Our Man in Arlington

June 3, 2014 10:36 AM0 comments

clark-fcnpHistory lovers will be pleased to learn that the top-selling (on newsstands) issue of Arlington Magazine was last fall’s special issue on our county’s storied past.

That’s astonishing in this era of digital publishing ephemera and pressure on publications to play it safe with listings of hot restaurants and best doctors.

But the bimonthly slick that rolled out in October 2011 “is growing and has been profitable since issue No. 4,” says co-founder and publisher Greg Hamilton. “You can actually make money in this business.”

This publisher of some of my own history writing spoke May 30 to a savvy crowd at the annual membership banquet of the newly dynamic Arlington Historical Society.

“It says a lot about the community,” Hamilton said of the all-history issue’s popularity. Other top sellers included the magazine’s covers on “Best of,” crowded schools and overparenting.

The print run for ad-chocked Arlington Magazine has climbed to 25,000, of which 3,000 are paid subscribers.

Such success was hardly guaranteed in 2010, when, “in the middle of the recession,” Hamilton partnered with the creator of Bethesda Magazine on the chance that “Arlington was big enough, affluent enough and educated enough for a local lifestyle magazine to thrive.”

Today’s large publishers “don’t have enough bandwidth” to cover one community consistently, he said, and readers “don’t want to read about it if they don’t live there.”

So Hamilton hired an editor, designer and three college students to scan the county for advertisers. “You can’t get a sense of the community from census data, but you do get it by walking around and talking to folks,” he said.

Many stories come from his own experiences and chats with neighbors in the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood – a prime example being the spring cover story on the dangers of being a pedestrian in Arlington.

Hamilton is passionate enough to pull all-nighters on a couch at his printer’s facility in Strasbourg, to which he drives every two months for a press check. He also fields calls from readers prone to dropping F-bombs when, for example, his restaurant reviewer did a rare hatchet job on a sub-par eatery.

Coming stories include a July-August feature on the benefits of running and a September-October takeout on substance abuse. “Arlington is a target-rich environment for a journalist,” Hamilton said. “We have miles of story ideas sitting in dry dock.”

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As the Silver Line nears its summer opening at the East Falls Church Metro, I have a request. Could we agree to protect the fleet of spanking new train cars by not bringing food and drink onboard?

I see it all the time, locals as well as innocent tourists bounding onto the carpeted cars balancing a Starbucks grande or a teetering soft drink with jutting straw. Who can blame them when the “food and drink prohibited” signs are the size of a postage stamp. True, Metro has run audio and poster notices threatening $100 fines for those who break the rule by risking spills that attract vermin.

But I emailed Metro to ask why so little enforcement and rider education. Helen James from Metro’s Office of Consumer Relations promised to forward my observations to “decision makers.” She introduced a subtlety that helps explain the confusion: “Customers are permitted to bring drink/food on Metro,” she wrote, “although they are not permitted to consume those items.”

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