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Eric Utne: he's a cosmos doogooder

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

Eric Utne is becoming more and more like the fictitious author of Cosmo Doogood's Urban Almanac. You could call him a cosmos doogooder. He has handed control of the prestigious Utne Magazine, which he founded in 1984, to his wife, Rothschild Utne, and suspended publication of the almanac. That has left him free to direct an imaginative and ambitious global project aimed at saving the environment of the world, if not the cosmos.


Thousands of avid readers of Cosmo Doogood's Urban Almanac must be dismayed that it has run out of puff. "It saddens me to inform you that there will be no 2007 edition," says Utne. "It simply has not sold enough copies to cover its costs, and I can no longer afford to cover the losses."

Jennifer Vogel provided a good description of the Almanac shortly after it made its debut two years ago. Writing in The Rake (a free monthly magazine "launched in March 2002 by people old enough to know better" in Minnesota's Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul), she said:

Eric Utne
Eric Utne
© Kelly Rogers Photography

Urban Almanac  

The Urban Almanac is a modern, citified, lefty version of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. Its motto (Utne is undeniably fond of mottos) is: Look up, look out, look in. Toward these goals, the book contains a varied collection of information, a reflection of Utne’s eclectic mind, including a piece on naked-eye astronomy, another on how to predict the weather, and a primer on the life of Franklin himself.

There are also poems, recipes, lyrics to Elvis and Prince songs, quotes from Goethe, a yearlong date book, and airy inspirational passages like, “The soul shines in the darkness and gives it form.” The book, which Utne hopes to publish annually, is at its best when paying tribute to “essential places” and “living urban treasures” such as Minneapolis’ Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, Domino Park in Miami, authors Studs Terkel and Jane Jacobs, and L.A. peace activist Aqeela Sherrills.

Utne has had a rollercoaster career as a publisher. In 1984 he founded UTNE Magazine, which has been described as "Minneapolis’s most prestigious national publication". In 1999, he quit, handing control of the magazine to his wife, Rothschild Utne.

“I said I’d do it, but it had to be for real, not window dressing,” Rothschild later recalled . “He gave me half the company. We ran it together for six months. It became clear that he didn’t want to do it anymore. His heart wasn’t in it. He was making messes everywhere. At that point, he turned all the ownership over to me.”

Under Rothschild's direction UTNE magazine seems to be flourishing. Most of its articles are reprinted from other American magazines, news weeklies, newsletters, and literary journals. It does not publish fiction or poetry.

Recalling his decision to hand over the editorship to his wife, Eric told us in an email: "The magazine has never lost reader interest or support, but the economics of magazine publishing just got more and more difficult, i.e., printing and postage expenses rose relentlessly while subscription and advertising revenues did not. The magazine enjoyed early profitability, but in its last decade was never profitable."

Eric Utne devotes much of his time these days as chairman of an imaginative and inspirational global environmental project, the Schweitzer Earth Corps, which he co-founded. Its vision statement says:

Urban AlmanacThe Earth today is in crisis. Global warming and climate change, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and small arms, the depletion of ground water and fossil fuel, the pandemic spread of avian flu and HIV/AIDS, the expanding gulf between the rich and poor, the conflict between secularism and fundamentalism, the list goes on and on.

At the same time, today’s young people—indeed adults of all ages—feel an urgency to make a difference. As people seek purpose and direction in life, too often their options for education, training, and career ignore these crises and offer little to inspire. Indeed, the meaning of vocation in today’s world has been largely reduced to just the earning of money.

Higher education can, should, and must respond to the needs of both student and world. The idea of national service, either in the military or some social service arena, is well established in most countries, but does not go far enough to address these needs. It’s time to go beyond national service to global service. It’s time for an Earth Corps.

The Schweitzer Earth Corps (SEC) will be a planetary force of college-age students and mid-life adults trained to skilfully address both social and environmental needs. Like a global Peace Corps for the Earth, the SEC will address both the search for meaning in the post-modern world and the pressing issues facing the planet, creating a new vision of higher education and a new ethic of global citizenship.

Schweitzer Earth Corps programs will be offered through colleges and universities worldwide. The SEC will make available, and help tailor to individual college settings, curriculae for all such programs, and will provide training to faculty of institutional hosts in the implementation thereof...

Institutions participating in the Schweitzer Earth Corps programs will be joined in an association, which will hold a service mark for the SEC name and which will assure that all programs offered under that name are designed and implemented in accordance with the guiding principles established and described in this and other SEC documents.

Utne MagazineYears ago, when we first read the word UTNE, we guessed its unusual title was an acronym, perhaps for University of Tennessee Editorial, or something like that. But it's not. The magazine's website says:

Utne rhymes with chutney, and means "far out" in Norwegian.

Eric Utne's mother was born in Norway, and his father's ancestry is Norwegian; Eric was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. So it was fitting that the May-June 2006 issue of Utne Magazine featured an article headed:

Looking for a Few Good Norsemen
Cartoons or no, Scandinavia is still on the path to world peace
—By Eric Utne

What will be this restless, gifted man's next adventure? Perhaps he could be persuaded to launch a new literary digest, Best of the World's Blogs - and e-Books!



Early last month, the Minneapolis-based Utne Magazine was sold to Ogden Publications, the Topeka, Kansas-based publisher of Mother Earth News, Natural Home & Garden and Herbs for Health.

Nina Rothschild Utne, chair of Utne Magazine, who will become an editor at large and continue writing a column under Ogden management, said. "It's really hard to publish a single magazine and make a profit. It's really that simple. [Publishing] more than a dozen magazines brings economies of scale. They can do everything on the business side cheaper."

She said Ogden would continue to uphold principles and practices she held dear, such as printing her magazine on recycled paper.

Minnesotans need not fear that Utne Magazine, which claims a paid circulation of 225,000, will move to Kansas. It will continue to operate from Minneapolis.

In Australia, a quality science magazine called Cosmos, not connected with Utne, began publication last year. The glossy bi-monthly is already the nation's biggest-selling science magazine, with an international following. To celebrate its first birthday, it has just launched an online service, with daily science news stories and a new feature article every week.

  • A story about the world's many other almanacs is posted in OhmyNews.


Story first posted July 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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