This article appears in VICE Magazine's Means of Production issue.
This is usually the space where I tell you about the articles in this issue. But this time, they will tell you about themselves.
According to my calendar, September was when we first started talking about what you are about to read. What we do, telling stories about peoples’ lives for a living, is a constant exercise in time and task management, and if such an exercise exists on a spectrum—starting from the work that goes so fast you barely can process doing it, to the years-long intensive projects that finally get released at the point when you’re sick of them—producing a quarterly magazine probably sits somewhere at the end of that range. It is the part of being a journalist that many wistfully pine for: to have the space to really think about what we should be saying.
It is also the part that requires some magical thinking, which is what’s involved in looking far enough ahead to shape what people will care about in the future. At that time, we decided this second issue would be a collaboration with the Culture desk, and that we would focus on a concept that drives every aspect of our world: the means of production, or, in layman’s terms, the people, structures, and things that make our world function. As we said then, this issue would be about “the organization and ownership of the world.” Anyone who actually thinks they can predict the future is much smarter than I am or kidding themselves, but there is a degree to which I am both darkly unsurprised and deeply sad at how fitting that theme has turned out to be right now.
“This issue is about who owns what and the effect it has on all aspects of life,” we wrote to our would-be contributors. Months passed; we released our last two issues and began the process of reporting, editing, and designing this issue. We were right in the midst of that when it became clear that a large portion of what we had hoped to share with you wouldn’t make any sense. It had become the equivalent of deciding to wear a winter coat in Florida in August; unsightly, sweaty, almost entirely useless.
Becoming outdated happens all the time in our industry, though usually on a smaller, more annoying scale. The release date for a movie gets pushed back so the profile of its lead actor no longer makes sense coming out in the month it is scheduled for; a law is passed that completely changes the crux of your piece’s argument; someone has made a statement about something that requires going back and asking follow-up questions of everyone you spoke to about that something. But as you already know, because you are living it, this was a different something.
Why am I explaining this? This time, it seems disingenuous not to. If our intended purpose was to show you how things work, and how they do not, here is our part of that function: I returned from vacation a few weeks before Ellis Jones, the editor in chief of VICE magazine, who would normally be writing this, was about to go on maternity leave. I would be taking over most of her responsibilities, wrangling the rest of our newsroom and outside contributors to shape the next few issues, but we’d hire someone to help me on a temporary basis. Ellis has edited the magazine for years, but it’s only been part of my job for a year and a half. I was fairly sure I could do it without any massive mistakes, but there’d be a learning curve.
Instead, I returned not back to the office, but to my house, extremely relieved I had not left my computer at the office. All travel had been put on hold. Our budgets, salaries, and hours were cut, and we put the stories together with the team we had in place. For the time being, this issue will not be printed, as there’s no way to safely get it to any of you. (1) Editorially, every piece that was in the works required reconsidering—would we kill it? Re-report it? Expand it? Cut it down?
After the initial scrabbling, it dawned on us how accidentally lucky our past and present selves were: If we wanted to show you how things work and how they do not, there is likely no more apt a way to do that than through a global pandemic disrupting every system we had in place. In the weeks that followed, we worked to choose a combination of tactics to address each story, tweaking each piece literally and visually, with as much transparency as possible in each case as to how it had to be changed. We used archival images instead of sending photographers into the field, and added annotations to stories. We designed the issue to emphasize the building blocks that make up any typical magazine you might read, but this time made them visible, not hidden. We have also made the whole issue available for you to read as a PDF, and to even print it yourself if you like. (You can also, as usual, read each story individually on our site.)
Much of the time, in my line of work, it’s considered best practice to smooth over the behind-the-scenes elements of stories, and let the people, places, and things in them shine through. But this time, we are all the story—there is no way to think about what is happening anywhere right now without thinking about what is happening to you.
Every morning, at what I could vaguely identify as “the beginning” of all this, I would wake up and briefly forget. Perhaps you had this feeling—many people I know have echoed this. It is not the first time in my life I have had the displeasure of this sensation, though it has been disorienting each and every time. I have come to realize that it is the feeling of watching your life shift from one plane to the next, of knowing that you are between two states and the next one has not yet taken over.
This issue might feel a little bit like that. Instead of rushing ahead, we have, perhaps uncomfortably at times, left ourselves and you caught between two zones. That cannot be avoided: This is the place where the work happens. It is the place that reminds us that one day, people will wake up, and they will feel different. They will get to feel that way because of the production of those who are not here, and who may have worked not wholly willingly. They will get to feel like things make sense.
Some have argued that nothing makes sense anymore, or that now it’s clear that it never did. There is still that deeply human urge to rush to the part when it does regardless. But for this issue, instead, we give you the stories we tried to tell you, and how we tried. Let us sit in the middle of our confusion together, where the one thing we know is that we don’t.
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