Our Editor: An Interview
Chris Middleton, our founder, editor and chief designer
“The more noisy the world gets, the more I want a clear signal.”
Chris Middleton, editor in chief, Strategist magazine
He is the Strategist. Chris Middleton is a polymath and, among other things, one of the UK’s leading business and technology journalists and commentators on digital media.
He also loves print publishing and design – and is a magazine aficionado. “In business, being an aficionado is one of the most important things you can do, beyond helping people,” he says. “Because if you don’t give a damn, why bother?”
Chris conceived Strategist magazine (aka ‘the Strategist‘) from scratch and developed it himself over “two years, ten pages of strategy, and 100 conversations”.
He researched the market – mapping out ideas, commissioning features, honing the magazine’s voice and style, discovering new writers, art-editing, designing and laying out every page of the concept issue himself, and even designing the ‘Strategy Cube’ logo and the magazine’s advertising campaigns.
“It annoyed me that an intelligent, sophisticated, entertaining, challenging magazine about the real world of creating and running organisations just didn’t exist,” he says. “And I knew that being annoyed about it meant something. So I decided to make it myself.”
Chris also conceived the digital strategy – watch this and other spaces. He designed and manages this website in collaboration with fellow polymath, Mike Jenkins, and is co-director of publishing startup EastwoodMiddleton (formed with journalist and photographer Gary Eastwood). EastwoodMiddleton owns the Strategist magazine and website.
“Tablets have changed people’s habits and preferences,” says Middleton. “There’s no longer any distinction between an ebook, a magazine and a website. So think of the Strategist as a quarterly print book and an ever-changing ebook.
“We believe that the web will become more like magazines, not the other way around. So we’re giving the people who want depth the depth that they demand. Ninety-nine per cent of publishers’ websites – those thousands of ‘me too’ portals – are designed for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Speed and instant gratification are addictions, for sure, but addictions always lead to low-grade products.”
Before the Strategist…
During a long career, Chris has been (among other things):
• Editor of Computing, one of the UK’s best-known technology magazines for decision-makers (where he remains consulting editor at large for Incisive Media);
• Editor of Computer Business Review (CBR) during its most prosperous period, which included spinning off new publications, publishing a Mandarin-language edition in China, launching the original cbronline.com, and building a new editorial team;
• Co-founder, managing editor, chief writer and designer of Professional Outsourcing (print issue). Its publishers simply wanted “a magazine about outsourcing”, but it was Chris who built that title’s vision, editorial structure, independent voice and content from scratch. He conceived and launched its supplements, designed the magazine and its spinoffs, managed their print production, and (unknown to many) laid out and art-edited every page himself. He also wrote the majority of its features and proposed the magazine’s successful series of boutique events.
Under his leadership and against all industry trends, that magazine prospered and grew consistently over four years of quarterly print issues to lead its market, proving much of the accepted wisdom in business publishing wrong.
• Over the years, Chris has also written for: The Guardian; the BBC; Tomorrow’s World; Publishing News; Computer Weekly; I-CIO; the award-winning (and much-missed) Business & Technology magazine, where he was features editor; organ of the publishing industry The Bookseller (where he was production editor and occasional photographer); and many of the UK’s leading online and print publications for business.
Three perspectives on journalism
• While at B&T in the 90s, Chris wrote the first major piece about the online threat to the music industry, telling the CEOs of major labels why their days were numbered. “Nobody at the publishers understood why I wanted to write about the music business – or even the internet! – in a business magazine,” he says. “They got angry. That’s when I knew I was onto something.
“Of course, all the label CEOs said that the internet would have a negligible impact on disc sales. But all the artists I spoke to got it immediately.”
• At Computing this decade, he coined the phrase “the Data Bank of England” to describe Whitehall’s bleak strategy of being the broker of citizens’ private data, without their knowledge or consent. A ‘data banking’ crisis now looms, he believes, centred on what he calls “sub-prime information”.
“It’ll be just like the financial crisis: a mix of easy money and contempt for human dignity,” he explains. “It won’t just be the data that’s wrong in many cases, but also the thinking behind its gathering and analysis: low-grade algorithms, false assumptions, political ideology, human error. Lives will be destroyed. It’s happening already.”
Of his recent, controversial editorship of an outsourcing title, Chris says, “As a practice, outsourcing’s hated by millions of people, it’s sensitive, it’s political, and it has real economic, employment, and human rights implications. Sometimes the consequences are devastating – I know that from personal experience. But those are all good reasons to place the facts dead centre and produce an intelligent magazine about it.
“You don’t have to sell your soul to write about subjects that make other people angry. You just have to be honest about them, so you can look people in the eye.”
Author and book editor
Chris is author of several non-fiction books on graphic design, music-making, sound, and digital media production, all published worldwide and translated into several languages, plus a ground-breaking report on digital rights.
Chris has also edited, commissioned and/or contributed to more than 50 books on subjects as diverse as photography, cinema, video, graphic design, special effects, animation, illustration, industrial design, print production, architecture, literature, world affairs, and robotics for a number of leading publishers, including DK, Rotovision, Ilex, Mitchell Beazley, Focal Press, and Amphoto. He is writing two novels, Morpheus Speedway and The Golden Arrow.
Under a pseudonym, Chris is a musician, songwriter, session guitarist and freelance music producer, with several songs featured on BBC6music and in soundtracks for some award-winning short films. He does voluntary work as a mentor for foundation learning institute, DV8 Training, working with young musicians and creators.
Chris is also a hardcore collector and aficionado of an eclectic range of things, and is one of the few private citizens to own an advanced humanoid robot – a next-gen NAO-25 humanoid – which he hires out to events and conferences.
Chris was born in Folkestone, has a BA in English and Drama from Kent University, and attended Reigate Grammar, the Surrey independent school that in the same period also produced people as diverse as former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer, comedian David Walliams, political commentator Andrew Sullivan, survivalist Ray Mears, and musician Fatboy Slim.
“I’m always listening for signals. When I find one among the static, I tune in. I try to make it louder and clearer, and then find out what it means.”
We see in colour.