There’s probably only one media brand in the world that could get the famously private Kate Bush to fetch down her sketching equipment and produce a hand-drawn illustration in its honour. And that’s Mojo.
The magazine was set up in London to challenge the orthodoxy of the music press by ignoring the pop stars of the moment, and that editorial policy has been its charm – its mojo – warding off modern media trends that have hurt its rivals.
In an era when music playlists are compiled on any number of digital formats, Mojo still relies on CDs, lovingly curated by its staff. It has only this year started seriously toying with the idea of a website. It sells in print for a hefty £4.80. Yet it has resilience on the news-stand that is the envy of its sector.
“Glad to see you’ve still got your Mojo after 20 years,” signed Kate on this week’s 20th anniversary cover, a symbol of the enduring value of print media when it’s produced with devotion and expertise.
The biggest music stars love Mojo. David Bowie and Noel Gallagher have guest edited it. When Tom Waits took on the role he called Bob Dylan to request a track for that month’s compilation CD (which the magazine staff then had to clear with an astonished record company).
The magazine shifts 80,000 copies a month with a core staff of eight. The same team are developing a website which aims to attract returning visitors with a daily offering of a brand new recommended track and a rare musical video clip.
Phil Alexander has edited Mojo for 10 years, having been a devoted reader for the previous decade. The first cover story, he says, was a “positional statement”. It featured Dylan and John Lennon alongside the cover line “The Trip”, introducing an essay on the real-life relationship between two artists that are pivotal to the magazine’s values. “It was saying that Mojo would deal with people that made music that was significant and built to last. That’s the ethos we have maintained. There is a door policy on Mojo and it’s not about how big you are but how good you are.”
The Mojo team eschews any kind of readership surveying or focus groups and relies on its instincts. While it pretends that One Direction never happened, it is an unrelenting cheerleader for the Ohio rock group The Black Keys, which it has championed for 14 years. “For a long time I think we were the only people who thought they were any good,” says Alexander. “They’re still not really a mainstream act.”
This is the editorial credo. “We feel that if we like it the people who read our magazine will appreciate it.”
Occasionally, Alexander admits to being out of tune with his readers. On the 10th anniversary of the death of American punk icon Joey Ramone, he was so gripped by a sense of loss that he put The Ramones on the cover. “It was a dreadful seller,” he says. “I had no idea that the rest of the world wouldn’t give a damn – but I don’t regret doing it because they were a group that was really significant and they never got their dues as far as I’m concerned.”
The greatest artists afford Mojo credibility by their willingness to engage with it editorially. The 20th anniversary issue is testimony to this – with a score of legends describing in great detail their own 20th year. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page gave Alexander not just a comment but a two-hour interview on his session work as a young guitarist with Petula Clark, and on The Who’s album I Can’t Explain. In another interview, Ringo Starr produced pictures of himself as a drummer for Rory Storm and The Hurricanes playing at Butlin’s Pwllheli. From folk veteran Pete Seeger (age 94) to Alex Turner (age 27) of the Arctic Monkeys, the stars delivered for Mojo.
Its secret is not dissimilar to that of other successful print products that have defied the march to digital. Private Eye, with its basic production values and familiar humour, Vogue, unashamedly luxurious and brimming with high-end advertising, and The Economist, with its trusted voice and precision editing, still feel right as physical products. There is a place for them and neither in their function nor their tone do they feel out of step with the rhythm of modern life.
A busy week ahead as the press becomes the news
This morning, the newspaper industry is expected to submit application papers for a judicial review of the rejection of its Royal Charter on press regulatory reform.
It will do so as its representatives, notepads and pencils poised, crowd into the press room at the Old Bailey for one of the media events of the year: the trial of Andy Coulson (below), Rebekah Brooks and others facing phone-hacking related charges.
The story will be everywhere. Most newspapers last week managed to produce endless pages of coverage of a christening at which the main talking point was that the baby did not even cry. However brief today’s proceedings at the Central Criminal Court, it will be front page news all over the news-stand tomorrow.
What timing for the press! The phone hacking saga, which prompted the demand for new regulation, returns to television news bulletins just as the Privy Council is due to consider on Wednesday a Parliament-approved Royal Charter despised by publishers.
Newspapers and magazines hope to isolate Parliament’s charter by setting up their own beefed-up regulator – the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), revealed last Thursday – but if it is to succeed it must command public confidence.
As the press takes its first steps in winning this trust – titles will sign up to IPSO over the next eight weeks – the industry’s most prominent figures for the immediate future will be Mr Coulson and Ms Brooks.
Crunch time in battle for breakfast radio
Hostilities have broken out over the breakfast cereals between two of the giants of commercial radio – Global and Bauer Media.
The launch this month of Global’s Capital Xtra network looks at first glance like a challenge to the BBC’s urban dance station 1Xtra, especially as it is fronted by Tim Westwood, who was recently axed by the BBC.
But it’s the growing Kiss network that’s the real target – especially the thriving breakfast show presented by Rickie, Melvin and Charlie. Nationally, Kiss has overtaken Global’s Classic as the leading commercial station at breakfast, according to last week’s Rajar figures. More significantly, it is perceived as a threat to Global’s Capital London, where the breakfast show –once the territory of Chris Tarrant and Johnny Vaughan – is hosted by Dave Berry and Lisa Snowdon.
By rebranding Choice as Capital Xtra, Global hopes to chip away at the Kiss audience and strengthen Capital London’s position with advertisers. Global has also poached Christian Smith, head of music at Kiss. All of which helps 1Xtra which, without competition from Choice, should continue its audience growth.