Literary Pilgrimages: Yankee Publishing

Posted January 19, 2016 by Lory in places, publishers / 8 Comments

As I was planning Reading New England, a year of celebrating regional books, authors, and publishers, I immediately thought it would be marvelous to visit an iconic regional publisher that happens to be located half an hour’s drive from me: Yankee Publishing in Dublin, New Hampshire. Founded 80 years ago with the start of Yankee Magazine, and shortly thereafter taking on The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well, Yankee is something of a rarity in today’s world of giant media conglomerates: an independent, family-owned company that still operates out of its original, small-town premises, and continues to be firmly based upon its original flagship publications. I was curious to see how Yankee has grown and transformed to meet the readers of the digital age, even as it still honors the traditions and culture of the region that gave it birth.

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My tentative email inquiry was met immediately by a cordial invitation from Jamie Trowbridge, the president of the company and grandson of its founder, Robb Sagendorph, to come by for a short tour the following week. I drove to Dublin, a charming village on the shoulders of Mount Monadnock (population 1597). Here the company’s long, low barn-red building is found alongside the church, town hall, library and other buildings from an earlier century.

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The Yankee building used to house the town post office and store, though eventually the growing enterprise took over the whole space. A chalkboard outside is still reminiscent of the location’s past as the center of Dublin news and communication.

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Inside, Jamie led me up to where the company’s two main publications are produced. In this modest interior, with its low ceilings and uneven floors, is found a warren of offices for many busy employees. Reference books are stacked floor to ceiling in corners and corridors, perhaps not often consulted in these days of electronic research, but holding a treasure-trove of information about New England’s towns and inhabitants.

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I got to peek into the office of editor-in-chief Judson Hale (with Yankee since 1958), who unfortunately was not present to show me through his collection of fascinating clutter that includes a stuffed bird and Napoleon’s handkerchief. I did have a look at some old issues of the magazine, which started out letter-size, then was diminished around the time of World War II partly due to paper shortages. It kept that dimension for many years until it was recently redesigned as a full-color, standard-size magazine for today’s more visually oriented readers.

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In a conference room across the hall the mockups for the January/February issue had just been taken down, but Jamie showed me some sample spreads for a story on White Mountain tourism that had been created for another project under Yankee’s umbrella, New Hampshire magazine. The NH tourism folks were dissatisfied with the somewhat misty, atmospheric images — which I personally thought were stunning — and opted to replace them with their own posed models on bicycles under blue skies. That’s life in the media these days, it seems.

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On the third floor, we looked in on the offices where digital content is created: the “Jud’s Journal” podcast, mobile-friendly versions of the magazine, and the new digital “Yankee Plus” enhanced with video content and other original features. Glimpsing a cover story on “New England’s Best Winter Towns,” Jamie joked that he thought the word “winter” had been outlawed since whenever it appeared sales seemed to go down. He noted that when New Englanders were polled on what they liked best and least about our region, the answers were “The seasons” and “Winter.” Alas, we can’t have four seasons without it.

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Coming back down, I paused to ask about a curious chart on the wall, which does not come across well in my photo, I’m afraid. Turns out this was part of Robb Sagendorph’s method for creating the weather predictions in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which he did himself for many years. (Now it’s based on Accuweather.) He meticulously graphed sunspot activity and all kinds of other data, leaving a graphic record of how a scientific mind grappled with New England’s weather obsession. What a remarkable person this multi-faceted founder must have been.

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After my brief visit, I left with a new appreciation of the hardworking, dedicated folks who continue to uphold the standards of their founding principles, while adjusting to meet today’s readers. Many thanks to Jamie Trowbridge and to everyone at Yankee Publishing for all they do, and for letting me have a glimpse behind the scenes.

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8 responses to “Literary Pilgrimages: Yankee Publishing

  1. What a fun opportunity. I love hearing about it all and seeing the pictures. I’m pretty sure we’ve had our share of their almanacs. My mom gets one for my husband every year. This year it was a Canadian one, but in the past she has bought the Yankee ones. Really, New England is just as close to us (or closer) as many parts of Canada.

    • It’s always fascinating for me to see the real people and places behind those familiar publications. They don’t just happen by themselves.

  2. What an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon! And how nice they were to show you so much. I loved seeing Judson Hale’s office. What a treasure trove of history is scattered all around.

  3. Very cool that you got to visit! My parents subscribed to Yankee Magazine for many years – they still may subscribe. When I was a teenager, I liked looking in the calendar of events and managed to convince my family to go to a couple festivals, etc. in other towns in Maine.

    • We also had a subscription for years — my grandfather sent it to us though we lived on the West coast, connecting us to New England roots. It’s funny to think I now live right next door.