Interview: Max Potter

Max Potter, who was nominated for two American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) awards this year, has been a staff writer at top magazines including GQ and Premiere.

Max Potter, who was nominated for two American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) awards this year, has been a staff writer at top magazines including GQ and Premiere.

He now heads Denver's 5280, named for that city's elevation. But his path to success hasn't been smooth - a change in leadership at GQ left him jobless, and a rough time freelancing convinced him to move out of New York and continue his career from a shed in Pennsylvania. Then his award-nominated stories were killed by Men's Journal and Rolling Stone before finding a home at 5280. It's enough to make any journalist consider giving up, but Potter says his close personal relationship to his stories' subjects kept him on track.

PRWeek: Where you surprised that these stories got nominated?

Max Potter: Absolutely stunned. Personally, it was pretty reaffirming for me because I was really starting to lose faith in our profession, which I believe should be about writing stories that hopefully impact policy, expose what I feel to be tremendous wrongdoing, and try to bring about justice. What it said to me is that this sort of journalism does matter, whether you are a brand-name writer or publication, if you are putting the blood, sweat, and tears into it and you're getting the job done.

PRWeek: Do you miss the New York media world?

Potter: No. My only frame of reference for the New York world is GQ, and working for a living legend like [former editor] Art Cooper was a dream come true. One of the peeves I had about the New York glossy world is that there are some editors who are just hung up on politics and the writer-du-jour. The reality is that [New York] is overflowing with talented writers pitching brilliant ideas, but because they are not a name that's being thrown around at Four Seasons or Michael's by editors, they don't get the shot. That's what I grew tired of in the freelance world. Under Art Cooper, I was at the other end of the spectrum. I'd walk into his office and say, "Hey Coop, I think this has potential to be a good piece, what do you say?" I can't recall a time when he didn't say, "Go for it."

PRWeek: Can anything bring you back to New York?

Potter: Short of [New Yorker editor David] Remnick calling me, I can't think of anything.

PRWeek: We've heard you wrote these stories while working in a shed behind your house. Is that true?

Potter: I was working in a shed. We were in Amish country. I had no choice but to either play with the kids or work.

PRWeek: What kinds of stories do you see 5280 doing?

Potter: 5280 is a writer's Xanadu. There are no restrictions nor limitations on subject matter, other than it has to be Denver-ish. What the magazine has done really well thus far is establish an authoritative tone over service journalism. Those aspects are going to remain the staple of the magazine.

What I think 5280 will increasingly do is stories with more of a traditional journalistic bent. The reason I went into journalism and focus on the stories I do is that journalists have the opportunity to effect change in our own little ways and do good for people.

Name: Max Potter

Publication: 5280

Title: Executive editor

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