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Surfer Magazine’s Long Ride May Be Over

The New York Times: The six-decade ride of Surfer, the first major magazine devoted to wave riding and surf culture, has ended in a wipeout, its top editor said on Monday.

The publication is shutting down, at least temporarily, 18 months after American Media, the owner of The National Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids, acquired Surfer’s previous publisher.

Todd Prodanovich, Surfer’s editor in chief since 2015, said the magazine’s staff got word on Friday. “We were told that we were being technically furloughed, but it was pretty clear there was no intention to bring the jobs back at any point, that essentially our duties had ended,” Mr. Prodanovich said in an interview.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the media business, and publications that depend on advertisements for revenue have been especially affected.

“No one thought that we were doing great, as far as business was going, especially since Covid hit,” Mr. Prodanovich said. “We had a lot of advertisers pulling back or pulling out completely.”

An early version of Surfer started in 1960. John Severson, who surfed on a redwood board as a teenager in Southern California, founded the publication partly in reaction to the depiction of surf culture in Hollywood movies like “Gidget.” A lifelong surfer who created films, paintings and photographs depicting the lifestyle, Mr. Severson sold the magazine in the early 1970s, after it had about 100,000 readers and plenty of ads. He died in 2017.

Surfer eventually ended up as part of the Adventure Sports Network, a division of TEN: Publishing. American Media bought the company, which also published magazines like Snowboarder, Bike and Canoe & Kayak, in February 2019.

In August, American Media merged with Accelerate360, a logistics firm. Both companies are controlled by Chatham Asset Management, a hedge fund in New Jersey. After the merger, the American Media name was expunged. The new company’s media division is A360 Media.

Matt Warshaw, who was the editor in chief of Surfer in 1990 and runs the Encyclopedia of Surfing website, said the magazine was a must-read in its heyday. “Surfer was the thing that we all shared, that we all looked at, that connected all of us,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Prodanovich said that, without Surfer, “there is no authoritative voice left to talk about the culture in an informed way — it’s a huge loss.”

On Thursday, for the first time in its history, according to the editor, Surfer endorsed a presidential candidate, urging readers to vote for the Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr. The next day, the members of the staff learned they would be furloughed. Mr. Prodanovich said he believed the shutdown had nothing to do with the endorsement.

“It’s just a really funny coincidence,” he said.

During the 2016 campaign, American Media showed a preference for Donald J. Trump. Its chief executive and president, David J. Pecker, was a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, and The Enquirer published a series of articles attacking his political rivals, including Senator Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.

In a federal investigation of possibly illegal campaign contributions that started after the 2016 election, American Media admitted to prosecutors that it had orchestrated a deal with the onetime Playboy model Karen McDougal — who claimed a past affair with Mr. Trump — in an effort to aid the candidate’s White House bid. In return for their cooperation, Mr. Pecker and another American Media executive, Dylan Howard, were protected from criminal prosecution.

American Media announced in April 2019 that it had reached a deal to sell The Enquirer and other tabloids to James Cohen, a son of the founder of the Hudson News franchise of newspaper and magazine shops. That deal has not closed. Chatham had pushed Mr. Pecker to sell The Enquirer after the publication found itself under federal scrutiny. After the merger with Accelerate360, the company said Mr. Pecker would take on a new role, executive adviser.

Explaining the decision to publish the Biden endorsement in Surfer, Mr. Prodanovich said, “I just felt like, honestly, I would have a hard time sleeping at night not knowing that I did everything I could and used the platform of the magazine to support the person who cares about the environment.”

A360 Media would not comment on Surfer, but said in a statement: “Due to the pandemic’s economic impact on the industry and the cancellation of live events, staff furloughs and the suspension of operations for some brands are necessary for the time being.”

Mr. Prodanovich conjured a scenario in which Surfer would survive: “In a perfect world,” he said, “some benevolent rich dude who surfs and wants a pet project would buy this thing away from A360 and revive it in some capacity, just so that it exists.”



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Originally posted on The New York Times. All rights reserved.

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