Gathering a New Tribe

You’re holding this magazine in your hand for a reason

| September-October 2010

I recently gave the commencement address for the San Francisco Waldorf High School, class of 2010. I began by asking how many of the 600 or so people in the auditorium had ever heard of Utne Reader. At least three-quarters of the audience raised their hands. I then asked how many had ever read a copy of the magazine. Nearly as many hands went up. I got the same results when I asked who had ever purchased a copy of the magazine.

I decided to up the ante: “How many of you have ever subscribed to Utne Reader?” About half of the crowd raised their hands. “How many of you are subscribers today?” Only one person raised her hand.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” I shouted. “I’m here today to sign you up!”

I got a big laugh, but I was at least half serious.

Over the 26 years of its existence, more than 2 million people have subscribed to Utne Reader at one time or another. Over the past few years, as the economy has stuttered and the media landscape shifted, the magazine’s subscriber base shrank from its mid-’90s peak of over 300,000 paying readers to fewer than 100,000 today. Yet the newsletter turned bimonthly digest serves a unique and necessary mission, especially considering the mass media’s insistence on sensational headlines and he-said, she-said reporting.

All of us who are still involved with Utne Reader continue to take pride in focusing not on what’s breaking down, but on what’s breaking through. And I’m happy to say that editor David Schimke is putting together a magazine that’s crisply edited and more engaging than ever, with a staff of enthusiatic young people who are eclectic in their interests and incredibly wide-read, and who care deeply about celebrating independent voices, challenging conventional wisdom, and making the world a kinder, greener place.