Magazines have always been something I treasured.
I read them as a kid, but it wasn’t until journalism school that I really fell hard for them. The edgy design and photography, the quirky facts and niche subjects. The eloquent essays that stuck with you for as long as any book.
I ended up graduating from the University of Missouri with a magazine journalism degree, but the truth behind the gloss was that I was a newspaper girl. I’d always been a newspaper girl, since I was 16 and working as the student staffwriter at my hometown paper. Throughout college, including an internship at Texas Monthly, I flirted with magazine life but couldn’t seem to leave the inky days of daily print journalism behind.
When I took on the food writing job at the Austin American-Statesman in 2008, I embraced the Wednesday food section like my own little magazine. It was a small consolation to the egotistical version of me that thought that I wouldn’t really be happy until I worked on longer deadlines for a print product that people wouldn’t toss in the recycling at the end of the day.
I was delighted to find that some people, a very particular kind of people that I just so happen to come from, save their food sections just like magazines, or at the least, clip their recipes and start to interact with the food writer whose face often graces the front.
It’s a wonderful, strange position to be in, to have your writing, your stories out there, week after week, for the public to consume, but after nearly eight years, I’ve come to love it. Readers of all ages, but especially of my grandmothers’ generation, call me to talk about food, but within minutes, we’re talking about kids who live in far-off states or first jobs they had delivering pizzas or how much they enjoyed that lemon bar recipe I published last week.
I’ve always appreciated and enjoyed my job, but I’m also a sucker for new projects and challenges. My understanding bosses at the Statesman understand this itch for new knowledge and experiences, and they’ve let me do a number of things, from trying to get a food show off the ground at the local PBS station to editing a community cookbook with the Austin Food Blogger Alliance and, most recently, editing a new magazine that launches this month.
That’s right. For the past six months, I’ve been working with Robyn Metcalfe, a woman I feel lucky enough to call my mentor, on her latest and greatest creation: Food+City, a print and online magazine covering the food supply chain that also hosts a Challenge Prize for innovative startups.
To put a slightly sexier consumer spin on it, Food+City wants us to think more deeply how we feed our cities and inspire change to improve the process so that more people can get better food. It’s a lofty goal, but the editorial content is what really fascinated me: Refrigerated shipping containers and railcars, wooden pallets and the cold chain. Milk cartons, ingredient tracking, automated trucking and grocery store design. All the nerdy, next-level food stuff that I’ve been interested in now that I’ve had seven years and counting of being immersed in studying food culture.
She needed someone to put out a print and online magazine, and though I wasn’t interested in leaving the Statesman, I was curious about the chance to revisit my love of print magazines and take over that part of the job.
I lobbied both parties for me to try to do both, and for most of 2015, I worked with writers all over the country on the debut issue, which will finally see the light of day at the Challenge Prize event on Saturday and a launch party during SXSW.
I couldn’t be more proud of what we created, but with this excitement comes a tinge of sadness. I tried really hard to do both of my jobs well, but with both my full-time job and full-time life, the Food+City job needs a full-time person to do it justice.
That means someone out there is going to get the wonderful opportunity to tell stories about the food system that can be hard to find these days. (Interested? Shoot an email to our program director Jen Heitler at Jen@foodandcity.org.)
The experience was everything my 22-year-old magazine nerd self was hoping it would be. I got to be in the trenches of assigning stories and photos, shaping rough drafts into finished pieces, trying not to piss off anybody along the way.
I got to stretch my wings, learn new skills, expand my own knowledge base and become a more well-rounded food journalism professional. Editing 4,000-word stories on how bananas get to bodegas in New York City or how the Panama Canal influenced the development of the U.S. Interstate system filled my bucket in a way it desperately needed filling.
It was wonderful to be reminded how much I enjoy working on new projects. The rush of creating something that didn’t exist before and getting to tell the world about it. But at the same time, it reminded me how much I love being the content creator, not the content editor.
I love getting my hands dirty in brownie batter and battered reporter notes. I crave asking questions, finding out the answers and then finding creative ways to pass that information along to readers. I wasn’t a terrible magazine editor, but writing and directly connecting with my community is what I’m supposed to be doing. I still love magazines, but I’m able to embrace the value in publishing content that, though ephemeral, holds a meaningful place in the lives of everyday people.
I must say that the biggest personal reward has been both working side-by-side with Robyn, with whom I share a fierce creative connection, and taking on a stretch professional goal in front of my kids. They have watched me challenge myself in a way they hadn’t seen before, often at the expense of my free time with them on nights and weekends. I want them to remember this time of their lives, when they were young but had a working mom who wasn’t afraid to try new things, even if those things are hard and doing them right means making sacrifices.
They are also getting to see what happens when it’s time for mom to take back a little more of her time, refocus her mission and still take pride in the work and effort of having tried.