After a journey that even the creative minds of The Believer could not have imagined, the acclaimed literary magazine is back in business and once again run by the company that first owned it.
Founded in 2003 by writers Heidi Julavits, Ed Park and Vendela Vida, The Believer has published works by Leslie Jamison, Anne Carson, Nick Hornby and many others and received several National Magazine Award nominations.
But from 2017, the magazine owned by San Francisco-based independent publisher McSweeney’s suffered a series of upheavals including financial difficulties, the departure of an editor amid allegations that he is exposed and selling to a digital marketing company which both point included an article – the subject of much internet anger – titled “25 Best Dating Sites for Flings, New Dates and Casual Encounters” on The Believer website.
As of Monday, with three private donations and a “significantly reduced” asking price, McSweeney’s acquired the magazine from Paradise Media and its CEO Ian Moe.
“It takes enormous courage to do what Ian did in reconsidering his original purchase of the magazine,” Amanda Uhle, publisher and executive director of McSweeney, said in a statement. “When Ian realized the immeasurable gift he would be giving generations of readers and writers by making this change, he was quick to roll up his sleeves with us and find a reasonable and enjoyable way for us to ‘go forward.”
Moe said in a statement that he joined “all who expressed their desire last week to see The Believer remain in print, and everyone here at Paradise Media agreed that the best way to make it a reality is to return the magazine to the place where it began its journey.
The changes at The Believer began five years ago when McSweeney’s sold it to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas during “financially difficult times,” as McSweeney’s acknowledged on Monday. But the magazine faces unexpected new problems. Editor Joshua Wolf Shenk left in 2020 as he faced allegations of sexual harassment, including exposing himself in a Zoom meeting. In October 2021, UNLV announced that it would no longer publish The Believer, citing a “strategic realignment” related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Later in 2021, the school quietly sold the magazine to Paradise Media, as first reported by Vice tech site Motherboard. With its return to McSweeney’s, The Believer is planning a “special homecoming issue” for November and its 20th anniversary celebration next year.
“We’re thrilled to bring The Believer back into the fold and include its sharp insights, beautiful writing and essential cultural coverage as part of our publishing program,” Uhle said Monday.
The Believer (www.thebeliever.net) has more luck than many literary magazines, but not entirely clear. McSweeney’s is a not-for-profit organization; operations for The Believer need to be rebuilt and the subscription base renewed. On Monday, McSweeney’s announced a Kickstarter campaign.