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Merry-Go-Round Magazine at Five

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The past seven days have been quite the whirlwind… 

Today is the magazine’s fifth anniversary and in case you missed it last week: Hi, hey, how are ya, my name is CJ Simonson and I’m the new Editor-in-Chief of Merry-Go-Round Magazine!

That announcement, as could be expected I suppose, was a whirlwind in part because suddenly this plan we’d been putting into theoretical motion for about two months became real! It happened! Folks knew maybe not everything we’d been cooking up for those two months, but they knew the main thing and boy what a piece of information to be out in the world! People reached out to me, people reached out to Thomas, it was both genuinely exciting and genuinely scary. 

But it was also a whirlwind because the moment I pressed “publish” on Thomas’s incredibly thoughtful letter about his time as Editor-in-Chief and what Merry-Go-Round Magazine meant to him, the site broke. Like, immediately. Weeks of figuring out what our publishing schedule would look like, having broader conversations with our new editing staff about what and why Merry-Go-Round Magazine is, discussing and planning logistics from social media to podcasts, penning this letter, and my first official week on the job started with just a lot of stressful messaging back and forth with Thomas, who again is no longer the Editor-in-Chief, using the simp emoji to essentially over and over say “🥺 Pweese Thomas, can you fix da site?” The realities of how much work this position is, in addition to having to worry about trivial things like WordPress updates breaking our site once a year, sank in really quickly. 

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Hopefully the weeks ahead in this position will be easier—we’ve had our share of run-ins with Russian Erectile Dysfunction bots trying to take over the server, but they’re fortunately few and far between. In a lot of ways, that conversation with Thomas is nothing new, although in the early days of the Merry-Go-Round rebrand and during our run as Crossfader Magazine it was him occasionally messaging me “🥺 Pweese CJ, can you fix da site?” At this point his knowledge of the website’s backend faaaaar outweighs anything I know about its infrastructure—having to be Editor-in-Chief, owner, accountant, and writer wasn’t enough, being the Merry-Go-Round Magazine IT person was also apparently his destiny (and he’s very good at it)! Fortunately for me and my sanity, that’s still going to be part of Thomas’ day-to-day role. 

But pretty much every other conversation I have with people involved in the magazine now is… different! We have an entirely new staff of editors and a new internal structure, and actually have had both of those things for the last several weeks without anyone reading the site knowing it. Carter Moon, our former Podcasts and Online Editor, has stepped away from those roles, although he’s still a part owner and will undoubtedly pop in as a contributor from time to time. Kate Brogden has stepped down as TV Editor, and is transitioning to becoming the site’s Community Manager, helping run our Patreon and putting her energy more towards that side of the business. And, of course, we have Thomas, who struck Editor-in-Chief from his list of duties but unfortunately still has to act as owner/accountant/IT person—we’re calling him “Operations Manager,” something I entirely made up that we’re running with. 

All of that means, of course, there are some fresh faces around here and I’m beyond excited for the new crop of editors we have taking us into Phase Three of this wacky operation. Aya Lehman will be taking over as TV Editor, bringing her keen wit and pop culture sass to the world of the magic box. Ted Davis will be the new Music Editor, taking over for me in what is truly an intern-to-editor success story for the ages. Jimmy Evans is joining the editorial staff to help to develop our “online” section, something we started the year off blindly trying to define and then kind of put on the back burner through COVID—Jimmy has a lot of very good, exciting ideas that I think will make it kind of a unique, singular section of the site which you can read here. And then we’re adding two more people to help out Sergio Zaciu and Ed Dutcher in their respective sections. Kevin Cookman has long been a great ambassador for our brand, a face of Merry-Go-Round Magazine at Sundance and SXSW, and his talents and energy have already been enthusiastically focused on helping us out when possible behind the scenes the past few months, but he’s more officially going to join Sergio as a Film Editor, and you’ve already seen some of the fruits of his labor through a litany of features and pieces over the last few weeks. Similarly, Ian Campbell has become more and more an integral part of MGRM behind the scenes, helping bring back our internship program earlier in the year, and he’ll be juggling a few different roles going forward, helping Ed as a Games Editor and also helping with whatever podcasts we might have in the future.

And if you can believe it, that’s not all the changes! One of the few good things to come out of quarantine, our Patreon exclusive podcast AYA VS. THE BIG BOYS, is going to come out from behind the paywall, where starting Saturday, August 22nd, you’ll be able to hear the show’s first season with episodes dropping twice a week! In its place will be a new Patreon-exclusive podcast entitled LET OUR LOVE OPEN THE DOOR, an analysis of late ’90s/early 2000s rom-com soundtracks (if Travis was on your film’s soundtrack, it’s probably being discussed). We’re making some alterations to the snacks newsletter that Patrons have come to love, an updated look with a new snazzy name (Consumption Junction, we love a good rhyme don’t we folks?) that will yes, still have fun snack content in it. We have a zine that will be available for purchase, a collection of highlighted pieces from the first five years of the magazine that you’ll get if you’re a Patron and will also be available to buy in our brand new store! Oh yeah, we have a store! Who the fuck knows when it will be live, but rest assured it will be at some point. People have asked for two years now how they can get stickers or t-shirts without being Patrons and we’re finally making that a reality. And to be honest, I bet there are other updates I’m forgetting to put in here. Such is the nature of a huge turnover! 

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It’s a lot of change! 

With that change we’ve been naturally having a lot of discussion about what exactly Merry-Go-Round Magazine is. It’s an online website where you can read reviews and features and thoughtful discourse about things happening more broadly in the pop culture zeitgeist, of course. But the conversations we have been having are far more existential. Why should you read and support Merry-Go-Round Magazine? Why should we be putting our time and energy into it? Why should we be convincing people to invest their money into the Patreon? Why do we choose to write about what we write about? Why is what we do important? Is it important? Can we articulate why it’s important? This was a several-days-long conversation in a chat that became very overwhelming very quickly, as you can imagine, and thankfully that conversation is still going. Hopefully it won’t ever stop. 

When I agreed to take over for Thomas as Editor-in-Chief, I did so because I fundamentally think the thing we’re doing is important. Independent media is dying, opportunities for writers are drying up, platforms on which to highlight independent art are vanishing, and even if it’s perhaps slightly presumptive to call us the next Village Voice or Grantland, maybe we should be presumptive? If not us, then who? Sure, we’re a pretty small corner of the internet, but that statement becomes less true every time we publish something on the site—that’s been true for five years and will be true for another five. 

Culture and the ways it’s experienced and made are changing. Beyond being a site that can hopefully help influence the way you personally navigate culture, Merry-Go-Round Magazine aims to be the community you join and participate in to witness that change and react to it. With everything we write, our end goal is to better understand the state of the world, and to steer our readers in a direction that is just or, at the very least, arms them with the context and understanding to not be fooled. We’re striving to be a source of writing where both the writers and the readers are growing alongside each other and are in a constant dialogue about the ways that culture is changing and being critical of it, from the mainstream to the under-the-radar, corporate to independent. We might not have the resources yet to be the fastest, but we’re more than well-equipped enough to be the most thoughtful, and we believe the writers we’ve cultivated and the pieces we’ve published over the last five years reflect that sentiment. Finding more of those voices and continuing to be a considered, thought-provoking guide through this ever-changing culture continues to be our goal as we look at the next five years. 

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So where do you fit into this? If you’re reading this, I certainly hope you consider Merry-Go-Round Magazine to be some semblance of a guide to your own pop culture journey, and that if you don’t, you will going forward. A lot of people ask how they can help Merry-Go-Round Magazine and while there are very real, tangible ways to help, be it supporting us on Patreon, or sending us a donation every once in a while, or grabbing something from the store, or engaging with us on social media (you have no idea how much that helps), the real answer is simply to keep reading, keep sharing, keep in dialogue with us so that we can grow together. 

I keep calling this Phase Three. Phase One was Crossfader Magazine, a force to be reckoned with that had piss and vinegar flowing through its bones. It was urgent and it was exciting and I think if you asked any of the owners of the site, we would all readily admit none of us knew what we were really doing. And then in 2018 we rebranded to Merry-Go-Round Magazine and we turned legit, as it were. That’s Phase Two. We still didn’t know what we were doing, maybe, but I think we had a pretty strong sense of identity by that point, the writing had come a long way, the contributing base had grown, and the goal was to turn this DIY upstart into a bona fide piece of independent media. And here we are at Phase Three, and I feel like the future of the magazine is as bright as ever. I guess I have to say that now that I’m Editor-in-Chief, but I really do think it. It doesn’t take long clicking around our site to see the kind of heat we’re throwing these days. And the goal will be to do that until it feels like we don’t have anything left to give back, until our ability to be a thoughtful guide to the world’s ever-changing culture ceases. I don’t see that happening any time soon. 

— CJ Simonson, Editor-in-Chief

CJ Simonson
CJ Simonson is Merry-Go-Round's Editor-in-Chief and representative for all things Arizona. The only thing he knows for certain is that "I Can Feel The Fire" by Ronnie Wood is the greatest closing credits song never used in a Wes Anderson movie. Get on that, Wes.

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