Journalist Q&A: Jim Meigs, editor-in-chief, Popular Mechanics

Jim Meigs started as editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics six years ago, after growing up reading the publication. He talks to Kimberly Maul about the iPad, the Hearst magazine's main competitors, and how the publication relies on PR professionals.

Jim Meigs started as editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics six years ago, after growing up reading the publication. He talks to Kimberly Maul about the iPad, the Hearst magazine's main competitors, and how the publication relies on PR professionals.

What does Popular Mechanics cover and who is your target audience?

JM: We're one of those classic men's magazines, and we've been around for over 100 years. Our target audience is men who are interested in understanding how the world works, both on a personal level—they want to be able to understand the technology in their lives and take care of their home, their car, and their digital gear—but also on a broader level, knowing where the world is heading in terms of infrastructure and the environment and aerospace. I particularly love the areas where we can get into topics that really make a difference on the future. We've done a lot of coverage on things like infrastructure, technology, the environment, energy policy, things where there is an important technological story that underlies policy questions.

With this broader coverage, who are some of your competitors?

JM: Our classic competitor for our entire existence has been Popular Science. It's a friendly but intense competition. We're a little more hands-on than they are. If you branch out from there, we compete with some really excellent magazines in all the different areas we cover. For example, in cars we compete against Car and Driver and Road and Track and so on. In the home area, we compete against The Family Handyman and This Old House. In technology, we compete against Wired. But, to some extent, as a general interest magazine, I look at The New Yorker, I look at the things going on on the Web, things that really good bloggers are covering. Competition comes from every angle these days, and you really need to make sure you've got a distinct enough editorial vision that people want to come to you for the story.

Hearst has gotten a lot of buzz for its iPad strategy. How is Popular Mechanics using the iPad and other digital and social media tools?

JM: We launched our iPad app about a month ago and it's a sampler issue, essentially. It's a pilot issue that shows off some of the interactivity we think is particularly suited to the iPad. We'll be going monthly with our November issue. We literally redesigned every single page from scratch to fit the smaller iPad screen and really took the reader experience seriously - not just in terms of adding great interactivity, but also making sure even straightforward story pages are clear, easy-to-read and make sense. It's right there on the screen and everything the app does is initiated by the user, so they are fully in control, just as they are with a print magazine.

How often do you work with PR professionals and what is your interaction like with the PR industry?

JM: Any magazine like ours is deeply dependent on good PR professionals to point us to the stories that really matter coming from their clients. For example, when we go to the Consumer Electronics Show, we expect a good publicist to really understand a company's products and know which are particularly important, the real breakthroughs. If they say, "Listen, there is a bunch of good stuff, but the one thing in particular I know you guys are going to be interested in is X," that's a really helpful conversation. We depend on people to understand our brand, what we cover and what we have covered – to and work with us to get through the clutter and get right to the important stories.

What are your goals for Popular Mechanics going forward?

JM: The biggest goal is to continue to be the definitive magazine about the future of technology for the mainstream American public. To do that, one of the greatest tools we have is new technological platforms to put our content on. We really couldn't be more excited about the potential of the iPad and, ultimately, all the other tablets coming down the pike. And when you're out there on those devices, it also means the people you are attracting are, by definition, early adopters - and perfect people for our magazine.

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