The respective careers of Danyel Smith and her husband of nine years, Elliott Wilson are already that of legend, and yet the two veteran journalists and media mavens find themselves preparing for the next chapter in those storied careers. That next chapter is the book shaped, hardcover culture magazine, aptly titled HRDCVR. Slated to launch later this year, and funded by a now successful Kickstarter campaign, HRDCVR is Danyel and Elliott’s response to all that currently plagues journalism. Changing the soul of journalism is ultimately what the tandem is hoping to accomplish with HRDCVR, and if there is a duo that is capable of pulling off such a feat, it most certainly is these two. Life+Times recently spoke with Danyel Smith about her goal for HRDCVR, the current state of journalism and the “new everyone.”
Life + Times: Who is the “new everyone and how did that inspire the concept for HRDCVR?
Danyel Smith: The “new everyone” is the true demographic normal of the United States, which we believe has been underserved for a long time. We believe that many mainstream publications claimed to serve everyone, but in reality are serving a very narrow idea of who everyone in this country is. I think that some of the problems in our industry of journalism have to do with the fact that journalism has not paid enough attention to serving a diverse nation. We’d like to change that with HRDCVR. We’re looking to serve the full diversity of the United States of America as best as we can with a team that is made up of a diverse group of people. That’s what we want to do with HRDCVR.
L+T: Why is now the right time to launch HRDCVR?
DS: I feel like the disruption that’s going on in journalism and the changes in the demographics in the United States are pretty much happening at the same time. It is perfect timing for that reason.
L+T: Why is HRDCVR a hardcover magazine?
DS: We want it built to last. That’s why it’ll have a hardcover. It’s not that we wanted it to have a hardcover to say “Oh, wouldn’t that be cute?” We want it to be passed around among your friends. We don’t want it to get torn apart and for the staples to come out or for it to start looking raggedy. We also don’t want it to be treated like a precious trophy. We don’t want it to just sit on your coffee table. We want it to be passed around and for you to read two articles or maybe three art pieces and then pass it to your boy Steve, who passes it to his girl, because it has this cool fashion thing that he thinks she’d be interested in. A lot of thought went into this. We don’t know if we’re hitting everything on the exact right note just yet. We just know that we have support, we’re overfunded through Kickstarter, that we want to be more funded through Kickstarter and that we want to make this beautiful. I think people are use to getting served, but are not use to getting over-served. With HRDCVR we want to over-serve with beauty, great journalism, with diversity and everything like that.
L+T: You and Elliott are very prominent on social media. For HRDCVR, will you use social media to identify and better serve the new everyone?
DS: I think we’re both really active on social media. Obviously, Elliott, in particular, is a monster on Twitter and Instagram. I think he’s terribly underrated in regards to that. I really think that social media is just a part of it for us. I think that coming up in hip hop the way that we both did is another part of it for us. HRDCVR isn’t just a hip hop magazine, but hip hop is our basis, our love and our foundation. Hip Hop is underrated in terms of how much work it has done for American culture in terms of bringing people of different races together. I don’t think that in any way we are I’m a post-racial situation or that hip hop has necessarily solved many problems, but I do know hip hop has brought people closer together. I do know that there are so many hip hop concerts that have been so full of the new everyone with everyone just partying together and learning about music together. That culture and that mindset is where Elliott and I both come from. HRDCVR will also have that openness to all types of people.
L+T: Are you concerned that the attention spans of the younger members of the new everyone may be a little too short for them to truly appreciate what HRDCVR is offering?
DS: First of all, we’re just nervous, because we’re doing this on our own. I don’t care how long we’ve been in this business, because this is different. It’s very scary. Having to learn in front of everybody has been crazy scary. This is just crazy, but we’re not really nervous about those notorious millennials with those short attention spans. I have a lot of friends that are millennials. I’ve worked with a lot of people in that great generation. I feel like a lot of that may be true, but also some of it isn’t. I also wonder if they are being served with anything that is worth their attention, in terms of journalism. I really don’t know.
L+T: A few artists have argued that many young writers today are college educated, but not culturally educated? They know how to write, but they are by no means experts on the culture they’re covering. Do you see this as a major issue facing journalism today?
DS: We are in a very odd situation in journalism now. There are a lot of people who want to participate and who want to write. I don’t think the idea should be to call people out. I think it should be to bring people on and get them to the next level of what they’re trying to do. That’s important to both Elliott and myself. There are opportunities at HRDCVR for people to work with and learn from journalists who’ve been here before, but also there’s an opportunity for journalists from the millennial generation to teach us and to bring us into what’s going on with them. I’d rather not look at it as us against them, and instead look at it as us working together so we can build together. That’s what’s most important. The thing that you have to know about HRDCVR, Elliott and myself is that we’re not so much about talking about what’s happening.
L+T: So HRDCVR is more focused on being a part of the solution, as opposed to pointing a finger at what or who is wrong?
DS: I don’t know if we are going to be a solution, but I do know that we just want to be a model. To me, there is a lot of talk about there not being enough diversity in the media. It’s a lot of how come this and how come that, but instead of talking about it, I would much rather build something that makes a statement. You know what I’m saying? I’d rather engage with people, with readers, with culture and try to create something that makes a statement. I don’t want to write another piece about what’s wrong with journalism or anything like that.
L+T: Do you see HRDCVR as a fresh start or more of a continuation of your legacy?
DS: I think it’s the next chapter. I think the thing that both Elliott and I are really proud of is that we’ll soon be celebrating nine years of marriage. We feel like our biggest project is that we’ve built this relationship. One of the vows that we passed on our wedding day was to be each other’s partner in mischief. While we’re real good at being each other’s partner in mischief, I’m not sure if we quite figured out how to work together [laughs].
L+T: This is the first time that you and Elliott have worked together professionally. How has it been so far?
DS: It’s an interesting moment for us right now, because we don’t do this part together. It’s different, it’s fun, and we’re trying to make the other person’s dreams come true, which is all good for a marriage and a relationship. At the end of the day, that’s what a good relationship is – it’s growing together and helping each other grow. That’s what we’re trying to do. We hope that in helping each other grow we stay in service to the people we’ve been in service to all these years, which is people that love culture, music and journalism.
L+T: What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned throughout your career that will help to make your vision for HRDCVR a reality?
DS: The main thing that I’ve learned throughout my career that’s going to help with HRDCVR is that diverse teams make for better journalism. You’re not going to get every single person represented in every single meeting and there are going to be some arguments, but if there is a good and righteous mixture of people in the room, than there’s going to be a lot of good journalism. I think that’s the most important thing that I’ve learned in this business.
L+T: How does it feel knowing that after so many years your voice is still an important one within the culture?
DS: It’s just embarrassing [laughs]. I can’t even speak on that part of it. I feel lucky and blessed. I want to just stay working, stay doing, and stay building. That’s it. I feel blessed to have been a part of this hip hop culture.