Program Report: Scalawag – Evan Walker-Wells

I went to handy-for-everything Google for a definition of scalawag. Two interesting definitions came up. First was “a person who behaves badly but in an amusingly mischievous rather than harmful way; a rascal.”  The second definition was an eyebrow raiser, “a white Southerner who collaborated with northern Republicans during Reconstruction, often for personal profit. The term was used derisively by white Southern Democrats who opposed Reconstruction legislation.”

Hmm…interesting name for a magazine devoted to telling stories about the South that illustrate and maybe suggest some solutions for its problems without dealing directly with policy. Our speaker was Evan Walker-Wells, one of the founders of the magazine who was introduced by Ari Medoff.

Here in the South, yesterday’s Democrats are today’s Republicans so the title itself carries its own ironic weight. With the baseball field behind him, Mr. Walker-Wells could be forgiven for the hopelessly mixed metaphor when he described the magazine as “batting way above its weight” which he quickly realized and corrected.

Even a quick scan of the magazine does show that they are punching above their weight but with some great cornermen including historians William Chafe and Taylor Branch, essayist Anne Fadiman who is also the daughter of critic Clifton Fadiman, and Alec MacGillis, a journalist and political writer now with ProPublica. Their backgrounds in politics and civil rights provide a clue to the thrust of the magazine.

The objective is to give people affected by policy a voice to be part of the conversation. Mr. Walker-Wells related how his insight to this need came while he was going through chemo and then radiation therapy for leukemia. Policy needs to be infused with more understanding of the real impact it has on people.

My own question to Mr. Walker-Wells was whether trying to influence a South without borders wasn’t a bit of an overreach and whether they had considered limiting the scope to just North Carolina.  Frankly, I was thinking about things like distribution and revenue but not his purpose.  It became clearer to me when I scurried across the room and grabbed a copy of the magazine from the pile that he brought with him and started reading it later that afternoon.  The first story that I read was called The Massacre Men – The Confederate Counter-Insurgency.  It did happen to chronicle some events that happened in North Carolina, but it was easy to see the more universal lesson.

I grew up in Richmond, the Capital of the Confederacy, lived for several years there directly behind the Museum of the Confederacy, passed all the Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue thousands of times, read a biography of Robert E. Lee as a kid and one of the first adult novels I read was The Red Badge of Courage. Nevertheless, I think I learned more about the Civil War reading that one article Monday afternoon than I did in all those years. The writing was that good and makes me envious.

A question from Rotarian Mark Lazenby, himself a journalist, was about the feasibility of launching a paper publication when so much of journalism is moving to the internet. Mr. Walker-Wells felt the tactile nature and the ease of sharing was still providing a valid direction. The immediate reaction in the audience was wholehearted agreement. I’m not sure I’m with them, but Scalawag hasn’t ignored its website, which is very good and all content on it is available without a paywall, at least for now.

You can get there at Scalawagmagazine.ORG.  DON’T go to ScalaWAGmagazine.COM, which is a website about living with your dog that doesn’t have much content yet and will just confuse you, like it did me.

Scalawag is a non-profit whose revenues are derived solely from subscriptions and donations. It’s refreshing to read through a magazine without navigating through any advertising. Its contributors are all paid and the staff takes all your fingers and toes to count now after a long time when one hand would do.

Scalawag is available 4 time a year by subscription for $29 per year and you can sign up on the website.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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