Paper Power

For almost 75 years, we’ve put ink on paper to tell the cooperative story. Even in this digital age, we believe that print is still a powerful communications medium.

February 2019

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

This magazine you’re reading was born in 1946, in the fresh dawn of a world pulled from the brink of ruinous sundown by genuine heroes. By the men and women of “The Greatest Generation.”

Our current prosperity owes to their sacrifices back then. The world they saved, and then rebuilt, became the world we live in today.

And what a world it is! When and how we entertain ourselves, and interact with each other, have undergone almost unimaginable change since the end of World War II. With startling speed, new technologies have been invented and brought to the masses. First came television in the 1950s … then the personal computer in the late 1970s and early ’80s, followed by the cellphone in the ’90s.

And then, a decade ago, the three became one. The aptly named “smartphone” is an amalgam of TV’s visual entertainment, the PC’s computing power, and the cellphone’s real-time access to almost anyone, anywhere, anytime.

In such a digital age, is an unassuming cooperative magazine — with ink pressed onto paper, using a process whose basics are little changed since the 15th century — still relevant, dynamic, interesting?

We are convinced that it is, both as a welcome shelter from the relentless pelting of digital data, and as a balm providing inspiration and normalcy in a media era too often marked by the unsavory and the sensational.

Our mission today is almost identical to that in 1946: to tell the cooperative story to co-op member-consumers. We started as a broadsheet newspaper called Rural Virginia, covering the all-things-are-possible mood of the time, with stories about Virginia farm families and the ways electric service had improved their quality of life.

Inside the farmhouse, we featured the new-fangled appliances transforming rural domestic life. Turning a faucet handle replaced hauling buckets of water. Washboards were supplanted by washing machines … iceboxes by refrigerators … woodstoves by electric ranges. Baths were now warm, perishables now cold. All thanks to the magic of electricity!

In the 1950s our stories focused on the growing wave of city dwellers moving to the countryside, thanks to the availability of electricity provided by consumer-owned electric cooperatives. Our format changed too, from a newspaper to a magazine.

In the 1960s we began printing on glossy paper and adorned our pages with occasional splashes of color. We also introduced a “slice of life” column that we’ve featured ever since, written then by Chester Goolrick, now by Margo Oxendine.

In the 1970s we began using full-color photos and artwork in every issue. We also changed our name to Rural Living, reflecting both the growing affluence of rural areas and our growing coverage of lifestyle topics that ranged from creative cooking to weekend getaways.

In the 1980s we grew in size from 24 to 32 pages, fueled by national advertisers finally recognizing the buying power of Virginia’s, and America’s, heartland.

In 1996 we celebrated our 50th anniversary in October with a retrospective issue, focusing on many of the memorable people and places we had covered during our first half-century. In ’97 we added a recurring feature profiling small towns, villages and crossroads communities. Through this series we’ve visited with more than a thousand engaging people in more than 200 interesting communities across Virginia.

When the current century dawned in January 2000, we changed our name for the third (and we hope final) time, to Cooperative Living, reflecting the fact that many traditionally rural areas are now suburbs of nearby cities.

For many years, we’ve conducted regular surveys of our readers. We always ask about your favorite features, response to paid ads, and ideas for improvement. Results have been gratifying; about 85 percent of you are regular readers, spending about 40 minutes with each issue.

In a digital age, print is still alive, still healthy and still enjoyed, even if not as widespread as before. And it’s hard to overstate the power of print’s virtues: familiarity, visibility, ease of use.

We believe print publications will remain valued and valuable for the foreseeable future. In the end, what most readers want is not the medium, but the message. Content is king.

Readers want stories that are well-told; stories that interest them, inform them and inspire them. And this is true whether the story is told on a lighted screen … or on a printed page whose lineage stretches back six centuries. 