Alleged backstabbing! Weeping editors! Miffed staff members! Financial strife! Confused readers! Unemployment lines! It's all part of the topsy-turvy world of publishing, as the folks at Planet magazine have recently discovered.
The tabloid is going through changes in both its editorial staff and its content, but just how drastic those changes are depends on whom you talk to.
"We have decided to streamline our editorial staff," main Planet investor and company president Brad Singer confirms. "As such, we eliminated our arts editor, Meg Halverson, and our local music editor, Laurie Notaro. We did offer Laurie a column of her own which she chose not to take, and then [New Times] hired away our production woman ... those things happen; we'll just move on."
Despite the magazine's popularity among the 40,000 folks who picked it up every two weeks, Planet was losing money on every issue. And when a business is losing money, heads are bound to roll. But there's a heartbreaking part to the Planet head-lopping.
The mag was started some 16 months ago by a small group of determined friends who shared a common vision; Halverson, Notaro and editor Troy Fuss were all principals back then. The gang of three had come from ASU's State Press newspaper; Fuss is the only surviving Planeteer.
"He said he was completely unhappy with [Planet's] editorial; there was nothing in the magazine he was proud of, or that he wanted to see continued," says Halverson. "He didn't want to cover arts, theatre, film, opera, all the stuff that I do. He said he wanted to do the magazine on a completely freelance basis, which was his reason for firing me."
When Fuss offered to utilize her skills, but only as a freelancer, Halverson, uh, balked. "That was very painful for him to sit across from me and say, 'Oh you can freelance.' I thought, 'Fuck you! I've written half this thing.' ... We built it. We did everything. We painted the walls in the fucking offices. As he was weeping, I just wanted to strangle his little neck."
Though Notaro acknowledges that business was bad, she claims the problem was not with the writing.
"We had never received any substantial amount of bad response on the editorial content. None of us thought the editorial content was going in the wrong direction, though Troy mentioned he was bored with it. ... He called me in and said that my services were no longer needed because my section was going to be cut. There was going to be no more local music, no more national music, no more art and entertainment. ... The day that Troy started working for that magazine, I did, too. We were both there together, and I was with people that I trusted."Fuss maintains that his decisions were a combination of tough love and self-preservation. "If the format hadn't changed, I wouldn't have had a job; Brad would have fired me. But I wouldn't have had a job because I didn't enjoy it anymore," he says. "I wasn't having a good time, and I don't think anybody here was having a good time. And if you're not making a profit, you've got to try something else.
"I don't feel good about any of this; I don't think it should become a personal thing, but it did."
When the editorial staff was asked by the publisher to sell ads as a last-ditch effort a few weeks ago, Notaro says, she and Halverson swallowed their pride.
"We all had an emotional connection with the magazine, so when we were asked to sell ads, we compromised our editorial integrity to sell ads. But we considered the magazine ours, it was our baby, and when you feel like that, you'll do anything to save what might be lost." But to no avail, which Notaro feels added insult to injury. "I want people to know I was fired. I want people to know I did not walk away from that magazine, they fired me."
So why couldn't everybody rally around the changes, keep that team ethos stoked up?
"I think it was a year of stress," offers Fuss. "I think everybody started going in their own direction. You'd come into the office a year ago, and things really clicked with people, everybody played off each other. And [recently] all of that was kind of gone. It reached a point where this was a job for everyone in here, and, in my opinion, writing shouldn't be a job--it should be something you enjoy.
"And if you're not enjoying it anymore, you're going to put out a product that the readers aren't going to enjoy as much as they would if you were having a good time."According to Notaro and Halverson, a Planet with no arts and entertainment, no local or national music coverage, will be a lonely place. Fuss, however, says that their claims of cutting are greatly exaggerated. To say the least.
"No music coverage? No arts? That's absolutely not true; what the hell would I run? Some of those things will fall by the wayside; I don't think you'll see another full page on opera; I don't think you'll see another full page on ballet."
Fuss says that, except for informed Screed readers, "very few people--unless they're really paying attention to the magazine--would even realize [the changes]."
And those changes will consist mainly of shorter, tighter stories, he explains. Seems things were getting a little too much like, yes, this very New Times publication. Oddly, the Planet editor did not favor this direction."We tried, sometimes successfully, to cover big news stories. But New Times already does that. I don't think there's really a void for that. I prefer to have shorter features that more people can relate to and read without having to go through four, eight-page features."
Fuss won't be plunging into this new, shorter world alone; for at least the next couple of issues, he'll be aided by former national music editor Laura Bond, who was initially fired along with Notaro and Halverson. If you're guessing this is another point of bitterness and confusion, you're right.
"They were all given two weeks' severance pay, and she [Bond] came back and said, 'You can't put this out by yourself, I'll work out two issues, and if it works out, keep me on,'" clarifies Fuss. "I said okay; she was the only person who came back with any sort of offer like that."
"I don't think we're going to lose out, contentwise," Bond offers. "People have been saying it's going to become like the local National Enquirer or something. I think it'll be more accessible, less academic."
Notaro and Halverson are looking for work and waiting for their first unemployment checks to roll in; Fuss and Singer are still working and waiting for the ads to roll in. Decisions have been made, friendships have been strained, desks cleared out. And the magazine's softball team isn't doing so hot, either, says Bond.
"Well, I don't know, Meg's not there anymore, and she's been our manager. That might fall apart, too; it probably will.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.