If you’re like me and can’t carry a tune to save your life, so you speak the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” instead of bombing the singalong, there are better ways to celebrate: Ask questions and attend to the person’s answers. Happy birthday to Mother Jones’ production director, Claudia Smukler, who reluctantly agreed to a Q&A:
Happy birthday, Claudia. What’s in store?
I’m thinking about trees. Tomorrow I’m headed to the Pacific Northwest and Olympic National Park. After the dry, dusty, smoky summer in the Bay Area, the rainforest seems an inviting landscape to restore my mood. The investigative stories in our just-finished magazine, about carbon capture and agroforestry and climate collapse, bring up a lot for me. As MoJo’s production director, with a long career in magazine manufacturing, I’ve purchased a lot of paper. I have complicated feelings about that.
We closed the magazine a week ago after a hard sprint, unthinkable without your expert helming of our production and marshaling of pages to the printer. What’s your secret? Caffeine? Music? Throwing darts at our copy editor on the wall?
I enjoy creating magazines. I know where we need to go and what the endgame is, and guiding the process toward that goal takes energy and skills that I get to refine each time. I’ve been doing this a long time, and while it’s a similar effort every issue, there’s always something new. New staff to train or technical challenges to solve, or a contributor who needs more time. Shit breaks down and the story we thought was in the can at the start ends up being the last to ship—the nature of it. And yet it works. The creative process requires a lot from people, and the core team, each with a specific job, “gets it.” We learn to depend on each other’s skills and professionalism. That’s what gets us through. And the fact that we have a beautiful thing in the end to show for all that struggle.
Speaking of a beautiful thing to show for struggle, what’s a birthday wish for readers who feel exhausted and drained by the onslaught of corruption at the core of American politics that characterizes our news? What can you recommend to stay grounded?
My birthday wish for Mother Jones readers and readers everywhere is that we make the investment in our species to provide a global standard of care and teach young people to read. Reading requires sustained education for years, community commitment at the highest level, and work to nurture each child’s ability to discover the truth about themselves and the world around them. Reading the news makes me wonder about that commitment. I was reminded recently—while pondering the collapse of Afghanistan and the fate of so many children—of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This treaty defined global standards for young people. Basic rights! The UN General Assembly adopted the convention and opened it for signature in November 1989, the year my own son was born. It was ratified the next year. But as of this month, 196 countries are party to the resolution, including every UN member, except the United States. My birthday wish is that citizens of the United States would raise hell till our government makes that basic commitment to children.