Tom Hallock is Associate Publisher at Beacon Press.
Today is Jessie Bennett’s last day at Beacon Press, and I want to take the opportunity to thank her in the space she created. Jessie came to Beacon six years ago, answering the call for someone to fill “a temporary, grant-funded position” to create a blog for the press. In my new hire letter I wrote, “There is a possibility that the position will be funded for a second year.” Thanks to her work, it was funded for a second and then a third, by which time we had come to feel that both the blog and its editor were essential to the work of the press.
We launched Beacon Broadside because we wanted to amplify the voices of our authors, and to provide them with a way to connect their work to the events of the day. Beacon Broadside required that we develop a “new mind”, as we explored a different way for Beacon to fulfill its mission and engage with readers, investing in something whose return would not be financial. Jessie was the perfect midwife, creating a lively, timely and thoughtful blog that has done all these things.
Our Director Helene Atwan, wrote in the blog’s inaugural issue: “I’d rather liken a good blog to an appetizer, something to get you ready for the main course…. Imagine how interesting it might be to know what some of your favorite or most respected writers are thinking and reading. To be introduced to some intriguing ideas with links that would bring you to articles, essays, and finally (I hope) to books—those we publish and quite a few we don’t. It’s our hope that Beacon Broadside will be entertaining, challenging, provocative, unexpected, and—maybe above all—a good appetizer.”
A thousand posts later, that has proved to be true.
Somewhere along the way, Jessie became Beacon’s Digital Content Developer and launched our YouTube Channel, which received 100,000+ views in the past year, with some videos receiving 10, 20 and even 30,000 views. She created videos for books by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kate Bornstein, Mary Oliver and others. Her most viewed was: Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. (One of my personal favorites is her recent video for Christine Byl’s Dirt Work.) Jessie became a nine time winner of Shelf Awareness’s Book Trailer of the Day, not exactly the Oscars, but welcome attention for a new undertaking.
Some of the metrics we’ve used to measure our progress over the years are hard and cool numbers: units sold, returns, percentage of sales in digital. But others now are softer: views, fans and followers. And others are softer still: lives touched by the work we publish, by the ideas and experiences of our authors. Through our blog and videos, we feel we’ve increased the social impact of the press.
Jessie’s office features a standing desk and a door festooned with pictures of her sons Nathan and Cooper, their artwork, and a poem by her husband Stephen Burt, "Hermit Crab", which appeared in the New Yorker. I’ll miss walking by and seeing Jessie staring intently at her screen, looking like she’s on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, working on a new post or video.
So, thank you Jessie for your dedication, creativity and general willingness to experiment. And learn. Thank you for being such a good first steward of Beacon Broadside.