Utne Reader, what I once characterized as the bathroom companion for the young and liberal, and which this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterizes as “the Reader’s Digest that compiled ‘the best of the alternative press’ “) is moving from the Twin Cities, where Eric Utne founded it in the 1980s, to Topeka, Kansas. Whether this is a move that will keep it afloat in these times where so many hallowed publications are failing or it’s a last gasp before it dies, we will have to wait and see. It certainly is another marker that things we love are changing, or being changed.
I hate to admit it, but I am not sure I ever bought a copy of Utne Reader. I tended to find copies – at people’s houses, in cafes, in bookstores – and always found something interesting, new, thought-provoking. It had a different sensibility to other publications, even alternative ones: more thoughtfulness, less splash, less anger. I hadn’t realized it had grown up in the Midwest, and at the time wouldn’t have known what that might have meant, had I known it. Now that I live here in the old Northwest, it makes all the sense in the world.
The magazine isn’t closing – it’s moving down to Topeka to the headquarters of the publisher who bought it six years ago in the hopes of making some money from it. At least it’s not out of our region (as I idiosyncratically define it, at least). But it is a sign of that shift in news and art and publishing that the old institutions are changing and failing and the new ones, in this still nascent internet age, are still taking shape. A reminder that the best things have their brief times when they shine wonderfully but that they aren’t forever. And we possibly shouldn’t want them to be.