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article imageMaura Magazine offers stories outside the mainstream Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Feb 13, 2013 in Technology
Music Maura Johnston, known to many for her smart pop culture observations, has launched her own weekly magazine. It’s the paid model of digital journalism its founder thinks many fans of the “old web” have been waiting for.
Called simply Maura, the publication features themed issues ("Desire" and "Static" were recent ones), and articles relating to current events, media and entertainment. The magazine recently started publishing short fiction too.
Johnston, who teaches music writing at the New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and does freelance work (including a regular column at MSN Entertainment), created Maura because “I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I’ve been proud of the work I’ve done in full-time jobs, but I had a difference of opinions with my hierarchy.”
A prolific and popular observer of music and music trends, many will know Johnston’s work from The Village Voice, where, as music editor, she amassed a following covering every aspect of popular music. Prior to that, she was a leading contributor to music blog Popdust, and, notably, a founding editor of the Gawker-created, Buzzfeed-owned music blog Idolator. She’s offered insightful commentary on a range of topics, including a well-regarded post late last year about the current state of online music writing, as well as numerous radio appearances, offering commentary on the cultural significance of boy bands, and the legacy of Steve Jobs on the music industry. Recently she wrote a smart, deeply insightful piece for Seattle Weekly about 1990s nostalgia.
Last fall, Johnston met with 29th Street Publishing, a venture that offers innovative technological support for small digital publishers. “Everyone at (the company) who developed the app, they’re all so smart, so nice, they get the spirit of the old web,” she says enthusiastically. “David (Jacobs, its CEO) and Natalie (Podrazik, its CTO) worked at (online technology company) Six Apart ...(29th Street) is populated by people who've been really in the blogging world for a long time.”
Maura is available for $2.99 an issue (or $29.99 annually) from the iTunes store; each weekly issue features between four and six stories. Past features have included timely pieces on the Superbowl, K-Pop, and Hurricane Sandy, as well as smart essays (ie: "Facebook is the Greatest Website in the History of the Internet").
Maura Magazine was launched by music writer/editor Maura Johnston this past January.
Maura Magazine was launched by music writer/editor Maura Johnston this past January.
Maura Johnston
Those plans include a chain of events around the U.S. to coincide with the EMP Pop Conference in April. Presented by the music-centric EMP Museum in Seattle, the gathering (which Johnston lovingly refers to as the “nerd conference”) brings together fans, journalists, musicians, and pop culture thinkers; it is widely considered one of the best venues for forward-thinking music discussion in the world. The 2013 edition is the first to feature happenings both in and away from its Seattle homebase; New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Cleveland will all be holding EMP-related events. Johnston (who is on the committee for the NYC EMP Conference), hopes to have events in each.
Until then, Johnston is still adjusting herself to a weekly schedule. “When I was in the blogging world, everything was now, it had to be NOW,” she recalls. “The nice thing about a weekly schedule is, I can reflect on things that happened before or anticipate things that’ll happen in future, but in a meaningful way. It's still kind of new to me -it's weird.”
What’s familiar, however, is the way online demographics work; Johnston’s hoping to broaden the sorts of things that get seen and shared online by bringing her keen business sense as well as writing smarts to the venture. “I feel like there's this trend that, because the ideal demographic in so many executives’ mind is eighteen to 45 year-old males, it becomes the default. You have this entire buffet of opinions open to you (on the internet), but in the main, (what gets covered) is a lot more narrow than people want to think it is.”
Combatting the wave of narrow, pageview-centric reporting is so-called 'longform journalism,' a thoughtful, quality-focused format that has enjoyed a rise in popularity over the past eighteen months or so. A big part of longform journalism's appeal has been the technology through which readers can access it. Poynter's Mallary Jean Tenore wrote last March that "The more we can give readers tools to control how and when they engage with content, the easier it will be for them to read content that may require more careful attention — either because it’s long, in-depth, or both."
Johnston is hoping to attract both professional and non-professional  writers  broadening the appeal...
Johnston is hoping to attract both professional and non-professional writers, broadening the appeal of the publication as well as opportunities for new voices to emerge in what she feels is a market over-saturated with homogeneity.
Maura Johnston
Mark Armstrong, founder of Longreads and editorial adviser of Read it Later, echoes this sentiment. In a powerful essay published last year, he asks the question: "Why is online content still being shot at us?" Part of the solution, he feels, is to put control back into consumers' hands. Let people take content with them, and they will soon value it more highly than if it is shot at them. Content creators will be rewarded with a longer social lifespan for the stories and videos they work so hard to create. And that ultimately lifts the value of a media brand.
Maura fits in beautifully this approach, which only makes sense, considering Johnston herself hails from what she calls "that diaristic and essayist culture of the 90s, (when) sites were putting good content out... when the web was really fun.”
Johnston is hoping to attract both professional writers and non-professionals alike, broadening the appeal of the publication as well as opportunities for new voices to emerge in what she feels is a market over-saturated with homogeneity.
“It’s interesting, I’ll approach people and they'll say, ‘I’m not a writer’ -but I want the non-writers... I think it's important to have new voices in writing,” she explains. “The promise of the web was always, ‘Okay, you didn't get the internship at Conde Naste, but you can still put your writing and your ideas out there.’ That's the kind of promise I want to bring back, and under that umbrella it includes people and ideas that fall out of the mainstream narrative.”
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