Bill Schubart: Suggesting a reincarnation for Vermont Life

by Bill Schubart

I grew up reading Vermont Life in the ’50s and continued reading it until shortly after the turn of the century. It always had a prominent place in our home, moving quarterly from the coffee table to the bathroom magazine rack – where its continued perusal was assured – and finally to a shelf in the den.

Back then, Vermont Life was collectible, not disposable.

Eventually I lost interest as the magazine shifted away from the substantive features and images that define us toward lifestyle and marketing.

My only real business savvy in life has been marketing, and I’ve always believed that the best marketing conveys substance rather than fluff. Consumers have largely become inured to marketing yet still crave substance conveyed through story, image, history, culture and intellectual interest.

Vermont’s many entrepreneurial craft, food and hospitality businesses are integral to who we are. They serve the aspirational as well as the native Vermonter, but they remain secondary to what truly defines us and intrigues re-settlers and visitors.

In nature, things end, but human decisions are too often binary – sustain or close. To our loss, we forget reinvention.

I am deeply saddened by the demise of Vermont Life; it feels not only like the end of an era, but an unimaginative concession to the stresses of media change.

Vermont Life should be a chronicle that expresses Vermont, its people, history, culture, enterprise and landscape – a go-to publication for definition of the Vermont brand, featuring a balanced array of articles, images, and online media appealing to people of all ages, and, if we care, it could still become so.

Imagine if Vermont Life were to remain a semi-annual print vehicle partnered and co-branded with seminal Vermont media to broaden its reach. Imagine a wider curatorial and co-production role as well as editorial, commissioning the best writers and photographers in the state for articles on contemporary subjects and ones that explore Vermont’s colorful past, but that also draw on the rich media archives and creative resources of Vermont cultural nonprofits specializing in the fine arts, folk arts, history, humanities, and the natural and built environment.

Magazines are struggling. Print advertising’s almost gone. But new media is rising in its place. I can’t help thinking we could – and should — have imagined better.

This piece first aired on Vermont Public Radio. Commentator Bill Schubart lives in Hinesburg.

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