October 11, 2012
Profile: Josh Neuman
It might raise an eyebrow or two that Josh Neuman, former editor and publisher of Heeb magazine — the irreverent, youth-oriented Jewish magazine that shut down its print operations in 2010 — is now in charge of editorial content at GOOD, a multiplatform media outlet dedicated to helping “people who give a damn” do well by doing good.
GOOD, a lifestyle magazine for the well-intentioned (but not overly self-righteous), might seem a strange fit for a guy who brought the world a view of Sarah Silverman’s breasts — seen through a hole in a bed sheet — and who had Jonah Hill photographed holding a well-lubricated bagel.
But Neuman has grown up some since those early days of deliberate Jewish-informed provocation. He moved to Los Angeles. He turned 40. He got married. He’s about to resume work on a long-simmering short-film project about his younger brother, a would-be punk rocker who died of leukemia right around the time Heeb was getting off the ground.
And since July, Neuman has been working as head of programming and editorial director at GOOD, which last month officially launched its new online platform, good.is, while still putting out a quarterly magazine. Neuman said he’s hoping to bring to GOOD part of the playbook that worked for him at Heeb, which will mean treating readers not as an “audience” but as part of a “community.” It will also mean spending as much energy on planning the next party, conference or Web video series as on publishing words and pictures.
“Heeb wasn’t something that resided on the page,” Neuman said, sitting in GOOD’s Wilshire Boulevard office earlier this month. “It was something that happened in real time.” (Full disclosure: This reporter was at one time an unpaid occasional contributor to Heeb.)
In June, when Neuman’s predecessor, Ann Friedman, was fired from GOOD, along with six of her editorial colleagues, it seemed to many media watchers that GOOD was about to reside less on the page and more in real time — and on the Web — than ever before.
The move made waves, in part because of how the news was delivered to the employees — at a meeting the day after a party celebrating the publication of the Summer 2012 issue — but also because magazine lovers saw it as the demise of yet another journalistic outlet. (“BAD! Major Editorial Layoffs Hit GOOD,” wailed one blog’s headline.)
Neuman said he has been a fan of GOOD since its beginning — in 2007, co-founder Ben Goldhirsh was featured as one of the “Heeb 100” list — and Neuman says he is still committed to journalism, even if he’s not quite sanguine about the sustainability of the print model.
“As much as print is dead, Adbusters launched Occupy, and Mother Jones got that ‘47 percent’ video,” Neuman said.
But Neuman, who was teaching philosophy of religion as an adjunct professor at NYU when he joined the Heeb editorial team, said he intends to steer GOOD in a direction that won’t include the kind of long-form journalism of the magazine’s previous incarnation.
“For the former editorial board, GOOD just meant journalism,” Neuman said. “For me, journalism is one of many ways to deploy interesting content.”
It’s worth noting that Friedman, who declined to comment for this article, doesn’t appear to have arrived at GOOD an overly sentimental editor attached to traditional journalism and deaf to the needs of the Web, either.
“Here, we all understand that ‘magazine’ doesn’t refer to the paper-and-ink product sitting on your coffee table,” Friedman wrote in a post on good.is that appears to date back to when she started as executive editor, around March 2011. “It’s also a way of describing a community and daily reading experience.”
What shape GOOD will take in the coming years remains to be seen, but Neuman talked less about the upcoming print issues of GOOD — the Winter 2012 issue is set to include the GOOD 100, a list not unlike the one Neuman was known for at Heeb — than about the work taking shape on GOOD’s new Internet platform.
Posts are organized into two categories: Learns, which teach and inform, and Dos, which are aimed at spurring readers to some kind of action — anything from moving their cell phones and tablets out of their bedrooms to signing an anti-corruption pledge to get the money out of politics.
“Anyone can submit Learns and Dos,” Neuman said. From there, a team of about eight full-time editorial staff based all around the country, called curators — “kind of the midpoint between an old-school editor and a community organizer,” Neuman said — take the content and present it on GOOD’s platform, alongside their own writings and any new content that the magazine commissions.
One of the newest bits of original content — a Web video featuring actor Rainn Wilson of “The Office” — is part of a GOOD campaign urging voters to “Take Back Tuesday,” and “make voting less of a pain in the ass.”
And on the other side of the technological spectrum, GOOD subscribers will soon receive a packet of postcards in their mailboxes, each one with a rumination on the history of good.
Both comprise GOOD’s coupling of learning and doing. The video is part of a multipost series urging readers to turn Election Day into a national holiday. The postcards are designed to be sent by the recipient to another person — “Send this to a politician who puts people before politics,” reads the legend at the bottom of the postcard about direct democracy.
And both fit neatly into the overall framework of GOOD’s goal of being a community dedicated to organizing active citizens by deploying various media, which is, Neuman pointed out, exactly what he did with Jews and Heeb — mobilize a community of people with a shared interest in Judaism, pushing them to have fun together on a weekday evening or a Christmas Eve.
Among Neuman’s curators at GOOD are some journalists he worked with at Heeb. He said that everyone he’s hired is very much on board with the new model for what GOOD is becoming.
“Maybe it’s just because it’s a job, so they’re excited about anything,” Neuman said, “but a lot of them say, ‘I think this may be the future of journalism.’ ”