Howard Stern joked on his radio show Tuesday that Randy Jackson, after leaving “American Idol,” will be selling Grit door to door.
“Do they still have Grit?” Stern asked. “When I was a kid I’d open up a comic book, and it said ‘You can sell Grit door-to-door.’ It was some sort of newspaper. They were always trying to recruit children to sell it.”
Yes, Howard, Grit is still published – but it’s not what you remember as a kid.
The old Grit was a home-delivered, weekly good-news newspaper that advertised for carriers in Boys’ Life and other youth-aimed publications.
Today’s Grit is a glossy features magazine put out just six times a year from offices in Topeka, Kansas; it’s targeted to rural Americans as well as “dreamers” — city-dwellers who aspire to country living. (And kids no longer deliver it.)
Hank Will, 56, who has edited Grit since 2007, says the publication has made money for three straight years after a long period of losses.
“At its high point, Grit sold roughly a million copies a week, but it was steadily declining. When I came along, it was shy of 200,000. The principal issue with it was that the readership was literally dying. The median age was maybe as high as 70” when he started at the magazine.
Will’s goal was to bring the median age down to the mid-40s, and he’s getting there.
“We’re in the high 40s now,” he says. “We’ve really ramped up our gardening content. And I can tell you that chickens on the cover sell. Chickens are all the rage right now. Gardening is in almost every issue, and about 10 to 12 percent of our pages are devoted to food from scratch.”
Will didn’t set out to edit a magazine. When he attended the University of Chicago in the 1970s, he was interested in chemistry and botany. “I wanted to be a college professor.”
He got his PhD, taught biology for 13 years, farmed and wrote books about tractors.
“I have no formal journalism training, and no formal editing training. The only training I had was from writing scientific articles when I was in graduate school.” (He got the Grit job after freelancing for Farm Collector and Mother Earth News; all three titles are owned by Ogden Publications.)
Will oversees an editorial staff of six, including web editor Natalie Gould. She’s a 2012 Medill master’s graduate from Portland who considers Grit the ideal job.
“When I was at Medill, I pretty much wrote most of my stories with an agricultural angle. I wanted to be in magazines, but I didn’t want to look for a job in L.A. or New York. After being in Chicago, I was ready for a slower pace of life.” (She lives in Lawrence, which is about 25 miles from Grit’s Topeka offices.)
She adds: “I was familiar with the Grit brand. I had seen old copies, but I didn’t know if it was still up and running.”
She found a copy at Evanston’s Chicago Main Newsstand, applied for a job and was hired before graduating last June.
“I was ecstatic,” she says.
What did her Medill friends think about her job?
“Most people were like, What is Grit? My friends didn’t know what it was.”