So what exactly is Symposium Magazine, and why did I try such a project? I’ll give a brief history here, as a way to answer the many queries I’ve gotten since this site was launched last summer.
I’m a journalist who has worked across numerous policy beats as a writer and editor, and have been based for the last decade in Washington, DC. For a long time, however, I also wanted to try something on my own –- to build up a digital magazine from scratch. My biggest inspiration was the late, great Lingua Franca, which had a glorious run in the 1990s before it folded about a decade ago.
Lingua Franca never had a web site (although you can access the articles here), so my first question was how such a publication would survive as a digital creation today. But I also wanted to address two very difficult challenges, one in academia, the other in journalism. I touched on some of these themes in the mission statement that accompanied the launch on July 8, 2013.
On the first point: I had noticed over the years the explosion of new academic blogs across disciplines –- some of them well trafficked, with a rotation of authors and numerous posts a day, and others very simple, focused on a niche readership. But regardless of their scope, the steady proliferation of blogs suggested a strong appetite among professors to reach an audience beyond their students and peers and engage a broader readership. So I asked myself: Is it possible to create a space for accessible academic writing that falls between a blog post and a full-length journal article? Could I establish an outlet for long-form pieces by experts that have a shelf life of months, if not years -– essays that are both analytical and highly readable? And can this outlet include a platform to engage readers through blogging and social media?
On the second point: As one of the more fortunate survivors in an industry that has imploded in the last decade, I will hold back, for now, on opining on the current crisis in American journalism, or on whether rigorous, independent journalism even has a future. The jury is still out. But going in to this project, I strongly felt I should make an effort to publish high-quality, original content so that I can say I at least tried. I’m pleased that Symposium, however briefly, met that objective, and I will use the many lessons learned from this launch to build something bigger and more sustainable next year. I believe this can be done, but careful planning –- with some time and money –- is essential.
I hope this statement helps explain Symposium’s mission, and that you come back to the site next year. Please don’t hesitate to contact me through this form if you have questions or ideas. In the meantime, I’ll keep all the essays posted on the site, so that they can be shared and enjoyed.
Helen Fessenden, Editor