A modest proposal
The original “proposal document” for what soon became Prism Magazine. Ben Hoyt wrote it in February 2005.
Well, it’s finally here: a proposal for the much-talked-about magazine. I’m intending for this document to describe a vision for the mag, some of the more immediate goals, some ideas for content and style, and some bookkeeping issues. I want to get as much feedback from you as possible, so we can turn this proposal into our vision for the mag.
For those of you who don’t know, a handful of us Wellington-region Reformedish people were together in late 2004, and happened to be supping at Dave and Ange Holtslag’s place. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a magazine for a while now, and somehow we got to chatting about it. It turned out that others have had the same idea independently, and with many of the same goals. There were four of us in on the (relatively brief) discussions that evening: Matt Bartlett, Tim Sterne, Aaron Stewart, and I.
Since then I’ve talked to a number of family members who are either very keen or very supportive, or both: Bryan Hoyt, Bevan Hoyt, my wife Franci Hoyt, and my parents Bruce and Lois Hoyt.
Other people I’ve talked to only briefly or not at all, but I’d be very keen to have some of them along: a good crop of Christchurch and Auckland Flinns, Jonathan M., Joel Rademaker, Lynton Baird, Matthew Baird, Anna Bartlett, David Munroe, Andrea Munroe, Hans Snoek, Rob and Andy Vosslamber, Robert and Laurel van Wichen, and any others who share the greater part of our vision. I hope to contact more of these people, send this proposal to them, and hear what they think.
So please, have a read, tell me if you’re at all interested, and send me plenty of feedback or critique. I’ll then turn this proposal into something semi-official, and from there we’ll try to hammer out the first issue. You can contact me (Ben Hoyt) by email (see the contact page), phone (06 3777 024), mobile (021 999 867), or post (20 Fergusson St, Masterton).
The mag will not be “a Christian magazine” in any usual sense. It won’t be a Church magazine, a theology magazine, a missions magazine, or a youth group magazine. At times it might be all of the above, at other times none. Rather, it will be a magazine thoughtfully edited by people with a Christian vision.
We want to include articles covering the whole of Christian life, and on the kinds of things our readers do and enjoy in real life. This means the kind of diversity we see each day: everything from computers to gardening, from theology to satire, from reading to sport, from music to marriage, from Church to cars, and from movies to food. Yes, perhaps even politics. We figure that if we can do all these things, then we can do them Christianly, and we can write about them.
Articles would not necessarily have to be “spiritual” or even “religious” to be considered worthy. In fact, we believe there are more than enough religious journals on the magazine market already, and perhaps steering clear of this emphasis on “spiritual things” for a while could do us good. That said, we would not be shy about our Christian faith, but would treat it as part of the very fabric of our thought.
On the whole, articles will be written by thoughtful Christians, but there would be no reason not to publish and interact with good articles written by unbelievers. We feel we need to interact with our culture and the world at large. Call it what you like—common grace, clever pagan syndrome, or accidentally-redemptive thought—but we can learn a lot about the world through unbelieving writers. (For more on this, see Michael Horton’s book Where in the World is the Church?).
We propose a broad but not waffly Christian outlook, a kind of generous orthodoxy. We would treat the Scriptures with utmost respect. We would respect the history of the Church, seeing ourselves as part of the Church through the ages. We would drink deeply from our Reformed heritage, but allow ourselves to apply thoughtful critique where necessary. We would quote Calvin and Kuyper and Wilson as easily as we would quote Lewis and Chesterton and Berry.
A large part of our vision would be to encourage creativity among our readers. We hope to promote not art for art’s sake, but the fusion of work and art, as God did in the universe’s first six days. This is the same God who now gives us callings, not merely jobs.
We hope to encourage “localness” and “local talent” both with the magazine’s content and with its distribution. The articles themselves would largely be written by local New Zealanders, and they will often directly encourage interaction with the community, whether it be hospitality to the people next-door, or helping your church reach out to the people down the road.
A good portion of the magazine would be written by people we know, who write “locally” in this way, but not so much that their writings couldn’t be appreciated by other localities. We would also encourage those we know who are talented writers or artists to publish poetry, prose, or picture.
In a word, we realise there is far more to serving Christ than going to church. We want to share beauty and humour and thought, all the while challenging each other to become more Christian in everything we do.
It is our goal to publish the first issue mid-way through 2005, and publish three or four times a year after that. With so much average reading material available these days, we believe that brewed quality is far better than carbonated quantity.
Initially we hope to attract a fair number of the youth as readers, from teenagers on up. Youth often need more positive challenges than they get, and one of our goals is to reach those with potential dissatisfactions in a Francis-Schaefferian fashion. In saying that, we hope that our parents and grandparents could end up being just as enthusiastic about the magazine as we are. Speaking of which, we believe that a good number of articles and much good wisdom should be sought from such “older people.”
With the articles’ broad, all-of-life themes, we hope to make it the kind of magazine readers would be unashamed to give to their agnostic friends and workmates. If God sees fit, maybe more people will serve Him because of it.
A number of people have asked how this magazine would relate to Faith in Focus. As already stated, our mag would not be a church magazine, as FinF is. Our magazine would be completely different in style, content, scope, and probably target audience, and it is not our goal to “compete” with it.
We would not shy away from unusual articles, or from categories that are unusual in a magazine produced by Christians. We would seek to publish articles on topics people are interested in, challenged by, and on things they do as part of everyday life. This means that there would be scope for articles on sport, gardening, computing, cars, drama, home-making, plumbing, painting, architecture, theology, etc.
The current thought is to have each issue “loosely themed,” meaning there would be a few articles on the theme, and other articles unrelated or only loosely related to that theme. The theme would give the magazine coherence, but people who might not rave about the theme could enjoy at least some of the other content.
Ideas would be drawn from various magazines which have had a fair influence on the editors: Credenda/Agenda, Comment, Caelum et Terra, Every Thought Captive, Antithesis.
Some of our ideas (not set in concrete) for regular article types or columns:
- An article by someone with decent life experience writing on how and why they value their work, inspired by Gideon Strauss’ Comment magazine, though perhaps not quite as in-depth.
- Art reviews, critical and otherwise, perhaps from people able to explain what’s behind the art. Also reviews of other art forms: movies, music, books.
- A “family piece” with a difference: all members of a chosen family briefly give their perspective on a certain subject (music, for example).
- Articles interacting with an aspect of practical theology, or directly discussing an aspect of our service to Christ in this world. These could be very challenging and include ideas that are not specifically Reformed, but would have an emphasis on building up rather than provoking.
- Humour, word-play, and jokes.
- Poetry, short story, and satire.
- Regular sports column. Tim Sterne has already volunteered to be in charge of this.
- Get older folks to do “potted histories” with a point: lessons, fears, failures, triumphs, and hopes for the future. Ideally these would be written by well-known people and be fairly relevant to our local situation.
- Snippets of wisdom from the past: include quotes from and comments on great authors and thinkers who have long since died (usually, but not necessarily, Christians). Ideas for people: Moses, Solomon, Jesus, Paul, Church fathers, Assisi, Calvin, Luther, Kuyper, Swift, Chesterton, Wilde, Orwell, Lewis, Tolkien, and others equally-stimulating but less well-known.
- Other ideas for columns would be welcomed.
The articles must be clear and engaging. Not woodenly direct, but certainly not stuff that’s come from the Postmodern Generator. People who write should be competent and thoughtful, but not (necessarily) experts. We believe language is a gift from God, that it can communicate clearly, and that using it is a craft like any other.
Writers would do well to continually up-skill through books such as Style: 10 Lessons in Clarity and Grace and essays such as Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. We would also have a relatively informal “magazine style guide” that writers should adhere to. Ample room would be left for creativity.
Perhaps less (and perhaps no less) importantly, we would encourage artful wordsmithery and wit. We can learn from the Scriptures that language doesn’t have to be either prose or poetry.
When poetry or fiction is published, it should be creative but clear. It should not be too way-out, too avant-garde, or stuff no-one but wine-and-cheese diners can understand.
As mentioned before, we seek quality rather than quantity. We want this to be reflected in the content and style of the articles, but also in the visual aesthetics of the magazine. We would strive for a thoughtfully-designed magazine that would “look great” to the majority of our readers, and perhaps even please the perfectionists.
The details of layout would be determined by the layout people before the first issue. We’d try to get a good basic layout and stick to it (within reason) between the various issues; consistency gives a magazine its character. We’d glean ideas from long-published magazines; we’d aim for a typeface and layout that is aesthetically pleasing, easy to read, creatively fits with our vision, and won’t have a dated look in five years.
We would hope to get some artists (Jason Flinn and Bevan Hoyt, for a start) to sketch artwork for selected spots throughout the magazine. These sketches may or may not be related to the articles, but would nicely break up the text (too much text at once looks full and possibly boring), be pleasant to look at, and perhaps be works of art in their own right.
The front cover is quite important. Depending on finances, we may be able to publish with a colour cover. On the front would be our name or logo, the theme and names of a couple of articles, and some hopefully-related cover art. We’d try to make the cover artistic rather that just having a standard name-and-pretty-photo cover.
The back cover could be artistically sparse, it could be the publishing-ground for a budding artist, or it could have a short poem, story, or photograph by someone with talent.
A good name is as important as it is hard to come by. We have tossed around many name ideas, but it seems it is more a game of juggling than of catch. In the end, we believe that any name that is chosen will take on a resonance of its own after an issue or two.
Some of our better-liked ideas are: Dust, Roar, Prism (with possible subtitle Break from the Grey), Spring, Delve, Blurb, Breath, or Third Way (as in, neither left nor right but a third way).
Ideally a name should fit with what we’re about, be catchy and easy to remember, and not be something too specific or time-bound.
Please get back to me with your vote or with other good name ideas. We’ll make a final decision after we’ve heard back from you, and unless there are strong objections, we’ll go with that.
After much discussion with various people, we decided the magazine should be foremost a printed magazine. Apart from being plain nicer to read, a printed magazine can be hugged and held, given to friends and co-workers, thrown on the coffee table, and discussed over a beer. In short, this fits with our thinking that we are real people who do real things, talk with real people, and publish real magazines.
A printed magazine is, of course, more expensive and harder to publish. But we feel the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks, and believe that we can overcome the cost and publication challenges.
All that said, we would be very keen to set up a web site (www.magazinename.co.nz) with a look ‘n’ feel similar to the magazine. The site would have a few articles from each issue as well as a vision statement, our style guide, a blurb about the people involved, contact information, etc.
The core group would probably be Matt Bartlett, Aaron Stewart, Bryan Hoyt, and myself (Ben Hoyt). If you’re keen and willing to be part of the core group, just chat with me. I’d like to get at least one older, wiser person to be part of this core group; perhaps we could approach someone like Hans Snoek, Rob Vosslamber, or Robert van Wichen.
The core group would review and possibly edit the articles before publication, working closely with the chief editor and continually challenge and suggest improvements. They would often write articles or editorials, and at times seek articles from other people and places. The core group would also lay out and publish the magazine.
I’m quite keen to be chief editor or coordinator. Bryan and Matthew would make very good style and detail editors. Aaron is a thoughtful writer, and might make a good bigger-picture editor (I’m guessing here). Matthew and I would do the InDesign layout. I could sort out arrangements with a publishing company. Any changes or suggestions here are welcome; you know what you’re good at.
The magazine would be completely non-profit. None of us would be paid a cent for our time; we’d do it because we want to. However, there are two main costs involved: good layout software and printing costs.
Adobe InDesign is quality software and widely used for magazine layout, and is available to us at the vastly discounted academic price of $320 (it retails for about $1500). We’re hoping that a handful of us will be willing to chip in $50 or so for this initial cost. It seems a small price to pay for such a grand cause. (Heh.)
After doing a bit of “market evaluation,” we hope to publish 100 to 200 copies of the first issue. Professionally printing a mostly black and white magazine with this kind of print run costs $3 to $5 per issue. It would be ideal to give away the first issue by coming up with cash for it ourselves (and perhaps find some like-minded sponsors). After the first issue, people can buy or subscribe to the magazine as they wish (at maybe $5 per issue or $20 a year).
We would never print commercial advertisements or political rallying. This is partly because our vision doesn’t gel with cheap or annoying advertisements, and partly because a small magazine would be hard-pressed to get anyone wanting to advertise in it.
Please get back to me if you can help out financially (in large or small amounts), or if you know any people who share our vision and can afford to help.