A short history of our magazine and the economic downturn

The economic downturn has hurt many a publication, and ours was no exception. Our advertisers had to cut costs, and some cut us.

Our boss laid out the situation for us, telling us that in order not to lose anyone, we could choose to lessen our individual hours. We were paid hourly, and we had signed in and out, some of us working from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., some working from noon until 5 p.m. Our hours varied depending on whether we had a conference call with someone overseas, or how much was in our inbox. There wasn’t a whole lot of micromanagement, which meant that, if we pushed ourselves, we could get a solid few hours in, unbroken by more than the bare necessities in terms of meetings, reports and so on, and then go home. For my own work — largely editing, often texts from authors whose first language was not English — I usually found it counterproductive to work eight hours a day. If you’re focusing on something that is highly detail-oriented, especially when the subject matter is technical and nuanced, short spans of time are better. On average, full-time American workers waste large portions of their workday, which may be a direct result of longer hours.

So, even if it meant that most of us were going to be working about half-time, we agreed that everyone collectively cutting back was the best policy. Quite a few of us had side projects, both paid and unpaid — graphic design, teaching yoga, building websites, running a community radio station, working for the organic market, setting routes at the climbing gym, decanting the local wine, establishing a wilderness area. It was perhaps fitting that a magazine based on localization in worldwide business helped fuel all of us wanting to keep our own locale healthy. We depended on our magazine jobs (and each other) for a baseline stream of income. If we wanted to, we could sign out and do our own things from our work stations until something came back to roost our inbox — and many of us did.

Now, the advertisers are beginning to come back in greater numbers, and our most recent reader survey suggests that our audience is satisfied. This, combined with the fact that I feel more rich than I perhaps have complete cause to, makes me think that this type of set-up is, at least for a small business composed of competent, professional people, a good idea. Internally, we have very limited turnover in spite of the scarcity of hours, so I’m not the only one who seems to appreciate getting paid partially in freedom (and partially in job satisfaction). Life, after all, holds much more than the sum of your paycheck.

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