I should hate Flak Magazine. Founded by — gulp — several former editors and writers of The Daily Cardinal, Flakmag.com is Salon boiled down to its pure, critical essence — a good thing for those of you not down with the web publishing world — Brunching, Inside and Folio to name a few.
Some sites have flourished, many have folded. Why? Just the whole profit-margins-over-poetics mentality that eventually doomed many blips on the radar. Flak eschews this scenario completely by simply taking out the monetary elements from the get go.
“Anyone wondering why Flak gets more than 40,000 unique visitors a month only needs to know this: We’ve never, ever been deluded into thinking Flak mag would make money. And that’s kept us going strong for three years and counting,” proclaims Editor James Norton via e-mail.
So the site has a sound business, er, non-business plan. But what about the writing?
Flak is broken into several obligatory categories: features, opinion, books, film, music, web, tv and miscellaneous. From the writing itself, one can conclude that the members of Flak’s staff are pros, or would-be pros. The music/film/criticism could easily be published in large alt-weeklies/mainstream glossies, while the links woven into the prose exhibit the editors’ keen awareness for what’s fresh on the web.
According to Norton, “There are quite a few online publications that hew to professional standards. And there are quite a few that are run by amiable goofballs who want to have fun while publishing their own magazine. Flak is where those worlds collide. Most of our editors are professional journalists, so we have a style guide, code of ethics, editing policies, etc. But we’re still willing to mix it up at moment’s notice.”
My allegiance lies most with the music section, run by Eric Wittmershaus, whose “affection for furniture and a good post-modern novel” places him tops on my list.
“In a nutshell, it’s my goal as the music section editor to try and introduce people to stuff they’re not likely to have heard. A lot of music magazines are kind of smug in assuming their audiences have a passing familiarity with K Records or the Elephant Six collective or shoegazing or the differences between East Coast and West Coast hip-hop,” says the Cardinal alum.
He continues, “But because of Flak’s more general audience, I try to make sure most of our reviews are presented so the kid in the suburbs who’s never heard of Cannibal Ox or Clinic is more likely to check them out. I guess what we try to do is bring independently produced music to the non-music nerd, though we have our snug, nerdy moments, too. It helps that some of Flak’s other editors aren’t as into the indie stuff as I am. They help keep me in check.”
I first met Eric several months ago through a pitch letter encouraging Flak to publish a recent review I was fired about. Responding promptly, Eric, who also serves as the site’s Managing Editor, tore apart my words, claiming that he didn’t subscribe to petty jabs at artists through review — á la SPIN and other mainstream outlets.
Boy, was I mad at the time. “How dare this faux-publisher attack my script,” I wrote in a blog. After reading Flak more and more over the last few months, I have accepted his brand of criticism more than that upper-case hipster title. And hopefully this ideology has been reflected within the pages of the Herald’s music section.
Independent publishing remains pure only when money has been taken out of the equation. Flak has succeeded masterfully under these confines. Why? It’s for the love of criticism, camaraderie and most importantly, writing. Flak’s staff could be writing for the Isthmus, Stranger or Salon for modest paydays. But they don’t, because they have the understanding that money taints.
This is why I love Flak magazine.
Read Flak at www.flakmag.com