The next wave of indie publishing
documentjournal.com – Tuesday October 17, 2023
The founders of 5 independent publications join Document to discuss the past, present, and future of the little magazine
“It’s not exactly a fun time to start a magazine, nor is it a convenient one,” wrote Rebecca Panovka and Kiara Barrow in the inaugural issue of The Drift, a leftist literary magazine founded in 2020. “A magazine is by definition an optimistic, social project. The list of reasons for despair is long. The list of arguments against starting a magazine isn’t terribly short.”
Three years later, the statement still rings true—but it hasn’t stopped a new generation of founders from doing just that. From worker-run journalism outlets like Hell Gate and 404 Media to online publications like Byline, Dirt, and Cashmere to print-only projects like The Whitney Review of New Writing and Forever Mag, a wave of grassroots publishing projects are springing up to fill the gaps in today’s media ecosystem—not in spite of the existential crisis facing modern media, but because of it.
“Working in media, you get this suffocating feeling that you’re expendable—that at any point, your Slack emoji could disappear, and you have to return your laptop at 5 p.m.,” says journalist Max Rivlin-Nadler. It’s why he co-founded Hell Gate, a scrappy, subscriber-funded news outlet that is run by its worker-owners, all of whom earn the same salary and contribute equally to the company’s editorial direction. “We were witnessing a real disconnect in the industry: The people doing the work were being treated as disposable, at the same time that everyone was like, We need journalism more than ever,” says Nadler. “We thought, What if a company’s resources just went toward journalism, and it wasn’t beholden to private equity firms or tantrum-prone billionaires? What if we did it ourselves?”
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