Foglio's Field Notes

Leif Utne's random rants, musings and meditations

Archive for June 2006

On the Sale of Utne Magazine

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People keep asking me how I feel about the sale of Utne Magazine, my employer for the past 8 years and the family business for the past 23, on June 1 to Ogden Publications of Topeka, Kansas. I left the staff the day of the sale. Rather than continue typing out the same email over and over again, as I’ve been doing for the last 3 weeks, I’ll just summarize my thoughts here, so I have a place to point people.

I feel, in a word, good. Really good, in fact.

I’m happy for Nina Utne, my beloved stepmom and former boss, because she gets back a chunk of the change she sank into keeping the place afloat for the past 7 years, and she’s no longer burdened with endless fundraising and nail-biting cash flow meetings.

I’m happy for the magazine because it gets to continue sustainably (and hopefully profitably) into the future as a crucial platform for launching ideas into the culture. I think Ogden’s a really good fit and I trust that publisher Bryan Welch will be a good steward of the Utne mission. They also publish Mother Earth News, Natural Home, Herbs for Health, The Herb Companion, and several niche collector magazines. I’m confident that I’ll be able to look with pride for a long time to come on the publication that still bears my family name.

I’m happy for my former coworkers, who got to keep their jobs (well, all but 5 of us), and, according to Ogden, will stay in their very cool workspace in Minneapolis.

And quite honestly, I’m happy for myself. After 8 years at the magazine, I had already been thinking for awhile about making some kind of professional move. My wife, Cilla, has been commuting to Seattle for the past year to attend grad school. Now we’ve decided to spend the coming year out there, living on Bainbridge Island while she finishes up her green MBA. Plus, I get to keep working for Utne as a freelancer, contributing story ideas, writing articles, and producing podcasts.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll be spending most of my time over the coming year, but opportunities have been coming at me from every direction ever since the moment I left the magazine staff. There are some exciting possibilities in the works, which I’ll be sure to update you on here.

Of course I have mixed feelings about the sale. The magazine my father founded, the family business for 23 years, is no longer owned by my family. That makes me sad. And it’s sad that an independent, single-title thought leader (that’s Utne’s category in the advertising world) magazine publishing company cannot be sustainable under a for-profit model in this country. Just about every other one in our category — Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, The Nation, In These Times, The Progressive — has either been sold to a larger company or gone nonprofit.

Like so many other industries, the economics of the magazine business have changed so much in the past 2 decades that small independent publishers are an endangered species.

But all things considered, I’m really happy about how all of this has gone down. And I’m excited to start my new life. To mark the occasion, I even shaved my head. I’ll upload a video of it soon.

Written by leifutne

June 23, 2006 at 4:57 am

Posted in magazines, Me

Outta my Segway!

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Faster than a strolling crack dealer! More maneuverable than a mountain bike! It’s cops on … Segway scooters?!

Just when I thought life couldn’t get any stranger, I was walking down Hennepin Avenue last Wednesday and saw this:

Minneapolis Segway cops

According to the officer facing the camera, the scooters can do about 12 mph–faster than most people can run, at least for sustained periods.

A block down the road, I saw these guys using boring old human-powered transport.

Minneapolis mountain bike cops

In a game of chicken, who do you think would win?

Written by leifutne

June 21, 2006 at 6:05 am

P2008: Tagging the Race for President

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Potential presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Russ Feingold have all been slapped recently with the tag “p2008.” And no, we don’t mean graffiti artists spraypainting their campaign buses.

“Tagging” refers to the growing practice on websites like Flickr, del.icio.us, and thousands of blogs of letting users attach their own descriptive keywords to images, videos, links, books, blog posts, and articles. Tagging harnesses the wisdom of the crowd to classify and organize information. The practice has even given rise to tagging campaigns, where groups encourage web users to tag certain kinds of content with specific keywords.

For example, the folks at E-Democracy.org, a clearinghouse of online political information, are urging bloggers, linkers, and other netizens to apply the tag “p2008” to anything related to the presidential race — campaign sites, political blogs, news sites, etc. — thereby making such content much easier to find with search engines.

Written by leifutne

June 20, 2006 at 10:57 pm

Posted in p2008, Uncategorized

“World-changing” is now a marketing term

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My friends over at www.worldchanging.com will get a kick out of this. The inside front cover of the July/August issue of Sierra features a two-page ad for Honda’s Civic Hybrid. Under the banner “Environmentology” (not quite sure what that means, but it sounds nice) artistically rendered in images of plants, the company rightly touts its 32-year history as a fuel-efficiency innovator.

Civic Hybrid ad

Here’s the passage that caught my eye:

Civic Hybrid ad (detail)

In 1974, Honda introduced the ingeniously simple Civic CVCC. World-changing (sic) for its fuel efficiency and low emissions, the CVCC demonstrated our spirited commitment to environmentally responsible technology…

“World-changing”? Maybe. While Honda has been a leader in green car technology for a long time, it’s important to note that average fuel economy across the industry, even for Hondas, is unsustainably low. Appopriation and imitation are of course the sincerest forms of flattery. Kudos should go at the very least to Alex and Jamais at WC for changing the lexicon. It’s nice to see Madison Avenue’s taking notice.

Written by leifutne

June 20, 2006 at 8:58 pm

My first moblog

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Testing the phone-in posting feature.

Written by leifutne

June 9, 2006 at 9:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Podcast: First Flight

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Hoping for a soft landing.

Written by leifutne

June 9, 2006 at 9:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

What’s in a nickname?

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Foglio, by the way, is a nickname a college friend gave me after she discovered in her Italian class that the word means “leaf.” My name, Leif, is typically pronounced like “lafe” (in Sweden) or “life” (Norway and Denmark). But my parents chose the Americanized “leaf,” to make it easier for linguistically-challenged Americans to pronounce. Accordingly, I’ve suffered a lifetime of plant-based put-downs and terms of endearment.

I’ve been called much worse than foglio — leaflet, twig, branch, lettuce, hoja (Spanish for leaf), even shrub (which I gladly ceded to W). But I like the ring of foglio better than all my other vegetable monikers, especially when it’s pronounced properly in Italian — with just two syllables, as FOAL-yo — rather than the Anglicized three-syllable version I usually hear — FO-lee-o. I even chose foglio as my first handle on AOL, oh so long ago (thankfully).

It’s also the last name of a pair of excellent artists from Seattle, Phil and Kaja Foglio, who I actually encountered a few times in my college days, back in the early ’90s. The very same friend who dubbed me “Foglio” was also a close buddy of Kaja’s. In fact, she recruited Kaja to draw a caricature of me for the campaign flyers I handed out when I ran for student government at the University of Washington in ’92. I think I have a copy lying around somewhere. If I can find it I’ll scan and post it here for all to see.

Considering the Kaja connection, I guess there may have been more to my friend’s choice of the nickname than her eureka moment in an Italian class 15 years ago. Frankly, no one really calls me foglio but her, on the rare occasions that we see each other. So there you have it. You’re in on our little secret. Let’s keep it between you and me, okay?

Written by leifutne

June 8, 2006 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Me