Publications are funny creatures. I’ve worked for quite a few, mostly magazines, and each has had its own personality, its style of groupthink. Unlike a traditionally-structured corporation, its collective identity and mandate is vague, shifting as the names change and migrate upward on the masthead.
The cover above is from the first fledgling magazine I ever had a stake in, starting in the year 2000. Covering Canadian underground culture, from skateboarding to the rave scene, we thought we were pretty badass. We also thought swearing in print was pretty fucking special.
A magazine (online or otherwise) can be as hands-off as a metafilter, collecting content that would interest their reader base, perhaps annotating it like the folks at BoingBoing, but otherwise serving as a curated conduit. Other pubs are so heavily edited and specific in their commissioning assignments that a writer won’t recognize the Frankensteined text under her byline. If LWON were a magazine, rather than a blog, we’d be a mostly staff-written one, with no editor at all.
In my opinion, the more a magazine tends toward a heavy editorial hand, the more they have to grapple with stagnation. No one person can generate enough new ideas to fuel it year after year, and no one group of friends, drawing on a common culture, is going to last very long without recycling content or systematizing their story choices into a predictable cycle. Staff turnover is one way to achieve this, but it doesn’t preserve the institutional experience very well. Seeking out writers who may not have passed through the economically exclusive BA–>MJ–>unpaid internship gauntlet is another way. It taps into the entire segments of society whose ideas are virtually unrepresented in mainstream print.
Staleness and its recurrence in magazines is what leads me to perk up when I see a new publication launch in my area of interest. Pulling against the enthusiasm is a cynicism born of the poor prognosis faced by start-up publications. I’ll never forget the excitement in the air as The Walrus appeared in Canada, promising to be the Harper’s of the North. “The time has come, The Walrus said, to talk of many things”. And talk they did, and so did everyone else as they swept the National Magazine Awards and settled in to become a Canadian institution.
Near my workplace in London’s Fitzrovia neighbourhood are the offices of Aeon, a recently-launched online magazine that puts a long-form touch on general-interest, good-quality writing. The husband and wife team at its helm were collaborating on a book when they realized they’d rather host the discussion than dictate it. With enough start-up funding to take the team through the first delicate years of self-definition, they have the luxury not to pander to market forces. This morning I’ve been reading David Deutsch’s piece about what’s holding up artificial intelligence, and Steve Fleming’s application of neuroscience to the criminal law system. Welcome to the conversation, Aeon.
Neksis skateboarding cover option by Christian Huffman
No idea why the word Sex has been blurred out of the Sex issue cover…