Only the stone-hearted could sneer over the sudden demise of Jane magazine, or perhaps worse, shrug it off completely. Love it or lump it, it was the living legacy of the mighty Sassy, and with that hefty baggage comes a certain amount of respect, however grudging or disillusioned. Though Jane had grown a little slimmer of late, the danger signs were nowhere near as dire as they were in early 2005, when the newsstand price was slashed to $1.99, and the editorial tone slipped from wry to rancid.
That summer I pitched a piece to Salon calling the imminent death of the magazine, and intending to contrast Jane's current bankruptcy with the influence being borne out by its predecessor, most notably in the number of women inspired to enter writing and publishing by a magazine whose time had not passed but whose climate clearly had. The next week, Jane Pratt announced that she was indeed stepping down (my resulting essay was eventually published elsewhere), but that the magazine would continue on. The regime change -- despite some fluffy hype and strained brand-baiting -- all seemed to bode for the good, or at least the better. So what went wrong?
Having bitterly sworn off Jane (such spurned lover scorn over a glossy is a quaint thing these days, no doubt), I took a couple of sidelong looks at Brandon Holley's Jane, mainly the "back pages," which featured some surprising, well-written essays -- some, it must be said, written by people I knew. I figured if the new Jane was publishing (and most importantly, paying) my friends, it couldn't be all bad, and indeed it wasn't. The web site overhaul was impressively ambitious, if not uniformly successful; some inventive stand-alone content and inspired blogger gets made the Jane site, however briefly, a destination.
If anything, the argument could be made that in skewing even slightly back toward the spirit of early Jane, if not Sassy, Holley sealed her own fate; it takes guts to put Zooey Deschanel on the cover of a magazine, and in the hoodoo voodoo sales logic of women's title publishing -- No green covers! Or redheads! -- guts are spilled as often as they are shown. As Christina Kelly told me in 2005, before Holley, her ELLEgirl colleague (another recently folded young women's magazine) took up Pratt's position: Say what you want about Jane, but they are the only game in town at least trying to do something a little different.
In a sad symmetry, it has been reported that the last issue of Jane, 90% complete, will not be shipped, just as the last completed issue of Sassy never saw the stands. The difference, some 13 years and one paradigm shift later, is that eventually the lost Sassy issue surfaced on line, stroked over and savored by thousands of fans still working through the sixth stage of grief. Hard to imagine the errant pages of Jane -- or any magazine, quite frankly -- getting the same treatment these days, and that is truly our loss.