Something Else

Retirement a change, not an end

“Best of…,” “Top…,” Favorite…” These are some of the most common sell-lines you’ll see on the covers of city-regional magazines throughout the U.S. This includes Madison Magazine, of course, because we are a city-regional magazine.

There is no magazine for the city-regional magazine industry itself. But if there were, such a publication would include a big story on “Best Publishers.” And a picture of our publisher, Jen Winiger, would grace the cover.

Bragging on the pages of one’s own publication can be off-putting and self-serving. I usually don’t like it, and I do it here with caution. But when your magazine is as comparatively small as this one … and when that magazine is held up as an example of excellence as consistently as this one … and when peers acknowledge that a publisher’s leadership is the cause of that excellence … it bears notice when that same publisher retires.

Not sit-on-the-beach or curl-up-at-the-cabin retire—although we hope there will be some of that—Jen’s not done making a difference in this world. She’s just decided that after seventeen years of, “We don’t know how you do it, the Madison market is too small for a city-regional magazine, by the way how DO you do it?” leadership of Madison Magazine, she wants to do something else. Jen says she doesn’t know what that is yet, but she’s ready to find out.

There’s a deeply affecting chapter in this story. As many of you know, Jen’s husband Phil died of lung cancer in April 2011. And that changed everything. It was an unimaginably cruel loss, and I hate even thinking about it. One day Jen and Phil, Kathleen Falk and her husband Peter Bock, and Nancy and I are reliving our youth at the most recent revival of “Hair” on Broadway followed by a wonderful dinner and talk of plans for doing it all again. Six months later Phil is dead.

Being with Jen this last year and a half has been as profound a human experience as any I’ve been through. But a lot of people can say that because Jen has a lot of friends. And that, too, is a chapter of this particular life story. There are now the five of us, not six. But there are also lunch groups, book clubs and dinner gatherings of people who have, for the most part, been drawn to Jen because of who she is. And who she is, is a warm, caring, funny, smart, irreverent, talented journalist, mentor, co-worker and friend. She is a strong, determined, successful woman who knows more strong, determined, successful women in Dane County than just about anybody I know. That’s why I am sure that the “something else” yet to be determined will turn out to be so interesting.

I’ve actually been through this departure stuff with Jen once before. I remember her coming into my office in 1990 to tell me she was leaving the Creative Services department at WISC-TV3 to work on the agency end of things. Five years later Elizabeth Murphy Burns, who owns WISC, bought Madison Magazine with her brother, and Jen came back as publisher. From there the magazine simply grew—in size, circulation, advertising, influence, quality and respect.

Jen was passionate about Madison Magazine, proud of the sibling relationship with WISC, and visionary in how the two entities could and should work together. She had her hand in more civic activities than most people know, from the former Madison Rep to Downtown Madison Inc. But since that’s the kind of stuff she’s likely to continue doing, we’ll save it for when she really retires.

What I want to do now is say thank you. While Jen hired virtually everyone else at the magazine, a team to whom she humbly defers when credit is given for its accomplishments and who will make sure its success continues as part of her legacy, she inherited me. But I grew to love this magazine, maybe almost as much as Jen. We’ve had a good time, and I’m looking forward to what’s next.  

Neil P. Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine.

Find more columns here.

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