Reflections by Matene Toure, Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA student, Research Matters student writer and Co-Executive Editor of the “Social Life of Ideas” section of Back Matter
This year, the Multimedia Publishing Lab course in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism (CPCJ) MA program at The New School for Social Research wanted to make a magazine for young people specifically students and future media industry workers that spoke to the feelings of alienation, isolation, and uncertainty brought on by The New School part-time faculty strike but also the very fraught media landscape. The strike was an anxiety-inducing time. Many students felt betrayed by an institution that promised to always promote social change and action. And many decided to organize against the institution’s lack of care for its workers. By the end of the strike, we came face to face with what was yet to come for us as we headed into our careers and adult lives. This semester, we wanted to ensure that our magazine was a reflection of what we all collectively faced and learned during this dispiriting time.
Each spring, Multimedia Publishing Lab students produce an issue of Back Matter magazine under the supervision and guidance of Jon Baskin, instructor and Associate Director of CPCJ, deputy editor at Harper’s Magazine and founding editor of The Point, and Kayla Romberger, CPCJ instructor, and a Philadelphia-based artist, designer, curator, and writer. Each issue of Back Matter looks at the world of journalism and publishing through a different lens. However, this year, we began working on this magazine as The New School returned from the longest part-time faculty strike in U.S. history, and amid increasingly prominent unionizing efforts across different industries, especially in media.
AJ Morris, CPCJ MA Student and Back Matter Digital Editor notes that the Multimedia Publishing Lab course “has a very specific legacy in the CPCJ program. It is talked about as a class that everybody absolutely should take because of the kind of hands-on experience it gives you in creating a publication and working with a team of writers and designers to see everything come together. This year for us, it was really important to hone in on certain themes that we felt were not being explored by media in general and within our school community. With the part-time faculty strike and then the students’ movement that followed, we thought it was really important for us to go in-depth about these events happening at The New School campus because not only did they represent our own struggles as students, but it was a reflection of what was happening around the world as workers participate in direct action to demand better for working conditions.”
Traditionally, Back Matter prints articles that CPCJ students draft during the fall semester and workshop during the spring. However, due to the strike, we did not have many pieces to work with. Fall classes came to a halt in solidarity. Progress on final projects slowed and then disappeared altogether. This was both advantageous and disadvantageous for the magazine. While articles usually cover a wide range of topics, we decided to curate content from our difficult life experiences. After the strike, we’ve all been asking: How do we move forward? How do we cope? How do we reckon with the shitty hand that’s been dealt to us? We decided to interrogate these questions in the magazine.
Many on both the design and editorial teams — headed by Marcus Hiljkop, Managing Editor of Back Matter, CPCJ MA Student, and Acquisitions Editor at OR Book — contributed content due to the fewer pieces. The editorial team, mainly associate editors, worked closely with writers to help them grapple with the guiding questions and highlight some of the ways they were coping or dealing with themes of alienation, rage, and frustration — not only in this particular moment but in recent years overall.
Editors-in-Chief Radhika Rajkumar, CPCJ MA student and Editorial Strategist at Perigon, and Shweta Nandakumar, CPCJ MA student, editor, and writer, were the masterminds behind this year’s theme. In preparation to lead this semester, Radhika and Shweta read their peers’ essays from last semester. They say, “We sensed this undercurrent of anxiety that seemed to spur an open-mindedness about alternative ways of life—even if just in small ways—like examining how mushrooms grow or experimenting with hallucinogens. Before we even brought it up, most of the Back Matter team noticed it too. With so many of us coming out of the wreckage of last year’s strike and heading towards life after graduation, this sensation of being squeezed, ignored, and generally adrift was palpable, both at The New School and generationally. We felt the strike dysfunction mirroring bigger crises around us—alienation during the pandemic, ongoing disenfranchisement of workers—and what young people specifically pay the highest costs for: the effects of climate change and the instability of late-stage capitalism. But in exploring other paths, we find ways of adapting—that’s where the idea of coping with alienation came from. Watching it develop across the magazine, especially through the design team’s deeply funny and thoughtful interpretation of it, was our favorite part of this experience!”
The design and digital team — led by Minu Si Ching, Creative Director, and Parsons student; Art Directors Jack Perkarsy, Parsons student, Maxine Richter, CPCJ MA student, and Nancy Wei, Digital Director — created a vision to meld content and design in a fresh and satirical way by leaning on inspirations from past organizing movements, political propaganda, and pop culture. They also organized Back Matter’s very first cover shoot, styled by Jack Perkarsy, to help intensify this year’s theme throughout the magazine.
The Social Life of Ideas (SLOI) section is led by Rachel Saywitz, Editor-in-Chief, CPCJ MA student, and freelance writer whose work has appeared in Pitchfork, Electric Literature, and Bitch. This year was the first time Back Matter had a separate masthead, says Saywitz. “Also this year, SLOI was represented differently as a section that weaves through the general magazine rather than as its own insert, so we were able to do some fun things visual and content-wise to create a disruption to Back Matter’s general themes of coping through alienation. I think our section comes out of this general angst and uncertainty we as students have felt over the past few years, and we wanted to try to answer the question of how one resists traditional means of coping, and actions we could take to bring us closer to the community.”
Rachel has a piece featured in the magazine called “The Publishing Merger Family Tree”, which came out of thinking about her upcoming graduation from the CPCJ program. “There are so few journalism and publishing jobs for students just getting out of school, and the tree is a way of visualizing why that is. It’s depressing to look at, I’ll admit. So much of what we consume is tied together through mergers and venture capital. But I hope the transparency of it can inspire other students to recognize the world they’re moving into and imagine ways to work against it if they so choose” states Saywitz.
The print magazine, complete with thought-provoking and insightful articles and essays, and poignant poems and photos is now out, and its digital counterpart is now live. It has been highly illuminating working on this magazine with a team I really admire and respect. For many of us, it really gave us a genuine idea of what it’s like to work for and/or create a publication from the ground up. It inspired us to further pursue careers in the media and publishing industry. However, working on this project opened our eyes to the very immediate disheartening realities of the media industry and our futures.