I don’t know if it is imprudent or gutsy to start a brand new magazine in today’s techno-intellectual climate: Generation D is not interested in how a newly-printed publication smells like; middle schoolers cannot distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, and even baby-boomers, who grew up as traditional readers, tap into multi-media resources to satiate their appetite for daily information.
According to The Alliance for Audited Media, just half a year ago magazine subscriptions were down 10% compared to 2012, except for digital editions (O’Shea, 2013), and even legendary franchises such as the National Geographic Magazine or the Architectural Digest scramble for keeping their reader-base, let alone gaining new readers. Yet new magazines keep popping up hoping and, especially on the First Coast, undoubtedly praying for subscribers.
First Coast Magazine is one of these new, “we are going to defy the trend” magazines, joining the wave of successful publications in the niche categories of regional interest, food, gardening, fashion, and art that started emerging in great numbers two years ago. (Matsa, Sasseen, & Mitchell, 2012).
With a November premiere, First Coast Magazine is out with its third, January issue. I received the complimentary December print issue right before the holidays and could not wait to check it out. I put it on display under the Xmas tree, but, although I am an avid reader, two weeks passed before I picked it up again to take a closer look.
The glossy pages of the lush publication seem to offer a multitude of visual and intellectual stimulation for the reader. The number of ads is not overwhelming, and the articles are accompanied by plenty of photographs and enough white space to promise a great reading experience. Pages 12 and 13 list all the contributors with thumbnail portraits and brief bios that include professional websites: a great feature. It’s nice to be able to check credentials and meet face-to-face (almost) with the people who talk to me. Based on the mini-biographies, talent is abundant.
Unfortunately, most of the articles and photos took me straight to the land of mediocrity. Out of the five cleverly titled departments only two seem to have a specific focus: “First Impression” (fashion) and “Fresh Local Flavor” (food). “High Tide” might refer to beach living, but I am not sure because of the eclectic content of the other two departments named “Front Door” and “Heart and Soul”. Even after reading every word of each article, I could not come up with a distinguishing pattern that would separate the content or theme of these departments.
Based merely on content, Maggie Fitzroy shines as a solid talent. She seems to be the doyen of this new publication, contributing more than anyone else in both writing and photography (pp. 39, 64, 67, 77, 81). Fortunately, her voice is just as credible as her eyes. Other contributors, such as Allie Olsen or Shannon O’Neil, who credit one name to specific articles, tend to excel in either writing or photography. Fitzroy has it all in one packet.
Among the writers, Allie Olsen stands out with her perceptive and lively presentations on a variety of topics related to St. Augustine, including Town vs. Beach (p.31) or Twinkling Lights (p. 56), although I think she should have put up a fight for not being credited for her photos, particularly for the one on page 56, illustrating the article on St. Augustine’s holiday lights display, which apparently “has risen from state wide accolades to ‘Best in the US’ to now being acclaimed as ‘The Top Ten Light Displays’ in the world by National Geographic” (Olsen, 2013). Considering Stacey Sather’s beautiful, atmospheric, and definitely related photo stashed on the last page (p.130), I cannot help wondering about editorial/conceptual discrepancy, even though I like the idea of regularly displaying an outstanding photo in the category of “One Thousand Words”.
Leslie Oxford’s photo wanted me to eat the cookies right off page 106, and Laura Evans’s gritty portraits for Intuition Ale Works (p. 109) persuaded me to remain a beer drinker and bread eater for time indefinite.
I was looking forward to check out Craig O’Neal’s photos. Unfortunately, I could only guess: his work is mixed in with photos of others’, and individual credits are not provided. More than one photographer on a single assignment is an unusual practice for me, but I might be too traditional.
The rest is OK. Except for language conventions. As an advocate for Language Arts, I am determined to conserve what technology is trying to invade upon by casualizing exact and proper communication. After reading the first paragraph of the article on page 25 (“The First Coast French Connection”), my red pen came out like a switchblade. I stopped my instinctive editing in the middle of the next page, but by then I had found 15 errors, including stylistic mistakes such as repetition and confusing, choppy sentences; specific grammar and convention mistakes such as out-of-order pronouns, misplaced modifiers, or missing verbs; and many absent commas. I am not sure if these are errors of writers or editors, but I know one thing: a first class magazine cannot afford them. “Ok” and “good enough” will not measure up. The competition is fierce and full of OK (a.k.a. mediocre) material. Both writing and visuals have to stand out in order to captivate the audience and attract the scarce readers remaining out there and, granted I have seen only one issue, I feel the content of First Coast Magazine has not done that.
There is a learning curve to every new endeavor, and there’s nothing wrong with tiptoeing in baby shoes at the beginning. Even though the fate of the magazine is unsure at this early stage, I applaud the creators and contributors for their unbridled courage and optimism. As a First Coast resident, I am looking forward to the next issue, hoping that the staff eventually will mold into a strong team that inspires all members to complement one another’s work and attract new talent.