From Vanity Fair to south of France - and backing a news app

Mr Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fai
Mr Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fai

NEW YORK • Mr Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fair, was preparing coq au vin in Provence, France, the other day when he picked up a telephone call from back home.

"We're just cooking," he said, affably, as the sounds of family chimed in the background.

This is what semi-retirement looks like for Mr Carter, a bon vivant who is taking what he has called a six-month "garden leave" in France after 25 years as one of the United States' most influential magazine editors.

He keeps up with the news in the London dailies, has found himself bombarded by Johnny Hallyday tributes in the French press and started reading Michael Wolff's book, Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House, before giving up halfway through.

"It was too depressing," Mr Carter said. "It's what I got away from."

He is not, however, staying idle. He said he was exploring a suite of new ventures - the first of which is set to debut on Monday.

Zig, an app that aims to simplify users' consumption of news, is Mr Carter's first public project since he left Vanity Fair last month.

It resembles an Instagram of news: a feed of photographs culled from stories around the Web, with the material tailored to a user's interests.

The idea, said Mr Joshua James, one of the founders, is to deliver useful news without making readers slog through a dozen sites.

"I had been going to the same 15 websites for years and they never knew what I wanted when I got there," he said.

Mr Carter offered advice - when the founders considered changing their logo, Mr Carter said he liked the old one, so it stayed - but his most significant contribution was financial.

He is one of several high-profile investors in Zig, along with music producer Quincy Jones, Hollywood mogul Ron Meyer and concert giant Live Nation.

Zig declined to disclose how much it had raised.

Mr James and a co-founder, Adam Platzner, pitched the idea to Mr Carter at a tech-industry conference hosted by Vanity Fair in 2016. (The third founder is Mr John Tornow.)

At the time, Mr Carter was mulling the state of news. He recalled an assistant pointing out to him that millennials "think in more visual terms, than in textual terms".

"That sort of sat with me for a bit," he said. "And then when Josh and Adam came in and saw me and explained Zig, I thought this goes right to that."

But the former magazine editor said he was setting his own ambitions beyond the media realm.

"This is not my life's work going forward. But I'm willing to help them in any possible way I can."

Any details about those other projects?

"I'm still in the planning stages," he said, before excusing himself for his evening meal. "I may wind up running a pig farm here in France."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'From Vanity Fair to south of France - and backing a news app'. Print Edition | Subscribe