20 Years of Utne Reader

A yearbook of stories and themes from our first two decades


| September-October 2004



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Image by Flickr user: Northern Pixels / Creative Commons

Call us the little newsletter that could. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been two whole decades since Utne magazine burst on the scene in the form of a slender bulletin that digested the best of the alternative press. To celebrate our 20 years on the planet, we put together this scrapbook by paging through all 125 issues, looking for a story from each year that reflected the times. We also kept watch for the ideas and themes that have shaped the magazine’s spirit. To top it off, we looked forward to what the future might bring. Here’s what we found.—The Editors 

Dissecting the New Age 1984
Though critics have sometimes accused Utne of New Age navel-gazing, we proved we could be critical of the movement early on, in a section that suggested that the New Age’s certainty that global transformation is happening may actually discourage people from bringing about that transformation.

Sorting Out South Africa 1985
The anti-apartheid struggle was blazing in South Africa, and Utne stepped back to give readers some context. We presented the roles of young black students and white dissidents, as well as a prison interview with Nelson Mandela.

Great Toons 1986
Before they were famous, we highlighted a new crop of cartoonists who were keeping sharp the edge of alternative journalism: The Simpsons creator Matt Groening (a year before the first Simpsons cartoon aired), deadpan jokester P.S. Mueller, and the soon-to-be-famous Lynda Barry.

Predicting a Crash 1987
Utne editors picked up a vibe: overvalued stocks, driven sky-high by the mid-‘80s takeover mania, might soon take a plunge and bring Wall Street to its knees. Four months after we crafted a section called “The Coming Crash,” the market posted a 504-point loss on October 19, 1987—a deeper fall as a percentage of the whole market than the 1929 crash.

Remember Sex? 1988
In the late 1980s, the mainstream press’s mantra was “The AIDS crisis has killed sex.” Utne dug deeper and found a host of other reasons that Americans weren’t getting any: family pressures, work stress, insane schedules, and the increasing complexity of relationships. (We quoted one 20-ish man who vowed celibacy after a bad breakup: “I didn’t want to deal with all her issues”).