Articles From the October 1995 Unification News


Interview with Michael Marshall, Executive Editor, The World & I

by Elisabeth Seidel

Q. How do you come up with such a classy magazine every month?

A. When we were launching the magazine in 1985, most publishing professionals we talked to said it was simply impossible to maintain quality in a magazine of this size-and of course we were even larger then, 700 pages. I think back then we did not know any better. We did not know whether it could be done, but we did not know it could not be done. We knew Father wanted it done so we just pressed ahead and tried.

In the early days it was sometimes a question of "If it is a manuscript we will publish it," but now we have a lot of resources to draw upon. We have the ICUS and Professors World Peace Academy scholars, many of whom have written for us or acted as advisers. Prof. Kaplan, the editor-in-chief, is a constant source of ideas and stimulation and is very committed to the magazine pursuing the founder's vision.

At the beginning, each editorial section had a group of advisers, many of them scholars, who reviewed the magazine and suggested improvements. Over the years we have built up a network of writers, many of whom act as informal advisers. Also, since last September we are in the same building as The Washington Times, so there is a lot more stimulation coming from speaking to writers at the Times or at Insight magazine. All in all, we have plenty of sources of stimulation.

Q. 450 pages (350 since July), seven different sections on "Current Issues," "Natural Science," "Book World," "Culture," "The Arts," "Life" and "Modern Thought." Why an encyclopedic magazine? Who are your readers and what is your vision?

A. We have a small but select readership. Teachers, professionals, educated people who want some meat in their reading and want to be able to keep abreast of developments in different areas without subscribing to many magazines. Over 90% of our readers are college- educated and around half have done graduate work. We seem to do well in the 40s/50s age group and encourage those people also to look on the magazine as a resource for their high school and college-age kids.

The magazine is also read on Capitol Hill and in many of the Washington think tanks.

The encyclopedic character of the magazine is a conscious attempt to buck the trend to ever-greater specialization. We want people to be able to learn about many subjects in one source, but not just as a convenience like one stop shopping. The magazine is intended to be a forum where the reader can reflect on interconnections: of the different countries and cultures of the world; or politics, public policy and morality; of art and social values; of education, the family and contemporary culture.

We want to help our readers to see the big picture. We want to offer them a worldwide perspective. And we want to give them in-depth understanding of the events that flash in and out of the news headlines. To that end, we offer the insights of scholars, but in a journalistic package that is attractive and readable. And behind it all, we want to present issues in a values perspective. How will an issue affect the reader and the reader's family? What choices should be made here to bring about the good life, the good society?

Q. Are teachers using the "Teachers' Guide" which accompanies the magazine each month? How does it help their classes?

A. We send out about 4000 copies of the guide each month to teachers. I think it is used quite extensively, especially by English and Social Studies teachers. Just recently one of our editors went out to Idaho to address the statewide convention of social studies teachers. They use the magazine to supplement the regular textbooks. The guide provides them with stimulating questions and projects relating to the articles, and the articles are thought-provoking and have real substance. They stretch the kids, make them think, without being too technical. A lot of material for schools is really dumbed down these days.

Q. I gave a World & I Christmas gift subscription to my children's English teachers last year. My son came back from school done day saying, "Mom, my English teacher had the magazine on his desk and liked it so much that he wanted the whole class to have it! He talked about it, saying it was the best American magazine he ever saw!" What kind of impact are you hoping to have on education for high school and college students?

A. Well, we really just want them to become familiar with the vision of the magazine. To be exposed to good writing that examines the different sides of a question. To consider good argument, rather than rhetoric. To have a sense of values which transcends nation and race, which is critically important both at home and abroad in these times. To develop a sense of social responsibility, of being able to make a difference, and to reflect on the values needed to sustain such a sense and make it effective.

Q. What happened to the section on special people with special deeds? No more heroes?

A. We certainly will continue to have heroes in the magazine. Although its character is somewhat scholarly, I think human interest stories and inspirational examples are tremendously important. So even though the separate photo essay is no more, the "Life" section will still present such heroes. In our December issue, we have the story of Father Damien of Molokai, the priest who ministered to the leper colony in Hawaii and became a leper himself.

Q. Edwina Lawler, the associate dean at Drew University, said: "By virtue of its breadth, coverage and illustrations, The World & I brings the beauty and complexity of human endeavors and institutions closer to readers in all age groups, providing a treasure for private reading and family discussions, and a marvelous resource for school projects." Please comment.

A. I couldn't have said it better myself. The World & I is not a normal magazine. It is a wonderful reference and resource. It can be used by the whole family as well as for school projects.

Q. What can the general public do to be heard if they have something to say?

A. Write a letter to the editor. We are always anxious to hear from readers, particularly with comments on specific articles. We would like our letters pages to become more of a forum for debate between readers and contributors than they are already.

Q. What are your challenges as executive editor?

A. I see two challenges that are faced by all of us who work here. The first is getting the magazine more widely known and discussed so that it can make the impact it should. The great majority who see it think it is wonderful and that really there is nothing like it. But not enough people know about it.

The second is not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Not to get so swept along in the everyday tasks of producing the magazine that we stop actively and aggressively engaging with the vision of the magazine in each month's contents.

Q. What is your best memory at The World & I?

A. The World & I has been a roller coaster ride, so there are many unforgettable moments. One important memory is having some of the people at The Washington Times and other places, who thought the magazine was a foolhardy idea doomed to ignominious failure, congratulate us later on doing what they thought could never be done.

Most important, though, is the sense from Father, on his few visits to the magazine, of his quiet certainty that this "impossible" project was in fact possible, and then pulling off what he, and only he, believed could be done.

Q. Is there such a thing as team unity for the success of the magazine?

A. Obviously no project can succeed without unity. There are many unique characters on our staff and over the years we have often struck sparks off one another. Sometimes those sparks have kindled nice fires which warmed us and lit our path, and at other times they have threatened to burn the house down.

Also, there are degrees of unity. Right now we are working to have the different editorial sections work together on more interdisciplinary projects, rather than be seven little magazines within one big magazine. So you should see the results of that in upcoming issues with more special sections that are magazine-wide.

Q. What are your dreams?

A. When I was younger, I was trying to decide whether my vocation lay in journalism or in the academic world. The World & I offered me a way to pursue both. Prof. Kaplan said, "Rev. Moon is absolutely right. America needs a magazine like The World & I. The problem is most people don't realize they need it." My dream as an editor here is to see that change.

I don't just mean that I would like to see the publication I work for be more successful. I mean that I would like to see more people understand the message that it is trying to convey. I see many disturbing parallels between contemporary American society and the late Roman empire. The balkanization of society along ethnic and class lines, the loss of shared public purposes and public responsibility. Too often what passes for education is failing young people, leaving them deficient in moral character and weak in their ability to reason.

Beyond a certain point, such trends will have far-reaching consequences that may take generations to reverse. I see myself and my colleagues as playing a small role in a moral, cultural and spiritual battle that is being waged for America's soul. My dream is to win that battle.

Q. Did you do your Christmas shopping yet or are you going to send gift subscriptions of The World & I? The first issue arrives gift- wrapped with the name of the donor on a card with holiday greetings. Isn't that a nice present to give?

A. Absolutely. I will definitely be giving gift subscriptions. It is a wonderful present especially for families with older children. Also, what a fine introduction to the broad scope of our movement, our community, and the noble character of Father's vision!


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