Utne Reader, the Minneapolis-based compendium of progressive writing and alternative media, is relocating to Topeka, Kan., the magazine's publisher announced Monday.
The magazine will move to the national headquarters of Ogden Publications, which acquired Utne Reader in 2006. The company already publishes several magazines in Topeka, including Mother Earth News and Motorcycle Classics.
MPR's Tom Crann discussed the move with Eric Utne, who founded the magazine in 1984.
Tom Crann: What was your reaction first when you heard this news?
Eric Utne: I was very sad. First of all, it's a group of seven people putting out a magazine that used to be put out by as many as 30 or 35 people, and they're a very talented bunch. So it's sad to see them lose their jobs.
Crann: And what does it say about the publishing industry, specifically magazines, these days?
Utne: Well, it's a very tough business. It's tough to compete with free, which is how most people get their info these days, or pledge drives.
Crann: Take us back to 1984, and tell us what you set out to do when you founded the magazine.
Utne: Well, I was a magazine junkie who couldn't keep up with all the reading I wanted to do, so I figured there were enough people out there like me for whom digests of the best of what I thought was out there would be of service.
And then I gathered a group of people who were similarly kind of cosmopolitan provincials. Minnesota is full of people who realize that they're not living in the center of the universe, and so they look widely to find out what's going on, and sure enough, they end up being very informed about all kinds of things. And that's what makes Minnesota I think a unique publishing place.
Crann: You stepped away from Utne 12 years ago, but you've continued to contribute from time to time, but in your absence, do you think what was known as Utne and then again Utne Reader still continued in the spirit you founded it?
Utne: Yes, I've attended and participated in the occasional editorial meeting, and you know with a staff of mostly twenty and thirty-somethings, they really picked up the torch and ran with it. I think they caught the spirit of what we were trying to do and gave it a very contemporary feel, and I was very proud to be associated with it.
Crann: It still bears your name. Was there anything along the way that actually surprised you, though?
Utne: Well, the thing that surprised me the most is that the New York Times crossword puzzle has used the name 38 times in the last 16 years as an answer to their various clues.
Crann: Blank Reader.
Utne: Independent publication. That's enough for people to know it's the Utne Reader, which I'm very proud about that.
Crann: In the end, despite the history and the pride you have that it was founded here in Minneapolis, does it matter where a magazine like this actually comes from, whether it's Topeka or here?
Utne: Well, I don't know about Topeka or here, but if one were to try to publish the Utne Reader in New York, at least if I were to try to publish it, I would have such standards of professionalism that I'd never succeed in getting an issue out. And if I was on the West Coast trying to publish it, I would be seduced by every interesting new idea that came through the door.
But somehow in Minnesota we were able to stay current with what was going on, but have a certain objectivity because we weren't in the middle of it. And I think that might even be easier in Topeka, but I think they're going to be missing a very talented crew, but they intend to keep publishing it, so it'll be interesting to see what they do.
Crann: Given that so much of it has migrated online now with the technology being the way it is, can't talented people from wherever they are contribute to a publication, as it were, like Utne?
Utne: Well, the magazine always gathered very broadly from all over North America and in fact from around the world. So it's always been the case, but I think you also want to have a certain critical mass of people working elbow to elbow to get the issue out because there's a kind of creativity that happens in a group that just can't happen when you're not together, at least I don't think so.
(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran)