April 2010

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The past few years have been tough on the magazine industry. Last year
alone, dozens of titles folded, and their names are hardly obscure: Gourmet.
National Geographic Adventure. Southern Accents. Travel
& Leisure Golf
. Vibe. Condé Nast Portfolio.
Each of these magazines boasted good writing, compelling design, and a
knowledge of its audience. Some titles—I’m thinking of Gourmet—had
close to a million subscribers. By these yardsticks and others, they
should have succeeded. And yet they failed, victims of a battered
economy that drained away advertising revenue, a magazine’s lifeblood.

Of course, as tough as things are for the magazine industry, they’re
nothing compared with what’s going on in newspapers, as any regular
reader of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution can divine. Through
buyouts, layoffs, and attrition, much of the staff’s institutional
knowledge—so essential to giving stories context and meaning beyond the
who, what, and where—has been cast aside. Daily circulation, as of last
fall, was barely above 200,000—this in a ten-county metro area of more
than 4 million people.

City magazines such as the one you’re holding right now (or that you’re
browsing on the web) have hardly been immune. Yet as other publications
have folded, and while metro daily newspapers have shrunk in circulation
and ambition, the need for what we do at Atlanta magazine has
never been more apparent. This is evidenced in any number of ways: the
letters we received in response to Charles Bethea’s piece last month on
the Final Exit suicide group; the requests we receive from restaurants
seeking a review; and the news we got this past week from the City &
Regional Magazine Association, which informed us we were finalists in
seven categories in the annual awards competition that pits dozens of
city magazines against one another.

Thomas Lake, who joined our staff a little over a year ago, was named in
three of those categories—one for his story last June on how the
recession had particularly battered Dalton, Georgia
; another for his
profile last fall on the unsolved murder of James Brown’s son-in-law;
and finally, for a collection of work in the category of Writer of the
Year. We were also recognized for a compelling photo essay that ran last
February. Called “Arrested Development,” the photographs documented,
better than any story could, the effect of half-finished housing
developments throughout metro Atlanta. Our excellent design director,
Eric Capossela, was also recognized for his design of the story “Deep
Freeze
,” which followed one Atlanta woman’s journey as she took
advantage of a cutting-edge technology that freezes and stores human
eggs. And in the category of Reader Service, the fine work of former
staffer Kimberly Turner was recognized for “Street Smarts,” in which we
dissected Atlanta’s traffic issues and told readers how to navigate our
never-ending congestion. And last but certainly not least, Rebecca
Burns, my predecessor who now coordinates our digital edition, was named
a finalist in the category of Excellence Online.

If the economic woes are like shrapnel hitting the industry, awards are
hardly Kevlar. But combined with feedback from readers like you, they
give us the affirmation and encouragement that we’re on the right path.
Drop me a line and let me know what stories you’d like to see next.
Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Contact Steve Fennessy at sfennessy@atlantamag.emmis.com

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