The Little Guy
Though the war brewing between classroom magazines is largely a clash of Manhattan media titans, a small North Carolina publication is girding for battle as well.
‘I needed to have something that would engage my students
and offer me more content as a teacher.’
Topics, a magazine that goes to 40,000 middle and high school students in the Southeast, has been bringing real-world news to the classroom for four years. Founded and edited by ex-teacher Bruce Nofsinger, the four-color glossy is more of a news journal than a newsmagazine in the Time or Newsweek genre; it features analysis and reporting on national and international issues, science and technology updates, and dispatches from the pop culture front. Recent issues have included hefty stories on juvenile crime, cultural diversity, teenage driving, and eating disorders.
Teenage contributors spice up the magazine's mix with music reviews, essays, and columns. The September issue included a college freshman's interview with U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who warns readers that the chances of making a living as a poet are "slim but not nonexistent."
Topics was born of Nofsinger's frustrations during a three-year stint teaching high school language arts and middle school social studies. "I needed to have something that would engage my students and offer me more content as a teacher," he explains. "They needed something tactile, something they could hold, read, and react to."
Nofsinger and his two co-owners--a college friend and a graphic designer--assemble the magazine in their Charlotte offices with the help of an assortment of free-lancers. The cost: $200 for a classroom subscription that includes 30 copies of each issue--more pricey than Time for Kids and Teen Newsweek, but less expensive than Upfront. The magazine lost money initially but moved into the black recently, in part because it now accepts limited advertising (a recent issue featured ads from Ben and Jerry's, BellSouth, and the Kaplan test-prep business). Nofsinger-led teacher workshops also help pay the bills.
Though the editor didn't know that two new teen-oriented classroom magazines were debuting this fall, he's been expecting competition-and preparing for it. This year, Topics moved for the first time to attract readers from outside North Carolina, and it's offering sophisticated teacher-support materials to its new subscribers, including activities and lesson plans that tie the magazine's articles to specific curriculum standards in Virginia, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
"We were fearful that somebody with much deeper pockets would take the idea and run with it," Nofsinger explains. "so we expanded to establish ourselves. Hopefully, it's not too late."
Vol. 11, Issue 3, Page 28Published in Print: November 1, 1999, as The Little Guy