Planning an Issue - an Exercise in Give and Take

ERIC UTNE presides over the bi-monthly Utne Reader articles meeting with a dreamy intensity. The magazine's founder and its current president/editor-in-chief is unimposing as he sits in his striped rough-weave yellow shirt, pastel cotton sweater, earth-tone loose-fitting trousers, and comfortable walking shoes.

With him at the small, round, wood-grained table are four editorial staff members who look more like graduate students than journalists. The floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelves are jammed with dozens of sturdy black cardboard stand-up folders, each with various magazines.

A dozen or so possible articles from various alternative publications are discussed as candidates for the March/April Reader. Topics vary: body, men, community development, time, teens, gay rights, the disenfranchised. Each participant lobbies for his or her favorite articles.

``One possible criticism of us is that we're too centered on healthy boomers with money,'' says Lynette Lamb, the managing editor. The other four white, well-educated, Midwestern, upper-middle-class editorial members nod in agreement.

Mr. Utne apologizes for not having read all the articles in the folder on the table in front of him. ``I got all these [articles] yesterday afternoon and came home to an exhausted wife at 8:30 and fell asleep.''

``I think we need to do something on Guatemala,'' intones Jay Walljasper, the editor.

The associate editor/books editor, Helen Cordes, and Elizabeth Larsen, the editorial assistant, seem to agree that Nicaragua has been ignored. But they wonder if there is space in the next Reader for pieces on both Nicaragua and the Persian Gulf. Mr. Walljasper says it will be tough to find a story on the Gulf that will ``stand up'' regardless of whether there is a war. But he doesn't want to pick up the 1990-91 Readers in 10 years and find no mention of the Gulf controversy.

``Let's call it `five views on the Gulf,''' someone says.

``Let's call it `eight pages on the Gulf,''' someone else says.

``Let's call it `five pages on the Gulf,''' Eric says to both moans and laughter.

One editor wants more space for the article on ``The Bear.'' Everyone agrees that they love the Mother Jones piece. Someone wonders ``why we haven't done `that poverty thing' yet.''

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