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Literary Landscapes: Daniel Pritchard, Editor at The Critical Flame and The Boston Review

June 27, 2012

As a Boston based press, we are excited to interview fellow Bostonian and local editorial force, Daniel Pritchard. Daniel is editor and founder of The Critical Flame, an online journal that examines culture and literature, and the marketing manager at The Boston Review, an independent, non-profit magazine that examines diverse topics including  politics, philosophy, and literature.

LLS: You’re the founder and editor of the Critical Flame, a journal specializing in literary reviews. How did that come about, and was it difficult jump-starting a brand new journal?

DP: Critical Flame was a response to a particular moment in literary journalism. In 2007-2008, book review sections were dying left, right, and center. From reductions at major national papers to local newspapers dropping their book sections altogether, it was looking grim. And there just were not that many outlets on the web that offered serious, long-form reviews and essays. Not to say that there were none, but not nearly enough to pick up where so many well-established print papers were leaving off. It felt obligational, to a certain extent. I knew it would be a labor of love, and that was fine. As long as we had a constructive impact on the landscape. Which I think we have had.Setting up the site wasn’t too difficult—not my first web project (though it is laughably kludgey and undergoing a redesign now). Finding content seemed like a more daunting task, but people were happy to have a new outlet for their longer, more intellectual, more in-depth essays. The kinds of things that get bounced elsewhere for going over the word-count or not being accessible enough. Basically, I reached out and asked. Preposterously, people said Yes. It was thrilling. And once we were rolling, new writers appeared, or other outlets / editors connected them to us.
LLS: What do you think a great review should do? That is, what does the Critical Flame aim for? 

DP: Great reviews vary enormously from book to book, critic to critic, genre to genre. You don’t do the same things in a review of avant garde poetry that you do in a review of a volume of history or biography. One reviewer might be a brilliant critic of language and form, another might be an expert in the particular field or author under scrutiny. There are two things I ask about every proposed review: Why this book? and, How do you plan to engage intelligent readers? We set our sights on books that matter (to quote the motto of my old employer, David R Godine), and reviews that treat our audience with mutual respect. If you are smart enough to comment on this important book, assume our readers are smart enough to follow. I think that element is sometimes lost in more populist book review outlets.

LLS: You’re also the Marketing and Promotions Manager for Boston Review. What does that entail?

DP: BR is small, independent, and nonprofit. I have two primary goals, to my mind, not completely distinct. The first is to build a larger, stronger community around the magazine. The BR mission is to encourage a public discourse on important issues of politics, culture, justice, etc, that is open, reasonable, and vibrant—to do that, we need a core community of people who support our mission and engage the content we publish in their own lives and their own communities. To do it really effectively, to make this change in public discourse lasting and permanent across the country, we need to build a larger core community. It means a lot of outreach, through every available channel, to the media and also directly to our audience.
As I said, we’re small. We’re independent. We’re nonprofit. And we are seriously swimming against the current. No one else provided the kind of consistent, in-depth, idea-driven, fact-based analysis and debate that we offer. These are all challenges as well as strengths. The other of my dual responsibilities is to garner the material support we need to survive, thrive, and grow. I oversee subscription offers, renewals, donor relations, the annual fund, special fundraisers, advertising, etc.
LLS: How is it using new and social media to promote traditional media (a magazine)?DP: Social media is a godsend. It’s one of the best ways we have of getting new content in front of the eyes of interested readers. It has allowed us to grow our core community much more quickly than we would otherwise be able to do. Two years ago we had 5k friends on Facebook and no Twitter account. Now we have 13k fans and friends on Facebook, plus another 11k followers on Twitter, and these are substantive members of the community. Last week we began a Kickstarter campaign to support the launch of our new, much-needed web site, and more than 20% of what we’ve raised thus far has come through social media. For us, traditional and new media are all ways to engage with a single BR community. People will always want to read in print, and those readers have always been our cornerstone. I don’t foresee any change in that regard. Social media helps us find new readers, and to get subscription offers and fundraising campaigns out to them with content. But even those who read us primarily online, instead of in print, understand the need to support BR in other ways. And it is much needed. They are really savvy in that regard.
LLS: What do you think the future has in store for college-based journals?
DP: Pink skies in morning. Colleges are no longer sacrosanct, if they ever were, and neoliberalism has fully monetized humanistic educational value. Facts are no longer verified by repeated trials and predictive models, they’re asserted by the power of dollar and volume of voice. Not everywhere, probably not in most colleges, but increasingly it’s so. UVA appears to be a telling case. Unless something in the culture changes, or some white knights come to the rescue, colleges will be pressured to justify every action in the light of its economic impact—and journals / magazines are going to feel it. Rough seas ahead.
LLS: Thank you Daniel !
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