Hamevaser: Behind The Hocking

Menachem Butler has an excellent post on the current non-existence of Hamevaser. Having been involved with Hamevaser during a significant transitional period, I’d like to add a personal perspective as to the how’s and why’s Hamevaser is no more.

If I’m recalling the years correctly, I first joined up with Hamevaser in my second year at YU, which would be around the academic year 97-98. The paper at the time mostly resembled an academic journal. For the most part, the articles read like well written term papers. The editors at that time were among YU’s and Stern’s active intellectuals including Benjamin Balint as an Executive Editor and frequent (relatively speaking) contributor.
I initially wanted to be a content editor, but since I had experience with Pagemaker from my HS yearbook, I would up doing layout. To be generous, the job was less than ideal and we burned through several assistant layout people. Still, this “in” with Hamevaser was crucially important.
Towards the end of the year we started realizing that just about the entire staff was graduating. This left a huge void in not only leadership, but of serious contributors. The only two people on staff who were returning were myself and Aton Holzer, and just like that we became co-editors-in-chief.
Here’s where things started to get interesting. During its history, Hamevaser underwent several stylistic changes. For example, at one point it was more of a religious newspaper than a journal. Aton had a vision to turn it from a journal into a magazine, something more akin to the OU’s Jewish Action. Personally I was content to maintain the status-quo in terms of content but primarily in terms of quality of publication. Aton wanted to move from black and white paper to glossy laminates and a color cover.
To his immense credit, Aton actually pulled it off and produced the most aesthetically pleasing issue ever. Granted, it came at the psychological expense of our layout editor, but no one could deny it looked really professional.
Personally, after that one issue I was burnt out. The late nights, ad soliciting, and general stresses were taking their toll and I resigned after that issue. We got Fresh Samantha as a replacement, and they managed to keep up the quality with a second solid issue.
Ah, but what to do for an encore…
One of my recurring disagreements with Aton’s new format was that I didn’t feel it could be sustained. The amount of effort and energy needed to collect the ads to cover the significantly increased cost would scare away most talent. And once the bar was set as high as it was, it would be difficult for future editors to scale back the production. As it turned out, producing future issues proved to be a challenge. While I don’t recall exactly what happened in subsequent years, but I think they came out with maybe one regular issue and one Purim edition.
The other problems with Hamevaser stemmed from the personnel vacuum which I mentioned earlier. Aton and I had to put together a complete staff from scratch, which meant we couldn’t exactly select people based on competency or desire. Most of the people who did show up to help simply wanted to hock about various ideas rather than focus on producing a publication. We had several long and pointless discussions on the “direction” of the paper, but when it came time for people to actually submit articles, we had numerous retractions.
A paper can only succeed when there is a staff committed to its success. When Hamevaser lost its staff after my first year, it also lost the continuity of professionalism and the organizational and conceptual stability which kept it functioning. Yes, there were a few people who kept it going, but for the most part you had a team of 3-4 people doing the work of 10. Understandably, this was not a situation which was sustainable for the long-term.
So while there are numerous socio-religious factors among the ever changing YU which would impact the publication of Hamevaser, at the end of the day you still need a staff of people committed to the paper and willing to put in the needed effort. Yes, there were some who tried to pick up the slack, but putting together any publication – especially one with as high a production value that we did – requires more work than what could be expected of most sane people.
Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone pops up in the near/far future and tries to revive it. If someone gets that enterprising bug early enough he (or she) could make Hameverser their own and have the motivation of personal investment. If so, I’d be more than happy to offer some advice.

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  1. Jessica
  2. Meredith
  3. Aton
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