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August 9, 2010

Castle progress report

When I first floated the fantasy of an arts publication, I didn't assume it would be an NAJP production, tho I have no problem with that and would happily avail myself of any advice/help NAJP members can provide. Egged on by Peter Plagens, the NAJP board discussed this idea at our last teleconference meeting. Members were sympathetic but dubious, and unwilling to invest much of their own limited time in a project with such a dim chance of realization. Me, too, what with book projects and other ventures on the horizon. It was decided I would send an e-mail to all members asking if anyone wanted to join a committee to further discuss the matter.

Bob Christgau and I also had dinner recently with Joe Levy, who has considerable magazine experience. He suggested some ideas and avenues toward people to approach for advice and money. His thinking was that it would best fly as a prestige print monthly or quarterly, however wide-ranging the arts covered. It could also have an online presence, of course.

Upon further reflection I have decided to post this in ARTicles instead of sending it out to the entire membership -- because it's easier and because the NAJP membership list is seriously out of date and no one has the time to update it. I, too, am doubtful such a venture could fly, without a munificent endowment provided by a single philanthropist, as opposed to a shifting consortium of foundations, each of which would have to be appeased.

So: If anyone reading this wants to get together via teleconference to discuss it further, fine (tho I won't be back from abroad until Aug. 22). I would be especially interested in anyone with an MBA or hands-on experience in the upper levels of magazine publishing, with practical ideas about funding, business models and such. If the membership is as hesitant as most of the board, I could pursue it on my own, on the model of Lapham's Quarterly or The Believer. Or I could let the whole idea die a graceful death. 
August 9, 2010 9:05 AM | | Comments (2)


John: I just posted my two cents about this on Peter Plagens's post. It would be great to have a publication, but it would take someone with the vision and energy to make it happen, as well as a generous funder (and good editors, and an advertising plan...). As you may know, the Music Critics Association of North America is currently working on launching a similar on-line publication, and it's taken a huge amount of work from a few heroic souls.

One thing I think the NAJP could beneficially do, however, is to collate the various endeavors in this direction that are already floating around, whether as proposals or as up-and-running sites (e.g. Learning more about what's already being attempted is, I think, more useful right now than simply casting another hat into the ring.

1. I'm in, for a teleconference, brainstorming about money, and whatever labor--scutwork or more elevated tasks--is required if/when a publication gets going.

2. Several years ago, after I took a buyout at Newsweek, I had the bright idea to try to start a fancy magazine about painting. The supposedly "bright" parts were that a) one could write about anything--war, religion, sex, history, human character, philosophy--through writing about painting(s), b) the magazine would eschew, along with words such as "eschew," what a curator in L.A. used to call "artblat" in favor of clear writing by writers who were writers first, art hipsters second (if at all), and c) paintings were practically made to fit in repro on the printed page.

The project--we had a great publisher and a great designer--failed to raise enough startup capital. Why? Because I decided that instead of seeking funding from venture capitalists (magazines deliver too small a return too late) or media companies (they'd probably kick us out sooner rather than later, and put in their own people), we'd go to big-time art-world philanthropists and collectors. They weren't interested in getting mixed up in something whose business was opinions, and the more au courant among them thought that a magazine centered on painting was ipso facto reactionary in an art world filled with such a variety of modes and media.

The point? The single sugar-daddy (or sugar mommy) backer has, like foundations who'd need to be "appeased," its drawbacks, too.

3. I'm still somewhat taken aback that the membership of an organization of arts journalists is, apparently, so reluctant to pitch in on an NAJP publication. Scuffling as a freelancer is harder than being on staff at Newsweek; Laura Collins-Hughes was keeping body and soul together as a freelancer, now has a gig in Boston, and is still shepherding this blogsite. We'll ALL busy. But in this group, there should be enough energy to a "castle," shouldn't there?

4. Finally--though probably best left for committee discussion--what would it take to morph this blogsite into a fancier NAJP "publication"?

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