Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, the Pandemic Roundtable invited John Mennell, the founder of MagLiteracy.org to come and talk about his organization and the progress they’ve made during the pandemic in distributing magazines to the needy. Since then we’ve been in regular communication with him and received the note and pictures you will see below the fold.
As terrible as 2020 has been, what incredible success this organization has had in expanding their mission of bringing literacy through magazines.
An Update From The Field
Our new Mississippi MagLiteracy.org team covers the ground from Memphis to the Delta. They were inspired by Samir’s invite to Act 9 and it’s been made possible by the unstoppable Estella Dean and her daughter Courtney.
Thanks to steady Barnes and Noble newsstand supplies we were able to ship a pallet of beautiful mags to the Delta from our Ohio Literacy Bank warehouse to get them started. They are already partnering with community orgs and the large Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis to feed children and families hungry to read in areas of the USA faced with the deepest historical poverty.
Estella mentions engaging Ole Miss and I can tell you that high school and college students fuel our successes in Madison, Wisconsin and here in Columbus. A group of Columbus high school students bundles mags for curbside food bank distribution. A club of 30 students to is already forming at OSU and assisting with our B&N store pickups here.
Following on the 100,000 National Wildlife Federation kids’ mags that Quad delivered to launch our warehouse operations at the Atrium Company, we received 200,000 Cricket Media magazines. We are getting regular support from Kent Johnson at Highlights Magazine Publishing and Trusted Media Brands product via Milwaukee. The weekly Pandemic Roundtable helped expand our voice and got us noticed. We recently began to receive pallets from publishers like Dance Media via PubWorx. Other children’s and regional publishers like the Dispatch Company, and Meredith are now sending us magazines to distribute.
I had the privilege and pleasure to receive some mentoring from Bonnie Kintzer of Trusted Media Brands earlier this year who emphasized the importance of focusing on high needs in middle America. We took that to heart and with the always unflinching support of Joel Quadracci of Quad Graphics and his team, and with Krifka Steffey as tip of the retail spear at Barnes and Noble, we are getting in some good trouble supporting thousands upon thousands of eager readers. Many of our readers have had zero books or magazines in their home up until this point.
Tonight, I stood on a hill and wished upon two converged planets that 2021 will be the year that we all together plot a celebrate the enormous unique power of magazines for sharing the literacy love. This is our moonshot. Godspeed.
Every now and then Baird Davis, a retired Ziff-Davis Publishing circulation VP will pen an article that shows up in an industry trade journal like Folio, Publishing Executive or the BoSacks newsletter. He reviews the latest AAM (formerly ABC Audit of Circulation) statistics and offer some analysis. It may not be his intention, but Baird’s articles always felt like a slap upside the head to me and many of us magazine professionals. “Wake up, already” his op-eds seem to say.
Years ago in what now feels like another reality timeline I was a consultant to Ziff-Davis and Baird was a level or two above my report. Sometimes he would come visit one of the magazine wholesalers I was calling on and it always felt like I was reporting in to my very stern (but fair) uncle. You know; the one you always double checked to make sure your pants were creased properly, that you were sitting up straight and your tie was tied properly.
It’s not as though he isn’t pointing out things we already knew. But I think that these days, those of us who have some “history” in the business are just too darn busy to acknowledge what he’s pointing out. These days, we just “carry on:”
The number of major publishers has shrunk
The number of next tier publishers with influence in the business is now nearly nil
There were too many overpriced and overextended acquisitions in previous decades
Layoffs have decreased institutional knowledge
Much subscription circulation is cheaply and poorly acquired
The newsstand business was allowed to consolidate, wither and decline
Go and read the article. Then come on back and let’s discuss. I have a few additional thoughts we can discuss.
It’s a procrastinators joke that we will always put off until the day after what we could have done tomorrow. So I would like to imagine that some magazine professionals hesitated when companies like Ziff-Davis and Petersen were purchased in the 1990’s for $1.4 and $1.2 billion. Davis points this out, and I will highlight it. I had already witnessed up close the impact of highly leveraged purchases when a company I worked for, Family Media, collapsed in the go-go 1990’s. And yet, I remember feeling exhilarated when I heard the price Softbank paid for my then biggest client, Ziff-Davis.
I imagine, that there were circulation professionals who wondered if it was smart to load up their files with so much “verified” and “non-paid audited bulk” circulation. And yet, if that worked and the guys in the corner offices were happy…
I know of one or two newsstand professionals who murmured “This ain’t good” into their coffee cups when the number of major magazine wholesalers collapsed from four to three to two to one. Do you think there were a few editors who wondered how they were going to review articles, get re-tweets and Facebook likes and come up with a new editorial calendar? And do their jobs with integrity?
Who’s minding the store now in consolidated America? Where can you get “lean back” immersive news (or entertainment) that is not dependent on either advertising, a stock price or the financial backing of some leveraged private equity firm? If you live outside a major city, can you even get news about what your local county board is up to?
Pro tip answer to that last question: “Most likely, no.”
Come On Down to The Apocalypse Bonfire
As a magazine professional, I have to say that it feels like I’m at the edge of some apocalyptic bonfire. The drums are hot, heavy, and completely out of synch. There’s dancing, but no one knows the steps. There is rote and tradition, but no one understands it. No one wants to follow along. A few people are having a fine time. But most are uncomfortable and waiting for that singular “Lord of the Flies” moment. It’s coming. Soon, maybe?
Baird offers “Suggested Next Steps” and as I often do, I find myself nodding my head in agreement. But it feels like he is offering us a West Wing moment. You know, in the West Wing television show, the music swells, President Bartlet comes out from behind the Resolute Desk, says something inspiring and we all feel a bit chagrined that he had to point out to us how to behave properly.
Baird suggests that we try and put together a committee to help the industry navigate the Covid-19 and post Covid-19 era. The goal would be to try and hold the two major players, Hearst and Meredith accountable. Good idea. But I highly doubt that these two companies having survived and thrived to this moment (Either because they long range planned themselves to this moment or arrived here through luck and the foolishness of their competitors) would put up with that.
The magazine industry does need organizations that would speak for us and remind us to do the right thing. But at the moment, we’re all down at the beach, dancing at the apocalypse bonfire. If you’re still sober, you’re wondering what will happen next.
When I first heard about the rather vile tape of Donald Trump engaged in “locker room talk” with former Access Hollywood and suspended Today Show host Billy Bush, my thought was that Bush had experienced what I and many other people I know have experienced in their career: We were stuck in an awkward space with someone who has a lot of power over us and our careers. And we sat there and maybe nodded and laughed along while that person talked or behaved in a thoroughly unacceptable manner.
Billy Bush confirmed that in the past week when he wrote a op-ed for the New York Times that challenged the president’s rather odd assertion that it was not his voice on the tape.
The initial blow out from this tape, as you know, is that Billy Bush lost his job and a big piece of his reputation. Donald Trump went on to become our president and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces.
Let’s leave aside all of the politics for the moment.
And let’s stipulate that men should not sexually harass women and that there are no excuses whatsoever for sexual harassment of any sort. Yes, that’s obvious but I’ve noticed that some of my male counterparts are slow on the uptake and need a lot of educating.
Men harass women because they can. We men have privilege in our society. It is unfortunately not all that uncommon for the fortunate and powerful to take advantage of the less fortunate and less powerful.
Beyond sexual harassment there is the harassment that I described in the opening paragraph of this piece: The taking advantage of another person because you hold power over them. That’s what I wish to address. That is something that I can speak to. It’s what has made me spend some time thinking about what is happening right now with the #MeToo movement and why I think it is a good thing.
Maybe you’ve been in this situation? You’re sitting across the desk from an important buyer or potential client. You know this person well enough. Things seem to be going swimmingly. Then out of the blue the person tells a horrible joke, makes a sexist or racist comment. What do you do? You need to close this deal, right? What are you going to do?
Perhaps you’re at a trade show with a client. This client represents 25% of your business. The representatives of a black owned business walk into the show hall. You’re client stares in their direction. And then proceeds to let out a stream of racist invective that stuns you. It rocks you back on your heels. You never knew this person thought that way and you’ve known them for a long time. What do you do? Can you afford to offend this person and lose 25% of your business in one week? What they just said is horrible! Do you keep silent?
Let’s say you’re new to your trade. You’re traveling far from your home base and out for drinks late one night with some other traveling colleagues and the manager of the company that you’re calling on. The night breaks up and all of the other colleagues decline to drive the over-indulged manager to his home. They laugh when you politely volunteer to drive him. “Watch out” one of your “friends” calls out as you help him into the rental car. Later, in front of his house, his hands wind up all over you and you have to brush him off and kick him out of the car.
The next day you don’t make a sale. Your appointments are canceled. For the next year your calls go unanswered.
Maybe you’re out to dinner with some business associates and the discussion turns to a young CSR at a company you all do business with. The conversation turns to her attractiveness, how much they’d like to have sex with her, and then, of course, to her apparent “bitchiness” because she has turned some them down. You chime in that you actually like her and get along well with her and why would you proposition her? That’s wrong, she has a long time boyfriend – so what is their problem? The table turns cold. You’re not included in the rest of the conversation or any of the meetings the next day.
The scenarios I just played out for you are real enough. They are the stories of people who are more powerful than the other person they are engaging with. Or as the case was with the trade show, presuming that their financial leverage over their business partner meant that they would either agree with their opinions, or keep their mouth shut. In the final story we see a typical example of the pack mentality.
None of these happened in Hollywood, Washington, DC, or in the vaunted halls of high-end publishers or the Fortune 500. The people who precipitated these events were not high-flying wealthy men. They were every day kind of guys. People who live next door or down the street or work one floor over.
When Sarah Silverman asked the question, “Can you love someone who did bad things?”” I understand. How do you keep liking someone who you know has reprehensible views? Has tried to force their will on someone else? In today’s do-it-yourself gig economy of the 21st century, you may have to work for that person. Do you take their money? Do you keep silent?
What if someone you work for gaslights, harasses, overworks, mistreats and ultimately fires a business associate? And you get promoted into their position? Do you take the job? Do you walk out in solidarity? How much do you owe on your mortgage? School loans? Does your kid need insurance?
There are no simple and easy answers to these questions. I dare myself to walk in others shoes. I dare you to walk in mine.
I started this post right after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out. I never finished it in part because of the “heat” of the presidential race but also because I just didn’t know what I wanted to say. I am not sure that I do even now. But I feel like talking about it.
I wish the world were a better place. I wish we could be kinder to each other. I wish people in positions of power and authority, especially people in “business” would spend more time mentoring, teaching, elevating and less time preening, shouting, demanding and failing to understand or acknowledge the humanity of those who cross their paths. I find it sad that they can’t even understand their own humanity.
Author and journalist Daniel Pink wrote:
“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”
He is right. We need more empathy – in the work place, and in our every day lives.
“I have to say, “the red faced teacher said, “You kids are the worst.”
It was the late ‘70’s. I was sitting in what was once upon a time the coat room for an old and dilapidated class room. For us seniors, however, it was a place of grace: The high school newspaper office. Newspaper staffers had our study hall assigned to the newspaper office. Our advisor, the head of the English department and his best friend usually joined us for informal coffee clatches. Where our advisor was thoughtful and scholarly, his friend, a blustery history teacher, had a perpetually bleak outlook on the world in general and our fading New England city in particular,
His riff on why we were so terrible usually went something like this:
“You kids have it so easy. You don’t know how good you have it. I wish I were my own kid. The way you kids get everything you ever wanted. We had to work, you know. Work! You kids, with your hair and your music and now this disco. Disco! I can’t even look at you kids when I teach anymore. And your cars! They’re awful. You’ve got no respect. You don’t know what it is to work for what you want.”
He wasn’t the only one who talked about us like this. I heard it occasionally from my parents and from their friends too.
I bring this up because a few years back we started to see articles that said the “Millennial” generation, the children of Baby Boomers were the worst. According to all of these articles Millennials are lazy, entitled, poorly educated, borderline sociopathic, narcissistic. In other words, they are the worst. Ever.
Some of this conversation was kicked off in 2013 by Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein with a cover story titled, The Me Me Me Generation. After re-reading this article, I still can’t entirely decide if Stein was being tongue in cheek about the whole thing or deadly serious. Or maybe he’s just not that good of a writer (He is from Gen X).
Just Another Way To Divide Ourselves
In these divided times, we’ve gone ahead and divided our generations and given them pithy labels:
There’s the aptly labeled “Greatest Generation”, the one that survived the depression and then won World War II . They were born between 1901 – 1924.*
They were followed by the “Silent Generation”. Silent, I imagine, because they grew up in the Depression era and the War era and were too busy to speak up.
Baby Boomers are so named because they were born after the War during the “Boom” years in America: 1945 – 1964.
They were followed by Madonna’s people, Generation X (or the Baby Bust) from 1965 – 1979.
And then the generation we all talk about, Millennials (or Gen Y), who were born at the dawn of the personal computing era and came of age during the early web years: 1980 -1995.
And the kids born after Millennials? They’re called Generation Z. There is no letter after Z so do we stop with the labeling? Does the zombie apocalypse come next?
I work in retail marketing and I understand the need to divide and label every measurable thing. Still, these generational labels leave me cold.
Boomer, But Not A Boomer
As a certified “Boomer”, I’m supposed to have fond memories of Elvis and Davey Crockett on black and white TVs. But my other cultural symbols are of Civil Rights, Women’s Lib, Flower Power, hippies and the Beatles. I was supposed to have protested the Vietnam War, tuned in, dropped out and dropped acid. But I’m a “young” boomer. I wasn’t born in the late 40’s or ‘50’s so I don’t really care about Elvis or “I Love Lucy”. I have little to no memory of most of these other cultural touchstones.
I was a small child during the 1960’s. I sort of remember the election of 1968 and the Kennedy and King assassinations. But maybe I just read about it in class. I fell asleep waiting for the moon landing in 1969. I went to Junior High and High School during the 1970’s. I remember Nixon and gas lines and Ford and Carter and really weird clothes. But aren’t those the supposed early cultural touchstones for Gen X? The ‘50’s and ‘60’s that define our “generation” are memories only because I’ve read about them or seen them on TV.
Former Obama White House staffer and current podcast host, Jon Lovett stirred the intergenerational waters a few weeks ago on his Podcast “Lovett Or Leave It” by declaring that Baby Boomers are “the worst” generation ever and that their cultural legacy is “garbage.”
Would he have gotten along well with my newspaper advisor’s best friend?
-Dude, really? Buffet? If this were a sincere apology you would have played a little Springsteen.-
Personally, I don’t like piling on Millennials. They’ve been criticized for growing up in the era of participation trophies. But I was a soccer coach who handed out these trophies and I’m here to tell you that kids, at least the Millennial ones I coached, had excellent BS detectors. They wanted the trophies because kids – from all generations – like to collect things. A few of the children I coached were on the field because they really liked playing soccer. Some were there because their parents signed them up without asking them if they wanted to play (They didn’t). Most of them were there to collect the uniforms, trophies and get inappropriate snacks. They knew whether or not they had done a “Good job!” out there on the field and didn’t really want to hear those two words.
It’s Pretty Much The Same For Every Generation
In my role as a consultant I now work with more Millennial and Gen X account supervisors, managers, account executives, sales representatives and even executives than with people from my generation. For the most part I like almost everyone I encounter. My MO is try to make any situation that I encounter work. I try to remind people that we have clients to keep profitable and relationships to maintain. Period.
I spite of what the press says, there is little difference between the way I and my colleagues acted when we were in our 20’s and 30’s and the way today’s younger generation behaves. The differences that I encounter are more technological than anything else.
I recall a supervisor telling me to not be so advancement oriented. “Gotta walk before you can run,” he often said.** “You’re not entitled to that until you can show me what you can do,” another told me whenever I asked to be put on new projects.
In other blog posts, I’ve mentioned the grand old timers in some Rep Rooms I worked in who were not thrilled with women entering the business. Or mainframe computers. Or in store merchandising. They didn’t think we kids knew very much about how our business worked. They were right. We didn’t. Fortunately, some of them got over their resentment and taught us.
In other words, we weren’t the worst. And neither are Millennials.
*For the record, the Greatest Generation raised Baby Boomers and Boomers raised Millennials so in the end, this whole debate has always seemed very circular to me.
**This same supervisor later sent me on a trip to Montana in November. It snowed, I barely made it home. I think he was trying to teach me something.