, the central challenge and opportunity are the same: convincing new readers that the brand’s nearly nine-decade history gives it a rare perspective—and some essential insight—on the future of business. Our pedigree has never been a staid or cranky traditionalism. Well, we did have a pretty dismal decade in the 70s. But for most of its history, if I can brag for a bit, Fortune has been remarkably forward-thinking and even prophetic at times. That’s why we’ve endured as long as we have and why our voice continues to be a resounding one in the national conversation. Now, the opportunity, or challenge, is to deliver that fresh, well-informed perspective to readers, listeners, viewers and conference-goers wherever they are, and whenever they want it. The global hunger for good, smart content didn’t end with the digital revolution; it got more voracious. And so Fortune’s task is to make sure our reporting—which has always been thoughtful and substantial—is also quick enough, and accessible enough, to satisfy that hunger. There’s a secondary issue—and this is certainly an industry-wide concern—about how much those same readers, listeners and viewers will pay for this content. But I’m confident that the pay models will evolve and the right audiences will embrace them.
Folio: We like to ask everyone about print, and its future. What do you see down the road for print? How bright is its future?
Leaf: If print is on its death march, it sure is taking its time. Sure, we don’t have much use for papyrus scrolls and phone books these days, but magazines still feel awfully good in wide, beautiful, richly-designed pages. And, I think, for some time Fortune will have readers who absolutely want to read the magazine in a traditional way. I also don’t think print has to go away to make the digital model thrive.