Cooperative Living cover

Small magazines: Cooperative Living

I’m starting a new series about how small magazines get edited. Having worked on a couple of small magazine myself, I’m fascinated by the production of quality publications by a small staff, and as answers began coming from editors of small magazines, I started learning things right away! For example, Cooperative Living, which I thought of as a small magazine, goes to more than half a million people. Well, the magazine feels small and personal, and I mean that as a compliment.

As a member-customer of the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, I’ve been receiving and reading Cooperative Living for almost 20 years. Editor Bill Sherrod kindly took time to answer my questions …

1. Who receives Cooperative Living, and how big is the circulation?

Cooperative Living magazine is published by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC). It’s mailed 10 times annually (monthly, except for combined March/April and November/December issues) to the members of 12 electric cooperatives in Virginia. There are 13 separate versions of Cooperative Living, one for each of the 12 subscribing cooperatives, and one we call the “Virginia” version, mailed to advertisers and non–co-op subscribers and comp-subscription recipients. Total circulation for Cooperative Living is now more than 500,000 per issue and growing by small increments with each issue.

2. How did you become editor of Cooperative Living?

I came to work for the VMDAEC in July 1994 as coordinator of public relations. Because of my newspaper background, I gravitated to the magazine and eventually became a staff member, working as field editor, then managing editor, and becoming editor in 2006.

3. Where do you get the content for the magazine?

We do editorial planning 12 to 18 months in advance, using story ideas from various sources, such as members (readers) and staff of our subscribing cooperatives, the magazine staff, our national co-op trade association, and our peer statewide co-op publications in other states.

4. What quality control procedures do you use to prevent factual errors, misspelled names, outdated information, and other problems?

It’s incumbent on our professional staff and our freelance writers to deliver accurate information in their stories. Our proofing system includes a minimum of three sets of eyes on each editorial (non-advertising) component of the magazine. We don’t have a dedicated fact-checker, but one of our three proofers checks web addresses, phone numbers, event dates and similar information in each piece. One source of errors is the delay between delivery and publication. We’ve had instances where facts have changed about, for example, a business in a story written several months before publication. To the extent possible, we try to fact-check such situations where detected in the proofing process, but some errors inevitably reach publication. Upside: our readers let us know (in abundance) when such an error occurs, and we usually correct the error with a reader’s observation in our Mailbag (reader letters) section.

5. What do you like most about editing Cooperative Living?

I like working for electric cooperatives, which are small, consumer-owned electric utilities. Because of the co-op business model, service is the ultimate purpose, and that makes the purpose of the job, as well as the work itself, very rewarding.

6. What else would you like readers and other editors to know?

We commission periodic reader surveys (usually every three years) through our national ad-sales cooperative. This research indicates that print magazines (at least, Cooperative Living and our peer statewide electric co-op publications) are holding their value as trusted communications venues. These surveys are intended to gather information to help in display-ad sales, but also provide solid data that show print is thriving in our burgeoning electronic-media atmosphere.

Thanks, Bill!

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