Friday, December 27, 2013

Whisky Writer Circle Profile - The editor, AKA the thankless writer... Rob Allanson

ahhh... the editor. 

Misunderstood and often depicted as a totalitarianist whose sole purpose is to make writers lives a living nightmare. Ok that might be a bit of an exaggeration... but show me one Hollywood movie that doesn't depict them as a neurotic, controlling, antacid popping reptile - Can you say "Devil wears Prada"? 

The reality is: most people have no idea what an editor does. Have you ever finished reading a magazine and said to yourself: "Oh my God, the editing on this was just stupendous!" Of course not. The editor is a project manager (IMO): Meets with management, given a budget, seeks out the right material/players, ensures deadlines are met, oversees production, contigency plans, problem solves and of course all of this on a shoestring budget. The job involves long hours, headaches, much frustration, little to no credit BUT... all the blame if things go wrong or astray. We celebrate the writers all the time but without the editors and their dedicated teams: Magazines/books wouldn't happen. Well ok, they might happen but maybe more like pages and pages of this:
Ok, I'm done poking fun... for now...  hehe

I have never met Rob Allanson, although I hope our paths will cross in 2014, but I've been reading his editorials as well as Whisky Magazine for quite some time. It's usually the first article I read as it often sets the tone for the content. I really enjoy Rob's style of writing and get a good chuckle from time to time from his very poignant sense of humor. So, here's to the guy who hires all the writers I wrote about this year. Your job may be thankless but from what I hear you are highly respected and appreciated by those who have had the opportunity to work for you.

Ladies and gentlemen:  Rob Allanson, editor of Whisky Magazine. 

Begin interview...

Q1:  So how did you get “here”?  When you were a little boy, I’m sure you didn’t say:  “When I grow up I want to be the editor of Whisky Magazine"?

"I think the idea of being a journalist/reporter, was implanted at an early age with Tintin. My aunt bought me Tintin and the Blue Lotus when I was about 12, and the stories of that adventurous boy reporter (and his dog) really captured my imagination and made me dream.

The road to where I am now is a little circuitous, like most people I have had ups and downs, made good decisions and bad ones and occasionally been in the right place at the right time. I got a little sidetracked from that dream at Glasgow University, where I studied medieval Scottish Literature, and had wanted to lecture. But life took a twist, a change of track, and I moved back to Manchester with my parents and began working in various roles for Greater Manchester Police where one of the press officers encouraged me to focus on writing and reporting, and suggested I take the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) exams. So I upped sticks and moved to Southend, went back to college and eventually landed a job on a good sized regional newspaper covering the South East.

Another move took me to Norfolk and another big regional newspaper, but then a job on a new magazine called Beers of the World (edited by Dominic Roskrow) came up. After a little research I found the company owned Whisky Magazine, Scotland Magazine and Cigar Buyer. Basically four things I was really interested in. I sent in the world's shortest CV, about half a page, as I did not know when the deadline was; and that was that. I got the job.
After a while Dom left and I went for the editorship of Whisky, and eventually Scotland as well. As well as learning a lot from Dom, I have great mentors in Mr. Broom and the folk in the industry I have the pleasure of knowing. Now I am the longest serving editor in a short but illustrious line."
Q2:  What motivates you to be in this part of the Whisky industry?  With so many magazines having difficulty staying in print, how do you cope with the challenges?

"I love the industry, the liquid and the people behind it. It is such a friendly and inventive industry to cover. Looking at other global drinks categories, I think the marketing brains in the whisky world as some of the most innovative anywhere. There is always something to talk and write about; whether it's the global domination of Irish Whiskey to small craft distilleries that are popping up all across the world. It is an exciting time to be part of the industry, and I am honoured to be able to cover it.

It is a privileged position I sit in, being able to take in the world of whisky, and I never forget how lucky I am. There are some incredible people out there who create this spirit we love, and it is always a pleasure to bring their stories to people.

I think Whisky Magazine is coping pretty well at the moment in the challenging climate. Let's not forget that this is an age old discussion, well at least as old as the internet; and the sort of debate that goes back to "will vinyl replace the wax cylinder, will tape replace vinyl" etc...

To a certain extent I think you can say there will be an impact, but print is not going anywhere. In fact quite the opposite, I think we might be in for a new resurgence of specialist and well put together magazines. The digital medium gives you some wonderful options to play with. Let’s not forget you can embed films, tweets, Facebook links...the list is endless, and great fun to explore.

However there is still an excitement in getting a magazine that for me personally is not replicated with the digital world. It is a very immediate physical thing. The weight and presence of the magazine. Opening the package, the smell of printer’s ink, the feel of pages and a spine as yet not broken in.

There is a permanence to a magazine that you don’t get with digital. If you are a magazine fan then chances are you keep them. You can go back, reference, mark up even cut out and keep things that catch your eye. I have all sorts of things clipped from newspapers and magazines pasted in journals, they serve as reminders for later. In fact watching my daughter with a magazine is a joy. There is an innate desire to draw in it, cut things out to save or stick on the fridge and interact with it in a way that a flat screen cannot compete with.

To be honest I see the two mediums working hand in hand, one complementing the other. The digital world can enhance you experience of a magazine. We are on the cusp of something very exciting in this print and online world, embrace them both and enjoy."

 Q3:  Do you feel you have had to make some sacrifices or tough decisions to get to where you are now in your career? If yes, can you elaborate ?

"I think most writers and journalists make sacrifices at some point to move on; time being the biggest. The magazines are greedy beasts; they demand time. They can, when running up to press day, become all consuming. But I am not complaining. Once each one leaves for the printers and then the first copies come back it is a joy."

Q4:  Whisky Magazine seems to have undergone some great changes, so what's next for you? 

"Yeah the redesign was a few months of to and fro between me and Whisky Mag's art director Paul Beevis, and I am incredibly proud of what we came up with. It's a real marker in the sand for the magazine, you know, we are here and this is our direction and style. We still have the same excellent writers across the world covering the great and interesting developments, we just wanted to shake the physical nature of the magazine up a little; which actually turned out to be the biggest redesign to date in terms of lay out and paper stock.

Next for me... well am not sure. I think at the moment I will keep learning, tasting and writing, you never know what's round the corner. But I am not complacent, there is still so much out there I want to do, see and write about."

Q5:  If you could go back in time and talk to Rob Allanson in 1984, what would you want to tell him?

"Blimey I was 10, slightly shy, struggling to learn the bass and just discovering a world full of literature and long walks. 

I think the first thing would have to be "listen this is not the plot to Terminator, I am here to help not kill you, stop daydreaming."

I would have to tell him to keep on striving, listen to more music and read more. Keep learning and for goodness sake make more notes and take more pictures. Also do not stop learning, especially with the bass - it becomes an important part of your life, even though at the moment it's huge and unwieldy.

Don't speak too soon about your opinions, take time to consider, listen and process, there are always people out there who know much more. Also you are a journalist, you are there to impart information, take complex things and tell them in a simple way and to be entertaining.

Never lose the joy of things. The world and whisky are full of wonder and amazement, of course it's a global business, but still there are breathtaking things out there."

End of interview...

When I started with this whole idea it was a result of reading an article about the decline of the writer, how today's editors have no backbone and are nothing more than the office puppet. Dictated by management as to what is to be printed and bullied by the new breed of rockstar writers who demand things be done their way. Going back to my favorite whisky books and magazines is that it certainly doesn't seem to be the case. Good writers are a special breed and good editors even more rare. I, luckily, have met several of the people behind the literature I own. I've come away with a bit of a smug feeling that only proves, yet again, that "whisky people" are simply different. Not that we are better or worse, just unique and a very special breed indeed.

Doing this series was a blessing. I really enjoyed interviewing each person and their answers gave me insight and even more appreciation for this thing we call whisky. 

As I sat in the St. Andrews Bar in New York City in October of 2013 and looked around the table that I was sitting at, I felt an enormous sense of the surreal and captured that moment in my memory bank forever: Dave Broom, Dominic Roskrow, Davin de Kergommeaux, Gavin Smith, Jonny McCormick, Lew Bryson & Sam Komlenic. The cream of the crop, the writers of today. Today...  that resonated in me.  As I looked around the room, I realized the average age was about 55-60. They won't write forever? Most will retire in one way or another in the next 10-15 years so... who's next? Who are the upcoming or next wave of whisky writers? I believe I've interviewed three that will be part of that group: Rob Gard, Fred Minnick & Rob Allanson. Do I aspire to be there too, maybe? Who knows where the road will lead. All I know is that I find myself being pulled like a magnet toward something. What that is, is yet to be determined. 

Thanks to all the writers who helped me with the great little project. I look foward to the next bend in the road ahead and where it will lead us all.


1 comment:

  1. I received a very nice email from Rob when I pointed out an ... in .. magazine.