What It’s Like Publishing A Magazine During The COVID-19 Crisis (Opinion)

Exactly when we started working from home seems like a thousand years ago at this point. I’d actually kicked off my soon-to-be hermetic lifestyle, unknowingly, on March 9, when I stayed home to oversee some light construction work on my house in Troy. I was in the office the rest of the week, save for, ironically, Friday the 13th, and have only set foot in Saratoga Living‘s headquarters at 422 Broadway in Saratoga Springs two other times since. One of those times was on Wednesday, March 18, when myself and our CEO, Abby Tegnelia, met there and drove over together to our Design Issue cover shoot, which took place at Kevin and Claudia Bright’s Saratoga house. (The other was a few weekends ago, when I went there to pick up copies of the magazines and a few “personal effects,” which had been sitting in my empty office where I’d left them, frozen in time, Pompeii-style.)

To say that the last few months have been surreal would be an understatement; sure, I spent five years in the solitary confinement that was being a freelance writer, first working remotely from my Brooklyn home office; then for a spell from Airbnbs in Berkeley and Oakland, CA; then back to Brooklyn and up to Troy; but nothing could’ve prepared me for the present situation. I still don’t feel entirely comfortable or safe going outside, even for a quick walk with my wife and dog in the morning. (About five or ten minutes into our routine, we usually come upon our pregnant neighbor doing the same thing, talking on the phone with someone, her earbuds firmly in; we don’t know her, but every time we see her, we wave and smile, because she’s one of the only people we’ll see all day.)

Whereas I normally work from home in near-complete seclusion, with my noise-cancelling headphones on, door shut and blinds drawn—I think I picked up that trick from reading Stephen King’s On Writing (the idea being that, in a dark, sealed-off room, your imagination runs more wild than if you have a sightline to the outside world)—in recent weeks, I’ve kept my door cracked and raised my shades. I even Windexed my windows yesterday, so that I’d have an even clearer view of my neighbor’s side yard. I need to see the sunlight when it’s out; I need to hear my wife typing away or talking on the phone in the other room. And whereas, normally, it’s sort of a drag being interrupted by a coworker dropping by your office to tell you something, nowadays, it’s been cathartic having Zoom calls with the other editors on staff; part of the conversation is focused on how crazy life is now versus a month ago.

For most of you who aren’t privy to our company’s editorial calendar, here’s an idea of what our staff was up against going into New York State’s mandatory work-from-home scenario: We had our first issue of The Hyde Collection‘s Digest to produce and publish, the product of a brand-new partnership between our staff and the nonprofit art museum in Glens Falls; our first issue of Horsepower magazine, the yield of a second partnership with the Saratoga Automobile Museum; the creation and editing of the April issue of Capital Region Living magazine (the eventual “Hope” issue; we’ve since released our May issue of CRL, also done entirely remotely); and the creation and editing of the Spring 2020 issue of Saratoga Living magazine (the one on newsstands as we speak). Mind you, our staff had never produced a single magazine issue remotely, and we were all under a tremendous amount of professional and personal stress because of the COVID-19 crisis. And to make matters worse, all four publications were due to the printer within weeks of one another.

In order that you don’t fall asleep during this story, I’m going to only give you a peek into what the process was like creating the latest issue of Saratoga Living—the one that was completed last in our work-from-home scenario. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of publishing a magazine, you’ll know that it’s an exercise in patience; once you get all of the stories in, edit and mold them to a cohesive voice, choose the photographs and then lay them out in pages, oftentimes, what you see on pages compared to that which you read on a Word document weeks prior reads something like pig Latin.

For the past two years and change, I’ve been the editor who’s seen and edited the majority of the stories first, so it’s really up to me to “hear” them and find their common “voice.” I suppose it’s similar to being in a barbershop quartet and telling the guy to your right to sing a little less sharp to get the four-part harmony just so. Once I’m done with my initial edits, they go on to a second editor—basically, the role a dentist plays when he or she comes in at the last minute after you’ve had your teeth cleaned to see if there are any cavities or spots the dental hygienist missed. (There must always be checks and balances.) And then the stories go off to our creative director and her team, who are located in New York City and suburban Massachusetts, respectively, who lay them out, and we start the editing process all over again.

Once the painstaking process of designing and laying out each page of Saratoga Living takes place, our Creative Director creates “passes” for us. In other words, the three editors on the Saratoga Living staff (myself included) read each page in the magazine twice before a potential “final pass,” which is the last time any of us will see the magazine before it goes to the printer. Between the first and second pass, our managing editor meticulously tells the creative team, digitally, what edits and/or corrections we asked for in the first pass, and that’s how it becomes the second pass. The process starts up again for the second pass, ending with her directing the creative team a second time. And sometimes, stuff just slips through the cracks: take my cover story, for example: You won’t find the error in the web version, because I immediately corrected it when I found out the, um, error in my ways, but the Korean word that Kevin Bright named his latest documentary is spelled “Nureongi,” not “Neurongi.” (Sorry, Kevin, and kudos to anyone else who read our magazine close enough to find the other few typos.)

Once the magazine is to the printer, it usually takes about a week to get the finished copies back. And this time around, we had to pull an audible when it came to distribution: Many of our favorite drop-offs like Uncommon Grounds were closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, so we had to find alternate places to get our magazine out to the masses. You can find all four of them inside the front door at 422 Broadway in Saratoga Springs (on the first floor of SL headquarters), as well as at all Stewart’s Shops in the Capital Region. (This includes our sister publication, Capital Region Living; The Hyde’s Digest and Horsepower can be found at 422 Broadway and/or the respective museums.) The magazines are also being bundled with a number of takeout/to-go orders in the region, and our amazing COO has been doing daily runs to replenish a number of other sources. (Find a full list here.) We’ve even found a new, wonderful audience in some of the area’s nursing homes and retirement communities, which have welcomed our magazine with open arms. These include Albany’s Daughters of Sarah Senior Community and Beltrone Senior Center, as well as Saratoga’s The Wesley Community and Prestwick Chase.

Since COVID-19 struck, many of us on staff have been working seven days a week to make this all possible, with little rest and recovery in between. We’ve had few disagreements and found many reasons to smile and laugh. And, even if your social isolation or quarantine has kept you from venturing out to find a physical copy of the magazine, below, you’ll find about 90 percent of the magazine in digital form, with some cool outtakes and add-ons to make things interesting.

Thank you for continuing to read all of our great magazines.


Will Levith
Editorial Director

Kevin and Claudia Bright, and their two South Korean rescue dogs, Oscar (at left) and Hope. (Dori Fitzpatrick)

*Cover Story: Kevin Bright, the Executive Producer/Director of hit TV sitcom Friends, and his wife, Claudia Wilsey Bright, welcomed us into their Saratoga area home. At the bottom, find a sidebar on their personal interior design man, Edmond DeRocker. Read the story here.

*We also went behind the scenes on the Friends series with Bright. In an outtake that didn’t make it into the magazine story, Bright told me the story behind his middle initial (it’s been edited lightly for clarity and punctuation): “In the beginning of my career, I worked a lot with a big-time television director, who went by the credit Walter C. Miller. I asked him once why he used his middle initial, as most people did not use it in a TV credit. He told me it made his name take up more space and made it pop out from the rest. I was only a production assistant at the time, but I started [using] the credit Kevin S. Bright. Scott is my middle name, which my mother was very proud of, [and] she thought I did it for her. In every day life I’m just Kevin Bright. I use the initial only on TV.”
*And Managing Editor Natalie Moore ranked the most underrated Friends episodes (three of which were directed by Bright).
Star of Bravo show ‘Southern Charm,’ Shep Rose. (Katie Dobies)
*In her debut for Saratoga Living, Capital Region Living staffer Tracy Momrow, who is a big fan of the Bravo series Southern Charm, wrote a topper to go along with our exclusive interview with its star, Shep Rose. Read the story here.
*Our second Shep in the issue, Skidmore College graduate Shep Murray is one-half of the launch team behind American clothing line Vineyard Vines. Murray and his brother, Ian, quit their jobs on the same day to found the company, and now they’re billionaires. Read about his keys to success, which include a few favorite Skidmore professors, here.
The ‘Star Trek’ Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY, is pretty legit. (Rob O’Neil)
*A Star Trek fanatic has recreated the original ’60s TV set in an old Safeway in Ticonderoga. Local professor and pop culture man-about-town Daniel Nester went there before the COVID-19 outbreak and reported on it in all its glory. Read the story here.
(left) Dr. Alex Marsal, PhD and Dan Pickett, co-founders of aptihealth. (Francesco D’Amico)
*My mom sent me this note after reading my feature on the digital startup, aptihealth, which was co-founded by Dan Pickett, a local entrepreneur and the man who founded Clifton Park’s multibillion-dollar company, nfrastructure: “Now I know what you were referring to a couple of weeks ago when you told us you were working on a piece that would either make a strong statement and/or [would be] a mistake to write. Lots at stake is probably how you put it. Indeed—I am so proud of you for having written this.” (Read my introduction, and you’ll know what she’s talking about.)
*Our “Downtown Details” story was originally conceived as sort of a “hey, check out these cool idiosyncrasies all over Saratoga.” But when we found ourselves trapped in a new world of social isolation, we knew we had to make it into a “virtual” tour instead of one where we sent people out, potentially, into harm’s way. Take the tour here.
The Congress Park Carousel. (Francesco D’Amico)

*Our story about the Congress Park Carousel was another one of those stories that we assigned well in advance of the COVID-19 crisis but didn’t really have to tweak much at all. The City of Saratoga Springs initially didn’t want to let us in to shoot the carousel, because it was under maintenance at the time. But the folks over there eventually caved, and the photos came out amazing. Read the story here.

Jamie and Josh Wallbank of Collar City Candle doing their thing. (Francesco D’Amico)

*We ended up adding this feature to the editorial lineup late in the ballgame, and it’s one of my personal favorites. In it, each of us on the Saratoga Living editorial staff profiled a local artisan we were fans of. Fun Fact: Before COVID-19 ruined my morning routine, I worked out nearly every morning at 6am with a bunch of others at anatomie gym in Troy, including Jamie Wallbank from Collar City Candle. Read about her and her husband Josh’s business here.

*We hired back our former intern (and budding fashionista) Mitchell Famulare to cover the Capital Region’s emerging fashion scene—as well as the man and his fashion event series, Stitched, behind it. Read the story here.

*I know everybody’s a little worried about whether or not there’s going to be a track season this summer in Saratoga. And with the Kentucky Derby having been pushed back to September, it raised some questions about what how the Saratoga Race Course stakes schedule might unfold. We put our Sports Editor Brien Bouyea on the case, and he came up with an elegant solution. Read it here.

A rendering of the new digital display at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

*Talk about wearing two hats. Brien Bouyea is not only Saratoga Living‘s Sports Editor, he’s also the communications director at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. So, he’s quoted in Jeff Dingler’s story, which provides a sneak peek of the new digital-heavy improvements to horse racing’s Hall of Fame. Check them out here.

*The racing museum’s not the only Saratoga institution that’s going to show off to the public how it “pimped its ride” this summer. SPAC’s going to be unveiling some major changes to its grounds, including a brand-new concessions building and yes, new bathroom facilities. Read the story here.
Peter McPherson standing in front of his creation, ‘Tiny Towns.’
*In our previous issue of Saratoga Living, we profiled cartoonist John McPherson, who’s best known for his widely syndicated cartoon, Close to Home. So, we thought it would be cool to create some connective tissue between issues by profiling McPherson’s son, Peter, a successful board game designer (check out his game, Tiny Towns) in our Design Issue. Read about Peter McPherson here.
*Even though Seneca has decided to close entirely, with no takeout or to-go options, during the COVID-19 crisis, we still wanted to track down “Hot Chef” Mike Spain to talk about his bold, new grilling style, which he brought to Saratoga. We can’t wait for the restaurant to open back up. Read our interview with Spain here.
Ronnie and Gigi Solevo, posing at a table in front of the wall at their restaurant, Solevo Kitchen + Social, that features vintage photos of their family. Fun Fact: When Ronnie was handed the wine during the shoot, he remarked, “I don’t even drink.” (Dori Fitzpatrick)
*Just days into the COVID-19 crisis in Saratoga and only a few days before Governor Cuomo declared a statewide lockdown, I sat down with Solevo Kitchen + Social’s sibling co-owners, Ronnie and Gigi Solevo, to talk about how their restaurant had quickly become the place where the city’s elite dined. Like Seneca, they two have chosen to shut down their restaurant for the duration of the crisis, but it’s still worth reading their story and dreaming of a hefty plate of fantasy Italian food that you’ll be eating at some point soon. Read why Ronnie and Gigi are our latest Power Players here.
*A little Saratoga history lesson, if you will. Inventor Seymour Ainsworth laid a golden egg with his feathery invention in the 1880s. Check out what it was here.
*More history, you say? Ah, but the type that we fact-check. Whitehall, NY claims to be the birthplace of the US Navy. We explore the validity of the claim…hint: it’s not, really. Read our conclusion here.
*In order to ensure that when the COVID-19 crisis is over, Downtown Saratoga business goes back to normal, we think that everybody should be buying gift cards to all of their favorite Saratoga businesses. Think of them as purchasing “futures.” Find out the businesses you can support here.
‘Office’ Actress Kate Flannery also recently appeared on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’
*If you’re in need of a laugh, click on this story just to watch the Meredith Palmer supercut from NBC’s hit show, The Office. But what you should really do is stick around and read our exclusive Q&A with the actress who plays her, Kate Flannery, who is still scheduled to come to Colonie Center in July for a meet-and-greet and autograph-signing session. Read the interview here.
*I grew up going to the Electric City (a.k.a. Schenectady) to visit my grandparents, who lived on the GE Plot. It turns out that the city’s been home to some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including Anne B. Davis, Mickey Rourke and Ato Essendoh, who’s acted in a number of high-profile movies and TV shows. Get to know Essendoh here.
*Long before the COVID-19 crisis, we launched a section in the magazine called “Buy This!,” in which we’d go around Downtown Saratoga and taste-make some of the coolest things you could buy from local shops. When the crisis hit, we took that concept online. Check out the latest results here.
*Our idea for the short feature Jockey Club was simple: Jockeys all sort of look like short dudes and dudettes when they’re in their gear—unless, of course, you’re a horse racing fanatic or that jockey rides for your family. For all of the rest of Saratoga who needs a lesson in who’s who, you’ll find an introduction to one jockey in every issue we publish this year. Meet the newest up-and-coming jockey star, Manny Franco, here.
*Another one of our new features this year: We’ve been having local women in positions of power dump out their purses or tote bags to show what they’re carrying in them. Whereas before COVID-19, we could meet up with them and snap a photo of it, this time around, we had our subject do it herself. Find out what’s in Night Owl Creative Director Hilary Morrison’s bag here.
anatomie gym Owner/Trainer Eileen Fitzgibbons (center). (Elario Photography)
*We had originally chosen National Bike to Work Day (May 15) for the issue, but COVID-19 quickly nixed it. So, we pivoted to National Fitness Day (May 2), with an emphasis on working out at home, and asked Co-owner/Trainer Eileen Fitzgibbons at anatomie gym in Troy for a workout plan. Spoiler Alert: It includes a four-minute plank. Just you wait…
*In our second installment of Ride-Along (we did our first one, pre-COVID-19, with the Saratoga Springs Police Department) we sent our senior writer on virtual assignment to cover a day in the life of a local restaurant owner, delivering food to the needy and her loyal customers in and around Saratoga. Spend a full day with Whole Harvest’s Kelsey Whalen here.
*We polled some of the top designers in Saratoga about the Spa City’s design aesthetic. You might be surprised by what some of them say. Find out here.
*In the pre-COVID universe, I was trawling the Internet for new and improved stories for saratogaliving.com, when I stumbled upon the fact that the brains behind HGTV’s Home Town had launched a nationwide search for one town to completely make over during a six-episode miniseries called Home Town Takeover. That led to some more web sleuthing, and I found a number of ways that HGTV had used the Capital Region (and its residents) as a destination for its various reality shows. Count those ways here.
*Did we mention we have a new Design Editor? Her name’s Sue Waldron, and you may remember her from one of our way-back-when profiles. Sue got right to business with some simply wonderful upgrades for your three-season room. Read her first column here.
One With Life Organic Tequila
One With Life Organic Tequila Owner Lisa Elovich.
*If self-quarantining is making you waste away again and again in Margaritaville, and at some point, you find your lost shaker of salt, know that Saratoga has its own top-notch tequila brand, One With Life Tequila, and it’s worth a shot or nine. Read about it here.
*Our newest freelance writer, Brian K. Lind, whom I “discovered” through an old Saratoga friend, covers five must-buy boats for the upcoming Lake George summer season. Read about them here. (Hey, as long as you’re socially distancing on the water, boating should be a good pastime during this madness…as soon as it gets warm again.)
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