Upwards

by M John Fayhee on October 8, 2010

“If you deny what you know, or what you are, or where you are, you deny the simplest part of being alive, and then you die.”

—Bel Kaufman, “Up the Down Staircase”

The news came circuitously, and slowly, as is the way of these sorts of entrepreneurial endeavors: The Mountain Gazette was once again simultaneously on the clock and on the block, and word came my way that a scion of the Old Dominion was interested in perhaps adding this humble enterprise to his corporate kingdom. Lordy, lordy, thought I, the last MG owner was an Englishman (a man from the country of my birth), now a Virginian (a man from the state where I mostly grew up). “Where do I need to go to get away from these people?” I asked myself, once again thinking that, if Gila Country is not far enough from the roots of my past, then I might have to consider moving to Alaska, or maybe even Bolivia. But, with the Internet and cell phones, as well as the microchip that the government has likely already planted in the brain stem of each and every one of us, truly there is no place one can go to outrun his origins, lest he don a loin cloth and start eating slugs with the Bush People.

But first things first. For those of you keeping score, here is a short chronology of the Mountain Gazette:

• 1966-72: Mike Moore founded and published Skiers’ Gazette from Denver.

• Famed Mountaineer Bob Craig hooks Moore up with Woody Creek, Colo., resident George Stranahan. The two hit it off and decide to morph Skiers’ Gazette into the Mountain Gazette.

• 1976: Moore leaves MG and is replaced as editor by Gaylord Guenin. Office is moved from Denver to Boulder.

• 1979: The MG ceases publication. People like yours truly lament this passing.

• 2000: Stranahan, Curtis Robinson and yours truly resurrect MG and base the magazine in Summit County, Colo.

• 2006: We sell MG to Paonia, Colo.-based GSM Publishing.

• 2008: GSM passes the magazine onto New York City-based Skram Media, which also owns Climbing magazine and Urban Climber. For the first time, the MG is owned by people from, of all things, the East. And flat East, at that. And even worse, urban flat East.

• June 2010: GSM transfers management of its assets to California-based Active Interest Media, a mega-publishing conglomerate. AIM puts out the word that MG is far too small a “title” for its “portfolio,” which also includes Backpacker magazine. If a buyer is not found pronto, then they will close the magazine down. Yours truly, who for a long time back in the dark past, used to be a contributing editor at Backpacker, yells,

“FUCK!!!!” at the top of his lungs, and wonders if, by some weird manifestation of karmic/cosmic convergence, I somehow have become reincarnated as myself before even passing away. Yours truly starts shopping for loincloths and eyeballing maps to find out where the Bush People actually live.

• August 2010: Charlottesville, Virginia-based Summit Publishing, which also owns Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, Elevation Outdoors magazine and Breathe magazine, procures the Gazette. Yours truly is asked to stay on as editor. Yours truly places a hold on his order from bushpeopleattire.com.

So, OK, a couple months ago, there I am, sitting on my front porch, smoking a Macanudo, when the phone rings and a familiar lilting regional accent — one I only hear nowadays when I talk to my brother on the phone — lets me know that, once again, the MG has been acquired by a company located not exactly in the middle of what we consider our prime conceptual area. You can imagine the length and breath of my sigh. I listened for an hour or so to what sounded like the introduction to an MBA honors seminar titled, “How To Say All the Right Things,” then put my retarded noggin in my hands and wondered what was going to become of the magazine that more than one acquaintance has called M. John’s baby. Then I pulled said retarded noggin out of said hands, smacked myself square in the face and said to my cat, who looked even more perplexed than usual (and that’s saying a mouthful), “Well, come what may, at least we’re still alive and kicking!”

Then, a funny thing happened next time I checked my email. I started getting communiqués from people whose opinions I actually care about informing me in no uncertain terms that the new owner, Blake DeMaso, is a perfect fit for both me and the MG. We made arrangements to meet, first in Summit County, then, a day later, in Leadville. The meetings covered a wide swath of conversational territory during a perfect blend of driving through the High Country just as the first tendrils of autumn were visiting the aspen forests and sitting in dimly lit watering holes as people I hadn’t seen in a while sidled up and, via a combination of slurs and yells, filled me in on the latest local happenings.

It was while hunkering down over Fat Tires in the Scarlet in Pb that I told Blake I intended to distill our long, rambling discourse into a very honest Smoke Signals, wherein I would straight-faced let the MG tribe know what is in store for this magazine.

Two things before I do just that.

First, Summit Publishing, which, as I said, owns three — now four — magazines, also has a deal with another halfdozen or so titles covering the geographic spectrum from Washington State to Utah to Vermont. That deal is called Outdoor Adventure Media, which gives Blake and his sales associates the ability to go to the very biggest companies that would have any interest whatsoever in advertising in outdoor media — the Subarus and Apples of the corporate world — and offer them the opportunity to advertise in all of the Outdoor Adventure Media affiliates. Now, I know it’s going to sound to a lot of our long-time readers as though I’m tooting the horn of a corporation I barely know, but I hope you will believe me when I say that, of all the things that, if I could have pushed one magic button while I owned the MG, that would have been it: To find a way to entice advertisers who would not look at us otherwise because we were simply too small and too regional. You have no idea how much breathing room that would have given us.

Those who view those words with skepticism, even perhaps with cynical bewilderment, wondering if perhaps I haven’t turned to the dark side, hear ye these syllables: The magazine publishing world these days is seriously tough. Since the MG was resurrected in 2000, many publications familiar to mountain dwellers have gone bye-bye, among them Mountainfreak, Sports Guide, Rocky Mountain Sports, National Geographic Adventure, ForbesLife MountainTime and, most recently, Inside Outside Southwest. The fact that we have managed to hold on is a flat-out miracle, and, now, the thought that we might have the opportunity to attract some larger advertisers does nothing more than make me breathe a huge, monster sigh of relief.

But—and this is a big “but”—there is now going to be justifiable concern about the effect being part of a magazine group HQed in the Blue Ridge Mountains (with additional offices in Ashville, N.C., and Boulder) that will focus serious effort on attracting advertising dollars from companies that employ people who actually wear ties to work won’t have a deleterious impact on, potentially, every aspect of a magazine that prides itself on oftentimes an anti-corporate attitude and a certain lack of maturity that we feel accurately reflects life in Mountain Country.

That is a perfect valid concern, and one that I share. Blake DeMaso has stressed to me his intentions to return the MG to its attitudinal roots. He has stressed to me that, even though his other magazines might be a bit more traditional in their appearance and editorial offerings, does not mean that the Gazette will come to resemble them. Certainly, time will tell.

Last: The main thing that has attracted me to Blake DeMaso at this point, besides the fact that he used to be a liquor salesman, and the fact that he enjoys and occasional tumbler of whiskey, is the fact that he already knows and loves the MG. He has long had a stack of them in his office in Charlottesville, and can refer to past stories and writers as though he were quoting Scripture. That’s damned sure better than the way things have been the past couple of years.

So, OK, I decided to ask Blake DeMaso, the new owner of the magazine you now hold in your hands, five questions, the answers to which I have included below. Here goes.

MJF: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your background.

BD: I am a mountain guy from the small college town of Charlottesville, VA. I like to do most of the same things that people in Colorado and New Mexico like to do: hike, bike, camp, ski, paddle, drink adult beverages … I just do them at 3,000 feet. I have been in publishing for about 10 years, and I consider myself lucky every day to wake up and do something that I love (publishing) that deals with my favorite subject (the outdoors).

MJF: You’ve apparently been a Mountain Gazette reader for years. How did someone living in Charlottesville come to be a Gazette fan?

BD: I traveled out to Colorado a few times a year for the same reason that most of us East Coasters come, which is to take a stab at the big mountains and the deep snow. I figured out quickly that 1) I was not as good of a skier as I thought I was, 2)my East Coast skis and other equipment were not made for Colorado and 3) the beer out West seemed to taste better. So I found myself in a bar, exhausted, drinking beer, and I read my first issue of MG. It wasn’t easy getting copies of MG in Charlottesville, so, before there were subscriptions offered, I had a network of people set up from places where MG was distributed and I would bribe them to send it to me. As soon as subscriptions, were offered I was all over it.

MJF: How did you come to acquire MG and how does it fit into your overall portfolio and vision?

BD: I would say that it was mostly an emotional decision because I love the Gazette, but, as luck would have it, it fits pretty well into my bigger publishing business right now. Honestly, about five years ago, I actually tried to acquire MG so that I could bring it into my national network of independently owned outdoor publications. They turned me down, so about two years ago, I started a magazine on the Front Range called Elevation Outdoors, but I still kept my eye on Mountain Gazette. In terms of editorial and distribution, MG and EO are very different, so when we added MG, it gave me a chance to add a more-extensive distribution network in mountain towns throughout Colorado and the Rockies. All of my publications are mostly funded by advertising revenue, so that they are free to the readers, and adding MG doubled our current circulation in Colorado and the Rockies.

MJF: You’ve expressed a desire to return the MG to its roots. Care to expound on that?

BD: I think the Gazette has deep roots and passionate readers and, while I am always interested in ways to expose new people to the publication, I think that tinkering with the editorial and look and feel of the magazine is messing with what makes the magazine great. Starting with the November issue, we will increase the size of the magazine. We intend to start putting significant effort back into our covers, which at one time people used for wall art. We plan to back off a bit on the theme issues, so we can have a bit more latitude on the editorial copy we choose to run. We want to get our distribution numbers back to where they were five years ago. We plan to resurrect the Mountain Music section and are talking about re-introducing some other departments we used to run, like Bumpersticker, Poetry and Lost Art. There’s a lot to do, I know, but it will be worth the effort.

MJF: There are going to be members of the MG tribe who are going to react to all this by saying, “Here we go again — another Easterner with entrepreneurial aspirations taking ownership of the Mountain Time Zone’s preeminent literary journal.” What’s your response to what many people would consider a reasonable concern?

BD: I know, I know. I have already heard this. I guess I considered myself part of the Tribe before I became the owner. Actually, I still can’t believe that I am now the owner. I have been taking “inspiration” (a publishing term for “knocking off”) from the Gazette for 10 years, so my number-one focus is getting back to where it was when there was an office in Summit County, Colorado. I know there are going to be a lot of skeptics, especially after the last few years. I think it won’t take long before the Tribe realizes we are back on the right path.

So, OK, there you have it. I will say at this point: For the first time in years, I am optimistic about the future of the Mountain Gazette.

As always, I would look forward to receiving your input on these or any other MG-related matters. mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

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