Jane Magazine has been gone for less than 36 hours, and already people seem to agree on what should be engraved on its tombstone: "Nice magazine, but never quite lived up to her older sister Sassy."
I, like so many women in their twenties and thirties, was a Sassy reader. I loved it, though by the time my cool friend's even-cooler sister gave me a copy, it had already started its mythic decline. Still, I remember the fashion spread that inspired me to dye my hair blue and genius mock quizzes like, "Are you obsessive compulsive? Are you obsessive compulsive? Are you obsessive compulsive?"
But the truth is -- and for many this is a heretical thing to say, even though I worked at Jane for four years -- that Jane always spoke louder and clearer to me. I remember discovering the first issue. I was 17, working at a Waldenbooks in a mall in Durham, North Carolina. I opened the box of the inaugural issue and Drew Barrymore stared out at me, her hair perfectly mussed and her mouth slightly agape. At lunchtime, I bought an Orange Julius and parked myself on a bench outside to read it. Ten years later, I still remember Jane Pratt's letter -- the headline read "Why I'm Not Quite the Biggest Egomaniac in the World Even Though the Name of this Magazine May Lead You to Believe Otherwise." I remember a beauty page where a model rocked braces with red lipstick -- I had braces at the time. I remember killer articles, like a creepy feature on the Promise Keepers and another about a woman's horror story with Prozac. I was instantly hooked.
Over the next few years, Jane became my favorite magazine with its thick, matte pages. I shipped off to college in New York City, where my suitemates and I would spend hours dissecting the latest issue. Every year, I would apply for an internship at Jane. Every year, I got no response. And then in spring of 2001, I got a call from Fairchild Publications asking if I'd like to interview for an internship. It was a cattle call interview -- I'd be talking to editors from Jane all the way down the line to Footwear News -- but it was an interview nonetheless. I went in wearing a sparkly black top, my blue hair freshly dyed. I made a 20-yard dash to be the first in line to talk to photo editor Joshua Lyon. We hit it off, and later that day I became a Jane intern.
Walking into the magazine for the first time, I bumped into Stephanie Trong and felt star struck. I met the writers I'd been reading for years -- Esther Haynes, Karen Catchpole, Katy McColl, Jeff Johnson. What was so surreal was that they were actually as friendly in person as they seemed in the pages of the magazine. They asked me what I thought when they were working on articles and even invited me to contribute small pieces here and there. After six months of interning, I sent resumes out to other magazines. After two scarily corporate interviews, I decided to stick around Jane.
At the time, Jane Pratt remained something of an enigma to me, even though her booming laughter could be heard clear across the office in the art department. Three weeks before graduating from college, I met her face to face. She was interviewing people for a temp position that I desperately wanted. My hands were shaking when I walked in the conference room, but within two minutes we were laughing about how strange it was that we were both from Durham, NC. She hired me two weeks before I had a college degree in hand.
Six months later, as if straight out of a dream, I was hired full time as an editorial assistant/Jane Pratt's sometimes assistant. I helped editors and writers with their research, and wrote small articles. Jane soon asked me to edit her Diary column -- which shows what a truly special person she is because very few people would ever ask a 22-year-old such a thing. Within a year and a half, I was an assistant editor writing several stories per month. Within three, I was an associate editor writing features.
When Jane Pratt left in late 2005, something changed. I can't speak for any of my amazing former co-workers, but it became clear to me that the magazine was first and foremost a business -- a shock to someone who'd always (perhaps naively) believed the journalist's doctrine that we are watchdogs, informers, and at the very least entertainers. As the Letters page editor, I'd read through the Jane inbox and see email after email about how the magazine was slipping. My friends would echo this sentiment. Still, when I sat down to read the issue every month, even after I left the magazine to work on a book in late 2006, I enjoyed it. The articles still made me laugh while a few made me cry, like the heartbreaking piece about Heather Martin, who battled cervical cancer and lost (read it while you can).
Public opinion can be fickle. For Jane's first few years, people commented that it paled in comparison to Sassy. Around year five, that shifted to people saying that the magazine was a shadow of its former self. When Jane left, the party line became that the magazine was nothing compared to the Jane Pratt days. I wonder if, as the years go by, pop culture's view of Jane as a whole will change, too. I have a feeling that the magazine's faults -- the occasional appearance of fur, the sometimes forgetting that not all women are straight, the $3,000 handbags that (no matter how hard ad-sales tried to argue the opposite) core readers would never buy -- will be forgotten. I have a feeling that what will be remembered will be the good stuff -- the bold journalists who weren't afraid to get down and dirty in their reporting, the decision to give prime real estate to great bands rather than Cosmo-style sex tips, the ideal of giving women an oasis from nitpicking their every "flaw." Who knows, maybe in ten years, Jane will be canonized like Sassy is now.
In the meantime, here's what I would write on Jane's tombstone if I had my druthers: "Great magazine. Survived by 700,000 readers, she will be sincerely missed."