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So What Do You Do, Josh Jackson, Editor-in-Chief of Paste?

Up for a General Excellence Ellie, this indie mag's editor discusses its path from side project status to critical acclaim

By Amanda Ernst - April 21, 2010
Josh Jackson launched indie music magazine Paste in 2002 with two friends and has seen it grow into a critically acclaimed magazine, recognized year after year by the American Society of Magazine Editors. This year, Paste is nominated for general excellence in the 100,000 to 250,000 circulation category (it has a circ of 205,000) and for its reviews and criticism.

"This year was the first year that we got nominated in one of the writing categories," Jackson said, adding that associate editor Rachael Maddux was the one being recognized by ASME for her reviews. "We're most proud of that, because she's up against The New Yorker and Harper's and GQ... we're outside of all of that's happening in New York, so it feels like we're being brought into the club a little bit when something like that happens."

While Jackson admits the Atlanta-based magazine sometimes struggles by being away from the center of the magazine universe -- mainly in the area of ad sales -- they still have no plans to move north. "There are so many reasons to love New York, but it's been neat being outside of that," he said. "We've got an office we could never have in New York... and we've got our own studio here where bands can come in and play. There are a lot of advantages to being where we are."

Name: Josh Jackson
Position: Editor-in–chief of Paste
Resume: After earning a journalism degree from the University of Georgia, Jackson went to work for the nonprofit organization Luke Society, where he worked as communications director. Launched in 1998 as a side project with Nick Purdy. In 2002, Jackson and Purdy quit their day jobs to launch Paste magazine full-time with Tim Regan-Porter.
Birthdate: December 14, 1971
Education: University of Georgia, journalism major, with a specialty in magazines
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
Marital status: Married with three kids
First section of the Sunday New York Times: "I'm embarrassed to say I don't get the Sunday New York Times. I read the New York Times online. I read the movie updates all the time and I get emails from the movie section and the book section. I don't read much on Sundays; it's the one day of the week I'm not in front of the computer very much."
Favorite TV show: "I'm loving Dexter right now."
Guilty pleasure: The new Dr. Who
Last book you read: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Twitter: @joshjackson

How did the three of you go about launching the magazine?
It was 2002. Our website, was kind of growing; it was a side project that Nick Purdy and I were doing. Both of us had day jobs. He was at Deloitte and Touche as an e-commerce consultant and I was at the Luke Society, and we basically ran the company on IM during the workday. It was getting to be too big to have a full-time job and still do that, but it wasn't really making us any money. So we decided, 'Well how do we take this to the next level?' I had always wanted to do a magazine, so I said, 'Hey, let's do it.'

What was
We were selling independent CDs of bands that we loved and sort of cross-promoting some bands. I would write about the CDs we were selling, and it was really about music discovery. It was all artists that no one had heard of. So we just took that idea of music discovery and turned it into a magazine. We moved back to Atlanta and we recruited another friend of ours, Tim Regan-Porter, and the three of us started trying to figure out how to launch a magazine. We found a distributor and we found writers and we started connecting with publicists and getting CDs we could review. Between Tim and I, I think we wrote about 60 percent of that first issue. We pretty much did everything ourselves. None of us really had much in the way of experience in magazines when we started. We had no experience in producing or working in magazines. Still to this day with a staff of 14, we've never really had anybody who has worked at another magazine, other than an internship. So we've kind of been making it up as we went.

"We've come up with some really creative ways to engage advertisers and have done much better recently, but it took a long, long time."

How do the three of you know each other?
I had met Nick back in high school. We were in the same church youth group. And then I met Tim when we were at the University of Georgia. He had started a music 'zine there, and I helped him with that.

What has been the most difficult thing for you in terms of getting the magazine off the ground and running it day to day?
It's been eight years now of learning. I feel like we've caught up in a lot of ways. Advertising has always been a hard thing, just not being based in New York, not starting out with the connections in that world. So it took a long time before we could reach beyond music advertisers. I think that's probably been the most difficult. We've come up with some really creative ways to engage advertisers and have done much better recently, but it took a long, long time.

Atlanta is one of the hubs for the music industry in the U.S. Do you feel you have an advantage as a music magazine being there?
I think there is an advantage to being from a specific place outside of New York or LA, because it is its own culture, it is its own scene. There's a great rock scene going on here, of course hip-hop has been huge here for a long time now. We have a lot of advantages. We have CNN here, so we did a weekly thing on CNN Headline News for about two years where we were picking bands and movies that we loved. We probably wouldn't have gotten that if we were in New York. We can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond here.

"We raised over a quarter of a million dollars in about a month's time, from readers who just didn't want to see something else go away."

In the last year, Paste has faced a lot of economic challenges, and you came up with some really unique ways of dealing with them. How did those come about?
The money has always been really tight for us. We're an independent magazine, so when the downturn hit there was no money in the bank, and we were struggling. The last couple of years there were many months where we were wondering, 'How are we going to get this issue out? How are we going to make payroll?' Last year it got to the point where we didn't have an answer to the question, 'How will we ever get this issue out?' And we were pretty close to, like a lot of magazines, just throwing in the towel. And we had some readers actually email us, I guess seeing the writing on the wall, seeing the issues get thinner and seeing what was happening to other magazines, and just saying, 'Hey, don't go away. Let us know if you need help, we'll be there for you.' We've been so fortunate to have such as passionate readership. And so when we send out an email or put it on Twitter or Facebook and say, 'Hey we need help,' -- I was kind of blown away by the response. We raised over a quarter of a million dollars in about a month's time, from readers who just didn't want to see something else go away. We built a platform where readers could give a donation and then we had a bunch of artists donate songs for the cause, rare and exclusive tracks, and no matter what you donated you got access to this great download vault of all these cool songs. The donations were generous. Hardly anyone donated the minimum, which was $1. And then we took that recently with Haiti, where people could give to Haiti and get access to this music.

How is the magazine doing now, almost a year later?
It's still tough. It's been a rough year and even a rough beginning to this year. We finally are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel with advertising for the second half of the year. On the advertising front, it's busier now than I think it's ever been. It's still a struggle. I keep saying that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm not sure how we're going to get through that tunnel. We're fighting through it.

Since you announced this fundraising initiative, have you brought on more staff?
We just had two editors leave, and we were able to replace them for the first time ever. We have two new editors on staff. That's partly just out of necessity. We couldn't do it any smaller that we're doing it now. There are 14 full-time [staffers], about half of that is editorial.

You also did something a while ago called Obamicon. How did that come about?
One of the fun things about being a small independent magazine is that when someone has an idea we can just jump on it. Our president Tim thought it would be cool if you could take that cool Obama poster and put your own face on it and put a little message on it. And one of our developers built up this thing really, really quickly and so within a very short period of time we were able to go live with this poster and it just became popular. The first time we ever had a million page views on anything in a day was Inauguration Day. We had just over a million page views between the Paste website and the Obamicon website. I don't think we had ever had 1 million page views in a month before that.

Amanda Ernst is deputy editor of

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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