The Next Generation
Reflections on stepping into the role of the NOR's managing editor
I started working at the NEW OXFORD REVIEW in October 2020. Well, that’s not true. I started before I can remember. I read galleys in high school and college. I folded renewals and endorsed checks all throughout middle school. I opened mail in elementary school; granted, early on it was just piles of junk mail that my mother had saved for me. One of my earliest memories is sitting under my mom’s desk, using our toy wooden iron to secure mailing labels on sample copy envelopes.
So, I suppose you would say that I came back to the NOR in October 2020. Like Pieter, the editor, I am Dale and Elena Vree’s child; their third of four, to be precise. The business office doubled as my home for my entire childhood, and the magazine was always in full swing in the upstairs offices, and sometimes at the dinner table, as well.
It was strange to come back to my mother’s office and take a seat at the desk. But it was simultaneously so familiar. I had a hard time differentiating between the early childhood memories of work/play and what I was tasked with doing now. That is probably because I have so much fun at work with my mom. We argue over when to re-ink the stamps, discuss the virtues of the best pens for the job, reuse the same post-it notes from 20 years ago, laugh over silly city names, and constantly bump into each other as we navigate the compact office space. And there’s that under-desk bike pedal machine that is never under a desk but always underfoot.
As I learn the intricacies of the business end of the NOR, I’m learning how personal it is. For example, answering February phone calls from subscribers who want to know why their “January issue” is late. “We print a combined January-February issue; you should receive it in a few weeks’ time,” I tell them. These subscribers aren’t mad. They might be upset, but it’s because they want the issue, they enjoy the magazine, and they want to read more. People call with changes of address to make sure they don’t miss an issue. People call, exasperated, because they can’t figure out how to use our website and they want to renew or donate. After three or more attempts online, they take the time to call, not frustrated, but happy to be talking to a person.
Yes, there are calls from subscribers who are upset about an article, an author, a stance taken within the NOR. When we run a direct-mail campaign, there are lots of calls from people who are mad, demanding to be removed from the mailing list. We take their information down and update our records. Direct-mail cards are returned marked “Cease & Desist,” “Stop Mailing,” and my recent favorite, “I don’t know who the hell put me on your mailing list. Just take me the hell off. Thank you.” These messages are treated the same as we treat the changes of address. My mother, Elena, told me that if people take the time to ask to be removed from our mailing list, then we need to take the time to remove them.
But this most recent fundraising appeal has been eye-opening. There have been so many responses that my mother and I are inundated with work. We even recruited my 12-year-old daughter to help open the mail. But there is more than a check in an envelope. There are notes — so many notes about how people love the magazine, support the NOR, wish they could donate more, stand behind the scholarship fund, and want to support the print format. There are prayer cards, comic strips, and little jokes. So many of these returns have been personalized, and that is what transforms office work into a vocation.
Pieter has stepped into our father’s role as editor (he recently had a great interview on the Open Door podcast with Jim Hanink: Episode 191: Pieter Vree, Editor of the New Oxford Review, discusses Catholic Journalism (March 10, 2021) | Spreaker). I am stepping into our mother’s role as managing editor. And whether you’ve been doing it for 13 years, as he has, or 5 months, as I have, it’s not easy. It’s not just taking over a job; it’s fulfilling a legacy, but making your own legacy at the same time. How do you know if you’re doing it well?
I spoke to my mother about how I was buoyed by seeing all the mail, subscriptions, and donations. I was grateful while thinking of the business end of things, but beyond that I was grateful to be part of a magazine that is so meaningful to its readers. My mother told me that she hopes someday this work will become the same fulfilling labor of love for me that it has been for her. Seeing all the mail come in, I can’t help but let out a big sigh thinking of the time it will take to go through it all, but as problems go, it is a good problem to have. The best problem.
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