July 1995 “Memphis” magazine cover
I take anniversaries seriously, maybe more so than I should. As Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige famously warned, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” (Paige also advised us to “avoid running at all times.” So his wisdom should be incorporated with discretion.) My wife and I celebrated our 21st anniversary last month (the most important anniversary on my calendar, by several lengths). And we’re a month closer to Memphis magazine blowing out 40 candles on our publishing cake (next April). But this very month, I turn 20 as a managing editor. And it’s a milestone worthy of a column.
When I tell new friends and readers (they’re often the same people) that I’ve been at the same company — and carried the same title — since 1995, their eyebrows tend to go north. The same business (Contemporary Media, Inc.) for 20 years?! The same job for 20 years?! It’s either a career match made in heaven, they say, or I’m a one-trick pony.
First of all, Memphis magazine is not the same enterprise today that it was when I was promoted near the top of the masthead in July 1995. At that time, we produced a page of film for every color printed, so four pages of film for a full-color page. (And we still produced black-and-white pages in ’95 . . . a penny saved here and there.) Our production process today is entirely digital, meaning my job — ensuring the magazine comes together efficiently, completely, and on time — is a different challenge, tracking and checking countless composition boards and pages of film replaced by tracking and checking countless emails, downloads, uploads, and virtual page proofs.
As for the job title, it’s changed too, though beneath the surface. A managing editor serves as a link between the editor, art director, and sales director. When there’s a transition at one of those desks, my job changes. And since 1995, I’ve worked with five editors, four art directors, and two sales directors. A magazine takes on the personality of its staff, so a new editor — or new art director — alters a production cycle with his or her strengths, tastes, and priorities. I consider myself blessed to have served a role alongside so many talented people while wearing the same hat (different colors now and then) as managing editor.
What keeps me coming back every Monday morning? How do I plan a production cycle for a 241st monthly magazine? There are three components that inspire me after all these years.
• Variety. No two magazines are the same. Never have been, never will be. And each magazine requires the proper placement of thousands of moving parts. (Count the words you read in a magazine some time. Make sure it’s a small one.) If you like creativity — and you’re the curious sort — a magazine life is not just rewarding, but redeeming. I learn something new, and help create something new, every month, one year after the next. Makes me a better man.
• Teamwork. I grew up on team sports. Played baseball, basketball, and soccer through high school. I’ve come to thrive on the teamwork necessary to produce a magazine. Say what you will about desktop publishing in the digital age, but no magazine of our quality can be produced without the input of several talented people. (Let me emphasize: Advertisers are a part of my team. Never taken for granted.) I played ball with certain friends for four, maybe five years. I’ve had teammates at Memphis magazine for more than two decades now.
• Writing. I’m a writer. When I meet someone for the first time, I’ll tell them I’m a journalist (and share my job title). But I’m a writer at heart. It’s my craft. And it’s a hard one. Please remember this when you enjoy your favorite authors: writing is hard to do well. I continue to work at my craft, aiming to improve, maybe inspire now and then. I love the challenge of filling a blank page with a tale worth reading. (In addition to my work for the magazine, I’ve written a weekly sports column for the Memphis Flyer — “From My Seat” — for 13 years.) I’m a better writer today than I was in 1995. And I’m inspired by the certainty that I’ll be a better writer 20 years from now than I am today.
Thanks for reading. Needless to say, our loyal subscribers are teammates, too.