Volume VI, No. 4, Summer 1979
by Rebecca Baldwin
The cover photo of Lester Mondale, his wife, Rosemary and their dog, Loki, like the cover of any magazine, is important as an incentive to buy the magazine off the newsstand and as a clue to magazine content or subject matter. But a look behind this cover, figuratively speaking, reveals several things of equal or greater importance. It reveals all the hard work that goes into producing a professional magazine. It reveals the principles and concepts behind Bittersweet. And just as importantly, it reveals the group of people behind the whole operation--the staff of Bittersweet magazine.
Bittersweet was begun in 1973 by Ellen Gray Massey and a group of interested high school students, sophomore through senior, as a special English class dedicated to preserving the crafts, lore, legends and personalities of the Ozarks through magazine publication. Although the class was scheduled for '73-'74 school curriculum, the students began researching stories the spring of '73 so they could produce a fall '73 issue. The staff raised money for equipment and printing fees by selling subscriptions to family, friends and many a great-aunt Jane and fifth cousin John. Today Bittersweet is still supported mainly by subscriptions ranging from the whole U. S. to Australia and Hong Kong.
The class is held the last two hours of the day in Room 6 at Lebanon High School. Students may take it one or two hours a day and receive one or two English credits toward graduation.
The basic concepts behind Bittersweet are those of experiential education and cultural journalism. The experiential education (learning by doing) refers to the class--we learn about all the aspects of running a business and a corporation and the work involved with producing a magazine which competes on the national market and at the same time we learn about the Ozarks, its geography, crafts, lore and the people who live here. The cultural journalism reefers to what we actually produce--a magazine dealing with one particular region and its unique culture and inhabitants.
In holding true to our concepts, Mrs. Massey tells us, "If you want to write a story about it or learn about it, you have to DO it first." And boy do we DO! From cave-crawling to johnboat making to balancing the checkbook to mailing out the magazine. We do everything except actually print the magazine. Several committees--publicity, photography, art, layout, circulation and business--handle many of the various jobs and each staff member is on one or two committees.
The publicity committee is responsible for promoting Bittersweet. If no one knew about it, who would buy it? They write articles for local and regional newspapers and write and record radio blurbs. They're also on the lookout for any news items about us that appear in various newspapers, which we put on our big bulletin boards--which, by the way, is completely full.
The photography committee is responsible for developing negatives and printing photographs in the darkroom at school. They shoot and develop rolls and rolls of film before selecting the few pictures for each story, so the darkroom is used at least twenty man-hours a week. One or more photographers accompany fellow staff members on interviews and are always looking for possible future covers. But committee members aren't the only ones who can take pictures--as long as one of our three cameras is available, anyone can shoot away.
The art committee is responsible for any illustrations and diagrams needed for a story. They also make posters which we put around Lebanon advertising the latest issue and attend to various jobs around the room, like the list of current stories and who is working on them.
The layout committee is usually busy only four times a year but they certainly make up for the other times by rushing to meet the deadlines, staying after school several hours and even coming to Mrs. Massey's house at 7 A.M. on Saturday morning. I know from experience. We use layout boards, slant boards, rulers, T-squares, scaleographs, tape, tweezers, rubber cement, zipatone, exacto-knives, imagination and a lot of elbow grease to come up with pleasing ways to present our stories and photographs.
The circulation committee handles all the subscriptions which means drawers full of addresses on file cards and renewal notices by the hundreds.
The business committee takes care of the money by keeping tabs on what we spend and bring in, balancing the checkbook and making out and paying bills and invoices.
The whole staff does those jobs not taken care of by the committees--for instance addressing labels, proofreading and mailing out each-issue, and a few at a time go on talks to conventions, schools and meetings. We've even helped conduct workshops as far away as Colorado and Hawaii.
Basically, this magazine consists of two things, stories and illustrations (either photography or art work), which are coordinated on the pages with layouts, but there is much more to them than meets the eye.
For example, a complete story is the result of hundreds of hours of hard work by several people. We get story ideas from our story file, friends, relatives, and subscribers who write in suggestions. Once we have an idea we go to work finding contacts--people who can tell us about our particular story subject. We use only one contact for a personality story but for how-tos and other types of stories we use anywhere from one to eight.
We then pack up our film, cameras and tape recorders and drive anywhere from one to 160 miles to interview our contacts. One interview may be enough or we may go back several more times, say if we needed more information or the tape recorder didn't work. That has happened before!
When we have interviewed our contact, we transcribe everything they have said in longhand using the tape recorder and earphones. Usually it takes us from eight to ten hours to transcribe one side of a one hour tape and there might be four to six tapes for a story.
We then give the transcription to Pearl Massey, our typist, who makes a carbon and an original copy in manuscript form. The originals are filed away with the tapes and aren't used unless the carbon is lost. We use the carbon for information and many times for actual quotes in personality stories. Occasionally we get additional information from the library if our contacts can't tell us all we need to know.
After we compile all the needed information, we begin writing. We turn in a first draft to Mrs. Massey, who goes over it, checking sentence structure, content and making suggestions. We get the drafts back, correct and improve them and turn them in again, over and over until they are ready to go in the magazine. The most number of drafts turned in was twelve and the least was one, illustrating the difference in the amount of work required on a story.
After the final draft is polished, Pearl retypes it one last time--the carbon, which is used in dummy layouts, and the original, which actually appears in the magazine.
The photographs used in a story also go through a specific procedure. First the photographer who goes on the interview takes the pictures. Then someone developes them and the author chooses the photos he wants printed. After they are printed, we choose the best ones to appear in the magazine and label them with cropping and size instructions for the printer.
The illustrations drawn by our artists are first drawn in pencil. Then the artists ink them in, if they meet the approval of the author, the art editor and Mrs. Massey. If they don't the artists redraw them until they do.
Finally we arrange the carbon copy, pictures and drawings on used layout boards in a trial run called dummy layouts. After the dummy layouts are approved, we begin the final layouts in which we paste the original final copy, illustrations and zipatone (a plastic cut down to the size of the photographs we use) on clean layout boards. Then we send all the final layouts, called camera ready copy, to the printer and a month later we get back 4,500 magazines.
We think Bittersweet magazine is important as a unique kind of learning aid and as a significant example of cultural journalism, but so are the people important who make the magazine possible, the people behind the cover. We can divide these people into three interdependent groups--?our contacts, subscribers and the staff members.
Contacts are our major source of information for the magazine. They are the people who remember how it was like years ago, who actually experienced what we write about and who make the Ozarks what it is. If it weren't for our contacts, we couldn't produce Bittersweet magazine.
Subscribers provide our major source of income. Money from their subscriptions buys the tape recorder, cameras, typewriters, supplies and pays the printing bills that are necessary for magazine production. If they weren't interested in reading about our contacts and the Ozarks, we couldn't produce Bittersweet magazine.
We staff members--students, advisor and typist--are the elbow grease behind the whole operation. We interview contacts, transcribe tapes, write stories, take pictures, draw, lay out, correct, polish, type, keep books and learn.
Frankly, if we didn't want to learn and write about the Ozarks and the people who live here, we couldn't produce Bittersweet magazine.
There. Now you have a glimpse of what goes on behind our cover. But I don't want you to think that being on the staff and learning about the Ozarks is all work, because it is not. Besides the other tasks I mentioned, we do lots of enjoyable and unusual things, like wading knee-deep through a mud-filled cave, floating down an ice-cold river in winter and almost turning over, getting up before dawn to go turkey hunting, taking a dare to kiss a mule or jump over a deep crevice, discovering that an old pump really does work and enjoying that good old Ozark hospitality by eating our fill at an old-fashioned farm dinner.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.