Interview with Publisher David Zimmerman
by Joe Siegel
Geographic coverage area: New England
Year founded: 2004, first issue published April 2005
Staff size and breakdown: (writers, editors, designers, etc.): Publisher David Zimmerman, editor in chief James Lopata, associate editor Rob Phelps, lifestyle editor Scott Kearnan, art director Dean Burchell
Average page count: 100
Key demographics: Predominantly 30-60 years old, 55 percent men, 45 percent women
PPQ: What feature or features of Boston Spirit have been the most popular with readers?
Publisher David Zimmerman: Each year for our Pride issue, we have a feature called “Let Us Introduce You.” In the feature, we profile about 15 people, both LGBT and ally, who are doing great things in the community. It is different than most lists because it is not a “power list.” … Most of the people we profile are not well known. In addition to the magazine, our events are very popular. We have an LGBT Executive Networking Night each spring. This year we have Kathy Griffin speaking at the event and we anticipate more than 1,500 attendees. Our Summer Sunset Cruise also gets about 700 people each June.
PPQ: Who came up with the name and what is the inspiration for it?
Zimmerman: I came up with the name. I looked up the word “pride” in a thesaurus and “spirit” was one of the words that came up. I liked it, it is positive, uplifting. So we became Boston Spirit Magazine.
PPQ: What challenge has your publication had to overcome since its inception?
Zimmerman: The biggest obstacle was that the economy crashed shortly after we launched. That was devastating. I was also an unknown in the community, so establishing a reputation for myself and the magazine took a while. There were two established LGBT publications in the city when Boston Spirit launched. We were the new guy in town and had to build ourselves up from nothing. That was tough. … There is a reason why so many new publications go out of business within two years.
PPQ: What challenge or challenges is Boston Spirit facing now?
Zimmerman: The biggest challenge, in my mind, is continuing to improve the quality of the magazine and our events every day. Coming up with new and exciting ideas, new features, and new events. If things get stale they start to whither away. … That scares me. We work very hard on staying relevant. The other challenges are more in line with what all media face these days — more options for advertisers and competing for market share.
PPQ: How has Boston Spirit changed since it was first launched?
Zimmerman: We have gotten smarter about what our readers want. Our editorial is much more focused and our events are much better. When we started we tried to do too much with events and we learned — quickly — that having fewer, but more successful, events is much better than having more events that aren’t as successful. There is nothing worse than having an event that doesn’t do well. It reflects very poorly on the magazine and is not a good selling point for potential advertisers.
PPQ: What one change would you like to make?
Zimmerman: I’d like to be a more regional publication. Right now most of our subscribers are from Massachusetts. I’d love to have more subscribers from the other five New England states.
PPQ: What has been the biggest news story or stories Boston Spirit has covered?
Zimmerman: We did a story a few years ago when Mitt Romney was running for president. The story was about a meeting Romney had with LGBT couples when he was governor of Massachusetts. We interviewed several couples that were in the meeting. The story exploded! It got picked up by a ton of websites across the country and even wound up on Obama’s campaign website.
PPQ: Do you see yourself as an “activist journalist”? If so, in what way?
Zimmerman: Not really. We definitely have our moments but we do not cover a lot of politics. In our January issue this year, we had a great feature written for us by former Congressman Barney Frank, but for the most part our content is a bit lighter in nature. The arts, travel, local movers and shakers. We cover activists in the magazine and there is an activist part of what we do, but I don’t think it is our overriding theme.
PPQ: What’s the most surprising feedback you’ve received from a reader?
Zimmerman: I had a reader tell me he met his husband through the magazine. His husband was on a cover of the magazine and they met at a party. Apparently they started discussing the cover and one thing led to another.
PPQ: What advice would you give to anyone who may want to launch their own GLBT publication?
Zimmerman: Be very patient and very focused. If you think you will reach your goal in one year, chances are you won’t. You will make mistakes — embrace them and learn from them. Be very focused on exactly what you want your publication to be. For example, Boston Spirit is published every other month, that means there are a lot of stories we can’t cover. We need to recognize that and to remain focused on what we can cover. Also, be honest with yourself and make sure you have a complete understanding of your media market — and you competition — before you launch.