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Local publications ponder e-world

BY KATHLEEN SERINO | MARCH 11, 2009 7:17 AM

David Hamilton, the editor-in-chief of The Iowa Review, said he can finally relax.

The UI English professor is looking forward to his summer retirement from the literary magazine because he’ll no longer be at the helm of any major decision-making — particularly the push for online journalism.

But Hamilton’s successor, Russell Valentino, a UI associate professor of comparative literature, said he looks forward to taking the magazine in that direction.

“We hope to take advantage of the all ‘e’ and print stuff going on here already,” he said. “Also associate it with the writing university initiatives.”

Hearst Corp., publisher of national magazines including Cosmopolitan and Esquire, announced a huge step in the online direction in late February. The magazine conglomerate plans to release a wireless e-reader device, putting thousands of electronic pages of Hearst publications in the hands of readers.

Despite Hearst’s big leap into wireless reading, officials at local publications said they aren’t too worried about the state of their businesses. These local editors and publishers have a lot in common: small staffs and a defined niche.

Though Valentino said he isn’t too concerned over the current state of The Iowa Review, the incoming editor has plans to keep up with the times. He said he’s hoping to digitally archive the past 40 years of the review, enhance the plain website with interactive media and extra literature that wouldn’t otherwise fit in the magazine, and collaborate with the UI’s literary, scholarly, and artistic websites, such as the Iowa Review Web and the Poroi Journal.

The national Quill & Scroll Honor Society — based at the UI — is also working on revamping its magazine, Executive Director Vanessa Shelton said.

The society, which operates out of a small corner office in the Adler Journalism Building, is looking to shift Quill & Scroll magazine from paper to web-based because high-school readers are more of an “e demographic,” she said.

The fall 2008 issue marked the beginning of a contemporary redesign — a new cover and full color throughout — because, Shelton said, today’s journalism is so visual.

“You probably should be doing both at this stage in the game,” she said in discussing splitting content between hard copy and online.

To save money, reducing distribution of paper copies and adding more to the website is still in question, she said.

Edible Iowa River Valley — the Iowa City area’s local food quarterly — is one of 51 magazines nationwide under Edible Communities Inc., a grass-roots publishing company created in 2002.
Kurt Friese, who co-publishes the magazine, writes an e-mail newsletter before each issue and manages the website, adding teaser and recipe features, and stories to advertisers.

By next week, Friese, 45, said he’ll begin posting a new virtual page-turning copy of each upcoming magazine.

Friese’s wife, Kim McWane Friese, who co-edits the magazine, said that while they have increased emphasis on the magazine’s web content, the print side has intrinsic value to readers.

“We consider it important that we have an online presence that is just as strong [as the print magazine],” said McWane Friese, 44.

They sell many back issues to collectors, and all 12,500 printed copies every quarter are distributed, she said.

Friese said he’s heard from people who strongly prefer the look, feel, and smell of the physical magazine. There’s nothing like curling up with an issue, he said.

Hamilton noted people used to be comfortable knowing the world was flat. Standards eventually shift, though, he said, and a change may be coming for magazines, too.

But he stressed the importance of both media.

“Nobody seems anxious to move into the merely electronic world,” Hamilton said.


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