Eradicating the Apostrophes in the Lives of People with Developmental Disabilities is the Mission of Apostrophe MagazineMarch 26, 2014
A Mr. Magazine™ Round-table Conversation with the Magazine’s Editor, Jim Tracy…Publisher, Larry Noonan…Business Manager, Bryon Higgins and Circulation Manager, Jacquie Peterson
Usually, leaving off an apostrophe can make a big difference in something, whether it’s grammatical or an attachment in people’s lives; especially people with developmental disabilities. When the apostrophes are eliminated; people realize “can’t do’s” become “can do’s.”
And that is the mission of Apostrophe Magazine – Apostrophe promotes inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, showcasing that they too can become a productive and important part of our society. The good people at Apostrophe Magazine believe that no one with a disability should be forced to live, work or learn in a segregated setting and that is the focus of the magazine, oftentimes their editorial contributors being developmentally disabled individuals themselves.
The title comes from the 70s album by Frank Zappa of the same name, more specifically from a song “Stink-Foot,” where a dog begins to talk to a man and says, “It should be easy to see…The crux of the biscuit…Is the Apostrophe.” Of course, the man then assures the dog that he can’t say that. And the dog replies, “But, I do it all the time.” Hence, turning the “can’t dos” into “can do’s”. It’s a milestone in concepts and a magazine title that is much more than just catchy in its meaning; it’s inspiring and proves that no obstacle has to stand in a person’s way; no matter what their circumstances.
So sit back and be inspired and moved by the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with the great people from Apostrophe Magazine: Publisher, Larry Noonan…Editor, Jim Tracy…Business Manager, Bryon Higgins and Circulation Manager, Jacquie Peterson as they enlighten us and show us all that sometimes life is best-lived without the “Apostrophe.”
But first the sound-bites:
On the secret to Apostrophe magazine’s longevity…
The secret ingredient is our publisher. We’re published by a human services company in Montana. The name of the Company is Aware Incorporated, and they have underwritten the expense of the magazine over these six-plus years. The secret to our success is a generous publisher.
On whether or not Apostrophe is a business, a mission or both…
I think latter, business/mission entity, and we’re doing everything we can to cover the costs of producing and printing the magazine but we’re not there yet.
On Apostrophe’s mission…
So people with developmental disabilities have been told the things they can’t and shouldn’t do and Apostrophe tells them the things they can and should do and to ignore the naysayers and the folks that would tell them other things.
On the decision to go with print over other mediums…
The other nice thing about it is a magazine can sit in doctor’s offices for months. It can sit in all types of places where people will happen to have a chance to look at it. That’s not necessarily true with Internet.
On a stumbling block for the magazine…
From my perspective, the major stumbling block was getting the attention we needed outside of the state of Montana to get the magazine to a wider audience than just people in the state of Montana.
On the pleasant side of the Apostrophe journey…
For us on the editorial side it’s been getting to know the people that we feature in the magazine and the photographers and writers who‘ve done the stories.
On future goals for Apostrophe magazine…
We want to get the magazine into as many hands as possible and have as many people see it as we can.
On what keeps Editor, Jim Tracy, up at night…
You mean the thing that makes me sit bolt upright in my bed? I worry about advertising and circulation.
And now the lightly-edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with the forces behind Apostrophe Magazine…
Samir Husni: You’ve beaten the odds. You’re still in publishing, where 80 percent of new magazines disappear after their first year. What do you think is the secret recipe or secret ingredient that has kept you in business?
Jim Tracy: The secret ingredient is our publisher. We’re published by a human services company in Montana. The name of the Company is Aware Incorporated, and they have underwritten the expense of the magazine over these six-plus years. The secret to our success is a generous publisher.
SH: Are you on a mission field or are you on a mission/business entity?
JT: I think the latter, business/mission entity, and we’re doing everything we can to cover the costs of producing and printing the magazine but we’re not there yet.
SH: So tell me briefly, if someone stops you on the street and says, “I hear you do this magazine”… What’s the magazine about?
JT: Well, I’m going to tell you briefly, and Larry is the one — this is his brain child — he can tell you about the beginning or the genesis of the title, Apostrophe, but Apostrophe is devoted to people with developmental disabilities. It’s for them, by them, about them and our tagline is — one of our taglines is —“Forget can’t and don’t and think can and do.” Apostrophe really means we want to help people take the apostrophes out of their lives. So people with developmental disabilities have been told the things they can’t and shouldn’t do and Apostrophe tells them the things they can and should do and to ignore the naysayers and the folks that would tell them they can’t do things.
SH: Larry would you like to add something?
Larry Noonan: Yes, I would love to. Back in 1970, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the album by Frank Zappa called Apostrophe…
SH: Yes, I am from that generation.
LN: OK, good. Yes, so one day I was driving to work listening to the album Apostrophe and listening to the song “Stink-Foot” and in that, the guy’s talking to his dog and the dog starts talking back and the guy says, “You can’t do that.” And the dog says, “Well, I don’t know, I do it all the time.” And then it goes into a refrain about just that — talking about the apostrophe in people’s lives.
Over the years I studied psychology and I came out of college and worked for the state of Montana for a number of years in services for people with developmental disabilities. Then when I came to Anaconda, the notion was that we could develop a better organization if we used that principle from Frank Zappa of eliminating the apostrophes out of people’s lives, that we could improve people’s lives tremendously.
And I think that goes for everybody, but particularly for people with developmental disabilities that have it pounded into them from the day that they’re born all the things that they can’t do.
JT: Well, our readership besides people with developmental disabilities of course includes families and friends and supporters and people that provide them services. But up until recently, a lot of people with developmental disabilities weren’t really plugged into the digital revolution so print was an obvious choice because it’s visual and tactile and if you don’t have email and you don’t have a computer and you don’t use the Internet then we would’ve been missing our audience, our readership.
LN: The other nice thing about it is a magazine can sit in doctor’s offices for months. It can sit in all types of places where people will happen to have a chance to look at it. That’s not necessarily true with Internet. We found a great response from people that are in doctor’s offices and other places where people’s families find the magazine and start asking questions about it. It just helps generate the whole discussion around what are the lives of people with developmental disabilities like and are there ways that we can help improve that.
SH: What was the major stumbling block in the six-year journey so far?
LN: From my perspective, the major stumbling block was getting the attention we needed outside of the state of Montana to get the magazine to a wider audience than just people in the state of Montana. We did that primarily by associating ourselves with a group called The Arc. And it’s a group that specializes in policy and advocacy for people with developmental disabilities all over the United States.
So we sponsored, as well as the magazine, we sponsored a chapter of The Arc in Montana. It’s the only chapter in Montana. We spend a lot of our time trying to organize families and other people that are interested in developmental disabilities — state employees, state officials, federal officials and all those folks to clue them into what we’re talking about for people with developmental disabilities.
People with developmental disabilities really aren’t hard to get into the mainstream. They’re dying to get along with the people around them and feel like they’re as normal as the other people. Those folks become real productive, helpful and nice people to be around. So our belief is the wider we spread the discussion, and the magazine helps us spread that discussion in ways that you can’t in other media, that’s one of the reasons when I was first looking around that’s what I thought would be good.
Plus the reality is that I’m a person that likes to go into a bookstore and get a magazine, maybe read it on the airplane or sitting around when I don’t have a lot to do and look at ads and things like that. That was part of what I wanted to do with the magazine is have it be something that if I’m a developmental disabled person I can pick it up and take a look at it and there’s stories that are important to me, there’s pictures that I can understand.
SH: What was the most pleasant surprise in that journey?
JT: For us on the editorial side it’s been getting to know the people that we feature in the magazine and the photographers and writers who‘ve done the stories. We’ve made connections all over the country and we can go and call on them if we need to. I think we’ve made friends with the people who’ve helped us put the magazine together.
Bryon Higgins: One of our contributors was a man in Baltimore that was clearly developmentally disabled and he came up to our booth at a conference in Washington, D.C., and I happened to be manning the booth at the time and he walked up to me and he looked at me and he looked at the magazine and he said to basically “How can I get something in the magazine?” And I said really all you have to do is bring us some of your stuff and we’ll go from there. He had a staff person that was near him so I grabbed her and said, “If he likes to write then have him bring us some stuff.”
Literally about an hour and a half later he showed up with a whole pile of stuff that he’d written. At that point I gave it to Jim and we looked at and it really was insightful stuff coming from a DD person living in a big city on the East coast and trying to get around and trying to do things and the frustrations he feels and the things he wants to do and can’t do and things like that. He’s been a real contributor for us. Is he in every magazine now, Jim?
JT: He’s been in every magazine since that conversation you had with him.
BH: He does like a little advice thing. For us in Montana it’s a little bit novel because he is a black guy and I don’t say that racist in any way it’s just that we don’t have a lot of that diversity in Montana. And we need to have the guy featured in the magazine that we distribute all over the country.
JT: And another thing is that we pay him the same rate we pay any freelance writer.
SH: What’s the next chapter in the life of Apostrophe?
JT: We want to get the magazine into as many hands as possible and have as many people see it as we can. Going back to something Larry said a little while about The Arc; The Arc is the largest advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities in the country. They have 140,000 members in 700 chapters across the country. We’re working on several different ways to reach that readership and to pick up subscribers.
On the financial side, we’re trying to find more national advertisers and we’ve had some success lately. One of the big ones we picked up lately is MetLife insurance company, MetLife with the stadium, Giants Stadium in New Jersey. And they’ve agreed to a full page ad for a year and bought over…how many, Jacquie?
Jacquie Peterson: Over 100 subscriptions.
JT: They’ve bought over 100 subscriptions, so it’s kind of a model – if we can find people who have an affinity with our mission and get the magazine into the hands of their employees and their members then that would be a big boost for us.
SH: And in addition to trying to get advertising and wider circulation; what do you think is the social impact of the magazine on this specific community and the community at large?
JT: I say this and it’s not being boastful, we get nothing but positive from our readers and positive feedback from people we feature in the magazine. I think we’ve given some people, and I don’t want to overemphasize it, we’ve really given them a boost in achieving their social ambitions within their communities. There’s nothing like having your face on a cover of a magazine, story in that magazine and have it show up at Barnes and Noble magazine shelves.
So another part of the magazine is the policy issues that we cover. So everything from work to finances to fashion; I think that we’ve done our best to portray people in a normal, positive light and to make them a part of their community. I think that would be the lasting thing that we’ve contributed at least a little to the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in the lives of their communities.
SH: To give you credit where credit is due, when you go to a Barnes and Noble and you see the magazine, definitely don’t adhere to the consultant’s advice in regard to what should be on a magazine. And you know, you choose your audience on the cover rather than having a beautiful face or a celebrity star to push the magazine. With that approach of using true people, true audience; do you think you are doing it to send shock waves through the newsstand or are you doing it to be a true representation of what the magazine is all about?
JT: I think the latter. It’s just a true representation about what the magazine is all about. You know I don’t think we ever sat down and thought we were going to make an impact except in the back of our minds. And we wanted to get past the point where we used any picture, we used what we had. But we make a point now to make that cover a flattering, complimentary picture of the people that we’re trying to serve.
SH: For people who are reading the blog and people who are reading this interview, how can people help the cause? I mean you are on a mission — this magazine is very mission-driven — how can people help or contribute to this mission or help widen the circulation or reach of the magazine?
LN: The main thing, part of what we’re trying to do, is to expose people to people with developmental disabilities in ways they don’t normally seen. Being part of a fashion show or writing articles for the magazine and all the different things we’re doing there really kind of raises the person with DD to a level that’s equal to other people in their community and things.
And when you see the effects of either the people that know the individual on the cover or that their story is in the magazine or the person themselves, the parent, frequently we have the mother show up at a conference and want to buy 15 magazines and they’re sending them to all their relatives and that sort of thing so they finally have that thing that their kids are able to do just like other people’s normal children. Be in the newspaper in other places and that gets sent around to their relatives and everybody. That’s a big part of it.
JT: Well, one other thing. We try to portray people as normal as possible but we have met and featured in the magazine some truly outstanding people that are doing things most of us can’t do — artists and athletes and entrepreneurs. So going along with what Larry said, we’re just exposing them to a wider audience, a wider readership and let people know that they really have eliminated the apostrophes in their lives. And a lot of times of course with the really true and deep love of their parents and families.
SH: My last question… What keeps you up at night?
JT: You mean the thing that makes me sit bolt upright in my bed? I worry about advertising and circulation.
LN: Of course my concern is the federal government and at what point does one quit pushing and fighting the system the way that they are. It’s the DD system nationally; it’s under a lot of stress. I have a guy in the federal government telling me two years ago that the trajectory of spending on the federal level was heading towards a trillion dollars and that wasn’t going to happen and they were going to find other ways to push the system forward without it costing a lot of money. And I’m all for that because it will help us move people toward independence.
But at the same time, folks in the state and federal government can use a meat cleaver rather than a scalpel frequently in dealing with those kinds of cuts and that makes us nervous of course all the time.
JT: And one other thing… You know magazines and that we’re under constant deadline pressure and there are a lot of moving parts with a magazine. We have a lot of correspondents, we have a lot of freelancers and columnists and photographers to wrangle and so I think all of us are thinking about deadlines all the time too. More than circulation and advertising, deadlines are what keep us up at night as well.
SH: Thank you.