Following tragic year, Virginia Quarterly Review makes new hires

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More than one year after a suicide prompted workplace bullying allegations and an internal investigation, UVA announced last week that the Virginia Quarterly Review had hired a new publisher and deputy editor. For VQR Editor Ted Genoways—whose management was criticized by former staff members, defended by freelance contributors, and ultimately cleared by UVA—the magazine’s mission “remains the same.”

One year after he faced allegations of bullying, VQR editor Ted Genoways was praised by new hire, deputy editor Donovan Webster (pictured), as “one of the best editors I’ve ever had.”

“We’re all aware of the charge of the magazine, and that has remained the same since 1925,” Genoways told C-VILLE. “But of course, new people interpret that mission in new ways.” While Genoways said the new colleagues are still getting acquainted, he added that the office has “a lot of positive energy, and good things will come out of that.”

Publisher Jon Parrish Peede and Deputy Editor Donovan Webster have worked with Genoways before. From 2007 until recently, Peede was Director of Literature Grants for the National Endowment for the Arts, which hosted Genoways as a panelist during Peede’s tenure. Webster—an Albemarle County resident and seasoned reporter and editor for the likes of Outside, Vanity Fair and National Geographic—has previously contributed to VQR.

The pair also represent greater fundraising potential and reportorial clout, two VQR ambitions that fell under some scrutiny following the suicide of managing editor Kevin Morrissey in July 2010.

At that time, VQR’s reporting structure was in flux, and the magazine’s subscriptions had declined after 2007. UVA’s endowment, which was one source of VQR funds, had also dropped. An $800,000 account established by former VQR editor Staige Blackford contained $130,000 by the first quarter of 2009. However, then-UVA President John Casteen had pledged that he would increase allocations to VQR, Genoways told C-VILLE for a previous story. The editor also hoped to create a $3 million endowment for the journal, and a magazine writing program with partners that included LOOK3, which runs the Charlottesville-based Festival of the Photograph.

A nine-page audit released in October 2010 stated that UVA received “no specific allegations of bullying or harassment prior to July 30” and referred to Genoways’ management as “questionable,” but also described the University’s oversight of the magazine’s small office as “inconsistent.” A financial audit turned up “no inappropriate transactions” concerning UVA accounts.

Since the audit, VQR completed its transition to the Office of the Vice President for Research, helmed by Tom Skalak. It also received two National Magazine Awards, for fiction and multimedia package. And, with input from Skalak and Peede, Genoways now has an eight-person advisory board, which includes editors from the Washington Post and New York Times as well as Siva Vaidhyanathan, chair of UVA’s Department of Media Studies.

“Tom [Skalak] agreed to create the publisher position and have somebody who is at a very high level with a lot of experience come in and take the business side of the operation by the horns,” said Genoways. “There was a search. Jon Peede is a person that we were really thrilled to land.”

About his deputy editor, Genoways said, “I don’t think you could be in this business and not appreciate the skills of somebody like Donovan Webster.” Coincidentally, Genoways and Webster shared space in this paper in April 2010, when C-VILLE interviewed both for a collection of profiles about prominent locals.

Webster expressed his support for Genoways to C-VILLE: “I would say he’s one of the best editors I’ve ever had.”

He added that Genoways’ skill rivaled that of his former New Yorker editor Charles “Chip” McGrath, once rumored to be a candidate to replace William Shawn as that magazine’s editor in chief. “By cutting me by 10 percent, he makes me 20 percent smarter.”

Asked for comment on the VQR workplace dynamics, Webster called Morrissey’s death and VQR’s subsequent turmoil “an enormous tragedy.” But, he said, “we’re looking forward, and I think we’re going to do some cool stuff.”

As for the fate of a VQR-led magazine program at UVA, Genoways did not discuss specifics. However, he said Webster will likely teach a class with Vaidhyanathan in UVA’s Media Studies department. He also added that partnerships with groups like LOOK3 “could produce exciting work and would lead in important directions.”

 

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