Can Good Do Well By Doing Good?

Ben Goldhirsh, founder of the new magazine Good, discusses the magazine's tone and feel, the intended audience and how he picked the name.

Ben Goldhirsh

Ben Goldhirsh is the 26-year-old founder and owner of Good magazine, a Los Angeles-based publication which will debut in September and will, according to its Web site, strive to embrace “this generation’s merger of capitalism and idealism.” His father, Bernie Goldhirsh, was the founder and owner of Inc. magazine. According to the Wall Street Journal, Good is being financed initially with $2.5 million of Goldhirsh’s inheritance money.

Felix Gillette: Why focus on people doing good? Why not start a magazine called Bad?

Ben Goldhirsh: We aren’t focused solely on good. When we really define the content, we say we’re covering the ideas, innovations, people, businesses affecting change for good or bad. What we’re trying to do is to create a platform for the conversation about what matters, what’s relevant, what’s good. I personally think “bad” is equally relevant.

FG: Did you go through a bunch of synonyms for good — say, “decent,” “respectable,” “upright,” “moral,” “virtuous” — before you settled on the name Good?

BG: No. There’s only one word that we ever thought about.

FG: Will the tone of the magazine be as earnest at its name?

BG: That’s kind of an interesting question, because that’s a subjective definition of the word. For us, we’re really trying to expand the definition of “good.” We see “good” as far broader than its current position. That’s one of the frustrations from which this magazine is born. How did “good” get soft? How is “do-gooder” a pejorative? This is about giving “good” teeth.

We look at an analog like Wired, which helped elevate technology from the esoteric to the relevant — really gave that topic some sex. We think Good exists in a similar space. We think “good” is impressive. We think it does have pop.

FG: An edgy Good?

BG: Certainly, you could say this is going to have some edgy content.

FG: I think you’re the only 26-year-old I know who is starting a print magazine. Why not just start a Web site like everyone else?

BG: I should also tell you that we’re going into the pay phone business. I’m kidding. We all talked about it a lot, and went over the numbers, and tried to make sense of it. There’s a lot of logic behind a Web magazine. But there’s also a real beauty in having a tangible product. By no means are we shorting the Web. We see the future as the Internet. I think eventually this magazine will really almost be like one of the better newsletters for this community of people that gives a damn. That can be serviced on the Web, with events, with opportunities, with career stuff, with more of a MySpace framework.

FG: What magazines have influenced your editorial sensibility?

BG: I’d say Esquire of decades past. Rolling Stone of decades past. Wired. There’s something about those old Esquires. We’ve got a bunch of them lying around. They were digging into interesting issues. They were doing it in a way that really catered to the sensibility of the time. I think that’s missing right now. A lot of us here, we feel like we’re working too hard to find the stimuli we want to catalyze the sort of thoughts we wish to have. Hopefully this magazine can kind of help package material that’ll help with that.

FG: Do you have any background in editing, reporting, or journalism?

BG: I have no background in journalism or editing. I worked at Inc. magazine growing up. My father published that. So I grew up in the magazine business. So I don’t have any particular skills. I’m also not putting those responsibilities on my shoulders. All the kids that work here, for their age, they have extensive experience.

FG: Is there anything that you will carry over from the Inc. tradition?

BG: I think there was an attitude at Inc. that was pretty fantastic, witnessing that as a kid. There was a real communal sensibility. We have that here. Looking back at Inc., I think Inc. was in a really wonderful position to help foster and cover this emerging trend of entrepreneurship. I think we’re existing in a similar place right now. There’s a real crescendo of this sensibility of doing well by doing good and giving a damn. Hopefully, the magazine can cover this trend and foster its growth.

FG: I’ve read that as a nation we’re about to go through an unprecedented generational transfer of wealth — something like upwards of $10 trillion dollars in the next decade. Do you think that’s going to be enough to sustain a demographic of readers for your magazine?

BG: What do you think our market is?

FG: I don’t know. What do you think it is?

BG: The [Wall Street] Journal specified that our market is savvy, affluent, 21 to 35 year olds. But I don’t want to limit it to people with money. And, in fact, it’s not limited to those with money. Most people here don’t have money. I’m certainly not paying them too much.

I think it’s well-educated people, thoughtful people, who see that there are a lot of opportunities for them. Whether they’re on the non-profit or for-profit track, they’re certainly on a trajectory that’s heading for a lofty potential.

I think this is a growing market. I think we see it in the films that are getting big responses. I think we see it in the trends of cultural leaders. If you look at Gates, or Buffet, or Bono, or Angelina, not to say that defines anything in particular. But it certainly reflects something. If you look at the five films that were nominated for best picture, they were all grounded in some kind of relevant topic or issue.

I think there’s been a real evolution from protest to pro-action. We say it’s pragmatic idealism. I think that’s a big part of giving Good teeth. Extricating “good” from a position where “good” is a losing effort, or a sacrifice. I don’t know how the hell that happened, but I think it’s moving in the other direction now.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.