No trait is associated more with Southernness than good manners. We know this as Southern hospitality, and a good formal introduction is important. So allow me to introduce you to our magazine online.

      The idea for a general-interest magazine for the South is not new. A check of most any major library should reveal three magazines flying under the Southern Magazine banner during the past 100 years or so.

      We take our inspiration from several sources, first and foremost the version put out by the Arkansas Writer's Project from 1986 to 1989. It was an immediate hit on the newsstands but perished under dubious circumstances when Time, Inc. bought it and changed the name to South Point.

      As up-and-coming political reporters and writers on the Southern scene at that time, Brooks Boliek and I broke into Southern Magazine in 1989 in the Southern Front section. It was simply the best outlet for serious Southern writers, fiction or non-fiction, and its death has been stuck in our craw ever since.

      During the past few years, the potential of the Internet to break down publishing barriers, not to mention costs, has become evident. Yet many still cling to the notion that people will not give up their printed newspapers or magazines, delivered to the doorstep or mailbox. Two main reasons seem to dominate.

      People don't like reading on a computer screen for one. And you can't take your computer with you to the park, the john or on the subway. Forget the hand-held models or the James Bond watch. People want their paper edition.

A Magazine Online
      Well, take a look. We've designed what we are calling "a magazine online" so that you don't have to read it on the screen. You can print it out and carry it around with you just like any other magazine. And, perhaps best of all, it's absolutely free.

      We thought, hey, what if we design a product that looks and feels as much as possible like a real magazine, using the computer and the Internet as the production tool and delivery system instead of a printing press and a postal truck? It is a lot faster and cheaper. And let's face it, we wouldn't have to clear-cut and chip-up entire forests to produce it, or use millions of gallons of petrol in delivery.

      In our philosophical view, this is not what the Californians and whiz kids from Seattle are calling a "zine," short for electronic magazine. The information superhighway or World Wide Web, accessed through the on-ramp Internet, creates new ways of communicating in non-linear fashion. We applaud that and plan on making contributions.

      But it is our collective belief that in order to speed along this trend toward using computers, phone lines, cable lines, even the airwaves in the not too distant future to deliver and receive news and entertainment, we must draw from the well of knowledge of the past 2,000 years on how people read and consume information, from the monistic scribes to Guttenberg, from the Penny Press to the first paginated newspapers and magazines.

The Numbers
      The latest national survey from the Pew Research Center reveals that 41 percent of Americans are turning to computers for news, information and entertainment, up from 23 percent in 1996. The numbers are even higher and growing among the young, higher educated and upper income brackets, although according to the Pew survey, the Internet is going mainstream. More women, those without college training, and those with modest incomes are also getting online.

      And they are buying. Even before the 1998 Christmas rush, 32 percent of Internet users said they made at least one online purchase, up from 8 percent in 1995.

      Of those who go online, 41 percent say they turn to the Internet to get more information on stories first seen in traditional media, and 21 percent say they read news stories online instead of in newspapers or watching them on TV. People say they turn to news Websites for convenience, the ability to search for news on a particular topic, and to get information not available elsewhere.

      The number who turn to the net for political news is now estimated at 11 million, up from 7 million in 1996, and 34 percent of those said information on the net influenced their vote in the '98 elections.

Our Name
      We chose The Southerner to honor another of our models, The New Yorker. We also draw from the adventure travel and environmental writing of Outside magazine, with a touch of Mother Jones's "Hellraiser Central." But we're insisting on the editorial scrutiny of the New York Times and striving for National Geographic's attention to detail.

      For the first cover story, we consider it a good place to start the dialogue by talking about Don Siegelman, Alabama's first so-called "New South" governor. While the concept of a New South is somewhat controversial, and the definition is not entirely clear, we associate it with a certain progressive tendency by the enlightened minority of our native region.

      Georgia writer Don Schanche talks with former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller about where the South has been, and where it may be going in terms of education, business and race relations.

      Sean Lovelace gives us our first short story from his files. We hope to have more fiction contributions in the not-too-distant future to showcase our region's underpublished modern creative talent.

      In Editor's Note, I will provide a quick rundown of what we're doing at The Southerner each month.

      In Secret Vistas, we tap into E.O. Wilson's theoretical concept, biophilia — that innate desire deep in the human psyche and genes to escape urban life and get close to nature. It's a cross between a travel section and a nature writing section, with just the right amount of science and history, and links to our favorite places to commune with Mother Nature.

      We expect you will want to reveal to us your own secret vistas in the Discourse department, a cross between a traditional letters section and a place for interactive dialogue.

      In Southern Culture, we will cover everything from the latest trends in folk art to the architecture of livable cities, as well as food, music and anything else we can find on the cultural scene we think you might find interesting.

      In Essays, we will publish everything from rhetorical theories to political diatribes; in the first issue, we offer a bit of regional humor from Jack Neely, a regular contributor to Metropulse in Knoxville.

      In R & R, we take you off the beaten path to consider questions such as: Hockey in the Deep South? Ron Sitton kicks things off with some news out of Little Rock, Ark., his old stomping grounds.

      And yes, in the region known for governors who have pushed the Ten Commandments in the classroom and the courtroom, Southerners do play critical roles in science everywhere. We'll take you from the NASA Space Flight Center in Huntsville, to Alabama native E.O. Wilson's lab at Harvard and beyond. Lab & Field and Science & Society will offer science, health, environment and technology news with some Southern tie-in each month.

      Admittedly, the Bottom Line of business is important to the region, so we will keep you posted here. Robert Hess, a Memphis native and student at the University of Tennessee starts us off with a look at the Blue Jean Wars and layoffs at Levi's plants in 11 Southern towns.

      Lest we forget, there's no place in the world to find better blues and barbecue than the Southland, so reserve your table in Bar and Grill.

      So let me say welcome. Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Southerner. Come back and see us often now, you hear?


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Copyright The Southerner 1998.