A Newhouse NYC Instructor’s Multistream Culture Magazine Aims to Change the Soul of Journalism
By Shelby Netschke, senior magazine journalism major
“Close your eyes and think—Chattanooga,” says Danyel Smith, instructor of Race, Gender and the Media at Syracuse University’s Newhouse NYC. “What do you think?”
I dig through years of social studies classes, plus traveling, and reporting. But, “Nothing.”
“This is what I mean,” Smith says. “At least if I said Detroit you’d go, ‘Oh, cars. Motown.’”
But, Chattanooga? Nothing about the fiber optic network circling the country’s next big tech hub. Nothing about the relentless crime rate. Nothing about the landscapes living on Instagram, the mountains and rivers many Chattanoogans can’t afford transportation to. I’m not even sure what state it’s in.
Chattanooga is but one of the reason why Smith, with her husband Elliott Wilson, cofounded HRDCVR, a book-shaped magazine created by and for the #newevery1. HRDCVR is about plugging into the what she calls the “multistream” of culture—instead of the mainstream. And HRDCVR is a melting pot of potent journalism, overflowing with empathetic interviews and spellbinding photo spreads, dressed in decadent typography and wrapped in a thick, square, embossed hardcover. The $25 one-shot publication comes in four color ways, with a black ribbon bookmark sewn in, to keep your place within the dense swirl of meditation and disruption. “There’s so much content out there,” Smith says, “And not enough of it is relevant to the many kinds of people that most content is meant to serve. That’s wack to me.”
Smith and her husband, Elliott are both veteran journalists and professional talkers about music. Smith began the project during her John S. Knight fellowship at Stanford University, where she formed an idea for a diversity training website. She pitched the website to her friend Hannah, a product design student, in their History of Design Schools class. Hannah said, “I think you should just build something,” and she picked up a textbook. “Something people can feel.”
Smith was taking a step back from magazines at Stanford. “So I thought, what if it was a hardcover,” Smith says. “So it’s not disposable. And it gives people something to talk about, and share. What if the HRDCVR proves its own point by just existing as a space where all kind of people are on the pages. And what if it’s over-serves by being truly beautiful, in terms of design.”
So Smith and Wilson launched a Kickstarter—naming the project HRDCVR, after exactly what it is. “It leaves the definition of what would be inside of it really open,” Smith says. “It’s more about the form. Anything can be in here.”
But the first Kickstarter flopped. Smith says they were ill-prepared for what running a crowdfunding campaign is: a job. So, in the mode of failing fast, learning, and regrouping, they took it down and re-launched it on the same day, and ended up doubling their goal. And then they actually had to make it. “You want to think you have a great network, but you don’t know what your network is until you test it,” Smith says. “And I tested mine. I was calling everybody.”
Freelancers rose from the ashes of a post-2009 print world, many of whom would see their names in print for the first time in HRDCVR. A loose staff of professionals and Fellows of and interns of all various races, religions, and ages began to form. It was a team built to reflect the world it was creating for. “The way content decisions get made is there’s a group of people in a room,” Smith says. “And if that room is homogenous, then the creative work is going to be homogenous.”
Between that day in Smith’s design history class and the HRDCVR release party in October, the book-shaped magazine became a culture project and a kind of case study. Its mission, to “change the soul of journalism,” started from the inside, and the team learned along the way by curating a weekly newsletter called HRDlist, which aims to break through the homogeneity of so much media by culling a diverse set of links from around the web that serve with intelligence what the HRDCVR team likes to call the new every1.
“The work of journalism isn’t just the writing and the designing and the videotaping,” Smith says. “It’s not just about the platforms and the technology, it’s also about the people—the people who form the teams that serve the wide variety of people in our country. To me, that’s pretty much everything. To me, that’s real live journalism.”