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Magazine centers its focus on the home front

Alexander Kaplen, editor of Wigwag, has a year's worth of magazines to his credit, but he's not sure what he has learned. "I'm learning how to run an office, which is something I never gave much thought to," Kaplen said in a telephone interview. "I have learned how valuable it is to have good reporting, how precious that is. There are very few people who want to hunt for good stories and bring them to you. That's hard work. And there are very few who can tell those stories well."

October marks the first anniversary of Wigwag, a quirky and curious magazine that took its name from a word that means "to signal someone home." It is a magazine with concerns that do not include Hollywood hype, the latest fashions or this month's theories on sex.

Each month offers a series of short reports _ "letters from home" _ from cities as familiar as Baltimore and towns as out-of-the-way as Dripping Springs, Texas.

"We get more letters about the letters than we do anything else," Kaplen said. "Readers react strongly to them. It's a new kind of reporting, a personal reporting that's breaking the rules."

But the letters have caused problems too.

"We don't want the writers to write about themselves. The letters are to give a sense of living in a certain place, a picture, a feel for that place," Kaplen said. "Some of our writers only wanted to write about themselves. We wouldn't let them and some left us because of that."

Kaplen said that he was disappointed by the quick burnout of many of the writers of letters from home. He said only Allen Hannay from Dripping Springs and Carmen Delzell from Baltimore have lasted.

"You find wonderful writers to do the legwork on a story," Kaplen said. "But people who become wonderful writers often lose the desire to go out and do that legwork. They want to do think pieces and essays. We're not interested in that."

Each month of Wigwag offers a section called politics, a series of short articles on the workplace, foreign news or Washington. In the October issue, for example, Mike Feder profiles an undertaker. Alex Heard tells an interesting Internal Revenue Service tale.

The main feature usually is a long profile or report. October's feature burrows into the world of Elizabeth Clare Prophet and her followers who built fallout shelters in Montana to wait for the end of the world. One recent feature detailed the demise of Altman's department store in New York.

"That was a case where everyone thought the story had been told completely," Kaplen said. "That's the kind of reporting we want to do more of."

Each issue brings a work of fiction and a bedtime story _ honestly _ suitable for reading to the kids. Wigwag covers food, television, books and film, but in its own offbeat fashion.

"We are not about lofty essays, hatchet-job profiles and celebrities," Kaplen said.

Circulation of Wigwag is almost 100,000, according to Kaplen, who said that he was pleased with that level. A survey showed a nearly equal split of male and female readers with an average age of 36.

A year's subscription to Wigwag costs $14.95. Write P.O. Box 2081, Knoxville, Iowa 50197-2081. Or call (800) 257-6700.

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