Unless you were deeply, madly, hopelessly deep into the worlds of online media and magazines, you probably don’t know John Evans, who passed away the other day at the age of 66.
Evans spent a lot of years an exec for Rupert Murdoch, which makes him sort of an odd person for me to have liked. When Murdoch was trying to figure out the US magazine business, he put Evans in charge. The result was some excellent titles that made it, like Automobile, and some that didn’t, like Men’s Life. At its peak, Murdoch Magazines also ran TV Guide.
When Murdoch got out of the magazine business, he became interested in the Internet, and was one of the very first Big Media people to dip much more of a toe into it. Evans ran Murdoch’s Net business in the early-to-mid 90s — Delphi and a bunch of companies I no longer remember — and spent an ungodly amount of money on noble experiments in content that never amounted to much but employed a lot of my colleagues. (Murdoch set up his Net shop in a desolate and underdeveloped area of Manhattan: 6th Ave in the low ’20s. That the neighborhood is now so vibrant is due in no small measure to Murdoch’s bet on those few blocks.)
My own affection for Evans came from his magazine days. I wrote a few days ago about John Klingel and my attempt to start a music magazine in the ’80s. By making a few selected cold calls and exhibiting perhaps more nerve than sense, I got a meeting with Automobile’s David E. Davis Jr., an editor I greatly admire, where we spent a couple of hours bouncing ideas around. Without my knowing, Davis passed my stuff along to Evans, whose assistant called shortly thereafter to set up a meeting. It took several days after that call for the blood to return to my head.
Evans turned down the project, but I remember his courtesy and insight, and the seriousness with which he considered the pitch. I thought him an uncommon gentleman with an adventurous spirit, and never saw a reason to change my mind.