When new print magazines are announced, reporters usually write about the irony of the startup amid a decades-long decline in publishing dailies and weeklies and monthlies.
The future of print is certainly a scattered one, but one that will probably involve novelty and specialty, in addition to the current clearing of the brush the past decade has shown.
Somewhere in there, Tek Lado, a quarterly, bi-lingual geek culture magazine with its setting in the Philadelphia region, either makes sense or it doesn’t.
Regardless, 20,000 32-page inaugural issues will land in honor boxes, cafes, bars, restaurants and waiting rooms throughout the region on Sept. 22, with plans to move to every other month in 2011. Funded by advertising and supported strictly by freelance contributions, the magazine will be free and pick-up only.
[Full disclosure: Technically Philly is a promotional partner for the magazine’s launch. The two publications exchanged advertising space. This Q&A is an independent editorial choice.]
Southwest Philadelphia-based Bartash Printing is bankrolling the project, a company that handles printing projects for others but didn’t have one of its own, until Tek Lado, which was first conceived in March. The publisher is Bartash’s own Mel Gomez.
To make their first foray into magazine publishing a successful one, Gomez brought on last month one of the more familiar names in Philadelphia media, tapping former Philadelphia Weekly senior editor and columnist Liz Spikol to lead the project’s editorial product.
Inaugural Issue Release Party
Thursday, Sept. 30,
6-9 p.m. @ TRUST
249 Arch Street, Old City
The name of the magazine is a play on words.
In Spanish, ‘lado’ means ‘side.’ ‘Teclado’ mean ‘keyboard.’ ‘Tek Lado’ together means “tech side.”
Based out of Bartash’s building at 5400 Grays Ave., near Bartram’s Garden, until moving to independent offices if things go well, Spikol, 42, is now charged with growing the reputation and editorial product of a magazine with at least three niches: geeks and gadgets, Philadelphia and, while stories will appear both in English and Spanish, a natural Hispanic target.
Below, the West Philadelphia resident, who grew up in Center City and speaks Spanish fluently, talks to Technically Philly about what we can expect from Tek Lado, why she’s not exactly following her father’s footsteps and what led her here.
Edited for length and clarity.
[Full Disclosure: This author worked with Spikol during her time at Philadelphia Weekly.]
What made you want to lead a print magazine dedicated to Philadelphia Hispanic tech and geek culture?
It’s a combination of elements.
One piece of my personality that I often keep under wraps, depending on the company I’m in, is that I’m a total geek. I love, love love comics. I love gadgets. I love games — OK, just chess, but that’s as geeky as it gets.
I love computers. My first one was a Kaypro. It was supposedly portable, but it was the size of a small dog — a pug, I’m thinking.
I had one of the first mobile phones too — that also was enormous, but more like a baby Chihuahua — I also geek out over animals, if you haven’t noticed. I have few left-brain skills, but for some reason, I have an intuitive grasp of technology and I love it. I taught computer classes and I found it very exciting. So that’s the tech side.
The Latino side is also a big part of who I am. I went to an experimental hippie school and we started learning Spanish in second grade. I got very into it and had a natural inclination. So then I geeked out on Spanish and have spent a lot of time in Spanish-speaking countries: nine months in Spain, five months in Costa Rica, three months in the Dominican Republic. You get the idea.
I minored in Spanish in college, then went to Texas for comparative literature. Living on a border is fantastic. You learn a lot of Spanglish and Chicano Spanish. I taught Spanish for eight years. And of course, if you love the language, you get enchanted by the culture. So editing this magazine is kind of a dream come true.
Ah yes, print journalism.
Arthur Sulzberger Jr. admitted a few days ago that the New York Times — the Old Gray Lady — will discontinue print operations sometime in the next few years. [Editor’s Note: He said “date TBD.”] Holy hell.
When did you leave PW and when did you come on with Tek Lado? What did you do between the two?
I left PW twice. The first time was in 2007 when I left to work for a prison reform organization.
I felt I needed to go beyond writing about things and work in the “real world.” I also worked as an advocate at a mental health agency for people with mental illnesses. Then I came back to PW when the executive editor left to take her place.
Roughly 15 seconds after I came back, my mentor and friend, Tim Whitaker, was replaced as top editor. I stayed on afterward, though not for too long.
Out with the old, in with the new. I went on to manage a mental health peer-support program that addressed the needs of people with serious mental illnesses, substance abuse issues and chronic homelessness until a month ago. Now I’m here.
Starting a print pub in this environment is almost like giving the finger to conventional wisdom. But the amazing thing about working with a printer is you see how many print products are actually thriving — just not the ones with high profiles. You walk through the press at Bartash, and you see massive rolls of newsprint.
The first time I did that, I got a little emotional. Paper!
And you might not be reading the dozens of hyperlocal community papers or niche publications that are out there, but they’re thriving. Or maybe you not have a subscription to Fire News — for firemen — or Equery — for the horsey set — but these are alive and well. The dailies face an uphill battle as do some weeklies, but I’m optimistic.
Maybe I have to be because I want to do what I love, but I’m also a pragmatist. I wouldn’t buy Newsweek for a dollar or even 25 cents. If I knew of an innovation to save the world, believe me, you’d know it.
Your father had a long presence at Philadelphia magazine? Is this your first foray into print mags — rather than print or alt-weeklies — and is there any sentimentality to that?
My dad was art director there, then executive editor and then the editor. He was there forever. I loved visiting him there as a kid.
The environment was so rich with funny, passionate people. He also wrote a nonfiction writing column for 17 years for Writer’s Digest — and still contributes there, and he wrote a couple books.
So it’s in the blood. But I didn’t follow in his footsteps with any conventional trajectory. So this is my first print-mag experience.
Below, watch Liz Spikol tell a story on ‘Spilling Your Guts’ at First Person Arts this spring.
Will a technology mag use tech or the web any differently or any more than any other print mag?
The one thing we’re absolutely doing as a bilingual magazine is making extensive use of QR Codes.
If you see an article in the pub in English and you want to read it in Spanish — which you’ll know because we have synopses in the opposite language — you can use the QR Code to go to that page on our website. [Editor’s note: The magazine intends to put full-text version of its magazine stories online.]
I think that’s an innovative adaptation of technology to suit our readership. It’s the kind of thing we want to be doing more of in the future. We have to in order to maintain credibility. But we’re not there yet with everything. We’re just building the website now. Startups can be a little rocky, and we all know there will be bumps along the way.
Tell us a bit about the type of stories and flavor we can expect. This will be targeted to people in the Philly region, but the content will be more national consumer, gadget, geek and tech orientated. Is that correct?
Yes, that’s correct.
We do have a “Comunidades” section — in the first issue it’s about a computer program in a low-income neighborhood in Philly.
And in our “Gente” — “People” — section, we profile two Philadelphians who are using technology or just geekiness in interesting ways. So those categories will often have a local feel.
Beyond that, though, we’re very open to national issues. We do have discrete sections: social media, gaming, gadgets, that kind of thing. And we have events listings. We’re just beginning to develop a voice and point of view.
We want readers to tell us what they want and what they don’t.
You were a senior editor at Philly Weekly but certainly took a more front-stage approach with your popular ‘Trouble with Spikol‘ column (which gained notoriety for dealing so bluntly with your own struggle with a mental disorder). Will we see you taking a similar active editorial role with Tek Lado?
For the first issue, I wrote a column for our Spanglish section, and I plan to contribute to that section frequently. I’ll also be blogging every day on our website. But I’m happy to find myself a little more in the background with this project. I think locals are probably tired of hearing about my shpilkis.
Below, watch Spikol tell one of her more famous stories of dealing with mental illness.
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