{ How To Make Money With Magazines: A Dreamer’s Guide }

September 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Coverage Area-01Whaddup, readers. If I’ve been a wee bit absent, it’s because, this time, I’m actually moving forward with making a magazine instead of just blogging about magazine-making.

Cue the trumpets: We’re calling it The New Territory, and it’s going to feature the south-central U.S. in full color: a general scope of genres and topics, with a proudly regional focus. Of course I’ll discuss my process here, but The Gasconader will remain first and foremost a cheering/advice section for all kinds of magazines and Midwest art projects. To follow progress on The New Territory (TNT) specifically, subscribe to my new newsletter, The Roar of Discovery.

So. The last newsletter’s subject was getting “Down to Business,” and I highlighted some ideas for generating revenue for this title. After several years working in and around nonprofits as well as small businesses, establishing TNT as a self-sustaining for-profit company is important to me. Going for-profit is a rare approach for magazine focused on meaningful storytelling (rather than lifestyle, say), especially in our region. The only one that comes to mind is This Land Press in Oklahoma. Columbia Journalism Review did a great story about them back in 2012.

While I try to keep a close eye on both editorial and business ends of magazine-making, there’s still a ton to learn. I’m taking a moment today, using The New Territory as an example, to discuss different approaches to revenue and profit. If you want a primer on why it’s a good idea to diversify funding strategies, start with this Nieman Labs article, “The newsonomics of small things.”

Here’s how I weighed each idea, and keep in mind, I have raised precisely -$300 for the project so far. So maybe you should be schooling me. « Read the rest of this entry »


{ The Society of Environmental Journalists: Their reporting is fierce, their smiles are genuine, and my god, this coverage is so essential }

August 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

In just a couple of months (yay!) I’ll be in Norman, Okla., for the Society of Environmental Journalists conference. I could say a hundred good things about SEJ, but this video really says it all (and I love that it features some of my favorite people in the organization, women and men I’m honored to call colleagues and happy to consider friends).

Environmental coverage is costly, and for 25 years, SEJ has provided monetary and resource support for environmental journalists worldwide. If you want to see what excellent journalism looks like, check out the winners of the Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment–just announced this week! If you want to continue to see what excellent environmental journalism looks like, you’d do well to consider a donation to SEJ’s fabulous programs. « Read the rest of this entry »

{ Lesson: Here’s why you should pay writers. Assignment: Go pay writers. }

July 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’ve been living under the roof of a car for two months and didn’t realize Belt Magazine is running a Kickstarter until I checked their website today. Belt is one of the Midwest’s finest publications, both in terms of journalistic integrity and literary quality. And they’re raising money to keep that going! Just 22 hour left! So go fund them, PLEASE (I know they’ve reached their goal, but more money = more quality writing)!

On the Kickstarter page, they shared what writers say about working with Belt. Here are a few of my favorites:

Belt is essential reading for anyone interested in compelling essays and reportage about one of the country’s most fascinating regions. For writers, it’s a venue that offers thoughtful editing and dependable payment, both of which are rare among online publishers. –Jeremy Lybarger

Thanks to Belt Magazine I was able to find a home for a fascinating story about Midwestern history, a story that’s still relevant today but has been largely forgotten. The editors were great to work with, did a great job with the story’s layout and they paid me promptly. Can’t say enough good things about them. –Debbie Carlson

“Because Belt paid me, I was able to make time to interview authors of special interest to the region, and hopefully the coverage helped them get paid, too.” –Zoe Zolbrod

“Writing for Belt is a great experience from pitch to payment. The process is smooth, the feedback is helpful, and the editorial staff is all-around quite pleasant.” –Ryan Schnurr

When I read articles by other Belt authors, I find myself marveling at the writing and wishing I could have turned a phrase like they did. The words are chosen aptly and they convey moods so nicely. We need good writing in this world, and for all the technological changes — print, web, tweets — writing still communicates feelings, the complexity of the human journey, and entanglements of our lives in ways that nothing else can. Belt keeps the spirit of writing vibrant, and for those of us who adore the written word, this counts for quite a lot. –Rick Perloff

“Belt paid me to research and write a story about the state of colleges in the midwest, which have a huge effect on the economy and culture in our region. This is work that other publications pass on, because they are focused on the coasts.” –Ann Logue

“Belt is an undeniably special place. The fact that a magazine exists where quality, experimental journalism can have a home, be paid, and go home with its dignity, is a testament to the amazing staff that Belt employs. At Belt, an important, well-told story has real monetary value. Their unwillingness to succumb to cheaper quality work is what keeps their readers loyal and their writers ambitious. When click-bait grows up, it wants to be Belt Magazine.”Zoe Gould

And finally, if you feel like you really need to get something out of this deal, the perks for the campaign are quite reasonably rated. I’m getting a copy of The Cincinnati Anthology for just $15! Although given my environmental interest, you’d think I’d go for Redhorse, their nature magazine, but nope. I’m really really interested in their treatment of an entire community. Bring it on, Belt!

You can read a conversation I had with Belt founder, Anne Trubek, here.

{ Online publishing platforms: is diversity worth it? }

April 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

The internet has so many publishing platforms and concepts. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t think I want to play that game.

Ok, here’s one that sounds cool: Deca. Its (experienced and acclaimed) journalists formed a cooperative to create and sell longform stories for tablets, phones, etc. with subscriptions that cost $3 per story or $15 per year. They’re hosted on Tugboat, a “storefront” website (publisher? platform?), which reminds me a little bit of Beacon, without the crowdfunding emphasis.

Deca’s inspiration, so the story goes, comes from Magnum, a member-owned photo agency formed in the 1950s as photo technology became more accessible. It’s a great inspiration to cite, though Deca is certainly not the first group of writers to strike out together on the internet (see Climate Confidential, for instance). And they almost always sound cool, really.

It would be great if the independent online publishers could make it. It would be great if they find an audience that pays. But there are so many projects out there that are going to start and fail. One acclaimed platform, Byliner, sort of crumbled in September 2014 last year after its launch in 2011. Here’s an obituary for the website, with a subhead that reads, “Longform journalism just isn’t a huge moneymaker.”
“What originally excited me about Byliner was that it wanted to let writers chase those long investigative stories and would pay them to do so,” the author says. “It didn’t work out. That doesn’t necessarily mean such a model can’t work — it just means the expectations have to be different. And by ‘different,’ I primarily mean ‘lower.'”

(Another online publisher, Vook, bought Byliner. Vook appears to market to individual authors and claims Byliner as its “first digital imprint,” though the difference between Byliner stories and other Vook titles seems unclear.)

Ay yi yi, maybe I’m a geezer. But if longform journalism just isn’t a huge money maker, it seems like journalists are working too hard to diversity their platforms for publishing (how to write, edit, get published, get paid), when really we should be working harder to diversity how we’re funded. Some are doing it right, like Texas Tribune with its sponsored events (and angel investors), Rocky Mountain I-News with its journalism training workshops (and foundation sponsors), Belt Magazine with its books and Atavist with its publishing technology that it licenses to other publishers. These multi-pronged approaches combine bold business ventures with quality journalism. That’s true creativity. And that’s a game I think I’d be down to play.

What do you think? Am I being a downer? What platforms/publishers do you think are doing it right? Leave me a comment, I want to talk about it! « Read the rest of this entry »

{ 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 »

{ Environmental Reporting: Reality, Special Interests and the Media’s Role }

November 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hey ya’ll, I’m speaking at a panel on environmental reporting as part of Media Literacy Week in St. Louis. Come meet me if you’re in the area!

{ Alt fashion mag publisher talked to The Riveter. And thus meets my yearly quota of fashion news. }

September 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Aren’t Sunday mornings great? After recovering from a busy river cleanup and music festival in Boonville, I woke up to a crescent moon! In my window! And the wealth of the internet! At my fingertips! Thank God it’s 2014.

So while shaking off sleep, I checked in on websites I love and admire and stopped at The Riveter, a year-old publication founded by two Mizzou J-School women dedicated to women in longform journalism. They’re rad, the magazine’s rad, and you should probably go like them now before they’re famous.

Anyway, The Riveter’s most recent Q&A introduced me to Haley Mlotek, publisher of 10-year-old fashion mag WORN Fashion Journal and new editor of The Hairpin. She talked about the publisher-editor relationship, whether anyone at Worn gets paid, and what she thinks of Vogue.

“There’s a lack of urgency to a lot of their pieces,” she says in the interview and later, “As the publisher of WORN, I’m always thinking about why my magazine needs to exist, why people need to read it, because there’s a huge newsstand out there, and if you can’t tell your reader why they need to read the magazine you’ve made, then it’ll get lost.”

That’s great in itself, but the interview also links to Mlotek’s fascinating dissection of Vogue and fashion writing. It’s a worthy article for anyone interested in magazine identity and voice and—bonus—it forced me to Google “normcore.” Because hi, sorry, I live in mid-Missouri, and ironic fashion takes a while to settle in here.

WORN looks beautiful and meaningful and energetic, like a zine with more time on its hands. And I mean that as a high compliment, especially because I just watched this really good Kathleen Hanna documentary on Netflix last night.

Anyway, go click those linksss. But then come back and give me more links to read! I became the caretaker of an iPad yesterday and I hear I’m supposed to be doing something on it all the time. « Read the rest of this entry »

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