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As a quarterly, you are competing against monthlies for awards like this. What's the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for us is timeliness. We can't cover news in the way that weeklies or monthlies do. But, that's also our advantage. We afford the stories that we select a great deal more length. I think that helps us select our topics and focus in many cases, because we know that we have to be publishing on subjects that warrant 8,000-10,000 words of reporting and analysis.
Since your breakout of sorts last year, have you been approached by bigger media companies for bigger media jobs?
Yes, I have. And, one must always be weighing the options, but I'm extremely happy with my situation here. I've got excellent support from the University of Virginia and unfettered freedom in determining the content of the magazine. The larger magazines are tempting, because they reach so many people. But, I want to reach people with the kind of writing that matters to me. If that means reaching a more select audience, then I can live with that.
What do you think of your Ellies chances?
I think they're probably slim. We won in these two categories last year, and I think it's pretty tough to repeat -- especially in general excellence. I'm planning to go and cheer on the other little magazines like Georgia Review and New Letters.
What's the biggest challenge of your job as an editor?
Our small staff. We have four full-time employees, so we rely a great deal on freelancers and student assistants. But when crunch time arrives, all of the editorial work falls to me and my managing editor Kevin Morrissey.
Take us through a typical day in the life of VQR's editor.
I usually wake up at 8 or so, when my four-year-old son starts demanding cereal and that someone switch on Dragon Tails. I realize that's a late start for most people, but I do a lot of my work -- especially reading unsolicited manuscripts, line editing accepted manuscripts, etc. -- between 11PM and 2-3AM. Anyway, I usually talk my wife into taking my son to school, while I answer e-mails and read Google News and the New York Times online. When I hit the office by mid morning, every semblance of a "typical" day disappears. As I said, we're a staff of four, so it may be that I can steal time to read manuscripts, or it may be that I have to be in regular touch with our copy editor in Denver or our designers in Minneapolis. I may be corresponding with authors in South America or photographers in Iraq. What I like about my day is that it's never typical. I also like the fact that my wife picks me up at 5, we get our son from school, and we're all home or out to dinner by 5:30 or 6.
"We're pretty happy with our quarterly status. What I would like is a lot more readers."
How do you feel about the state of the industry?
I think there's a lot of logical concern about how print will continue to compete against TV and Internet media outlets. For me, the simple solution is that magazines have to place more focus on storytelling and analysis. Television never slows down, never corrects itself, and the Internet [at-large] is a bewildering forest of misinformation. Online magazines like Slate and Salon have achieved a permanent place for themselves online by providing cogent and insightful pieces. Print magazines will survive by doing the same -- and they certainly are. Vanity Fair, New Yorker, Harper's, and the Atlantic are obvious examples. But, there's also remarkable work being published by mid-sized magazines like Mother Jones and Foreign Policy, and small magazines like Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and Paris Review.
I thought the best reporting of the year was done by Matthew Teague for Philadelphia Magazine (as well as a remarkable piece that he wrote for The Atlantic), the best special issues appeared from Tin House and New Orleans Review, and the best poetry appeared in New England Review and Kenyon Review. What that suggests to me is that print is alive and well. I think these smaller magazines could use an infusion of marketing dollars, but the work is better than ever.
A lot of magazines are currently trying to figure out the Web. Is this a problem for you? Are you, as a "quarterly" insulated by this at all?
The web is a topic of constant discussion in our offices. We're trying to use it to our fullest advantage -- because there are so many more online readers than readers of small quarterlies. So, we put a lot of our current content online, we're expanding our already extensive online archive, and we're developing all kinds of web-exclusive content [interviews, audio, manuscripts from our archives]. The biggest challenge is trying to bring our measured approach to a Web environment. We're still figuring that out, as is everyone else.
What's the next step for VQR? Go monthly?
God, I hope not. We'd go crazy. We're pretty happy with our quarterly status. What I would like is a lot more readers -- especially paid subscribers. I think that building our readership will be a central focus in the coming years. There's no money to be made in it, of course, but we see our readership as a measure of our relevance -- and that's what we're really after. We want our writers to reach more people.
What will you be wearing to the Ellies?
I'll be wearing some miserable, last-minute tuxedo, as always. Some have suggested that I buy a tux -- but that seems like inviting bad luck. So, I wait each year for the list of nominees, then hope the Men's Wearhouse will have a surplus of tuxes after the prom season. I figure I can't possibly be as nervous as the last guy who inhabited those clothes.