Two jazz magazines... two anniversaries... two very different approaches. That's what readers of Coda – the venerable Canadian journal of improvised music – and Signal To Noise – an up-and-coming quarterly magazine based in Houston, Texas – have in their hands this month. Coda is marking 50 years of existence, while STN is celebrating 50 issues.
I contribute to both, so I'm not playing favourites, but it's interesting to note the differences in how the publications view their legacies.
The Coda retrospective takes a top-down approach, with lengthy remembrances from founder/former publisher John Norris, former editor Bill Smith and former publisher Nick Pitt. There is no shortage of 'those were the days' stories of how the magazine got its start as a mimeographed-and-stapled collection of reviews, but almost nothing about the legion of writers and photographers who contributed to what Coda grew to be. This is ironic, considering that Smith and his successor, the wonderfully insightful Stuart Broomer, were great advocates for letting journalists have their say. Today, Coda has passed from their hands.
STN publisher – and editor (though he doesn't call himself that on the masthead) – Pete Gershon is cut from the same cloth as Smith and Broomer, but his 50th celebration trumpets that fact, while Coda seems to be trying to re-write history. Rather than continually beat the reader over the head with the difficult realities of running a publication, Gershon lets the writers do what they do. His novel approach to marking his 50 milestone was to ask 50 contributors to submit short descriptions of their most-treasured piece of music-related memorabilia. Simple but effective.
I have edited half-a-dozen or so publications during my career – and continue to do so at a small community paper in the neighbourhood where I grew up – and I've learned that the biggest mistake you can make as an editor is to forget that it's the names on the bylines and not at the top of the masthead that make a magazine or newspaper what it is. It is writers' enthusiasms and voices, and photographers' vision and imagination that readers respond to – regardless of how skillful or dedicated the editor.