When I was in college (at BYU) I worked on the staff of a science fiction and fantasy magazine called Leading Edge. University magazines come in three flavors: the pro magazines, run by a hired staff of primarily non-students, the prestige magazines, staffed by students but heavily overseen by faculty, and the student magazines, run entirely by students with little or no faculty oversight. Each magazine has its purpose and place, but for my money there’s no question whatsoever that the most valuable student experience comes, unsurprisingly, in the student magazines. The others get more money, and look prettier, and get distributed more widely, but the student magazines actually teach you how to edit, proof, format, design, budget, plan, and otherwise run a magazine. This is the experience that Leading Edge gave me.
I don’t mean to imply that we didn’t have a faculty advisor; at the time I worked on it, our advisor was Linda Adams, and she remains a good friend to this day. But she subscribed to the Mama Bird philosophy of faculty advisorship, which was essentially “throw them out of the tree and see if they can figure out how to fly before they hit the ground.” She taught us to run a magazine by–imagine that–allowing us to run a magazine. If we had issues we couldn’t resolve she was always available to help, but for the most part we learned on the job, coming in cold and learning from older students and making real decisions and setting our own deadlines and staying up late to meet them and passing along what we’d learned to the next generation of students. Obviously we made poor decisions every now and then, but that’s kind of the point: better to make them on a student magazine than in a real job, post-graduation. We could see all the ramifications of our work, and we could figure out what went wrong, and we could fix it and do better next time.
Let me give you a quick example. We received a story that we loved, and we happily accepted it, edited it, and published it. We were almost instantly informed by a reader that the story had been plagiarized–we had paid someone for someone else’s work, and then published it without that someone else’s consent or knowledge. We had to contact the original author, apologize profusely, and come up with a plan to pay him for his work and make sure he got the credit for it. It was a long, difficult, embarrassing process, but through it we learned not only responsibility but caution; we learned how to avoid plagiarists, how to work with clients, how to resolve business and ethical issues, and how to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. Those are not the kinds of problems most publishing students face, but they are exactly the kind of problems actual publishers face, every day, and our experience on a student-run magazine prepared us for them better than class or seminar we ever took.
Leading Edge helped us in other ways, as well. Because of its nature as a science fiction magazine, it taught us about the science fiction publishing industry. We learned who the big players are, how they work, and what they want in both their fiction and their employees. We learned how the creation of art can be swayed and shaped and sometimes even stymied by the constraints of business and the pressures of the market. When we traveled to conventions and conferences, our status as small press editors helped us talk to a lot of very important industry leaders, and we were often surprised by how many of them were familiar with our magazine–Leading Edge is small, but people recognize it as a source of good writers, good artists, and good staff.
Our work on Leading Edge gave me, my friends, and nearly four decades of other students an incredible education and a huge boost toward ongoing careers. That magazine has produced group after group of editors, writers, art directors, journalists, creative directors, illustrators, publishers, and more. We are senior editors at publishing houses. We are New York Times bestselling authors. We are creative professionals, small business owners, artists, and more. The Leading Edge is not only one of the oldest magazines at BYU, it has a nearly unmatched track record for graduates going on to incredible success in the industry.
And despite all this, BYU continues to cut its budget, reduce its support, and quietly sweep it under the rug. The latest round of budget cuts was not as devastating as some, but are still quite damaging and were made without the staff’s knowledge or input. I will let the current editor speak for herself:
Leading Edge’s funding has been cut. Funding was actually cut before the College of Humanities even told us. While we may not be able to undo this re-budgeting in the near future, we are hoping to inform the dean of the impact that cut creates. Current staff members are going to write the dean to tell him what Leading Edge does for us; we’re hoping former staff members can share what Leading Edge did for them. While Leading Edge itself is far from dead, the lack of funding will drastically change the way it manifests itself unless we can serious increase our circulation numbers.
If you have a minute, and if you loved Leading Edge, please send me an email I can send up to the dean. …
On a more positive note, we are putting together our 60th anniversary issue. It will come out in April (though it may come out in a different form than past issues have).
We are sending out a call, here and now, to everyone who has ever worked on or enjoyed the magazine. Make yourselves heard–tell the university that Leading Edge is not only valuable but invaluable; not only useful but incredibly important to the school and its students and their futures. These are the ways you can help:
1) Tell us, and the school, how your experience with Leading Edge helped you in your life. Do you have a career as a writer or editor? Did a skill you learned while working on the magazine help you to get a job, solve a problem, run your household, or otherwise improve your life? Please tell us about it. Emails can be sent to email@example.com, and snail mail can be sent to
Provo, UT 84602
You are also welcome to post your comments here, and I will make sure they get forwarded to the Dean of Humanities.
2) Spread the word. Link to this article in your blog, post it on facebook, retweet it to the world, anything you can do to let other Leading Edge alumni know that the magazine needs their support.
3) Subscribe to the magazine. If we want the university to support the magazine, we need to put our money where our mouth is and support it as best we can ourselves. You can subscribe on their website.