LET’S START WITH the obvious. Writing a piece commemorating the anniversary of a publication within a publication — especially if one is a current staff member on same — is an inherently navel-gazing activity.
Guilty as charged. But as usual, here I go.
Earlier this spring, someone noticed that the tail-end of this summer marked the 40th anniversary of the “modern” incarnation of The Seattle Times Sunday magazine. Although the newspaper has produced a separate Sunday magazine section since 1902 — a rather remarkable feat in itself — the current version’s birth was Sept. 7, 1980.
This look-back piece sounded like a good idea. As a lifelong reader of the magazine, a Times staffer since 1988 (I started when I was 4!) and a Pacific NW staff writer since 2012, I’ve personally witnessed a lot of that history.
“No problem,” said Judd, Lord of the Idiots.
What followed was a dayslong trudge through digital archives (OMG) that seem to have been designed by someone from the Internal Revenue Service. And then a full-on panic at the realization that the 2,000-odd (some of my own definitely filling out the latter) cover pieces generated over those four decades were a buried treasure chest of well-written, edited, illustrated and designed narrative journalism — the sort you just don’t often see anymore, at least in metropolitan newspapers.
We still endeavor to do that, weekly, here. That’s a testament to loyal readers, and of commitment to local journalism by the Blethen family, which has kept the magazine as a Times centerpiece through eras literally thick and thin.
Scanning the memory banks gave me a chance to check in on Kathy Andrisevic, the firebrand editor of this magazine for most of her 40-year career at The Seattle Times. She’s doing fine since her April 2017 retirement, which most people scarcely noticed: She sneaked out the back door, averting any public announcement (and the obligatory office “cake torture” that goes with it).
Understandable, but also too bad. Kathy’s emphatic shattering of the glass ceiling at The Times, in an era when Dorothy Neighbors’-style “women’s content” in our pages was still a relatively fresh memory, will live on in Northwest journalism history. Her imprint on the scope and tone of the magazine for four decades is undeniable.
Among her many talents was an eye for sleuthing out daily writers at the paper with apparent (at least to her) narrative-writing chops — and perhaps an ill-fitting role elsewhere in the enterprise. She had a knack for grabbing, or luring, writers into her fold and goading them into what, for many, stands as the best work of their careers. For some, it was their last daily journalism gig, a step up and out to something else.
“I think just about everyone who came to the magazine (as a full-time staffer), it was their last-chance Texaco,” Andrisevic said recently.
In most cases, a worthy stop.
Before casting our gaze back outward, away from our collective navel, one amusing side note: A recent office clean-out (many, if not most, of our staff members are shifting to working remotely, as I have done for years) turned up a crusty old Pacific memo, detailing results of one of many reader surveys — and drafting a plan for a subsequent “refocusing” of the magazine.
The number one suggestion was to fix, once and for all, the longstanding problem of people tossing our hard work into the trash, because the mag was inserted with other preprinted materials, such as ad circulars, at the Sunday paper’s center.
Editors acknowledged this was an “annoyance factor that should be addressed.”
That was in 1987. We continue to get similar complaints today; I got one myself in an email just last month!
In fairness, they did say solving this problem was a “long-term” recommendation.
Anyway … sorry, folks. Some things are easy to fix. Others are just life’s little challenges. Please do not send us directly to recycling. Even after 40 years, we’re still working some things out.
A million thanks for sticking with us in the meantime.