The Slow Death of a Magazine

by

12/15/2010

Neighborhood: West Village

The Slow Death of a Magazine
Photo by ChicagoGeek

For seven years, I worked at Energy Saver’s News, a trade magazine that reported on commercial and industrial energy conservation. Six of those years were at the old Fairchild Publications building on East 12th Street near Fifth Avenue. It was a great neighborhood to work in: We were near both Stromboli Pizza and Ray’s Pizza, Cinema Village, the Jefferson Market Library and the Cedar Tavern. If I was willing to take off a little extra time from lunch, I could even walk to the East Village, to St. Marks Place.

We also had a pretty colorful crew of creative people at work, almost all of us in our early or mid-thirties. So many of us had played in rock bands that we once, just for the hell of it, had a rock band of our own. One of our statisticians had dropped out of Yale Medical School. At the other end of the spectrum, two of our reporters had previously been a truck driver and a security guard, respectively. One guy, who didn’t work too hard but was always cracking everybody up, later became a well-known TV comedy writer. The magazine’s founding editor, who left a few months after I came, was just beginning to write a series of best-selling novels about his Vietnam War experiences.

The work was pretty dull – “such and such hospital in Tempe, Arizona saved $30,000 a year by installing new Trane chillers” – but we felt good about the fact that we were encouraging people to save energy and help the environment. And during lulls in the work, we had a great time playing word games in the office.

Because there were so many different magazines in the same building with their own staff (including many attractive women), you felt like you were part of the same family – well, sometimes. I remember one of the few times we tried to cooperate with one of the other Fairchild magazines. Our editor, Robbie, went upstairs to the Supermarket Times editor, told her that we had a great story about energy conservation in supermarkets, and asked if she would like to print it, too. She just looked at him and said, “Well, we only print stories about supermarkets!”

The magazine had been founded in the 1970s at the height of the energy crisis, but by the time I came, the energy crisis was over. The first sign of trouble came about four years after I started working there. We always had several reporters in “bureaus” – one person in Washington, D.C.; one in Houston, one in San Francisco, one in Pittsburgh and one in Chicago. One day, after rumors about less and less advertising, the head of our publishing group, whom we rarely saw, gave us an ultimatum: Cut the staff in half! The bureau reporters, except for the one in Washington who followed government legislation, had to go. “I told them not to do any work for these last two weeks,” our editor, Robbie, confided in me.

About a year later, the group publisher retired. Fairchild, which was busy cultivating a high-fashion image with Women’s Wear Daily, W, and Home Furnishings, didn’t know what to do with us and the other technical magazines. So they arranged that we would get transferred to another publishing group within the Capital Cities-ABC group, Milltown Publishing, located in Newton, Mass. Milltown was best known for its automotive publications, and our new publisher, Harry Cuddy, was a hard-drinking, tough-talking, rugby-playing guy whose main claim to fame was having once been a successful used car dealer. They also took us out of the Fairchild Building and gave us a cramped space in an anonymous, soul-less building in the Midtown business district.

The first sign of change came over a minor matter – Harry, who traveled back and forth from New York to Newton, decided that all our folios at the top of the pages would have to be the same color, rather than red for heating and air conditioning, yellow for lighting, blue for oil and gas pricing, and so forth. Then he started having arguments with Bob DiGerolimo, our longtime ad manager, and we heard Harry calling Bob a “fucking moron.” Soon, Harry was out of there. But the most alarming trend was that whenever one of the editorial staff left, he was replaced by a new employee – but in Newton. Harry even talked about “getting a new core group together in Newton.” Larry, our equally tough-talking technology editor, confided in me, “You know, this newspaper does a lot to help the environment, but Milltown couldn’t give a rat’s ass!”

Then, one day, I heard Robbie yelling from Harry’s office, “Do you mean you’re firing me?” Harry brought the Washington, D.C. staffer to Newton to make her the editor. Larry went back to the Midwest, and I was alone in the New York office. It was just a matter of time before they laid me off and shut down the office completely. When Harry came into my room with a personnel official, I knew why. Harry was polite, for a change, and explained that this had nothing to do with my work, which he actually thought was good. Because I had been at Energy Saver’s News for so long, Milltown gave me 18 months severance pay, which was nice. Maybe they should have given me the opportunity to work in Newton, but the whole thing happened so fast, I couldn’t think that quickly. I called Robbie. “Kick Harry for me!” he said.

Milltown had the magazine for two or three years, then sold it to another publishing group, which changed its name and moved it to another part of the country. That magazine was sold twice more after that, moved offices at least one more time, and changed its named yet again.

I looked at it recently on the Web – there’s no trace of the old Energy Saver’s News. Even the type of news they cover is different. If I called them and told them about all the fun we had in Greenwich Village, they would probably be at a loss for words.

Raanan Geberer lives with his wife, Rhea, and cat, Celeste, in Chelsea. He grew up in the Bronx and works as the managing editor of the revived Brooklyn Daily Eagle. His hobbies are growing vegetables in his community garden, cooking, reading about whatever subject he’s obsessed with at the moment, working out at the gym, and playing music with his rock band.
 

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