Avoiding Yale’s graveyard of failed publications



In a corner of Sterling Memorial Library, through two sets of double doors and behind the rattling glass, a few dusty bookshelves hold a history of student publishing ambition.

There, the small, white, unassuming first issue of The Yale Journal of Pretentious Free-Association (Editor in Chief: Mumblequatch Anuspladdy) rests on the third issue of Portia: A Journal for the Yale Woman. Red-leather bound volumes of now defunct The Pot-pourri list members of secret societies from the 1950s. One shelf over, the inaugural issue of Comment bemoans the death of its predecessor, Et Veritas.

This is the magazine morgue — where student publications come to die.

On Friday afternoon, publisher Josh Saitz stood in front of a small crowd in William L. Harkness Hall to advise ambitious students about how to keep their own publications from meeting the same fate.

Saitz explained how he started his own publication, after having his writing rejected by numerous existing magazines.

“I was terrified to die without anyone ever having read anything I’d written except my classmates,” he said. “The only way I thought I could do that was publish it myself.”

Saitz, a self-described “foul mouth” and former writer for a greeting card trade publication, discussed his own award-winning publication, Negative Capability. Six other speakers joined Saitz that afternoon to tell students the secret of publication success at the first Yale Independent Media Conference.

Michelle Chen ’03, who founded the Yale Alternative Media and Library Resource Center, organized the conference to encourage new vantages in Yale media.

“The media is dominated by a few key players and there aren’t a lot of unorthodox voices,” Chen said. “There’s a growing presence and awareness of the advantage of media on campus, and I wanted to bring together a group of people who had worked with alternative media for a good part of their careers.”

Adam Hurter, a freelance journalist and public relations advocate, tried to inspire students to use the media as a vehicle for social change.

“What we need in these wild, urgent times is a visionary effort,” he said.

But Yalies do not seem to lack vision. A student looking for reading material at brunch yesterday in Davenport College could choose among the Yale Scientific, The Yale Herald, and the Yale Review of Books, or pick up the first issue of the Yale Israel Journal.

Last spring, a group of Calhoun freshmen founded Students for Teachers. At a brainstorming session this fall, they decided to found Our Education, a magazine devoted to providing a student forum for debate about educational reform.

“It started as an idea to do a two-page, 8-by-11, two-sided copy pages with a few quick short items,” said Paul Levin ’05, the editor in chief of Our Education. “Once we started talking to people we realized there was a demand for more than that.”

One thousand copies of the 16-page first issue of Our Education were distributed at dining halls around campus and mailed to educational reformers and leaders around the nation, Levin said. Levin said he hopes the magazine will be expanded to a 32-page quarterly publication to be distributed nationwide.

But finding a way to start a publication is not the primary challenge.

“It’s not enough to make a ‘zine that all your friends are going to read,” Lappe said. “It’s about doing things that can compete in the marketplace of ideas.”

If the campus publishing world is a marketplace, then students display a wide range of consumer appetites. Over the years students have produced a journal of Asian and Asian-American art, a conservative perspective of women’s issues, and a science-fiction themed literary magazine, among others.

Nicole Tuchinda ’99 — who, as an undergraduate, joined some friends in starting the short-lived Yale Alternative Press to provide a counterweight to what she described as “the more conservative press on campus” — knows even the best ideas are no guarantee of success.

“We had good ideas but sustaining student interest throughout the publication process was difficult,” she said. “The challenge was to actually carry it through.”

Archivist Mary Caldera, who, along with other archivists, tries to keep an up-to-date collection of student publications, has seen this problem firsthand.

“We have a lot of what we call ‘one issues’ where the first one will be the last,” she said. “It’s hard to know which ones will be important and stay around.”

One factor that poses a challenge to aspiring student publishers is finding a continual source of funding. Sudler funds only last one semester, and private gifts, such as Our Education received from an educational advocacy group, might not be renewed.

Tuchinda was involved in two student publications and said she learned how to realistically gauge student resources, interest, and commitment.

In addition to starting the Yale Alternative Press, Tuchinda was involved in a small publication called Mesh, which was designed with the idea of showcasing activist projects that were not being featured in other campus publications, Tuchinda said.

The Yale Alternative Press was printed on newsprint instead of on the copy paper used for Mesh, and was targeted at a wider, and more mainstream audience, Tuchinda said. While Mesh survived at least two years, Tuchinda said the Yale Alternative Press — limited by student time and resources — lasted less than a year.

“Eventually it just sort of died out because there weren’t many people to work on it,” Tuchinda said. “Mesh survived because it was a little less ambitious and a lot easier to put out.”

But Our Education is not particularly worried by these types of cautionary tales, Levin said.

“We feel we have a really good niche and a good cause, maybe better than some of the magazines that fade in and fade out. That’s helped sustain our energy,” Levin said.

Although he attributed much of his success to hard work and luck, Saitz did have some final words of practical advice for students yearning to create their own award-winning publications.

“Get a P.O. box so people who don’t like you can’t find you,” he said. “Don’t threaten to kill the President — Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do anything you want. And who knows, if you do it well enough, they might invite you to speak at Yale some day.”

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