A small announcement in a local free magazine this week made me rather sad. Apparently, Manx Life, the island’s longest running monthly, is closing . Officially it’s being amalgamated into another dying magazine, but in practice it is no more. I haven’t actually bought a copy in years, but I’m still sorry to see it go.
The thing is, I started my local journalism career as editorial assistant on Manx Life in its best era. It has had many – some good, some not so good, and at least two absolutely dire.
I got there just as a solid if dull version was bought by new owners, so was in on the creation of a Manx legend. The local magazine old guard were somewhat sniffy about us – mostly because the new management quite rightly decided to employ contributors who wouldn’t send the readership to sleep. Several of them went to work on rival publications, all of which repeated dire old formulas and folded within a few issues.
Meanwhile, we had well written, solidly researched, local history, in depth coverage of serious issues, great photography…oh, and wit. There was even a monthly walking column which covered out-of-the-way places in such a charming way that rambling made a bit of a come-back. One of my jobs was to (anonymously) write the introductory page, and it actually became something readers raved about as much as the ‘proper’ features.
I loved my time there, and only left because I was leaving the island. When I came back almost a decade later it was with the intention of carrying on where I’d left off. Sadly, that was not to be.
There was a six month gap between me arranging to come back from Europe and working out my contract elsewhere. In that time a business deal to take on a government publishing contract was sabotaged by the Celtic equivalent of the Stasi, so Manx Life had to be sold off to pay off the debts.
It was bought by a publisher who also produced Manx Tails – an in flight magazine for the local airline – and Sea Breezes, an equivalent for the ferry company. They tried their hand at something bigger and paid for, using their in-house hacks for material that was way beyond them. It was possibly the worst era in the magazine’s history. Meanwhile the airline folded, then the ferry changed hands and the new management saw no need for a magazine to distract seasick passengers.
Eventually Manx Tails was re-launched as an all-island free distribution job. Later, Manx Life returned to something like the model we produced, with some regular contributors but no real features or in-depth coverage of current events. If nothing else, it was at least a magazine with proper articles that went beyond 200 words, rather than advertorial intertwined with photos of drunken farmers and business louts.
Now, it seems, even that no longer sells. Maybe the attention span of readers has diminished to Twitter length banalities. Or maybe people just browse the net and don’t buy magazines any more. But for whatever reason both publications have been amalgamated into a single A5 mag with the odd 50 word chunter to fill out the spaces between ads for private pensions and new kitchens.
Can Manx people no longer read, or is it that Manx journos can no longer write? Either way, a sad day.