Thursday, August 26, 2010

Inside Outside Southwest magazine ceases publication after 11 years

Time of death: 5 p.m., August 23, 2010.

After more than 11 years of exploring, reporting, celebrating, and defending the Four Corners country from its home in Durango, Colo., Inside Outside Southwest magazine joined the ranks of publications that have drowned in its attempt to find a piece of ground to stay afloat on in the new media economy.

And the Four Corners lost its voice -- for no other publication covers this economically, ecologically, geographically, and politically linked region as a whole.

Read editor Jan Nesset's farewell here. 

The final issue will the September issue, to be released next week.

Cool cover art by Bryan Peterson
While Inside Outside  really found its voice and carved what seemed a solid niche in the past several years, under the editorship of Jan Nesset, I'm honored to have been the publication's first managing editor, for its first year and a half of life, from 1998 - 2000. It was a damned fine time.

Here you can read a collection of my favorite excerpts from Inside Outside's early years (from the magazine's 10th anniversary issue).

Below is a brief history of Inside Outside's start-up days that I wrote for that 10th anniversary issue.

The Way It Was: A brief personal history from the (former) Editor
Publications, like wars, are sacred causes.  -- Charles Bowden
In the summer of 1998, I was approached by two men who had a business idea: a free, alternative magazine for the Four Corners. They sought my thoughts because – or maybe despite -- I already had been failing at something similar for several years.
Since 1993, some friends and I had been publishing the San Juan Almanac, which we smugly tagged, “Your cattleguard on the information superhighway.” In that guerilla spirit, we did our journalistic dirty work in my house on a budget drawn mostly from handouts, a few kind benefactors, and change found under sofa cushions. After five years, we decided we had done our karmic duty to the literary culture of the Four Corners, and accepted the fact we were as much businessmen as the Bureau of Reclamation are conservationists. We, though, knew when to quit.
Regardless, Phil Lauro and Daniel Esper thought I could offer some useful insights when they sought to launch Inside Outside Southwest, which they envisioned as a journal of entertainment, culture and recreation bonding the entire Four Corners area. Business-wise, all I could do was giggle. But they had start-up money, by gods! So, I offered to write stories, do some editing, and contact writers I knew from the Almanac days.
Six months later, my dream of a regional publication, like Jason, like the Colorado Rockies, like Al Gore, was somehow alive again after logic, experience, and common sense insisted otherwise. I did some editing and wrote the lead feature for the premier issue – a brilliant (ahem) intimate literary portrait of the reclusive Stone-Age hunter and author David Petersen – which then led to my taking a fifty percent cut in salary from my “real job” to become Inside Outside Southwest’s first Managing Editor.
Dreams are cheap, but following them isn’t.
Underway, we settled into the restored principal’s office in the former Smiley Middle School building, in downtown Durango. His partner already had fled, so Phil sat behind a big desk playing Publisher (think: “Rosebud …”); I wrote, edited, planned issues, and lined-up writers; and graphic-arts genius Todd Thompson was brought on board as art director. (One late night, Todd brought to life the vague notion I'd had about a crossed monkey wrench and pen as an iconic logo for our mission ...) We had computers, space, views, some money to work with, and a refrigerator stocked with an endless supply of Ska Brewery beer (keep it local!).
So began the glory days.
Mostly it’s a blur. Putting out a magazine, especially a start-up publication, is like rowing into a steady headwind in low financial flows. But we made it, for a while, and, I like to think, with style – subtly subversive and vocally local. Each of our issues was chock-full of well-written stories (partly to take up the space where the ads should have been) by both local and nationally renown writers. And, thanks to Todd’s dedication and skill, our pages looked as good or better than many “glossy” publications.
We had our moments. We scored exclusives with some big-name writers, including John Nichols – who premiered a chapter of a new novel in our pages -- Ed Quillen, Will Hobbs, and the aforementioned David Petersen. We enlisted a few outstanding columnists – Art Goodtimes, Rob Schultheis, and David Feela (a holdover from the Almanac who still writes in Inside Outside Southwest). We had some fun provoking our new readership: Shultheis’s “Moron of the Mountains” column drew raging hate (and love) mail; and if that didn’t, Phil’s many pseudonyms under which he wrote stories and letters (Victor Lazlo, Artimus Vark, et al.) did.
We even had a special “Edward Abbey” issue that garnered national attention, sporting a cover drawn by artist Bryan Peterson and featuring a “lost” Abbey short story that no one, not even Abbey’s wife, had seen since the mid-1950s.
Mostly, though, I remember just doing the magazine. Late nights (and early mornings) poring over paste-ups and tinkering with layouts with Todd while chipping away at those six packs of Ska … breaks out on the roof of the Smiley Building, overlooking downtown Durango … day-time breaks tossing a Frisbee on Third Avenue … and quick breaks sitting in the hallway watching the participants arrive for the dance class in the room next door.
And we always looked forward with great anticipation to the crazy “issue release” parties Phil would throw at local bars to stir up interest in the magazine. And the wacky visitors alternative magazines attract … whew.
But, as happens to most start-ups, after a year and a half of glory days, the headwinds finally outstripped our ability to row toward financial security. Fortunately, though, for Inside Outside Southwest – and for readers in the Four Corners – there’s a happy ending to this story. In 2000, Phil sold out to The Durango Herald, and Inside Outside Southwest was, like Jason, the Rockies, and Nobel-prizing-winning Gore (!), given a new life. And that life, under the steady hands of its later editors – Pete Pendegrast, and now Jan Nesset – is still beating, and growing stronger.
Long live crazy dreams.  

Sad. It hurts. But, it was a good run.

And now the question is: What's next, Four Corners writers, reporters, and readers?? 
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