“I am a man,” reads the print on Jim Nelson’s wall – a print situated in his Condé Nast office, where he reigns over men’s magazine GQ. The print is hard to peel one’s eyes from, and unsurprisingly, that statement seems to encompass what Nelson’s magazine is all about, as does Nelson himself.
Nelson is, quite arguably, the definition of dapper, as well as king when it comes to a cool mix of masculinity and great taste. That’s what we love about GQ isn’t it? We read it and see that there really are men out there that appreciate George Clooney’s hair evolution, Schott Leather jackets, and a beer-filled day watching the Giants play all at the same time…yes ladies, he does exist. So in essence, we really needed to sit down with Jim Nelson, the man responsible for…well, the modern man. This is one both the ladies and gents can appreciate…
What would be your ideal food day?
It always changes – I’m a creature of habit who habitually changes – but lately: Coffee at the new outdoor Intelligentsia Café at the High Line Hotel. I love that gravel garden, and the coffee is great. I would read manuscripts, the Times, Huffington Post, a bunch of sites, and do email. I’d drink too many Cortados – so many that the word “cortado” no longer makes any sense. It’s just one longado.
Everything with me is directed toward dinner with my partner. That’s one of the greatest pleasures of my life, eating out (and drinking wine!) with him and with friends. I keep an obsessive list of new places, and plan to hit every restaurant on it.
How has the publishing industry changed since you started?
Besides the obvious ways? People talk more about it. I really wonder if the future of publishing is talking about the future of publishing.
I never lived through the “Golden Age of Publishing,” whatever that was. That all happened at the Four Seasons Restaurant, right? And there were martinis and scotch and cigarettes, and never a pressing deadline, right? And then the internet happened and disrupted the dream? Not really. I find the Golden Age thing too goldeny, too soaked in nostalgia. And I get a little tired of the New Media/Old Media dichotomy. Those of us who have been doing print and digital and social and new platforms for a while have evolved, as have the new ones who’ve survived. We’ve become something different. We’re all doing new media or modern media, which is itself a mix of new and old and, if we’re any good, constantly vibrant.
To me, a career in publishing has always been a forward-motion struggle, a constant churn of change and adaptation and creativity, and probably always will be and should be. And yeah, the cycle of publishing, whether it’s hourly, daily, or monthly (nowadays, we are all of them), always has a certain stress and deadline fever to it. But it’s also the most fun, endlessly creative stress you’ve ever had. It’s a great job.
What is good content?
Anything vital, must-read, lively. I love stories with both substance and style, and this is what I think we do at our best. Nothing dutiful. Nothing boring. Never do a story because you think people should read it. That’s almost always a recipe for boredom. That doesn’t mean you can’t do substantive, deep reporting and journalism. It doesn’t mean you can’t do big, important stories. But, only do stories you want to read.
If you could give one piece of advice to publishers now in a tech world, what would it be?
Invest in reporting and reporters.
What role does food play in your life?
Food (and wine) is pretty central in my life, not just because I have a hearty appetite and a desire to have peak experiences three times a day if I can, but because it’s the easiest, most satisfying form of social interaction. Everyone’s gotta eat! Might as well make it fun.
You’ve written for food publications in the past. What’s your approach to food at GQ?
I don’t like preciousness, and I think you really have to watch out for that in food coverage. (“The truffle was knobby, noir, scented with a fungal je ne sais quoi….”) But food is a primary pleasure, and you want to tap into that, and zero in on the thing that makes the hunt for good food – and the pleasure of enjoying it – relatable and universal. At GQ, we try to do that, but we also have a roving curiosity with what’s new — not just for the sake of novelty, but because hunger feeds into intellect, and both always need to be replenished.
That’s why I like Alan Richman’s writing so much, and why he’s been writing for the magazine for more than twenty years. People don’t realize: He’s not just a great food writer, he’s a dogged and curious reporter. I respect that so much.