BOB GARFIELD: Reader's Digest, with 12.6 million subscribers has the largest paid circulation of any magazine in the country. Now it's getting a new editor. Jackie Leo, formerly editor of Family Circle Magazine and former editorial director of Good Morning America, will be taking over Reader's Digest in October. Jackie, welcome to OTM!
JACKIE LEO: Thanks Bob!
BOB GARFIELD: What's your mandate in taking over Reader's Digest?
JACKIE LEO: Well, essentially to bring in the Baby Boom generation and maintain our association with the older readers; to make sure that people understand that this is a very relevant magazine at a time when there's so much media out there that have a, a small short-read kind of America in your pocket is a very smart thing to do.
BOB GARFIELD:You mentioned the older readers. The average subscriber to Reader's Digest has been dead for 11 years. Don't you have [LAUGHS] a fairly--
JACKIE LEO: [LAUGHS] That's an interesting statistic.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] -- older-skewing audience?
JACKIE LEO: No, this is not-- any different than a large, very mass audience. The same probably is true of a lot of television shows including evening news programming. When you have that many people doing anything, you're going to be losing people on the back end all the time.
BOB GARFIELD: What is it like to be Reader's Digest in a Jerry Seinfeld, Sex in the City world?
JACKIE LEO:Well, I love it! There are two things about Reader's Digest that I think are very compelling. One is that it's a short, smart digest of America, meaning that you're going to get a snapshot of the trends and the relevant ideas that are circulating in this country in any given issue. The second thing is that it's very optimistic, and I think in itself bridges the generations across the board.
BOB GARFIELD: Frankly that's the aspect of the magazine that makes it just completely unreadable for me. I find its optimism oppressive.
JACKIE LEO:You know you can say the same thing about Oprah's enormously successful magazine O! I mean if anything is, is optimistic, it would be a magazine like that. I think that there is a real reason to think quite positively without being self-delusional about what's going on.
BOB GARFIELD: Or Pollyanna?
JACKIE LEO:Exactly! I don't think it's like gee whiz! This is an audience that's mature; they've certainly seen war and strife, and they've seen economic good and bad, and, and I think at the end of the day-- I personally would rather come out on the up side that the glass is still half full! And I think a lot of our readers would agree with that. So-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: Jackie?
JACKIE LEO: Yeah?
BOB GARFIELD: Please put your right hand in the air--
JACKIE LEO: [LAUGHS] Yes? Am I swearing on the -- on something?
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. Yeah.
JACKIE LEO: Okay.
BOB GARFIELD: Reader's Digest--
JACKIE LEO: Mm-hm?
BOB GARFIELD: -- how long have you been a subscriber?
JACKIE LEO: I don't subscribe! But I have picked it up on the newsstand from time to time, especially since they re-designed the covers!
BOB GARFIELD: Is there one thing that you really love about the magazine that will survive no matter what during your regime?
JACKIE LEO:The humor is -- does -- it really is quite funny, and I think you should, if you haven't seen it, you should take a look at some of the laugh lines that, that are submitted. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: Oh, yeah, like I don't go to the doctor's.
JACKIE LEO: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Of course I see it!
JACKIE LEO:So there's that. But-- I want to bring back something that I haven't seen in the last few issues which is The Most Unforgettable Character. I think that was a real winner for years and years, and I think it's wonderful to profile odd and eccentric folks who are doing interesting things.
BOB GARFIELD: But in general we're speaking of evolutionary changes and not tearing the thing up and starting all over. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
JACKIE LEO:Oh, absolutely! I don't believe in radical change. I've done -- I've been at too many mass publications, and, and you cannot do that to people! It, it's annoying; it's disrespectful, and it, it may not work! Does it mean that you never evolve and change? Of course not! Of course you're going to introduce new columns. I, I anticipate a Trends column for example. I think this generation wants to know what's happening, what the latest catch phrases are; what, what's cool; what isn't. Are baseball hats worn backwards over? I don't know. You know.
BOB GARFIELD:I have this vague recollection of first person stories by body parts. Kevin the Kidney; Sophie the Sphincter, this sort of thing.
JACKIE LEO: [LAUGHS] I know, but--
BOB GARFIELD: Are we going to see them coming back?
JACKIE LEO: -- [LAUGHS] my body, my self. I don't think so, but if they are, they're going to come back in a very animated form [LAUGHS] I suspect.
BOB GARFIELD: Horatio the Hypothalamus. [LAUGHTER] I think that has very big potential.
JACKIE LEO: [LAUGHS] Listen if it's, if it's a way of educating people about their bodies, why not?
BOB GARFIELD: All right! Well Jackie Leo, thank you very much!
JACKIE LEO: Thank's, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Jackie Leo is the editor-designate for Reader's Digest Magazine.