February 1993: Stephen Raynor's portrait of runner Jennifer Fisher and her children graced our first cover.

It’s either a curse or merely a sign of the times. With the news that the December 2011 issue of RG Magazine will be the last, it means that every publication on which I have worked full-time in my career (bar The Royal Gazette) has folded!

My first newspaper, the Bucks Examiner in my hometown of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, now masquerades as the “Buckinghamshire Examiner” under its new owners, but it is no longer printed in or operated from Chesham and no self-respecting local regards it as the same paper.

The Evening Post-Echo in Hemel Hempstead was closed down in 1983, the year after I came to Bermuda (damn, missed out on the redundancy money!), and the Mid-Ocean News, of which I was sports editor from 1984-1992, shut down in 2009.

I’m particularly sad about the demise of RG Magazine, though, sunk it seems by dwindling ad sales caused by both the economic climate and increased competition from internet advertising. I was its founding editor when it launched in February 1993 until I left to start Kaleidoscope Media in August 2001, so it was very much my baby.

The Gazette management’s publicly unstated strategy in starting a magazine back then was to win a share of the lucrative colour advertising revenue that The Bermudian and Ian Coles’ upstart Bermuda Media group were raking in at the time. They merely saw such a publication as little more than a glossy advertising supplement.

Fortunately both David White, the then Gazette editor, and myself had other ideas. David had always felt that the Gazette couldn’t call itself a real newspaper unless it had its own magazine, like the New York Times, and I certainly felt the magazine should aspire to being a cross between Vanity Fair and the London Sunday Times Magazine – an eclectic mix of topical stories and features underpinned by solid journalism and, above all, good design and photography. I called it “RG” after “ES”, a colour magazine launched the year before by the London Evening Standard.

I was extremely fortunate in that Dana Cooper, a talented Bermudian artist and designer who had worked on magazines in New York, had recently returned to Bermuda and agreed to come on board as art director. It was her talent and insistence on high photographic and production standards that turned my ideas and concepts into a wonderful-looking magazine that was ahead of its time for Bermuda. And when Dana left, the equally talented Corrina Rego (now my partner at Kaleidoscope) stepped into the role.

Incredibly, looking back, we were given carte blanche to simply be creative. There seemed to be no real budgetary concerns, as we were basically subsidised by the then huge profits of the Gazette, and we were basically left to our own devices. For the next eight years, we took full advantage and really broke new ground for magazines in Bermuda.

At a time when The Bermudian was still doing safe, mainly ‘white’ features, there was little in the way of in-depth feature writing in Bermuda. We had a string of strong senior writers in first Robin Zuill, then Elizabeth Harvey and John Burchall, who dug into the underbelly of Bermuda with superb and often harrowing pieces on topics like Aids, prostitution, race, and drugs.

We also had the inimitable Roger Crombie, of course. I pitched to him the idea of a humourous “last word” column at the back of the magazine and he came back with The Bermuda Factor – the only feature to have appeared in every RG from the first to the last.

Marshall DeCouto’s brilliantly original men’s swimwear shoot in June 1993 set the bar for our photography along with great work by the likes of Stephen Raynor and Antoine Hunt and the amazing Amir did a fashion shoot for us in Africa!

I nearly got fired for secretly sending photographer David Skinner to a war zone after management had vetoed the idea of him following the delivery and distribution of Bermuda’s relief donations to Bosnia. Fortunately, David returned unscathed with some superb photography. When I told David White what we’d done and showed him the images, he declared: “We have to publish” and to his credit, took the management heat off me.

Producing a monthly magazine of that quality is an expensive business and while we frequently did 70 and 80-plus page issues, by 2000 we were starting to get more pressure to feature ever more demanding advertisers and there were whispers that management wanted to cut RG back to every other month. And with the jadedness that inevitably comes with thinking up more ideas for yet another annual car or Christmas issue, I figured I’d taken RG about as far as they were ever going to let me. Besides, with the  Gazette at the time maddeningly uninterested in the internet, it was time to try something new.

My successor, Rebecca Zuill, worked under very different circumstances to me. She did not have the luxury of full-time writers, and with RG cut to six issues a year and Bottom Line, the business magazine which we also produced, increased to six, the publications by necessity became much more commercially-focused and, certainly for a while, probably more profitable.

Now it seems the harsh realities of today’s economy and the relentless impact of the internet on the print industry have claimed another victim. Eighteen years is not a long life for a publication but I’d like to think that RG Magazine made a mark and will be fondly remembered by everyone who worked on it and who read it.

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to be its founding editor and I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.  I’m proud to have been a part of its short history.

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Comments
  1. Matt Earle says:

    This is an excellent, highly detailed article that I enjoyed very much.

    I was curious to hear about their early resistance to the internet. It seems old habits die hard.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Thanks Matt. I’ll never forget trying to get them to take the Internet seriously in about 1996 and being told by the general manager Keith Jensen that “the Internet is just a fad”! Sounds ridiculous now but one of the contributing factors to me leaving was that even in July 2001 the Gazette was so fearful of the internet that it would not allow us to have email at our desktops, let alone their own website!

      • Matt Earle says:

        Lol. Bernews has eaten their lunch with a WordPress blog and basic SEO. They don’t even have an A record for royalgazette.com. When they switched to their new website, all of their old links stopped working. The list goes on.

        It is not too late. They should hire you back and start over.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        One of the underlying problems the Gazette and many established papers have is that they can’t simply can’t switch from print centered to digitally-centered which they will have to do in the long term. Part of that is philosophical, part of it is that print ad revenue is still higher than web revenue – at least in the Bermuda market. At some point that will shift and in the meantime ad spend is declining with more competition for a share of that pie.

  2. Dana Cooper says:

    Chris thanks for this, it all seems like yesterday. Talk about team effort.
    I can’t believe Jensen thought it was fad, remarkable, does he still?
    I agree it’s never too late. I think it would be exciting to see it transfer over to a digital form with of course some strategy. That kind of magazine could transform into so many different things online.
    Is there any hope, or is it a done deal?

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I can’t see it happening. Although I personally read a lot of publications on my iPad, I think the jury is still out as to whether they can be financially viable on their own (case in point, The Daily).

  3. Dana Cooper says:

    Yes that’s the strategy part, whether it can be financially viable. If there is a will, there’s always a way…

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