Last week the good people at Rotating Mass Media, the parent of Dirt Rag magazine, the Dirt Rag web site and Dirt Fest cycling festival, announced they were shutting down operations immediately. It’s a nasty blow. It’s a nasty blow for Maurice Tierney, the publisher; for the entire staff who worked on the magazine, including the past and future freelancers, of which I was one; and it’s an awful loss for the readers.
The reasons for this are numerous. The bike industry hasn’t recovered the way other industries have, during what is now one of the largest economic expansions in U.S. history. The industry was in a pretty good place in 2006 and 2007. Ad dollars could be found anywhere.
Ad dollars are increasingly spent digitally and the upshot is that it’s not good for anyone who works with paper.
I met Maurice in 1991 at Mount Snow, Vermont, in the expo tent, singular, during the NORBA National Championship. John Tomac won that year, but what I found most exciting was that Maurice was interested in picking up some new freelancers. My first piece was inauspicious, some rudimentary reporting about the trails that Northfield Mountain Nordic Ski Center had opened up to mountain biking. Back then Dirt Rag was saddle-stitched (stapled) and on white stock rough as construction paper. I’m pleased to say that the intervening years saw us both gain sophistication.
Some of you may recall a piece I did with them relatively recently: a conversation with Gary Fisher. It was arguably the most fun I ever had interviewing someone. And I can tell you that very few magazines would have run such a lengthy piece (north of 4000 words), even online. Their other, already deceased publication, Bicycle Times, ran this piece I wrote on a salad. I wrote about a salad for a bike magazine.
I was working on another feature for them.
That Rotating Mass produced Dirt Rag, Bicycle Times, two web sites and Dirt Fest was meant to insulate it from the storms that publishers face. More legs to the table. It’s fair to wonder what sort of universe we are living in when five legs can’t keep a table upright. Even being an independent requires the independents to act like they are … not independent.
The loss of Dirt Rag isn’t just the loss of another magazine publisher. It’s the loss of a voice, a particular viewpoint, and one that especially different by virtue of its launch in Pittsburgh, which is to say its relationship to Los Angeles (the home of enthusiast magazine publishing) is, to quote Luke Skywalker, “Well, if there’s a bright center of the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.” And that last was just the sort of sentence that Dirt Rag would have published.
Being different is as unavoidable for those who are different as are the risks accrued therein.