August 10, 2022

UNLV has sold a beloved literary magazine to a mysterious media company. Why?

When the University of Nevada at Las Vegas acquired The believer in March 2017, a press release boasted that it was “one of the world’s leading arts and culture journals” and listed prominent writers who had contributed to its pages, including Anne Carson and William T. Vollman. A co-founder of The believer called UNLV “a perfect home” for the widely respected publication.

Five years later, the university sold The believer to Paradise Media, a mysterious company registered in Puerto Rico. After the transfer, the new owner quickly published an article on The believer‘s website listing the “25 best dating sites” for “pure sex without commitment” (for the record, the article only listed 20 sites). Paradise Media, it seems, had a different editorial philosophy.

I am disappointed in UNLV’s lack of judgment and absolutely cannot understand why UNLV would damage its own reputation and sully my name and foundation in this way.

Beverly Rogers, donor to the Black Mountain Institute at UNLV

The company appears to be a search engine optimization company that is loosely associated with a sex toy website. Why would UNLV hand over the reins of The believer to such an outfit?

The short answer: money. Paradise Media, according to documents provided to The Chronicle by the university in response to a public records request, paid $225,000 for the magazine. The purchase agreement gives the company the rights to the magazine’s name, website, archives and customer lists, among other assets. UNLV announced last October that it was closing the magazine because it was “consuming a significant amount” of the resources of the university’s Black Mountain Institute, a literary center whose mission is “to bring writers – and the literary imagination – at the heart of public opinion”. life.” In a statement to The Chronicle, the university said that “while The believer was a highly valued vehicle for literary works, the college has a responsibility to direct resources to initiatives most critical to the mission of the institute.

The founders and former staff members of The believer weren’t thrilled when they discovered that the literary non-fiction journal they had created and run for nearly two decades was now a medium for publishing dating site reviews. In an open letter published on Medium, they called it “strange territory” for the magazine. They also noted that McSweeney’s, the San Francisco-based nonprofit publishing company that was The believeroriginal, had been in talks with UNLV to buy the magazine.

“UNLV representatives were opaque in their dealings,” wrote the staffers, including founders Heidi Julavits, Ed Park and Vendela Vida. They also said the staff had “not received any notice or consultation regarding the sale of the magazine to Paradise Media.”

McSweeney’s actually made an offer to the university, even though it was basically the university donating The believer back to McSweeney’s, according to a letter McSweeney’s sent to UNLV in January. According to the university, McSweeney’s “requested that the assets be granted to them free of charge and that UNLV also cover the financial liability of any unexecuted subscriptions with an overall net loss to the university.”

UNLV accepted the best financial offer made by the lesser known entity.

I texted Ian Moe, the managing director of Paradise Media, about the purchase. Moe said he had been a “huge fan” of The believer when he was in college, and when he heard it was closed, he emailed the college. “They said they would hear my offer and were open to selling, and that was it,” he wrote. “I explained my idea of ​​adding articles that answer specific questions for searchers (SEO content) to generate enough revenue to keep the magazine as it was in its glory days.”

After the backlash of the hookup article, a memo (dated March 22, 2021, for some reason) was posted on the site titled “Plan to Bring the Believer Back”. It included a list of “informative SEO content” that would be published in the future on topics such as “mood ring color meanings”, “types of clouds”, and “world’s largest spider”. “. That note was removed on Thursday and replaced with a similar note, which said Paradise Media was “cancelling and deleting all business review articles.” (The branch article was removed from the site on Thursday evening).

Moe publicly responded to questions about the purchase of The believer via a Twitter account for Sex Toy Collective, a site he founded that posts reviews of vibrators and sex furniture. “I don’t have another twitter, and it was probably a mistake contacting us through our sex toys website, but just wanted everyone to know that this dating post was not meant to be spam,” he wrote to The Chronicle. “It was just to make money by using Google (not readers) as a first step towards reprinting things.”

Here’s a curious note: the author of the hookup article is listed as Aaron Cutler, who wrote several articles years ago for the believer, including an essay on the films of the Lithuanian American poet Jonas Mekas. I spoke with Cutler via Zoom from his home in São Paulo, Brazil. He did not write the connecting article, which is evident after looking through his past work. “As a freelance writer, this is an attack on my reputation,” he said. Cutler also guessed that his name was chosen because it starts with two A’s and therefore could be at the top of a list of Believer contributors.

Amid the controversy, Paradise Media’s website was taken down and replaced with a “coming soon” graphic.

Another person upset about the sale is Beverly Rogers, chair of the board of directors of the Rogers Foundation, which has donated $30 million to the Black Mountain Institute at UNLV. His name is part of the institute’s official nickname. She says the sale of The believer to Paradise Media was made without his knowledge. “I am disappointed in UNLV’s lack of judgment and for my life I cannot understand why UNLV would damage its own reputation and sully my name and my foundation in this way,” she said. in a statement sent to The Chronicle.

Roger wanted The believer to return under McSweeney and said she was told UNLV was doing their due diligence and would get back to her about a possible transfer. “I am a champion of literature and the arts and probably one of the greatest cheerleaders UNLV has ever seen,” Rogers wrote. “I didn’t expect UNLV to disrespect me so blatantly.”