The World's First Electronic Magazine
Once every two weeks the computer in my office gives me a beep to say the ESD News has arrived.
When I click back, the masthead of a 15-page magazine comes up on my screen. I can scroll through it, read what I'm interested in, skip over or even wipe out what I'm not. If there's a piece I want to keep, I can save it in the computer's memory. When I'm done, I toss the whole issue into a metaphorical computer trashcan, which never has to be emptied into a recycling bin or a landfill, because it contains nothing but erasable electronic blips.
No muss, no fuss, no trees cut, no dioxins from paper mills, and interesting reading too.
Jonathan Kohl, the publisher of ESD News, claims that it's the only electronic magazine in the world. There are other computer transmissions, he says, which are unformatted text only. This is a real magazine, professionally laid out, with fancy fonts and plenty of illustrations (heavy on pine trees and Whole Earths).
Jonathan Kohl is a sophomore at Dartmouth College, a computer wiz, and a coming media genius. The magazine was born last fall, when Kohl volunteered to put out the newsletter of the Environmental Studies Division (ESD) of the Dartmouth Outing Club.
The ESD is a remnant of the first Earth Day 20 years ago. Since then it has been the gathering place on campus for the environmental activists, the recyclers, the energy-savers. Until Jon Kohl came along, the newsletter was typically a hand-written, one-page set of meeting minutes, duplicated onto that old-fashioned material called paper, and distributed to about 20 hard-core ESD members.
Jon Kohl's newsletter started out on paper too, but by his second issue environmental enthusiasm on campus was swelling the number of subscribers, Kohl's journalistic enthusiasm was swelling the newsletter's length, and his ecological conscience was worried about wasting paper. He started a campaign to get ESD members to read their publication via Blitzmail.
Dartmouth's dense computer network, connected by a message service called Blitzmail, made Kohl's innovation possible. There are about 8000 computers on campus -- virtually every student, every professor, and every office has one. And the community has a new verb, "to blitz." A student sends me a Blitzmail message asking to meet with me and ends "Thursday at 3. If that's not OK, blitz me." The Environmental Studies Program blitzes the staff to announce a new seminar schedule. And once every two weeks the ESD News crew, now consisting of eight managers and editors and dozens of writers and artists, blitzes an issue out to a subscription list totalling 400 and rising fast.
The medium of the ESD News is unique, the format is lively, and the content is hot. A recent issue described the unsustainable old-growth logging activities of the Plum Creek Timber Company, pointing out that the company's chairman is a former Dartmouth trustee. There has been a sizzling exchange of letters on Dartmouth's own environmental record, examining everything from where the dining service buys its beef to how often the College sprays its trees to what goes out the smokestack at the power plant. The ESD News has challenged Dartmouth to establish a Dean of the Environment. It also runs ads for the popular "Go Big Green, Keep it Clean" re-usable mug, which cuts down on disposable plastic cups.
This is the generation that the New York Times has recently labelled uninformed, passive and uncaring!
Every issue has a rundown of environmental issues in the world news. And a book review, or a summary of an environmental speech on campus. And a feature article (coming next: the state of the Connecticut River). And inspiring quotations. And yes, the minutes of ESD meetings are still in there.
If I want a hard copy of any of these gems, I can hit the Print button, but the ESD News pleads with me not to do that -- I might (heaven forbid) print on only one side of the paper. I am urged instead to blitz the staff, who will send me a copy of any issue printed on both sides and on recycled paper.
The world has not yet seen either the peak of ESD News or the end of Jon Kohl's ideas. He envisions ESD News as "a Grand Central Station of environmental information, bringing alumni and other schools together with Dartmouth. Its reputation and ability to cover stories and influence decision making will continue to rise." And next fall Kohl intends to switch to Hypercard. That will, he says, make the very concept of pages obsolete.
(Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.)