When Eric, my husband, started Utne Reader over 20 years ago, he asked two questions: What's going on in the world that people need to know about? Where is that information to be found? At that time, most leading-edge ideas were found in small-circulation print publications, so both the editorial process and the magazine's design reflected that reality.
Three years ago, we redesigned the magazine and dropped the word Reader. Now we are revisioning both the magazine and the Web site and the relationship between the two to reflect the changing information landscape. The best of the independent press is our foundation, but compelling independent voices are increasingly found in other forms of media. So, 20 years later, we find ourselves asking fundamental questions: What are the most essential ideas, images, inspirations, and tools, and how can we present them in the most inviting and accessible forms? How can we apply our core competency to today's landscape?
I recently had dinner with John Miller, a friend who teaches in a 'Waldorf methods' high school. He never got a teaching degree because Waldorf schools require a different form of training. Now his high school has become a charter school in the public school system and, ignited by the challenge of how to reach kids who weren't raised to love the written word, he's gone back to school to get a teaching degree. 'I used to be able to read hundreds of pages of text as a matter of course,' he told me, describing the way he processed information as a student 14 years ago. 'Now I find that I simply don't have the tolerance for masses of words that aren't immediately applicable to what I care about. It is not a question of good or bad, it is simply a matter of fact that the way we get our information and process it is changing.'
His words corroborate my own experience and that of many people I encounter. Life is speeding up and, though we may lament it, change is our only reliable lifelong companion and flexibility our only effective response. In order to be relevant, information needs to be succinct, accessible, and visceral, as well as varied in its forms. In our revamping, we'll be keeping a lot of what you -- and we -- love about the current format, but we're also hoping to evolve in a way that will surprise and delight. The November/December issue will begin to reflect these changes.
This evolution is bringing with it some staff changes.
Karen Olson was just about to embark on writing a book when we persuaded her to shelve it and take on the editorship 18 months ago. After a rapid six-year ascent from the bottom of our editorial masthead to the top, she is now leaving to return to that book. We hope that you will see her byline in the pages of the magazine in the future.
Senior editor Jeremiah Creedon has been on and off staff since 1987. He has had a writing project percolating for quite some time and has decided this is his moment. The irony of brilliant editing is that it is invisible, so I'll share a fan note from author Marc Ian Barasch: 'When you read a piece Jerry's edited, you find yourself thinking, Gee, I wish I could write like that. Then you realize you did; it just took his almost eerie acumen to see what you were trying to say and, after burnishing it to a subtle patina, gracefully place it front and center.' Luckily for us, Jerry regards becoming a freelancer again as just another stage in his long relationship with the magazine.
I am grateful to Karen and Jerry for all they have put into the magazine and I admire that they are embracing change in order to follow their passions. That is, after all, what this magazine is all about.
Meanwhile, we are formalizing my already active role in the editorial process by adding editor-in-chief to my title. I am excited to lead our dynamic editorial staff.
P.S. See page 83 for information on our new online store. We've chosen gear that expresses the spirit of the magazine and we think it will speak to (and for) you.