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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Does demise of PD Sunday Mag spell opportunity?

This is truly sad news, but rumors have been swirling for a few weeks so it’s not altogether surprising. While I was unsuccessful in placing a story in the Sunday Magazine (I was trying for essays), I remained hopeful that I would hit the sweet spot in 2006. This loss got me thinking:

Where else will readers find the solid long-form narrative writing on the issues and people that comprise Northeast Ohio?

Markets are drying up faster than my printer’s ink cartridges. PD Editor Doug Clifton says some of the stories will appear throughout the paper. I hope he sticks to that pledge because I’d hate to see the PD lose talented writers such as Andrea Simakis. The reality is that shrinking news holes rarely allow for the expansive narrative that was found in the Sunday Mag.

Every time news of this sort hits the streets, I begin fantasizing again about my dream publication (and my dream job of leading said dream publication). Since current city pubs are doing a miserable job, I’d love to see a monthly New Yorker-type publication in this town or a regional Salon and here’s why:

We have some serious issues to discuss that affect a wide swath of people and our current staple of pubs are doing a lackluster job at best. Most are filled with gratuitous nods to advertisers that everyone can see through. Even the advertisers are getting fatigued by the crappy advertorial that dominates each month.

We have some incredible editorial and design talent in this town. (I’ve already got an art director in mind.) I’d love to do some market research about the viability of a regional pub devoted to in-depth personality profiles, solid public affairs reporting, extensive arts, medical and business coverage (our region’s big economic engines) and an assortment of departments that include:

• nurturing a city columnist in the Roldo Bartimole vein
• look at research of all kinds happening at local universities
• food and wine coverage that’s much more than simply restaurant reviews or news of openings and closings
• personal essay column to bring in fresh voices and perspectives

The only way to be truly successful is to take a bit from existing pubs (pull in-depth reporting of PD Sunday Mag, only the best business coverage in Inside Business, and only the best arts coverage in Northern Ohio Live), add hipness of Cool Cleveland, mix in stronger editorial content presented in a visually unique way (either in print or online or both) to create something uniquely Northeast Ohio. Maybe it's a new collaboration among these pubs.

When it comes to regional pubs, I think Texas Monthly blows everyone out of the water. Of course it also has the backing of Indiana-based Emmis Communications. Skip Hollandsworth is as gifted a writer as they come and sets the bar for narrative nonfiction writing at such pubs.

But we've also got talented writers. And we’ve certainly got the stories. Now how about we get some financial backers who have the guts to put their money into something truly provocative and reflective of Northeast Ohio? I’m not talking your staidly parents’ and grandparents’ magazine (ala Cleveland and Ohio).

Take the energy of the younger population segment (young pros ages 25-45), the doggedness and intensity of the local blogosphere and the buying power of the 35-60-year-old demographic. Mix that together with this town’s incredible reporting and writing talent, illustrated with its complementary visual artistic talent and you’ve got buzz.

Well, anyway, a girl can dream...

"Where God Was Born” review
Today’s review book was listed as number three on the Local Bestsellers List. The author was at Joseph-Beth last night and I’m sorry the review couldn’t have been timed to come out before his appearance.

Here’s the text from today’s PD:

Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion

(William Morrow, $26.95) by Bruce Feiler.

Feiler is a masterful storyteller weaving his way through luminous descriptions of people, places and feelings. He takes readers on a moving and at times dangerous journey to ground zero of religion through Israel, Iraq and Iran. It's a personal quest to find meaning in his religion beyond the limitations of place and land.

With his Hebrew Bible as guide, Feiler explores the heart of civilization, visiting the ancient places that gave us prophets, kings, scientists and writers. Helping him parse the stories and their meanings is an amazing cast of theologians, adventurers and archaeologists.

As a result, his story becomes more than one man's search for God, it's also one of the great political, historical, geographical and archaeological adventures of all time.

The author's writing transports you to another time and place. When he writes of the desert you become thirsty, when he describes ruins you want to reach out and run your hand along the smooth stone surfaces. "The tunnel smelled like the inside of a tank I used as a boy to grow tadpoles into frogs -- a fetid, muddy grog that gave off the disquieting odor of evolution," he writes.

Vivid descriptions of people give you amazing insight into the author's mind. "Gabi Barkay is an archaeologist who looks like the vintage newspaper editor from Spider-Man, with a stringy black comb-over, nicotine-stained fingers and an air of seen-it-all-before."

Throughout the journey we discover what the Bible really says: God is not confined. We experience God through humanity and relationships with others.

Wendy Hoke Special to The Plain Dealer


Jill said...

Sounds like you're more than half way there to a proposal - now, to find those backers - corporate, individual, academic, nonprofit. I think our next lunch date should be at the Foundation Center, for starters. What's the corporate/business start-up equivalent clearinghouse for backer searching?

Wendy Hoke said...

I'm game. The big thing is getting market research to prove this is viable market for ad revenue. The model doesn't work for daily newspapers, but it could work for monthly magazine. I'd love to get some more interest in this. I've got a running list of in-depth public affairs stories that I'd like to see tackled.

Jill said...

I'm thinking...retreat? Even if just for a day to brainstorm and get it into a written proposal.

Wendy Hoke said...

You're on. Let's get some others involved, too. I know my hubby, the former advertising manager for monthly mag, would love to be involved in just such a venture. We could meet at my house with access to Internet, printer, plenty of magazine examples.

Trish said...


I agree that it could probably work as a monthly. Have you thought of expanding the geographic region? I'm from Pittsburgh *dodges tomatoes* originally, and the issues are the same there as here. I suspect that you would find a lot of common issues across the rust belt. Bigger region, bigger pool of advertisers.

Wendy Hoke said...

Hmmm, Trish, that's an interesting idea. You'll get no tomato-lobbing from me. Definitely worthy of consideration. Thanks for joining the conversation.

writelife said...

My stomach dropped when I heard the news of PD Sunday Mag, too. That is the one part of the paper you "save" to read so you can take time and enjoy...

On the mag front, Cleveland needs something funky - you know what I mean? Funky but functional. (Sounds like furniture.) And a "saver."


Wendy Hoke said...

So you want to join the brainstorm, K? I think we've got enough talent to create something of value that better reflects Cleveland.

Wendy Hoke said...

From an e-mail today from Danny, the former ad-man:

Hey Wen,
I just read your blog and thought you really could be on to something. Maybe this would be a good time to approach PBS/NPR using the members for start of circ. and look at a regional or even a state pub and bring in Columbus NPR, Dayton, Cinci PBS etc. It's a qualified audience for advertisers.

I would think that if you got their support or buy-in we/you could go to a bank or apply for some type of start-up business loan. My thought would be actually one magazine but mail to only specific markets.

Hmmmm. Now that's some food for thought...

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Wendy,

The answer to your question:

"Where else will readers find the solid long-form narrative writing on the issues and people that comprise Northeast Ohio?"

is, of course...

You're reading it right now.

Putting ink on pulped trees is dead, the signal just hasn't reached the pea brain yet. Instead of thinking of how you could start up your own magazine, think of how you can turn the electronic medium into something you can do and make money at.



Wendy Hoke said...

Good point, Jeff. When I say magazine, I'm not necessarily referring to something printed. It's just a euphemism for the kind of content I'd like to see assembled (something traditionally found in magazines). That said, however, I find Web-based 'zines such as Cool Cleveland utterly unreadable.