It was 20 years ago today...

This year we celebrate two decades of bringing you unique perspectives on politics, culture, and everyday life

| March / April 2004


Twenty years ago, give or take a few weeks, the first issue of Utne Reader sailed out of our tiny Minneapolis office and into the hands of a few thousand readers. I was not on hand for that joyful event. I was working at Better Homes & Gardens as a travel editor, but excitement was still in the air when I joined the staff eight months later as executive editor.

Many people (including close friends of mine) thought our excitement was naive, if not foolhardy. Ronald Reagan, after all, was at the height of his popularity. A wave of resurgent social conservatism was flooding America. All the idealistic experiments of the 1970s and 1960s looked dead. It hardly seemed the time to launch a new magazine devoted to 'the best of the alternative press.' But that's exactly what founder Eric Utne, his partner and wife Nina Utne (now CEO and co-chair), associate publisher Julie Ristau (now co-chair), and office manager Nancy Nance did with a lot of help from friends, family, neighbors, and talented freelance writers and editors.

Today, with a staff numbering 28 and a much bigger office, we supply a few hundred thousand readers with fresh ideas, smart analysis, and inspiring stories. I am deeply proud of the role I have played for 19 and one-third of those 20 years in helping broaden people's sense of what's possible in the world. To celebrate two decades of bringing you new perspectives on every subject under the sun, we are planning a special anniversary issue for September/October.

More than anything right now, I'd like to declare that the same sources of energy and creativity across the land we've tapped to build a successful magazine have also sparked a sweeping transformation of American society, from Pennsylvania Avenue to the block where you live. Of course that sounds ridiculously untrue. Republicans (hard right-wingers) control both houses of Congress, which never happened under Reagan. Grim-faced crusaders of social conservatism are more resurgent than ever. Pollution, sprawl, violence, and greed seem to be gaining ground across the globe.



Yet I still hold hope for the future. Utne magazine's 20th anniversary stands as one sign of a wide (if still small) uprising of new values, new dreams, and new actions. The continuing vitality of the independent media (the new, expanded term for alternative press), where we find so much information and inspiration, offers a reason for optimism even in these difficult times.

My father, a devoted student and teacher of history, loved to remind people, especially his impatient sons, that human events follow no prescribed path. His favorite examples were the Populist movement of the 1890s and the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs, both of which seemed for many years to have left little mark on America's national politics. Then came Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal, which enacted a minimum wage, Social Security, people's right to unionize, the 40-hour workweek, and other commonsense solutions first proposed by old radicals like Debs and the Populists.