Chris Uggen's Blog: magazine obituaries

Monday, September 17, 2012

magazine obituaries

If you really love a small publication, I hope you'll someday have the opportunity to visit its offices. Take a firsthand peek behind that impressive professional masthead and you might discover that the whole awesome shebang runs on the caffeine and good energy of a tiny crew with an even tinier budget. Stick around a bit longer and you'll want to buy this crew lunch. And maybe an air conditioner and a few decent chairs.

Seeing the conditions under which your favorite magazine is produced would likely deepen your respect for its staff and your appreciation for its content. The only downside to visiting is that it might sting a bit more if and when the publication can't make it financially -- and you're confronted with an editor's letter that starts reading like an obituary.

With so many good publications struggling to stay afloat, I've been reading a lot of obituaries lately. Around here, the TSP team was especially disappointed to see the Utne Reader leave Minnesota in a cost-cutting move. Founder Eric Utne, Editor David Schimke, and the wonderful Utne staff have been a special source of inspiration and guidance for our own rag-tag crew.

This week, I was disappointed to see FINAL ISSUE! on the cover of Twin Cities Metro magazine and to read Dana Raidt's final editor's letter.
[T]his magazine has always been a labor of love. And you can only expect content of METRO’s caliber to be produced with few resources and little in the way of financial return for so long. You can only work so many hours, fight so many uphill battles and burn so much of your creative energy before it’s time to file the whole situation under “shit happens” and move on with your life. So that’s what we’re doing: choosing to remember the good, learn from the bad, give credit to everyone who furthered our beyond-ambitious mission and honor you, the people who supported the magazine—and therefore, us—by buying it and singing its praises... [P]roducing this issue knowing it is our last has been a challenging, heartbreaking and surreal process.
Ouch. For six years, Metro consistently managed to place well-researched stories on topics like gender inequality and the school achievement gap amid fluffier stuff on the best dive bars and the beautiful people of Glamorama. More personally, I admired Metro's art and illustrations and their engaging layout and design work. While I don't know much about their operations, I know that it requires creativity, dedication, and talent to consistently deliver such well-designed pages on a shoestring.

Publications such as Metro and Utne would seem to have little in common with academic journals, but the best journal editors bring the same passion to their work -- and many express sentiments similar to those of Dana Raidt when that work is concluded. The difference, of course, is that we academic editors tend to have day jobs and steady paychecks as professors -- unlike the talented folks who staff our journals and our magazines. At an independent press gathering in the depths of the recession, one editor assured me that she never worried about losing health insurance -- she'd never had any health insurance to lose.

So if you really love a small publication,  find ways to promote, celebrate, and support those who work so hard to produce it. Don't let your subscription lapse and don't be fooled by their fancy masthead -- they could be dangerously close to writing their own obituary.

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