ITHACA, N.Y.—In a modest second-floor office on the corner of the Ithaca Commons above Simeon’s Bistro, a publication was born amid the hum of printers and copiers that would arguably become the local authority on arts, music, culture and dining news, a go-to for finding out who was performing where, where to eat what, what was happening when, etc. for the next three decades and counting.
14850 Magazine, founded in 1992 as a monthly magazine by now-Ithaca College professor Ari Kissiloff to provide another voice in the local media landscape, has maintained that reputation and mission throughout its existence. Kissiloff says he has never viewed media as a competition—he holds a more holistic view of the landscape.
“To me, it’s always been to have a counterpoint to corporate journalism,” Kissiloff said. “I’m not a journalism professor, but I’ve always been interested in journalism. […] When I got to Ithaca, I didn’t feel like there were good choices. Sometimes it feels like the local press is afraid to write about stuff because of its underwriters. That’s why I liked the idea of a newspaper that wasn’t reliant on advertising. […] I liked the idea of having a media that is diverse, and having a media that has multiple points of responsibility and accountability.”
Current editor Mark Anbinder, whose full time job is with Cornell Campus Life, put the vision in a different, slightly more succinct way.
“What I really want to do is talk about local people doing cool shit,” Anbinder said. “What I want to talk about is businesses doing well, comedians putting on shows, chefs doing fundraisers, new restaurants, new stores that have an interesting backstory.”
To a certain extent, 14850 is an evolution of Zeitgeist, a publication Kissiloff worked on at Ithaca College that sounds similar to the current Buzzsaw magazine publication at the school. His first official print publication was an April Fool’s prank: a spoof of The Ithacan called “Not The Ithacan,” designed to look exactly like a traditional issue of the school’s famed student newspaper and passed out on campus. The prank was popular, and Kissiloff decided that since he now had some experience making a print issue there could be a way for him to publish consistently and make extra money from selling ads.
“We worked on the magazine, and we didn’t have many advertisers at the beginning so we would just advertise Copy Central,” Kissiloff said, talking about the printing business he started in the same office that also housed 14850. “Then people started coming in to Copy Central, so [then] we’re doing all the copies for the downtown area. We ended up doing tons of menus, other desktop publishing, and a lot of rock band posters for the Haunt, for the State Theatre when it was the Ithaca Performing Arts Center. We were very involved in the downtown business community.”
That horizontal integration, of part culture magazine and part printing shop, was what made a place for Mickie Quinn to come on board. Quinn, who has seemingly been involved with nearly everything that has happened in recent history in Ithaca and Tompkins County, graduated from Ithaca College in 1994, when 14850 was already publishing. Since Quinn was going to be returning to Ithaca after graduation, Kissiloff hired her to work for Copy Central, knowing Quinn from her work with Zeitgeist as an undergraduate. But in the tradition of the company, she soon also became the Art Director for the 14850 print product, contributing cartoons and articles to the publication as well.
“From the beginning, 14850 was always very focused on the community, in its name and in its intention,” Quinn said. “They were talking about the community, they were talking to the community, they were including the community. Everyone wanted to see their name in print, their favorite restaurant, their favorite band. It got people excited, and since it was a monthly publication it was more magazine writing, more longform, able to have more creative license in what we chose to write about.”
The magazine’s initial popularity among readers was rooted in a fierce dedication to representing and amplifying the people who made up Ithaca.
“I was just trying to run the paper that [Ari] started,” said Corey Pine, the magazine’s first managing editor. “I was just trying to reflect local. We didn’t have social media, so really just trying to give local artists a voice. Get people thinking local, shopping local. That’s the whole idea behind 14850.”
That, of course, didn’t come without challenges. Pine was hired to be managing editor but soon found himself juggling a bunch of jobs, along with everyone else, to keep the operation afloat. All the while, though, they were still getting to fill a more alternative niche in Ithaca media—Pine fondly remembers writing about the history of coffee in Ithaca, and also commissioning a male writer to test and review products aimed at women, like body hair removers.
“Within the first year of our publication, I think the original business plan was to focus more on the magazine and how the other businesses support that, but eventually it kind of switched,” Pine said with a laugh. “The magazine wasn’t really making a whole lot of money, and it was really being supported by the other businesses, like the graphic design. I started off as editor of a magazine and then ended up like doing resumes, graphic design, making photocopies, doing faxes, helping people get on the internet.”
Eric Machan Howd, who knew Kissiloff from Ithaca College and took over the managing editor role from Pine, said the daily life of work at 14850 was relaxed, the energy drawn from the youth and camaraderie of the staff and a quirky passion for what they were writing about. Machan Howd was living a quintessentially mid-20s lifestyle: having just finished an after-school program manager job at Belle Sherman Elementary School, he was working at 14850 part-time, had just graduated with a Master’s degree from Binghamton University and working as a TA, and was starting a job as a part-time choir director and organist at a church.
“It was just a fun place to be,” Machan Howd said. “Of course, when you’re in that office and there’s a business that opens to the outdoors, you get a lot of people coming in who tell interesting stories. There were all kinds of characters in Ithaca who came through that doorway. That was always entertaining, and sometimes you’d get story ideas. Looking back, it was a really, really fun time.”
While others certainly played parts as well over the years, the consistent force has been the partnership between Anbinder and Kissiloff. They met at MUGWUMP, an Ithaca-based class that stood for Mac User Group for Writers and Users of Mac Programs. Both were entrenched in the local Mac user network and developed a acquaintanceship and then a partnership with Anbinder joining 14850 as a website designer (in a sense), straddling the 14850 and Public Communications/Copy Central fence as well.
Anbinder ended up building websites for a bunch of local entities as well as 14850—whose website debuted in the mid-1990s. 14850 Today, the organization’s more news-centric arm, launched in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 in an effort to connect those in Ithaca desperate to help in some way with blood donation efforts for victims of the 9/11 attacks. (Correction: this passage initially said that 14850’s website debuted on September 11, 2001) That was when, Anbinder said, he and Kissiloff realized the potential importance of daily, accessible news coverage via the internet. That also allowed the print magazine, an increasingly expensive effort, to gradually move away while the focus shifted to the website.
Anbinder has been with 14850 since the mid-1990s, gradually settling into the editor role and handling the more daily publishing responsibilities while Kissiloff handles tech issues and the financial side of the business, while writing very occasionally. From that, 14850 has come to reflect several of Anbinder’s interests and what he thinks is important to fulfill the original idea of the publication. He didn’t always take pictures of his food, Anbinder said smiling, but the work is fulfilling in itself, with the comfort of knowing that the success of the site isn’t a life-or-death proposition.
“We don’t have to make our rent doing this, we don’t have to pay for food,” Anbinder said. “We tend to do this on the margins. […] So it’s relatively easy to say ‘Okay, I’m not going to worry too much about doing something every single day this week. But when something happens that people need to know about, we’ll get the word out.”
There are two sides to that coin, though. Yes, Anbinder has a full-time job, meaning he doesn’t necessarily need to have 14850 be lucrative for the work to still be feasible. But that also means he and Kissiloff and anyone else who passes through have to do the work on the side, in addition to their 40 hours a week or more of regular work.
But in conversation with Anbinder, it’s easy to understand why the site continues with him at the helm.
“To a very real degree, the full-time job that I have now is because of 14850 Magazine,” Anbinder said. “One of the reasons I got the job at Cornell Campus Life is because I was already writing about food, I was already taking pictures of food, and Cornell Dining is one of the biggest aspects of campus life. […] I especially love talking about food. I love writing about music. I forget sometimes what fun it is to talk to a musician and hear what drives them.”
What started as a pet project of sorts has lasted 30 years, certainly defying the odds of virtually any media business as the industry has evolved.
“I’m glad to be part of the mix,” Kissiloff said. “I don’t want to be the only news outlet, that would be terrible. That’s when I would quit. If I was the only one left, that’s when I would get out. Having all the other ones is part of my idea of what it should be. If we were the only publication left, it would mean we’d gone wrong somehow, that we were a sponsor of state propaganda. Right? If it ends up that it’s only 14850, someone needs to do a report about who bought me off.”