Starting and Running a Magazine

by Jordan Hylden, Harvard ’06

Jordan Hylden was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Harvard’s Ichthus.

Keep Your Ears to the Ground

At this point, you realize that you have turned into a bit of a stalker. You find yourself listening in on other people’s conversations, straining to hear snatches of talk about your dearly beloved new magazine. You walk past people talking about it, and mysteriously are seized by an immediate need to bend over and tie your shoelaces. You notice someone taking a copy with him to the bathroom, and have to fight back an urge to follow him inside. Slowly, bit-by-bit, curiosity overwhelms you, until you are reduced to making “casual” conversation with a stranger at the bus stop: “So! How about this weather, huh? Sure is hot. Boy oh boy. Say, how about that new magazine that just came out, huh? Gee whiz, but I thought it was pretty darned good. What d’you think?”

Do not worry. This is normal. You are going through a phase, sort of like puberty, and sooner or later it will pass. There is, in fact, an important task you have in front of you: calibrating the campus’s real response to your magazine, so that you can adjust accordingly for the next issue. You do not have to be reduced to following magazine-toting sophomores into the men’s room, however. Thankfully, there are other, more effective, and less awkward, techniques.

First, ask your friends and fellow staffers to keep their ears to the ground for you. Cast a wide net, and tell them to report back. Do not necessarily trust your own ears. People will say nice things to your face, but they will not always say what they really think. Tell your spying friends to be honest, and let them know that you mean it.

Second, give the magazine to trusted chaplains and professors, and ask them for their honest opinion. Tell them that you are not just looking for encouragement, but real critique. Particularly if you find profs who’ve signed on to your mission, this should be very helpful. Pay attention to what you hear! Listen to comments and suggestions, and adjust your next issue accordingly. You may, during this period, be slightly disappointed by the campus response. This is almost guaranteed to happen, given that you have spent weeks thinking about this magazine, and no doubt expect the entire campus to be waiting on pins and needles for its unfurling. Unfortunately, you will now learn a lesson that your professors have long since learnt: most kids are, no matter how interesting the material or polished the presentation, still more interested in Grand Theft Auto, Coors Light, and the opposite sex than they are in what you have to say. That is an incontrovertible fact of life, and you must be prepared to come face-to-face with it. Do not, however, despair. The anti-intellectualism, careerism, hedonism, and lazy relativism of most American college campuses is precisely what your magazine exists to combat. You will not change your campus overnight, and you should not expect to. You will, however, make a difference.
If you have done your jobs, you will have presented the Gospel in a new and thoughtful way to thousands of students on your campus, many of whom have never heard it before, and who will perhaps be confronted with Christ’s love for the first time. Whatever happens, you have not failed. Remember our Lord’s promise:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

We are naught but His ambassadors, as St. Paul has taught us, and we are doing no less than carrying forth the grand commission He gave the apostles, two thousand years ago in Galilee. You are forming leaders, pastors, and theologians for tomorrow’s Church, and you are acting as a witness in what all too often is a dry land without water. We cannot guess what the Lord will do with the work of our hands, but entrusting ourselves to His grace, we can know that even our small basket of loaves and fishes will be multiplied ten, twenty, and even a thousand-fold. God bless you in your work.