When Jose Amador and I left behind the wreckage of Seattlest.com to start a new online magazine in September of 2011, we had very specific principles for our new venture. We wanted a magazine that was written for a general interest audience, the kind of intelligent reader who may not be an artist yet has an interest in the arts; who may not be a scientist yet has an interest in science and technology; who may not be a politican yet has an interest in politics; who may not be an athlete yet has an interest in sport. In short, an all-around cultured citizen, a reader who had multiple interests that were not being met.
Above all, we wanted to concentrate on Seattle. Not the Seattle that trots constantly through the national media, the Seattle of crappy sports teams, airplanes, software, and Penny Arcade, but rather the Seattle that we knew. The Seattle that is consistently ranked the most literate city in America. The Seattle where the arts thrive. The Seattle that was more than awful corporate coffee, recovering grunge rockers, and a convenient place to live across the water from Microsoft.
For the most part, I think we’ve succeeded. But there is more to do.
Our complete dedication to the Creative Commons and public domain has never wavered. From the beginning it was obvious to me that the Star could only be an open journal that shares freely and wishes to be shared freely. Particularly when it comes to knowledge, I’ve always valued cooperation over competition, and I am a firm believer in the power of the sharing economy. The financial success of businesses like Airbnb and the educational success of open access journals over the past year simply reaffirms my faith. And I’m not alone. It’s also drawn the faith of the Gates Foundation whose open access policy went into effect on New Year’s Day.
I am certain that such success awaits in journalism, too, once publishers figure out exactly why we do what we are doing–and for whom. For the past 150 years, journalism has depended so intimately on advertising money that it has called the whole basis of journalism into question, both financially and ethically. That questioning is long overdue. Watching journalism try to wean itself away from the advertising teat has been brutal. But no one ever said that growing up was easy. It’s time for us all to grow up. The past is dead. The present is here.
Building toward the future at the Star has always been a matter of setting appropriate goals. The first year was about quality. We established ourselves on that level fairly quickly, in both arts and journalism. We published the entirety of Nick Stokes’ experimental novel, Affair, and the work of many excellent local poets like Esther Altshul Helfgott, Samantha Cooper, and Pam Carter, not to mention plays by Kelleen Conway Blanchard and Julie Hoverson. Our coverage of Seattle’s theatrical scene that year remains, I think, unimpeachable and untouched by any other arts magazine or paper, and the excellent work of Jeff Stevens on the radical history of Seattle has shown readers things about their city that few ever knew–exactly what we’ve wanted to do with the magazine as a whole.
The Star‘s second year was about establishing consistency and diversity. We published far more writers from inside and outside the Puget Sound region than in the first year, not just in fiction and poetry but from the fields of traditional journalism as well. The addition of R.V. Murphy to our staff invigorated our political coverage and set a high mark for the rest of our social writing. Too, we hunted far and wide for comics artists, poets, journalists, and authors from India, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, Germany, and even more exotic places, such as Ohio and and Arizona. Every single day of our second year brought at least one new quality piece, often two or three.
That consistency was important to me because the Star’s third year is, I think, about identity. I should like to improve our reputation in various circles. There is plenty of work to be done on that topic. But more important to me than that is that I want readers to know that what they get out of the Star is unique to the Star. I want readers to finish an article and think to themselves that it belongs nowhere else but in the Star.
It’s a difficult goal. In an environment where journals pride themselves on homogeneity and aiming at the lowest common denominator, however, it is vital.
One of the three laws in Cory Doctorow’s latest book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, is that fame won’t make you rich but you can’t get paid without it. Part of the reason people often do not pay for content on the Web is that it looks like it could have come from anywhere. It’s scrubbed, sanitized, and delivered to readers like a patient etherized upon a table. Readers are over it. They want distinct voices from journalists, strong arguments over mere opinions, and deep commitment to the social value of reportage. Those things are the source of a bright reputation–fame–and as that reputation increases, trust increases. And trust is precisely what is missing from most journalism.
Restoring that trust, and increasing it, is our goal for the future. I look forward to seeing that future with you.