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The Bold Types: Magazine vets reinvent themselves in the Valley

  • Katy McColl Lukens, executive editor at Modern Farmer magazine, brings flair to the field. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brian Marchese, periodical manager at Forbes Library, holding an issue of Esquire. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Magazines are displayed at Forbes Library in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Brian Marchese, periodical manager at Forbes Library, curates their magazine collection, which currently has 300 titles. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A recent issue of Modern Farmer, a Hudson, N.Y.-based magazine, in the Northampton home of executive editor Katy McColl Lukens. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy McColl Lukens, executive editor at Modern Farmer magazine, in her Northampton home. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy McColl Lukens, executive editor at Modern Farmer. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy McColl Lukens, executive editor at Modern Farmer. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy McColl Lukens, executive editor at Modern Farmer. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy McColl Lukens, executive editor at Modern Farmer. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Andrew Leland teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Andrew Leland teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Andrew Leland teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Andrew Leland teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Andrew Leland now teaches radio reporting and podcasting at UMass Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Andrew Leland prepares for a recording at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Andrew Leland prepares for a recording at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Andrew Leland prepares for a recording at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A selection of titles published by Small Batch Books in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Trisha Thompson, a former magazine editor, is now co-owner of Small Batch Books, which she and her husband, Fred Levine, also a magazine veteran, run out of their home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A selection of titles published by Small Batch Books in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Trisha Thompson, a former magazine editor, is now co-owner of Small Batch Books, which she and her husband, Fred Levine, also a magazine veteran, run out of their home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cathi Hanauer, who got her start in magazines in New York, is now a Northampton-based novelist and author of the bestselling feminist anthology, “The Bitch in the House,” and its recent follow-up, “The Bitch is Back.” Photo by Mark Hanauer

  • Cathi Hanauer, who got her start in magazines, is now a Northampton-based novelist and author of the bestselling feminist anthology, “The Bitch in the House,” and its recent follow-up, “The Bitch is Back.” GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wondertime staff and kids, from the magazine’s debut issue, Spring 2006. “I still see parents on blogs asking each other, ‘Do you remember Wondertime? That was my favorite magazine,’ ” says Alix Kennedy. Courtesy of Trisha Thompson

  • Michael Kusek, publisher of Take magazine. Photo by Jennifer Hayes

  • Brad Tuttle writes for Time and Money magazines and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.



Friday, November 03, 2017

In late September, The New York Times published an article, “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines,” heralding the end of an era. The story followed the recent exits of “celebrity editors” including Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, Nancy Gibbs of Time, Cindi Leive of Glamour and Roberta Myers of Elle, as well as the announcement that Jann S. Wenner, the iconic founder and editor of Rolling Stone, would be putting his magazine up for sale after half a century. “Suddenly, it seemed, longstanding predictions about the collapse of magazines had come to pass,” reported the Times, days before Hugh Hefner died, followed by publishing magnate S. I. Newhouse Jr. While death knells rang in New York and reverberated across the internet, here in Northampton, one man didn’t believe the hype.

“You can drive yourself nuts: ‘Print is dead,’ ‘Print isn’t dead,’ this study says there’s hope in the industry, this study says we’re all sunk,” Michael Kusek said one fall day over a plate of fish and chips at Paul & Elizabeth’s. 

As the publisher of Take, the stylish subscription-based bi-monthly print and online magazine covering arts and culture around New England and based in Holyoke, Michael Kusek might just be the closest thing we have to a celebrity editor — the Valley’s version of Anna Wintour, but much more approachable. (In fact, he and his business partner, Stacey Kors, are currently reviewing applicants for the job of Take’s new editor in chief.) He knows everyone and is constantly on the go — after lunch, he’s heading to Providence to attend a charity auction and gala. And, oh yeah… his cell-phone ringtone is an audio clip from “The September Issue,” R.J. Cutler’s documentary about Vogue. He plays it for me: “Anna Wintour’s office?”

Michael is one of the bolder of the boldfaced names around here. But the Valley is full of magazine veterans, many of whom have had to reinvent themselves as the industry changes. Once an editor and writer for magazines including Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Glamour and Real Simple, Cathi Hanauer is now a novelist and the author of the bestselling feminist anthology, “The Bitch in the House,” and its follow up, “The Bitch is Back.” (Her husband, Daniel Jones, is the editor of the popular column Modern Love in The New York Times.) She hasn’t thought of magazines as her main career for a long time, but “I’ve been a contributing writer at Elle for years, and my good friend Roberta Myers, the editor in chief of Elle, is one of the ones who just left. So yes, it will likely impact me if only in that I don’t imagine I’ll be writing for Elle as much as I used to going forth, if at all,” says Cathi, who has a personal essay in Elle’s October issue about antidepressants. “I’m very glad I was able to do that before Robbie left,” she says. “But if my contacts there leave, I can’t imagine the new editors will want someone my age writing for them. Which is fine. All good things must come to an end, right?”

For many of us, the decline of the industry is hardly news. We’ve had a front-row seat to both the glory days (expense accounts, working lunches, town cars, swag) and the demise of magazines and have had to adapt our lives and careers accordingly. For me, that meant getting a new job at my award-winning local paper, the Gazette — a position that I love — after losing a contract with Allure, which changed editors in 2015. For others, it has meant branching into other fields, from teaching to marketing. I now belong to a private Facebook group called After Magazines, a networking hub for more than 800 magazine editors, former and current. I was invited to join by a Northampton friend, Katy McColl Lukens, a former executive editor at Country Living and Oprah’s O at Home magazine who’s currently the executive editor of Modern Farmer, a magazine based in Hudson, N.Y., and who also freelances for T Brand Studio, the marketing arm of The New York Times. Chandra Turner, a former magazine editor who cofounded the After Magazines group, is a former magazine editor who still has strong professional ties to the city. “I feel completely tethered to NYC myself,” she wrote in an email. “I actually was more afraid to leave because NYC has most of the branded content companies and that was the track I knew I could go into next (and did).” 

But as magazines disappear, New York City has loosened its grip on many of us, and we’re moving to places like the Valley, which is attractive both for its proximity to New York City and for its quality of life; it’s a particular draw for Five College alumni. “The sweet relief of downtown Northampton after going through the turnstiles leading to Penn Station from the subway — what my husband calls “the meat grinder”— makes me feel so lucky to live here,” says Katy, who went to Smith. “I actually think Northampton embodies all the best parts of city life — people watching… and just enough anonymity to be interesting — plus nature. Before I had two young kids, I used to specialize in those in-office “acting executive editor” type gigs, taking the Amtrak or Peter Pan down, toting the glamorous shoes I never seem to wear here. But that’s totally on me — nobody’s forcing me to dress in yoga pants every day.”

It’s a kind of dual life that many magazine people who are based here know well. New York remains the center of the universe when it comes to glossies, but at least for a time, the Valley was home to the esteemed New England Monthly, based in Haydenville, as well as the parenting magazines FamilyFun and Wondertime, both titles of Disney Publishing Worldwide, which was based out of New York. Alexandra “Alix” Kennedy, who’s now the executive director at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, was on the team that launched FamilyFun in 1991 and Wondertime in 2006. 

“When New England Monthly started here in the 1980s, it was such an incredibly creative magazine, and young editors and art directors wanted to work there… it set the stage for a while for this area to have a burgeoning magazine mini industry,” Alix says. Those of us who were at FamilyFun got tapped because we’d been at New England Monthly. There were lots of people already here. It was such a fertile ground, and so many of us got our chops there. And as the magazine industry started to flag, many of us had to move on to opportunities beyond that.”

In 2012, FamilyFun sold to the Meredith Corporation. Disney shut down Wondertime in 2009. (Both magazines, at one point, had occupied the Roundhouse Building off Old South Street and later the former Northampton post office on 47 Pleasant Street.) Among the talented staff members who lost their jobs were Trisha Thompson, Wondertime’s executive editor who now runs Small Batch Books, an Amherst-based private book-publishing company, with her husband Fred Levine, who also has a background in magazines, including at FamilyFun, where he was a features editor. “I still think of myself as using magazine editor skills in what I do now,” says Trisha, a longtime contributor to Self, Redbook, Harper’s Bazaar and Parenting, among other national titles. Now, with Small Batch, “We’re up to eight years and 106 books published,” she notes. 

At Wondertime, Trisha was part of the team that hired Brad Tuttle, a former senior editor there who now writes for Time and Money magazines (both in print and online) and teaches in the journalism department at UMass Amherst; and Naomi Shulman, the former research chief who’s currently on the book-selection committee at PJ Library. “I ended up being a very happy freelancer for years after, but I didn’t know that’s how it would pan out at first,” Naomi, a mother of two, recalls of Wondertime’s closing in ’09. “It was two days after Obama’s inauguration, and it was terrifying.”  

“You have no choice but to start over,” adds Trisha. “You get the chance to create a new career for yourself. I like that books (unlike monthly magazines) aren’t disposable.”

Brad, now a father of four, lost his job shortly after moving to the Valley to work at Wondertime. “I immediately began freelancing, doing fact-checking — anything. And within a few months I had regular gigs,” blogging for Time.com among them. “Losing my job forced me to get into the online space, and doing that set up the rest of my career, really. If I hadn’t been pushed toward the internet then, it would have been much more difficult for me to have a career today.” As for print, “I tell my students that the print magazines that will survive are probably the ones that feel like pieces of art and are collectible,” Brad says. “They need to feel worth holding in your hands and keeping over time.”

Among Brad’s colleagues is a fellow magazine vet, Andrew Leland, who cut his teeth at The Believer, Dave Eggers’ literary magazine, back when it was based in San Francisco. In addition to being a contributing editor to the magazine, which recently relocated to Las Vegas, Andrew now teaches radio reporting and podcasting at UMass Amherst. He also hosts The Organist, an arts-and-culture podcast by KCRW and McSweeney’s, and he is working on a podcast and book proposal about his experience of gradually going blind. He has a degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa. “I was diagnosed as a teenager, and I’ve had decent central vision for most of my life. These days I’m legally blind, and the narrowing of my tunnel vision is accelerating,” says Andrew, 36. The working title of both the podcast and the book is “Vile Jelly,” a reference to the violent eye-gouging scene in “King Lear.” But Andrew’s project will have a lighter touch. “I’m trying to figure out what is potentially awesome about being a blind guy — the goal of the project is to find something that could be philosophically, artistically and intellectually rich about blindness.”

And as a teacher, he appreciates life on a university campus that’s accommodating to people with disabilities. “Teaching takes up a huge part of my life now, but as a part-time adjunct I still have trouble thinking of it as a career,” Andrew continues. “Radio and podcasting are closer to my heart at this stage. I have a vague goal in the back of my head (sometimes it rushes to the front) to convince NEPR to give me an hour some evening during the week where I can produce a weird magazine show, not unlike the Organist, that features longform stories and radio documentaries about the social and cultural life of the Pioneer Valley. Someday… ”

It’s a small Valley sometimes, and an even smaller one when you start to get an inkling of all the many editors and writers (not to mention designers and photographers) who have worked with one another in some capacity. “Everyone helps support each other. As a former boss said, it’s a long life and a small world, professionally speaking,” Trisha says. (At Small Batch Books, she adds, “I still work with several Wondertimers,” including a former Wondertime editor and a proofreader.)

Katy McColl Lukens, Naomi Shulman and Cathi Hanauer have all lent their talents to the Gazette in recent months. “Being in the business we’re in, we’re fortunate that these people have settled here,” says Michael Rifanburg, publisher of the Gazette (and Hampshire Life) and its family of magazines, including Preview, Many Hands, and Live Well.

But beyond all the professional entanglements, they — we — share a love of magazines despite the state of the industry. Trisha Thompson grew up reading Seventeen. “Bought my first copy off the newsstand at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, down the hill from my high school, at age 14. Tabloid oversized, gorgeous, and 50 cents. Beautiful, freckled girl on cover. Now I wanted freckles,” she says. 

Long before she got a job at Jane, Katy McColl Lukens adored the young women’s magazine for being “smart, voice-y, and honest,” she says. “The writers there were my version of celebrities.” Now she collects home and design magazines: “I have a trunk full of old Domino magazines, I buy 20-year-old back issues of Martha Stewart Kids off eBay to look at with my daughter, and I have folders and folders of pages I’ve torn out of things to try.”  

Even as a kid, Andrew Leland loved The New Yorker, later discovering indie magazines such as Might (Dave Eggers’ monthly before McSweeney’s) and editing his college’s online magazine at Oberlin in Ohio called ooo, short for Oberlin on Oberlin. “I loved soliciting short, snarky articles satirizing campus life from friends and strangers,” he recalls. An internship at McSweeney’s eventually led to an offer to work as managing editor of The Believer, the national arts magazine that McSweeney’s was about to launch. “It was the magazine’s only full-time paid position, and a wonderful if occasionally harrowing educational immersion into every aspect of magazines: design, editorial, art direction, writing, business, publicity and everything else besides,” he says. “The editors there — Dave Eggers, Heidi Julavits, Ed Park, Vendela Vida, Eli Horowitz — felt like my grad-school professors, and I was getting a PhD in Magazines.”

As an undergrad in the ’80s, and an actual student of magazine journalism at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University in New York, Cathi Hanauer also came away with a valuable perspective on what it takes to write for an audience. “I learned to be clear and concise,” she says, “to say what I mean, to, as my mentor-professor (an amazing man named Bill Glavin) taught me, ‘not call a banana an elongated yellow fruit.’ To not be pretentious or overly flowery. And other invaluable writing lessons.” 

It’s no wonder that colleges around the area, and the country, are finally catching onto the importance of including journalism in their curricula. But the good news about living in the Northampton area is that this is — and always has been — a community that values good journalism and the printed word. Forbes Library currently has 300 magazine titles available and circulated 11,681 copies last year, alone.

So are glossy magazines a thing of the past? It depends on who you ask. Michael Kusek is defiantly optimistic, as is Take, with its website declaring that “print is back.” (Originally launched online in January of 2015, Take went into print in September 2016, had about a yearlong hiatus, and recently came back with its eighth issue out in print last month.) “Technically, we’re matte — but we’re glossy on the inside,” Kusek quips. As for the tired question of whether or not print is dead, “I get so verklempt about it!” he adds. “People are starting magazines all the time, and they’re about topics as diverse as a region of the United States to toast. Not all of them will make it, but some of them will.”

People are reading magazines all the time, too, at least in the Valley. “There’s an email newsletter I like called Sampler, which features a different magazine (with a subscription offer) every week,” Andrew Leland says. “And I’ve heard of maybe one in 20 of the titles they cover — so many of which appear to be sharply edited, beautifully designed and original in concept. Even as magazines (and their editors) die or retire, new ones are born every day — and I don’t see that stopping.” 

Asked about the last magazine she read, Thompson had a hard time choosing just one. “Well, it was really four at the same time,” she says, “and it was in bed last night: Harper’s Bazaar, The New Yorker, Milk Street and Take.”