In conversation with

Henry Tobias Jones

Features Director of ES Magazine

Henry Tobias Jones ES Magazine

Introduction

Introduction

Henry Tobias Jones is on a mission to set the pub conversation for your weekend. As the Features Director for ES Magazine, it’s his job to commission smart London voices, and spark debate with whatever (or whoever) he lands on.

Take the magazine’s exclusive cover interview with Jeremy Corbyn – it’s likely you picked it up on a Thursday night, and by Friday were in a heated discussion with friends and family about the upcoming election. Either way, Jones will have completed his mission.

As a journalist whose work has taken him to The Gentleman’s Journal (as Features Editor) and Dyson’s On Magazine (as  founder and Editor) and now in his role at ES Magazine, Henry is a writer who knows the value of a story well told.

We spent a lunchtime in a West London pub to listen in on some conversations, talk about celebrity egos and why writing with journalistic integrity is so important.

Question and Answer

What were the stories that you loved growing up?

I liked newspapers. I was the sort of child who always liked to know what adults were talking about – you know, precocious… Like most little boys, I thought reading and homework were a waste of time, so I spent zero time on kid’s novels. But I couldn’t get enough of the day’s big stories – royal scandals, bonkers political policies or a good old-fashioned crime caper. I think it’s because I come from a family who love a good, healthy debate (occasionally argument), so it was really important that I knew more than everyone else if I wanted to win.

You were the founding editor of Dyson’s on: magazine, which focuses on technology and innovation – how different was it going from editing and writing features for Gentleman’s Journal to creating editorial content for a brand?

The story behind that was actually quite simple. I interviewed Sir James [Dyson] for Gentleman’s Journal and he really liked what I wrote, so he asked me to do more of the same for his firm. I think he knows that a well written story is worth more than a million bad ads, so the stories I was writing (and commissioning) for Dyson were always journalistic, rather than “brand editorial”. It was really important to me that we were making a magazine that was interesting in its own right, not just advertising – luckily they agreed. Ironically, when I was at Gentleman’s Journal, we were very good at making branded content. It shows you how confused the editorial space between brands and journalism has become.

Why did it make sense for someone like Dyson to have a print magazine? What did it want to achieve that digital could not?

We wanted something you could collect and that you might keep like an annual or coffee table book – Sir James and I even discussed making it possible for readers to bring their copies to the Demos to have them bound into a hardback book. Each issue was meticulously designed by my friend Joseph Sinclair Parker who cultivated a brilliant visual identity for each on: edition. Going to these lengths shows your readers that you think the stories you’re telling them are actually worth the investment. That’s important.

Henry Tobias Jones

ES Magazine definitely feels like London’s mouthpiece – how important is creating a sense of the city when commissioning and writing pieces? Is that a lot of pressure?

We are 100% London’s mouthpiece. Credit where credit is due, Laura [Weir, editor] and Anna [van Praagh, deputy editor] have done an incredible job of building that credibility with our readers. But I wouldn’t say we are ‘creating a sense of the city’, but rather trying to tap into one that already exists. The hard part is trying to be constantly tuned into what the big stories are in our city. We publish on a Thursday, and I know we have done a great job when I hear people chatting about one of our best, most provocative reads in the pub over the weekend. I wouldn’t call that pressure, it is a great privilege.

“I listen to a lot of other people's conversations, and increasingly I notice that most of them actually comprise two people just waiting for their chance to speak. If you want to be a good interviewer you really have to curtail that impulse to make it all about you.”

Who is a significant London storyteller for you?

Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Daily Mail. He was the ‘greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street.’ He was the beginning of democratised news for middle-class England. You can’t overstate the value of knowing what real people want, and giving it to them in my industry – and he was the master of doing precisely that. Think Logan Roy, but with a heart…

When you are profiling and interviewing someone, what is your process in digging deeper and getting beneath the surface of their celebrity?

I listen to a lot of other people’s conversations (occupational hazard), and increasingly I notice that most of them actually comprise two people just waiting for their chance to speak. If you want to be a good interviewer you really have to curtail that impulse to make it all about you. The other problem I see all too often is the type of questions you are willing to ask. Too many interviews I read seem to be about the journalist’s sad hope that their celebrity interviewee’s fame will rub off on them. Perhaps it’s because too many journos believe they’re social media influencers now? Regardless, the best advice is to remind yourself of why you are there: it is your duty to bring back something interesting for your readers. Sometimes this means asking tricky questions and being brutal with their delicate celebrity egos when you force them to give you a good answer. Often this will come at the expense of that celebrity liking your posts on Instagram and I am afraid you’ll have to be okay with that…

Henry Tobias Jones Pub

Is there a feature which has stood out for you in your career, and why?

Interviewing Sir James gave me the chance to collaborate with one of Britain’s last real geniuses, so it would be ungrateful not to mention it (again). But a recent one has really stuck with me because I got the rare opportunity to interview a close friend. He was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Klinefelter’s syndrome which means he was born with an extra X chromosome. In the light of his life changing diagnosis, we had a very interesting debate about what masculinity means to both of us. It was a chance for me to mix business and pleasure, to take the questions you’d ask a friend way beyond the limits of polite conversation. A rare treat for someone as nosy as me.

What are your top three tips for pitching a feature?

I genuinely have no advice to add on this. I mean what do you say: ‘keep it brief’, ‘read the magazine beforehand’? That’s just common sense. If you have the best idea ever we will try to get it in the magazine, obviously. But like most things, it’s about timing and luck, some pitches work, some don’t. It’s not personal.

Is there a specific writer or piece of writing you return to?

I’ve always enjoyed Ian McEwan. He’s written a few stories about Henley-on-Thames where I grew up, and London which is where I feel most at home, so he feels a little like home to me. I also read a lot of Christopher Hitchens, he had an unmatched ability to smash people (who deserved it) apart in a few words. With the sheer number of charlatans who seem to be out in the world, free to talk utter nonsense unchallenged, we could really do with having his talent back. I just wish he’d written more before he died.

Dyson On Magazine
"Going to these lengths shows your readers that you think the stories you‘re telling them are actually worth the investment. That’s important."

What do you believe writing is a vehicle for?

Every now and then odd things just seem to interest me, usually stories or histories that other people don’t seem to have noticed. I like to try and unravel them, to find out what it is that interests me about them, and to show other people that this small, otherwise insignificant detail is actually interesting. You won’t hear a better compliment about something you’ve written than: ‘That’s interesting!’

The Storylist

Henry's Storylist

Books

  1. A Curious Career by Lynn Barber
  2. Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts
  3. Common Sense by Thomas Paine
  4. Trump: The Art Of The Deal by Donald Trump
  5. Mail Men by Adrian Addison
  6. The Origins Of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama
  7. All Out War by Tim Shipman

Newsletters

  1. The Times’ Red Box
  2. Politico London Calling
  3. ZeroHedge: The Durden Dispatch
  4. Recomendo
  5. Longform.org
  6. Benedict Evans

Digital Platforms

  1. TikTok
  2. Apple News +
  3. Quartz
  4. New York Magazine’s The Intelligencer
  5. Air Mail Weekly

Magazines

  1. ES Magazine
  2. Courier
  3. New York Magazine
  4. The Spectator
  5. The Atlantic
  6. Wall Street Journal Magazine
  7. Bloomsberg Business Week

Podcasts

  1. Evening Standard’s The Leader
  2. New York City Crime Report
  3. Have You Heard George's Podcast?
  4. Courier Workshop
  5. BBC Global News Podcast
Previous Story
Irenosen Okojie
Irenosen Okojie

Author of Butterfly Fish, Speak Gigantular and Nudibranch

Next Story
Sam Parker

Editor-In-Chief at Penguin

Articles

Featured storytellers

View all

Sign up to our newsletter