I sat down with Dennis Hockman, the new Editor in Chief of Preservation -- the National Trust's quarterly magazine and one of our favorite membership benefits -- to chat about the magazine's new look. Since coming on, Dennis and his team have been working hard to reshape and redesign Preservation to better fit who you all are: people saving places, whether through general interest, advocacy, or hammer-and-nail construction. See what he had to say.
Where are you from, where do you live now, and what made the preservation cause resonate with you?
I've lived in lots of different places. I was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and have lived in the Midwest, the Mountain West, and Maryland. I’ve spent more time in Baltimore than anywhere else, where I live now in a historic center hall colonial -- a restoration work in progress.
As for preservation, I guess taking care of old things is something I’ve always thought was important. Having lived all over the country, what I appreciate most about each region is its uniqueness and personality, that combination of geography and when and why each area was originally developed -- during colonial times, westward expansion, etc.
I’ve also always liked stories. Old objects and buildings harbor the stories of how people used them and who lived or worked in them -- sometimes for generations. Those are the stories that have always intrigued me, and somehow I feel like a big part of that story is lost if we don’t preserve the physical manifestation.
I was also raised to be very practical. My grandparents were all products of the Great Depression, and my parents were raised to appreciate Yankee thrift, a value that passed along to me. I’ve never understood why people feel they constantly need new things when there are so many old things that are still perfectly useful.
How has taking the helm at Preservation magazine changed the way you see the places around you?
I’ve always been intrigued by historic places. My wife will attest that "I brake for historical markers." I am infinitely curious about the places around me -- the older the better.
Years ago, I was backcountry camping with friends in Montana and we stumbled upon an old fallen down miners cabin . On a furious pace to reach the campsite before sundown, my friends kept going, but I couldn’t help stopping to dig through the rubble to see if I could learn anything about the people that stayed there. How long ago? Were the abandoned mines close by? Were there other cabins? The rest of the trip is a haze, but those moments I spent in the cabin are still crystal clear.
If anything has changed since coming on board with Preservation, I guess I’ve started thinking not just about what a place was, but what it can be.
The magazine is heading in a new direction, starting with the Spring issue. What spurred this change?
There are so many reasons to make changes, but the simplest -- not to be overly dramatic -- is that change is necessary to survival. All businesses need to change from time to time or else they become irrelevant. The National Trust itself has recently been going through some changes that will make it an even more effective advocate for and agent of preservation.
The redesign of the magazine is part of that, but it’s also a reaction to feedback we’ve been getting from readers. Preservation has a passionate, engaged audience that really loves the magazine. We’ve learned that they want to know more about the people behind historic preservation and more stories that will give them ideas for visiting historic places.
What are some of the key changes in the magazine that you’re most excited about?
All of them. Seriously. Of course, it’s a big challenge to change something that you think is already really, really good. So my approach was to follow the Hippocratic Oath: first do no harm. Although we didn’t want to mess up anything that readers liked, we also knew it was time for a change. Trying to achieve the best of both worlds, we essentially kept everything readers respond well to and added new departments and sections that build on what they love.
I think the predominant way people engage with historic places is through travel, so I’d have to say my favorite change is the expanded travel section. But I really am truly excited about everything -- we’ve got a new front-of-book section called ‘Past, Present, Future’ that offers short inspirational profiles of people saving places, as well as fun preservation facts, timelines, and infographics. The new “Outside the Box’ department is also a favorite because there we make a commitment to profiling important historic places that aren’t buildings.
Will readers recognize any elements from the old format?
I hope so. Although we have a new art director for the magazine and the graphic design will look different, the features are planned similarly to how they’ve been -- at least for the past few years. We plan to continue bringing readers the same thought-provoking, well written features they’re used to.
Also, a perennial favorite department, ‘Transitions,’ will remain essentially the same. Other such reader favorites as ‘Making a Difference’ and ‘People Saving Places’ will continue to be part of the magazine in spirit, if not in name -- the types of stories that we featured in these departments are being blended in with the ‘Past, Present, Future’ section.
Want to see these exciting changes for yourself? Subscribe to Preservation magazine today!