The Nose is looking for a new editorial face: Citing financial difficulties, Publisher Michael Johnson pink-slipped longtime editor (and SF Weekly columnist) Jack Boulware on March 1 and has placed newspaper ads seeking freelance editors to work “flexible hours” at “low pay.”
Boulware says he was unaware that the investigative humor magazine he'd edited for six years was teetering on the brink of collapse.
“This really came out of left field,” he says.
Initially, Boulware thought Johnson was pulling the plug on the provocative magazine, but the publisher intends to downscale it from bimonthly to quarterly.
“This is not the first time we've gone through restructuring,” Johnson says. Envisioning “a large number of small changes rather than a whole new product,” Johnson claims that his relationship with Boulware remains “as workable as it can be when you lay someone off …. This is really the first time our shared interests have ended.”
“Jack has always looked at his reward as the progress The Nose makes,” Johnson continues. “For him, it's like The Nose is dead, and it's a huge grieving process. He's not objective enough to see it as a business that can exist without him.”
With his various publishing liabilities reaching $70,000 monthly, Johnson says he was obliged to slash “printing bills and people … Jack was staff, with a monthly salary.”
Boulware wasn't on the gravy train, though. He produced the slick magazine on a part-time basis for several years and only recently started drawing a post-tax salary of $1,100 to $1,200 a month.
Shifting to a quarterly schedule only confirms the sporadic appearance of the magazine, says Johnson. The Nose has published 26 issues in six years, so “you're looking at an average of 4.3 a year,” he says.
Boulware edited the often brilliant magazine on a pittance — actually less than a pittance. He had an editorial budget of zero.
“I just kept thinking, if I had a budget, it would be an amazing magazine,” Boulware says. Instead of cash, he relied on unconventional sources: unpaid articles and essays by “conspiracy freaks,” comedians, and professional writers who contributed material they couldn't sell elsewhere. “Some of these people had never written before, never had a byline,” he says. Boulware also relied heavily on “found” information from other news services and zines.
Despite its small circulation (20,000), Boulware's Nose was a favorite read among the pop culture cognoscenti: Its subscription list includes George Carlin and Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Columnists and talk-show bookers phoned regularly to track the magazine's story leads, as did Jeopardy! fact checkers, the photo department of the New York Post, the BBC, and others who delighted in both the magazine's punch-drunk regurgitation of freakish information and its nervy disregard for “propriety.”
Recalling some of the more outlandish capers of his stewardship, Boulware mentions cover stories on Sausalito's “adult-diaper fraternity,” the marijuana “renaissance,” the violent postal-worker trend and the uncanny popularity of a Sebastopol youth aptly nicknamed Barf Boy. Such human oddities are “a zeitgeist of some sort,” says Boulware.
“People our age aren't interested in listening to some pompous windbag with a bow tie prattle on in the back cover of Newsweek,” he opines.
Boulware claims he's been locked out of The Nose Federal Street offices. Not so, says Johnson. Blaming The Nose's “clubhouse atmosphere” for security problems, he says there were “19 keys floating around, one-third of them in the hands of people who don't have any association with the magazine anymore …. [Changing the locks] has nothing to do with Jack.”
Johnson feels the time is right to part ways with his editor.
“Jack has learned what he's going to learn,” he says. “Is there a new, younger group of Jacks? I would assume so. Are they as clever, talented and hard-working? Out of the gate, I doubt it. Over time, though, could they turn out a good product? They probably could.”
Boulware has already spoken with some of his regular contributors, most of whom won't work on the new Nose — though he emphasizes, “I'm not saying, 'Don't work for this guy!'”
True to form, Boulware finds humor in his dismissal. He says the rumor mill once alleged that Spy magazine (to which The Nose has often been compared) folded a few years back “because somebody was making too many copies,” he laughs. “We were going to say we bought our copier secondhand from them.”
What's next for Boulware? A new magazine? A job in television? He's not saying, but he does promise to exploit the connections he made at The Nose. “I have a Rolodex full of sick and twisted people all across the U.S.,” he says, “and that's valuable.”