Folding American: Stumble turns into a fall

Financial troubles have prompted owners of The Oxford American literary and culture magazine to suspend publication for the second time since it began celebrating all things Southern.

The magazine's managers said last week that advertising revenues did not meet the expectations of At Home Media Group Inc., which has owned the critically acclaimed bimonthly through five editions.

In a prepared statement, editor Marc Smirnoff vowed the magazine would rise again and said he and other staffers plan to "do all they can to find new investors and continue publishing the magazine, in one incarnation or another.''

At Home Media Group began publishing the journal devoted to musings, mores, and mindsets south of the Mason-Dixon line in January after buying out most of the ownership interest of Smirnoff and author John Grisham, who had bankrolled the publication for years.

The magazine went on hiatus after the winter 2002 edition and was sold to the Little Rock owners because of troubles turning a profit. The July-August issue hit newsstands July 1.

Russ McDonough, chairman and CEO of At Home Media Group, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

In the statement, Smirnoff mourned the decision.

"I hate to see the lives of the best editorial staff I've ever had the honor to work with disrupted. And I hate to see the magazine disrupted, and what that disruption means to our devoted readers and writers,'' he said.

The magazine's publisher, George Gretser, who is not an At Home Media Group executive, said as recently as two days before the Wednesday, July 16, announcement that, although it was financially strapped, he believed the publication would continue without interruption.

Smirnoff started The Oxford American in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1992, billing it as "The Southern Magazine of Good Writing.'' He entered into a partnership with Grisham two years later. The publication moved to Little Rock after majority control was bought by At Home Media Group.

Grisham and Smirnoff became minority owners; Smirnoff remained editor.

Smirnoff said he, senior editor Paul Reyes, associate editors Carol Ann Fitzgerald and Lauren Wilcox, and editorial assistants Lindsey Millar, Caroline Myers, and David Ramsey were considering taking over ownership of the publication if a deal can be worked out with At Home Media Group. He said another possibility is to make the magazine a non-profit.

Smirnoff said the current owners would continue providing him an office and temporary salary for several months while he tries to chart the magazine's future.


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