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Map: Britannica
New Zealand is seeing a renaissance in the magazine business.

Sometimes a small, well-networked country or state can do a better job making challenging things happen than the big guys can. I’m thinking, for example, about West Virginia’s remarkable success in getting the Covid vaccine into people’s arms. (NBC has a cool story about Mom & Pop drugstores and the advantage of knowing your community.)

Today’s story comes from a very different part of the world and concerns a very different topic: the struggling print-magazine industry.

Elle Hunt reports at the Guardian, “At 8.31am on a Thursday, Henry Oliver received a text message from his employer, alerting him to a company-wide Zoom call in 29 minutes’ time.

“The day was 2 April 2020, a week into New Zealand’s national lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus. Oliver, who is the editor of Metro magazine, and his team had been scrambling to adjust to remote working and – with magazine publishing not among the ‘essential services’ permitted to continue through the pandemic – a new digital-first operation.

“Within an hour of that text, Oliver and the 300-odd other employees of Bauer Media New Zealand were told they were being made redundant, the titles they worked on would be put up for sale, and the entire company was to close. …

“A privately owned German company operational in 13 countries, including the US, UK and Australia, Bauer had been a pillar of the New Zealand magazine industry since 2012. In particular it was known for its current affairs and long-form features journalism, as the home of the Auckland-centric Metro, North & South and The Listener – titles with steady subscriber bases and some of the most experienced and awarded journalists in the country on staff.

“In its suddenness and its sweep, Bauer’s decision seemed to sound a death knell for an entire industry. … Yet less than a year later, not only have Bauer magazines been brought back to life under new ownership, but also new titles have been launched – reflecting a flurry of investment and innovation in New Zealand media precipitated by the pandemic.

“Sydney private equity firm Mercury Capital purchased Bauer NZ for an unspecified sum in June (later renaming it Are Media) – extending a lifeline to The Listener and four other mastheads.

Metro and North & South were both acquired by independent investors seeking to preserve New Zealand’s tradition of long-form features journalism.

“Meanwhile, four entirely new monthly titles – staffed by former Bauer editors and writers, with former CEO Paul Dykzeul advising – were launched by School Road Publishing in November.

“The recovery, since the dire outlook in April, has exceeded all expectations: testament to the appetite of New Zealanders not just to read magazines, but to make them.

“The day after he was made redundant, Oliver started work on a zine. With a budget procured from property developer Britomart Group, he was able to deploy the talents of many of the journalists and designers who had been let go with him from Bauer. He gave it the tongue-in-cheek title Essential Services, describing it as a ‘small affirmation of life in the face of media industry collapse.’

“Oliver went on to produce two more issues with funding from government agency Creative New Zealand. … ‘I just thought to myself, it’s not really up to a German billionaire whether I get to make magazines or not.’

“Others too had spied opportunity in among the rubble. German-born journalists Konstantin Richter and Verena Friederike Hasel … made a ‘spontaneous’ offer on North & South to ensure its survival, as subscribers themselves. Richter is also a board member of the Swiss media giant TX Group, founded by his family, and splits his time between the two countries. …

“Richter describes their vision as ‘a mix of change and tradition’: retaining North & South’s time-honoured focus on issues that span the length of New Zealand, bridging the urban-rural divide – while injecting news and perspectives from further afield. He sees an opportunity to build on the tradition of investigative and long-form features journalism in a nation that is more receptive than others to the concept.

Metro, meanwhile, was bought by media entrepreneur Simon Chesterman, who retained Oliver as editor and moved the magazine to quarterly publishing. It relaunched with a splash in November with an exclusive essay from Lorde.

“Oliver says they were aligned on the importance of an Auckland-centric title in the age of coronavirus. ‘We’re going to be living in a more local world for the foreseeable future, so a city magazine, an authority on a specific place, can be more relevant than ever.’

“Plus, at a moment of up-to-the-minute, pandemic-driven doom-scrolling, ‘here is space for a slower media,’ says Oliver. ‘That was really what was taken away with the shutdown of the magazines.’

“To [Colin Peacock, host of Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch programme], the industry’s reinvention suggests a new era of ‘start-up-style media’ in New Zealand. … Peacock points to Shepherdess – a new quarterly magazine for rural women, which launched in mid-March – and the free ‘mountain culture’ publication 1964 as examples of how print might be reinvented to serve a specific, perhaps localised audience. …

“In April, Bauer’s Australia and New Zealand chief executive Brendon Hill had said magazines would be ‘untenable’ in New Zealand through the pandemic: ‘Publishing in New Zealand is very dependent on advertising revenue and it is highly unlikely that demand will ever return to pre-crisis levels.’

“But the industry’s bounceback from catastrophe reflects New Zealand readers’ loyalty to their long-standing magazines – potentially to a fault, Peacock suggests. … The resurrection of The Listener, almost identical in form and focus, suggests there was next to no enthusiasm for a refresh, says Peacock. …

“Richter and Friederike Hasel are hopeful that North & South readers will embrace a new global perspective – especially at this time of transition, not just for New Zealand’s media but New Zealand itself. Bauer’s exit was ‘a shock to many,’ says Friederike Hasel – ‘but I think something good might come out of that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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blackorpheus01

I’ve always been interested in other countries and cultures and have tried to read books from afar if they are written in English or translated into English. Years ago, the works of Africa writers Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka were among my favorites. I have continued to read other African writers, but none have interested me as much as those two.

Recently I learned that some new authors have complained that African literary magazines — often the place to launch a writing career — have not been open to younger voices.

An article in Okay Africa provides an overview of the magazines that publish African literature and explains why the number of outlets has been increasing.

Tadiwa Madenga writes, “African literary magazines and journals don’t just shape literary culture, they offer the most rebellious responses to political and social movements. They not only respond to the cultures they’re in, these magazines also create distinct cultures of their own that reflect the personalities of their editors.

“Some are experimental and bold, some are satirical and polemic, some can also be aesthetically conservative, but they all find beautiful ways to confront the most pressing issues in society. Magazines archive stories that might not always gain the attention that books will, but are sometimes the most thrilling work in a writer’s career. Here are five of the most notable literary magazines that have shaped contemporary African literature.

“Based in Nigeria, Black Orpheus was groundbreaking as the first African literary periodical on the continent publishing works in English. It was founded in 1957 by German editor Ulli Beier, and was later edited by Wole Soyinka, Es’kia Mphahlele, and Abiola Irele. The magazine stopped printing in 1975.

“At a time when African writers needed spaces where they could simply gather and enjoy each other’s works, the magazine was started to promote African literature, publishing the works of literary giants like Chinua Achebe, Ama ata Aidoo, and Christopher Okigbo in their early career. The best part of the magazine was that it introduced literature from French, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking regions to an English speaking audience …

Transition was founded [in 1961] by Rajat Neogy in Kampala when Uganda, like other African nations, was gaining its independence. Like Black Orpheus, the magazine published notable writers like Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nadine Gordimer, and Taban lo Liyong when they were new writers.

Transition … has had fearless takes on politics that eventually forced it to be transferred to Nigeria when Soyinka was editor, and later to the U.S. Transition is now housed at Harvard University and is still producing provocative work …

Kwani? began after a group of Kenyan writers, artists, and journalists became frustrated with the slow publishing scene in the country that mostly accommodated earlier writers like Ngugi from the Transition and Black Orpheus generation. A new publication was created in 2003 for emerging writers that has led to the incredible literature we enjoy today from Kenya. The journal has published works by writer like Yvonne Owuor, Parselelo Kantai, Andia Kisia, Uwem Akpan and Billy Kahora.

“Edjabe is a Cameroonian journalist and a DJ who engages literature, music, and politics with a rebel spirit [in the magazine Chimurenga]. Edjabe founded Chimurenga in 2002 in Cape Town at a time where South Africans were having lively discussions about life during and after political and social revolutions. What makes Chimurenga unique is not only the amazing writing that they publish, but the ways the platform evokes other mediums with literature. …

“While the other literary magazines and journals where mostly print magazines, JALADA represents the digital moment where African literature is thriving on online platforms like Saraba, Enkare, and Brittle Paper. JALADA began after a group of writers from various African countries published their work on their own website which became so popular they began receiving submissions from other writers.”

Read more here.

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Artist Susan Jaworski-Stranc is having a show she’s calling Water Blues at Centro Restaurant and Bar in Lowell. The exhibit, which includes oil paintings and linoleum prints, runs to March 17 at 24 Market St.

If you can get to Lowell on Sunday, Feb 23, there’s a reception where you can meet the artist, 1 pm to 3 pm.

My husband and I have been to a number of art shows in Lowell, which is quite a creative community. Our favorite Lowell artist is a former boss of mine, Meredith Fyfe Day, who held down a newspaper job while she was artist in residence at the Whistler House. I worked for her at the Harte-Hanks community newspaper chain in the early 1990s.

Here’s the intriguing artist statement from Jaworski-Stranc: “I am a printmaker, specializing in the creation of linoleum block prints. After each successive printing of a color, the surface of the block is reduced while at the same time the printing surface is built up with multi-layered colors. Born from one block of linoleum, my relief prints have the nuance and rich textural surfaces of an oil painting.

“Although Picasso coined this method of working, a ‘suicide print,’ I rather think of this printmaking process as emulating the journey of life. While creating my prints, I am never able to re-visit past stages. I can only proceed forward with the acceptance of all good and not so good choices which were mediated and acted upon with the hope and joy of completion.”

When Asakiyume and I met in December at the Worcester Art Museum, there was an exhibit on printmaking that showed what prints looked like at each of the layering stages. Challenging work. I love that Jaworski-Stranc sees the printmaker’s role as accepting each previous stage and working with it. As she says, “The journey of life.” Another good topic for a poem.

Find out more about Susan Jaworski-Stranc here. And thank you, Vyü magazine, for the lead.

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