Utne Media Award by Tracy Dunn
My guest today is YES! magazine executive director and publisher, Fran Korten.
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Fran. YES! is a completely ad-free, solutions-based quarterly magazine. And I understand you now publish every day on the web. The result is a wonderfully positive reading experience. I read that YES! received an award recently. What can you tell us about it?
FK: YES! Magazine won the 2013 Utne Independent Media Award for "General Excellence." That's the top media award in our field. It recognized the importance of our solution-oriented journalism both in print and online. Needless to say, we were thrilled.
In telling us of the award Christian Williams, editor-in-chief of Utne Reader, said " YES! Magazine's message of hope and optimism is both inspiring and essential in these uncertain times." I think he summed it up well. People are indeed experiencing so much uncertainty and fear that helping them see how we can make our way through these turbulent times to something better is an urgent task. Sometimes at YES! we say that "no" is a losing strategy. You can't simply resist the old; you must build the new. At YES!, that's what we spotlight. And it is absolutely essential.
JB: Agreed. And congratulations! There are many readers who are hearing about YES! for the first time. It's still a bit abstract. Can you give a concrete example of an issue that YES! has taken on in and how your coverage differs from that of the usual, humdrum media?
YES! Human Cost of Stuff issue cover by Lane Hartwell
Sure. There are lots of examples. Your readers can take a look at our website: http://www.yesmagazine.org/ Take our current (Fall, 2013) issue of YES!, "The Human Cost of Stuff." A lot of people know that we Americans consume way too much stuff. Our consumption is depleting natural resources worldwide and clogging our closets and our landfills. I think there is also a growing awareness that embedded in many of our products is a chain of human suffering--people displaced by mining activities, workers in sweatshops toiling under horrible conditions for minimal pay. This issue of YES! takes on these big problems. The difference in our treatment is that YES! is full of solutions--examples of people taking action and succeeding.
Our opening essay is by Annie Leonard (famous for her Story of Stuff video) citing the importance of citizen action is changing the culture and the institutional drivers that propel our overconsumption. We then show examples of ways people are finding to "unstuff" such as a public lending library for toys in Los Angeles, a "fixers collective" in Brooklyn that can repair almost anything, a meditation on the value of a simpler life. We feature how we can better assure the conditions under which the things we do buy are made--the Madesmith website that tells the story of the people who made the wares it sells; Taza chocolate that buys directly from cocoa cooperatives and works with them to make sure working conditions and pay are fair; Flor Molina, who escaped from a Los Angeles sweatshop and went on to help get California to pass its "Transparency in Supply Chains Act," aimed at eliminating slavery in supply chains. And we spotlight ways to unclog our landfills such as by designing products from the beginning with the end in mind-- the Dutch-based Fairphone is designed for all components to be recycled.
Let's take another example: Our Spring 2013 issue "How Cooperatives are Driving the New Economy." A lot of people are disgusted with the way the Wall Street banks and their financial games brought down the economy in 2008. And they are enraged that the rich keep getting richer while the rest of us are struggling. But is there any alternative?
Our cooperatives issue demonstrates there is. And though it gets almost no attention in the business press, the cooperative sector is not fringe. There are over 30,000 cooperatives in the United States, including credit unions (with more than $700 billion in assets), food coops, producer cooperatives (such as Organic Valley and Land O'Lakes); purchasing cooperatives (such as Ace Hardware and Best Western hotels), and worker coops. The cooperative structure, in which the purpose is to serve the members, not some distant shareholders, creates a different kind of economy. This issue of YES! shows that there is an alternative to the rapacious Wall Street system we have and that people are building it now.
YES! Cooperatives issue cover by Paul Dunn
There are myriad ways we can solve each of the pressing problems of our time, and plenty of practical examples of success. What is needed is to give those examples public visibility, so that the better -- more sustainable and fair -- ways of living, working, and making things become the norm. That's why we publish YES!--everyday at YesMagazine.org and every quarter in print with YES! Magazine.
JB: That's exactly why I love to read YES! You've been there for a long time, Fran. Tell us what attracted you in the first place?
FK: Working on positive solutions to important problems has been a theme throughout my life. I had the great pleasure of working for the Ford Foundation for 20 years making grants to people I felt were top-notch problem solvers. But I also knew that the work many of my grantees were doing was practically unknown to the public. I found that if I just read the newspaper and listened to the radio, I would get depressed and discouraged. But when I went out and visited with the amazing people I was funding, I was totally energized. This experience taught me that we really can solve the biggest problems of our time. But more people need to know that practical solutions exist and that they can be part of making the needed changes.
So when, in 1998, the opportunity arose to become the publisher of YES! Magazine, I was totally turned on. YES! was doing exactly what I felt was needed. The magazine was just two years old, really small and struggling. But it served such an amazing purpose--showing how to solve the climate crisis (yes, even back then), how to narrow the inequality gap, how to make a peaceful world. It took on big problems in a way that felt energizing and inviting. It didn't flinch at suggesting big solutions and it backed them up with practical examples.
I had great respect for the editor and co-founder Sarah van Gelder and the tiny staff that was putting out this remarkable publication. The organization had a strong board (headed by my husband David Korten). So when Sarah and the board invited me to leave the Ford Foundation and come and head the organization, I just had to say YES!