‘Be shameless:’ Logic Magazine editors talk tech, small magazine publishing

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On Wednesday, Logic Magazine editors Jim Fingal, Christa Hartsock, Ben Tarnoff and Moira Weigel spoke to the Stanford community about what goes into starting and running an independent magazine, from self-funding their first issue to commanding a broad readership. The four panelists — described as “major small magazine celebrities” — joined English professor Mark Greif and Graduate Humanities Public Writing Project Associate Director Laura Goode for the Winter 2020-21 installation of GHPWP’s speaker series “What is a Public Intellectual Today?”

Logic, founded in 2017 by the four panelists and Art Director Xiaowei Wang, is a unique San Francisco-based publication that focuses on conversations of technology and power and seeks to bring together the often separate communities of tech workers, social organizers and scholars.

When the magazine was founded four years ago, the panelists said, there was “something missing from the discourse of technology.” They noticed that there was an audience who wanted more thoughtful, long-form inquiries into the effects new technological tools and movements had on society — an audience situated “between the sycophants and the scolding,” as Weigel said. That is the space Logic sought to fill.

Since then, Logic has published 12 issues and numerous books, and has grown a large readership. (Asked how to support the magazine, the panelists responded: “Subscribe.”) Its particular angle on the tech world allows the magazine to carve out its own niche while still encompassing a wide variety of topics. When Greif asked if Logic had any competitors, Tarnoff responded, after a slight pause: “We have no competitors.”

But this does not mean that getting the magazine off the ground or sustaining it through the early years was easy. None of the panelists work at Logic for their full-time job, and to print the first issue everyone chipped in some of their own funds. The small staff juggled all the disparate responsibilities that come with running a magazine, including laying out pages in InDesign, working with the publisher, managing Asana projects and mailing out issues. 

Recruiting writers to contribute to the magazine also proved difficult. Even though Logic places an open call for submissions for each issue, Tarnoff noted that they commission a number of pieces as well, often through personally emailing or messaging the desired writers. Weigel, in one instance, had an even more direct approach: After a few unreturned emails to a Harvard law professor, she sat in on one of his seminars and asked him to write for Logic point-blank in front of the class.

“I’d hunt people down and strong-arm them to write articles,” said Weigel. “Be shameless.”

It may be that these tactics are part of what makes Logic unique. A reason for the editors’ determined efforts to find new and interesting contributors is to keep Logic from “feeling stale,” as Tarnoff said. Greif described the voice of the magazine as “witty,” with a “knowingness” that pervades all the pieces, and indeed Logic carries with it a language of accessible erudition, an “interdisciplinary fluency” not often seen in publications focused on tech. What propels the magazine forward is not a desire to advance a certain worldview about technology and society, but rather to ask questions and share multiple perspectives on those questions. 

Despite its engagement in this world of tech, which moves and changes so quickly with new innovation, Logic publishes pieces that are timely but also lasting. Near the end of the seminar, Goode asked the panelists if they viewed their work as a conscious creation of an archive. The editors responded that Logic is simply trying to create a record of the present, “documenting what’s happening in a place and time,” whether that is for a current readership or a future one. 

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Lily Nilipour is the Vol. 259 Reads desk editor for Arts & Life and an English major on a gap year. She loves to talk modernism — especially Virginia Woolf — digital humanities and literary magazines. Contact her at lnilipour 'at' stanforddaily.com