Tyler Brûlé, editor in chief of Monocle magazine, grew up in Canada in a house full of newspapers. When he’d visit his Estonian relatives on his mother’s side, the family would sit in the garden as he perused the German magazines on their coffee table inside.
“I was always intrigued by magazines like Der Spiegel or Stern. It opened up a different world, there was this sort of underlay of influence in terms of just being exposed to other types of media,” Brûlé tells Kathimerini.
He knew he wanted to become a journalist by the age of 14 and at 21 moved to London, where he worked, among others, at the BBC and Sky News before turning to print media. A nearly fatal mission to Afghanistan in 1994, however, became a turning point in his career. “Am I going to die?” he asked the surgeon treating him for two gunshot wounds – one to his left upper forearm and the other to his right hand – sustained in an ambush. He survived the ordeal, but it left him with only partial use of his left – and dominant – arm. He spent a month in a London hospital, learned to write with his right hand and began considering what kind of journalism he wanted to do.
“So many different things were happening, there was the great move to reurbanized cities, the great move to revitalized city centers, and I was thinking, if I wanted to pitch stories, who would I go and pitch those stories to, and I recognized there wasn’t a magazine that was doing that,” he says.
That train of thought inspired him to start his own magazine, one that would focus on architecture, design, lifestyle and culture. The first issue of Wallpaper* was published in September 1996. After seven years at its helm, Brûlé realized that he wanted to expand his area of interest, into politics and business, giving rise to Monocle, a magazine on international politics, business, design, travel and culture that he founded in 2007.
“We didn’t want to always be the ones chasing the shiny new object,” he says about the magazine, stressing that they have always been very cautious about how they adapt to changes in the media landscape. Brûlé says that one of the biggest challenges created by the pursuit of more “clicks” in the newsroom, for example, is how data – such as how many times an online article has been read – influence how the news is covered.
“I think this is extremely dangerous,” he says. “You cannot have an overlay of statistics to go and justify doing a story. The success of a story is not necessarily how widely it’s shared.”
As media went increasingly digital and social media began to gain a more prominent role, Monocle resisted the tide and insisted on print, publishing just a few carefully selected teasers from each issue online before its publication, such as the front cover.
The December-January issue has stirred particular interest in Greece, as its flag graces the front cover beside the title “Soft Power Super Stars.”
“We’ve sort of seen the proof of the power of print. There’s something about a magazine cover that delights, inspires, reinforces, in a way that digital just still can’t do,” says Brûlé.
“There’s still something about putting ink on a page. If I open Kathimerini or the Financial Times, my eye is drawn across the page in a very, very different way as opposed to having stories served up to me by an algorithm or by having me just sort of endlessly scroll,” he adds.
Though Greece is among the top 10 but not at the top of the Monocle’s annual soft power survey, Brûlé says that this is the first time they have seen a country shoot up as fast as Greece.
“Greece has of course been in the pack in the past, but we’ve never seen a country rocket in the manner and direction that Greece has, particularly over the last two years,” he says. “There’s a certain spirit that we saw, there’s a pluckiness, an ambition.”
Brûlé has been keeping an eye on Greece since his Wallpaper* years. It has both charmed and dismayed him, and even though it went through a decade of austerity, “and, in many ways, of survival,” he believes the country is in a powerful position right now. Its ranking in the survey depends on many different factors, Brûlé explains, including where it is today and where it may be tomorrow.
“Greece seems like a very attractive safe haven to base a business,” he says, especially in terms of its geographical location in the Eastern Mediterranean, its position close to North Africa and as a member of the European Union, and in light of the turbulence in the Middle East. Greece, he adds, is also an attractive destination to visit, invest and acquire a property or a business.
Monocle is a print-first magazine that is also available online by annual subscription, but it also does podcasts and has a 24-hour live radio station, which Brûlé describes as “the most important thing that we do digitally.”
During a teleconference at the start of the pandemic on whether Monocle’s radio program needed to go into “survival mode,” Brûlé’s response to his colleagues was: “We need to go in the other direction, we have to run through the fire here, and we need to be more present than before.”
“It could have gone wrong, but it paid off. It paid off in the sense that more advertisers and partners came on board, more listeners, more programs,” he tells Kathimerini.
With the end of 2020 just a few weeks away, Brûlé says that what he’s taking into 2021 is “the importance of agility.” And face-to-face contact. “I don’t subscribe to this future of only working from home and everything is going to be over Zoom,” he argues.
Brûlé also believes that beyond the need to contain the virus, many businesses are in a race to outdo each other in teleworking. “Many business leaders think of that as a sign of innovation,” he says, arguing that “to clinch a deal, to get a contract signed, to transfer money because you wanted to buy a business, you really need to be able to look people in the eye.”
Digitalization and digital communications have helped us “cope” through the pandemic, says Brûlé, “but they’ve only helped us cope.”
“I don’t think they’ve advanced anything.”