A Vision of 'Good' Works in Magazines, Web

NPR's Scott Simon visits the West Hollywood office of the media company Good to speak to the company's founder, Ben Goldhirsh. Through Good magazine, its Web site, and a film-production arm, Goldhirsh aims to promote philanthropy and creative entrepreneurship.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

We're sitting here with Ben Goldhirsh, who was the founder of a media company called GOOD. Mr. Goldhirsh is young, rich and ambitious.

His father, Bernard Goldhirsh, founded a boating newsletter that eventually became Sail magazine; he sold that magazine in the late 1980s and started another called Inc.; several years ago, he sold that for about $200 million.

Bernard Goldhirsh tried to teach his children the virtues of hard work and self-reliance. He set up a foundation in 2000 to fund brain cancer research and died of brain cancer himself three years later. He left his two children, Ben and his older sister Liz, to figure out what to do with the foundation's funds. Now, they couldn't just withdraw the money from their trust to live well and indulge themselves because Bernard Goldhirsh stipulated that his beneficiaries could only use the money to start up businesses.

So, Ben Goldhirsh decided to do that; he launched a magazine, quote, "for people who give a damn," and named it GOOD. The theme with their current issue is high-tech-low-tech; it includes a critique of the virtual world, Second Life, and a profile of a professor who runs numbers for Fortune 500 companies and the Pentagon.

Mr. Goldhirsh, thanks very much for your hospitality.

BEN GOLDHIRSH: It's a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: You have an idea that philanthropy can be made profitable or at least break even.

GOLDHIRSH: I have a belief that doing good is a service and that it can be monetized and that can support further growth. I think we have an audience that grew up with the benefits of capitalism and really doesn't see the market as a threat, but sees the market as an opportunity to respond to a lot of challenges that the government might not be responding to. And so I think there's a really exciting opportunity to direct that energy and direct people's motivations to succeed on the bottom line to engage these broader issues.

SIMON: Well, explain to us how that works though. I mean, it sounds fine, but...

GOLDHIRSH: I think we're in a very fortunate position where our social ROIs are tied directly to our financial ROI.

SIMON: ROI means?

GOLDHIRSH: ROI means return on investment, and so, you know, you can look on a few different returns on your investment, you can look at your social return on investment in terms of what impact you're having, and you can also look at your financial return on investment, which is a far easier one to quantify.

So the Choose GOOD campaign, if you will subscribe, the entirety of their subscription fee gets mashed and donated towards a non-profit of their choice - one of 12 that we've teamed up with. The first year, we had 30,000 subscribers and we raised $600,000 for our non-profit partners, and so that's really exciting, and that's the social ROI. The financial ROI comes in with the advertisers who are trying to reach those same eyeballs, and that's what generates the revenue to grow the company.

SIMON: And how is the company doing financially?

GOLDHIRSH: You know, the company is on its way. The first year was really an experiment, and we focused entirely on the creative output - on the editorial products; it worked. Our first film was the second biggest sale in the history of Sundance; it's called the "Son of Rambow." It's a story of two kids making a sequel to "Rambo" on their backyard. We're trying to extricate it...

SIMON: A lot of people would assume that a media company called GOOD would have to make one film after another about Mother Teresa.

GOLDHIRSH: To us, that's not what good is. Good is not somehow soft or somehow sacrificial. Good is impressive; it's pragmatic; it's sexy; it's creative. And so why we loved, you know, "Son of Rambow" and why we got behind that film was that's a story about friendship, and it's a story about creativity, and those are inside, you know, I guess, values that are so core to the sensibility.

So, creatively, we've done what we hoped to do. We didn't put that much energy on monetization, but now, as we try to turn from the experiment to a business, and now we need to turn this business into a great business, we need to be better than our competitors.

SIMON: A lot of people with your youth and your money would find challenging ways to indulge themselves. Is this in line, not just with your father's formal strictures that you have to use the money to start a business, but with something he embodied to you as a person?

GOLDHIRSH: You know, I grew up with my father as quite a role model, and you know, every day at the dinner table, it was some sort of celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. I also really digested a lot of values that are involved around using your assets whatever they maybe, whether it's your time, your vote, you know, your dollars. You know, I grew up to think about the engaged life as a sort of life that would give me happiness. This, to me, is my best effort to live a happy life.

SIMON: If you're successful, Time Warner, Viacom, some other successful media company, chances are, will probably make a run at you.

GOLDHIRSH: You know, I think that's something very core to GOOD is an independent mindset and an independent attitude, so I don't know how we could keep that and be kind of digested by a broader media company. At the same time, I think we need to really keep an open mind in how we can work with kind of some of the infrastructure elements that are out there. You know, I look at what Oprah's done in terms of, you know, she works with Hearst on her print title; she works with King on her TV title. So I look at, you know, what different cross platform media companies have done, and I really want to pull from there experiences what the best way forward is. But I hope that we are buyers in this market, not people to be bought.

SIMON: Ben Goldhirsh is the founder of the media company called GOOD. Thanks very much.

GOLDHIRSH: Thanks so much.

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