Joanna Weiss wanted us to think about who we are and who we can be. The question was how—with everyone in such a hurry, how could she help readers examine their own lives from another point of view? It had to be entertaining, relevant, focused, funny, insistent …
“I lay awake at night in a cold sweat,” Weiss says. “But then, I took the job knowing that was part of it—to figure that out.”
Her mainstream digital magazine, Experience, launched officially with a TV event in Boston on Thursday. Experience is co-producing two episodes of “Stories from the Stage,” a live storytelling event that airs on WGBH’s World channel, and will feature stories from the magazine’s writers.
Amid our media climate of tribalism, polarization, and denial of universal realities, Experience aims to take us on little retreats, to revel in the wisdom of intimate strangers for a few minutes at a time. A comedian bombs on stage. A wife manages the conflicts of her husband’s military career. A program designer describes his career in artificial intelligence.
Highly personal stories are told from a point of view that invites us to relate to them. They encourage a sense of transformation. What happened in someone else’s past is now happening to you. The noun of experience turns into the active verb.
“I want it to be about the richness of experience and what it taught you,” says Weiss. The goal is for an audience of readers to be enlightened, entertained, and inspired.
With so many traditional media companies struggling to survive, a new generation of magazines is being launched by nonprofits. Northeastern, a world leader in experiential learning, is the publisher of Experience.
“We were thinking about what the heart and soul of Northeastern is,” says senior vice president for external affairs Michael Armini, by way of explaining the magazine’s title. “If you look at our learning model, and even the way we approach research, the common thread is the power of experience.”
The search for an editor-in-chief led him one year ago to Weiss, the former Boston Globe columnist who had gone on to successfully launch a healthcare magazine. Her initial months at Northeastern were spent trying, day and night, to rein in the colossal subject.
While plotting through dozens of concepts by way of hundreds of story ideas, she worked with Northeastern journalism professor Dan Zedek, a veteran designer, to frame her ideas visually. Michael Workman was hired in May as design director, and is responsible for establishing the mood for each page. Schuyler Velasco, who had covered a variety of subjects for The Christian Science Monitor, came on as senior writer. Along the way Weiss was building a stable of contributors.
“I think launching a magazine today is like opening a high-end restaurant, which is you will live and die on the quality of what you produce,” says Armini. “That’s it. Nothing else matters as much as the quality.”
In these early days, the magazine’s title is itself an invitation to readers—to experience the development of this new voice that accounts for all perspectives and yet is disciplined in its standards. An enduring first impression is drawn by a video of shimmering water that accompanies the story of a 57-year-old conquering her fears and learning to swim. The water is mesmerizing and inviting. It is a simple image that stays with you long after the story has been read.
“Jump in” is the motto of Experience. That’s what Weiss did one year ago, when she had no idea what she was getting herself into. It turns out to be surprising, exciting, and altogether welcoming. The water is fine.