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Join Date: May 2009
Location: Washington, DC
Jim Nelson is the current Editor-in-Chief of GQ Magazine, succeeding Art Cooper. More interesting, he is from the DC Metropolitan area. We don't focus much on editors of men's magazines, and I think GQ is like the Vogue of men's magazines: It's a perfectly equal combination of lifestyle and fashion. So I think it's fitting to have a thread for Jim Nelson.
JOB: Editor in chief for GQ magazine
HOURS/WEEK: About 65
TIME ON THE JOB: 4 years
How did you get started in the media industry?
This is actually my third career. I started out in TV news. I worked as a writer and producer at CNN in the mid-'80s. I started out as an intern . I just kept begging people to let me write copy and a couple of people gave me a chance.
What was your second career?
I worked on sitcoms as a writers' assistant, which means you sit around the room with a bunch of writers and ... when someone says a joke, you have to get it down and then read it back, and if it's not funny then it's your fault. I like the team effort of it but I just didn't feel control over it.
So, you made the move from TV to magazines?
Back then, magazines like The New Yorker and Harper's [Magazine] were my favorites. At age 30, I got an internship at Harper's - I was a few years older than everybody else there. I [stayed] for four years until '97, whereupon the glossy world started to lure me. [Editor in chief] Art Cooper offered me a job as a senior editor at GQ in 1997. When Art left, in 2003, I got his job.
What is your daily routine like?
There are no borders in my working life. I'm kind of on all the time, through e-mail and Trios and all that stuff. If it's earlier in the month, I'm trying to plan and organize future issues, reading manuscripts and talking to editors about ideas. As the month progresses, the window of time gets narrower and narrower, then everything gets much more scheduled by the minute.
Part of your job entails working with celebrities - any interesting encounters?
Nobody is more down-to-earth and genuinely cool than Jake Gyllenhaal. I just like him a lot personally. I feel that he has not been affected much by stardom.
GQ is celebrating its 50th anniversary. That's rare in publishing these days. What is the secret to the magazine's longevity?
When it came out, in 1957, it was a modern magazine. It was ahead of the curve by showing men that they could care about the way they dressed, the way they lived. Also you get the sense that it's edited by real people. I think those are the two things readers respond to: style and personality.
Speaking of style, can you remember your worst fashion mistake?
I'm probably wearing it today! I'm still learning. Luckily, there are plenty of people here I can ask for advice.
Fifty years is a long time; you must have a favorite cover?
I love the Richard Gere cover from 1980, the heyday of "American Gigolo." That cover is exceedingly cool. It's timeless.
Any story you're particularly excited about in October's 50th anniversary issue?
We commissioned a story on the kind of work culture and the creative collaboration between Bruce Weber and the other photographers and the magazine editors [at GQ in the '70's]. It's all about how these guys would go as a clique and party at Studio 54. They were kind of a hedonistic gang.
Is some of that hedonism still alive among editors?
It is a different culture. When I first came to GQ, Art Cooper would have cocktails in this office at 5 o'clock. I do think it created a kind of creative core. When I came on, I decided I couldn't do that. I had too much work to do.
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