{ Mosenthein Island }

March 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

First river cleanup of the year. Actually, lots of firsts. Boating through a lock system. Being on the Mississippi River. Camping on an island in the middle of it.

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Seldom seen parts of this mid-American landscape. I want to find them all and show you. I’m “working from home” now, a misnomer that actually frees me to be intentionally anywhere.

The last few weeks have slayed my spirit. This weekend reminded me how to rise and fall in full view of the sun. Here’s to moving forward.

{ Also }

Ash Wednesday
by Elvis Perkins

“Going It Alone” by Fenton Johnson (twice)
“Rotten Ice” by Gretel Ehrlich (both in the April Harper’s)


{ A few minutes with Anne Trubek }

March 7, 2015 § 2 Comments

Now that you know how I feel about Belt Magazine, you’ll understand my excitement when a mutual acquaintance offered to e-introduce me to Anne Trubek, Belt’s founder and publisher. I tried playing it cool, but probably still used more exclamation points than appropriate.

Anne and I talked in January, but I’ve kept this blog on the backburner while I adjusted to fulltime-freelancing. (Yup, it’s official! You saw that coming though, right?)

Anne was as cool as other interviews made her sound. Since I’m already down with the Belt philosophy, I really wanted to learn how it’s run as a publication.

A lot of our conversation came back to money. Investors are great. Enthusiasm is great. Having sustainable funding to keep it running . . . definitely more painful, but a nice challenge in its own way. Here’s a wee bit of wisdom from Ms. Trubek, edited for brevity and clarity.

PS – If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I also recommend my article, “8 Lessons Learned from New Journalism Business Models.” Whether it’s the Texas Tribune or Belt Magazine, it seems like everyone’s figuring out how to make stable money to support meaningful journalism.

How did Belt get its financial start?

Belt came from profits from our first book and Kickstarter, and that was it. It was underfunded when we started and continued to be underfunded. An investor came on early, which was enormously enabling. If I were to do it again, I’d do it differently. But I am impulsive and I said, yeah, let’s just do it.

What would you do differently now?

Have more money. It really comes down to money. Paying writers is a big monetary commitment. I wish I had also found more funding before launching.

So nobody is full-time staff at Belt, right? It seems like many of your contributors are out there living and working in these cities, and are maybe not primarily journalists by trade.

One of the things I see that’s meaningful is that people send us things—that would not have even been written—because Belt exists. They’re not necessarily writers. A great example is this piece this we ran in December, “Love’s Anger,” about shootings in the context of the Rust Belt specifically. The author’s not someone who’s written about this for a general audience before.

You received 80 submissions in three weeks for your first book, the Cleveland Anthology. How did you solicit them?

My website/blog and Twitter. I put out a tweet and some people retweeted it. And some local places picked it up and said they’re looking for essays here. And a lot of people have stories to tell. It’s almost something people don’t realize they’re missing until something comes forward.

Why do online only?

I’ve never been interested in a print magazine. It’s a lot of work.

What’s your publication schedule like?

3-5 pieces a week. We plan on three a week. Contributors are mostly people coming to us, and that’s mainly because we have been working on the fly for so long. As we go forward, we’ll be doing more columns and regular features, and reaching out to more writers.

What have been your favorite pieces?

I’m very proud of anything on our, “Top 10 posts from 2014.” We ran a great piece called “Moundsville” that I loved in terms of the first-person essay and as part of what we do.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a publication like Belt?


There’s a low barrier to entry for an online magazine. Lots of experimentation and creativity can flourish without a lot of overhead. We’re at a point in the publication where we have to shift from saying, “How fun is this?” to, “How do we sustain this?” The first 12-14 months were pure fun and excitement. Have fun, and don’t get yourself in a situation where you can promise more than you can deliver.

Hosting events in conjunction with your publication seems to be a trend, especially for indie outfits. You’ve done a “Belt University” series. What’s next?

We do a huge array of different events. We’re actually no longer doing Belt University because we want to do more revenue-generating events around the whole region. We’re planning book launch parties, party parties and themed events.

Thanks so much, Anne! I appreciate you sharing your advice, and look forward to what Belt does down the line. « Read the rest of this entry »

{ In which I profess my love for Belt Magazine }

March 6, 2015 § 2 Comments

If I could point to a publication that’s doing—conceptually—what I’d like to do, I’d throw my whole stance, Lewis-and-Clark-style, toward Belt Magazine. Belt doesn’t just “lead the pack” in Midwest publishing. It is the pack. A lone wolf, if you will. And as the print-anthology and online-journalism publication heads toward its third year, I’m still as excited about it as when it first came out. Born of a Cleveland writing anthology, Belt Publishing is creating a platform for Midwest writers to congregate and do just damn good work.

Belt Magazine publishes independent journalism about the Rust Belt. Online only, it launched in September 2013, and focuses on longform journalism, op-eds and first person essays of interest to the Rust Belt and beyond.

Belt Magazine publishes independent journalism about the Rust Belt. Online only, it launched in September 2013, and focuses on longform journalism, op-eds and first person essays of interest to the Rust Belt and beyond.

Tomorrow I’ll post a quick interview with Belt’s editor, Anne Trubek. But first, here’s why I think the magazine is so important:

Belt bolsters Midwest regional writing.

“There are a number of high-quality regional publications,” founder and publisher Anne Trubek told The American Prospect. “The New Yorker is the most obvious one—you don’t think of it as regional but it is. Texas Monthly and Pacific Standard are other good examples. There’s not a single example in the Midwest. People read those publications who aren’t in those regions because they’re interested in them, or because the writing is very good. That’s what I would like Belt to be seen as, and become.”

{ See also, “Midwest Lit: the new nostalgia.” }

It’s identified a regional audience for Belt not so much by geography as history.

Which is a little academic, a little heady. And I love it for that.

Trubek again: “There are a lot of similar issues in these cities that had their peaks around the same time, are facing similar problems now with housing and manufacturing loss. They have incredible cultural institutions that are about the same age, similar immigration patterns—there are so many commonalities.”

{ See also, “Where is the Rust Belt?” }

It curates sophisticated, serious, longform journalism and first-person essays.

Some of my favorites include this piece on Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen, a fascinating investigation of a county probate judge’s weird attempts to take down the local parks district, and “A Middle-Aged Student’s Guide to Social Work.” There’s an underlying, unapologetic certainty that social justice, culture and the environment deserve deep journalistic dissection.

“We’re trying to avoid the trap of page views, which snares you into a cycle of putting out more and more things. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that strategy, but if everything’s like that then you’re going to lose certain kinds of writing.”

I also love this closing quote from a Nieman Labs interview, in which Trubek takes a firm stance that people in Rust Belt cities should care about what’s going on in other Rust Belt cities. That there should be a way to get “Clevelanders to read about Buffalo,” for example. This is bold. Most publishers would approach this the other way, right? See what ideas are viable among communities, and then choose a philosophic approach? I’m interested to see if/how Belt might influence the regional identity.

Trubek has pretty much insisted that women be published equally.

At one point, I went to social media and said if we don’t get more women pitching I’m just going to shut down Belt for a week.” – Trubek, to the American Prospect.

Annnnnd its first print magazine is all about wildlife.

I’m in love.

{ Read more about Redhorse: The Rust Belt Bestiary. } « Read the rest of this entry »

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