The enterprize zone
Few would dispute the notion that there is an overabundance of media about celebrities. News and gossip shows about the stars are broadcast daily, and glossy magazines full of their photographs are published routinely.
For longtime West Side resident William Stewart, the glut of information about celebrities suggested there was room in Chicago for a niche magazine about everyday people. The kind of people you run into at the post office, block club meeting or while walking down the street. With this in mind, Stewart in October 2001 launched a magazine called “Spotlight on You”.
Stewart and his small staff filled the pages of “Spotlight on You” with short pieces about. There were, for example, a story about two brothers from North Lawndale who both work as Chicago police officers. There stories about local religious leaders and inspirational sayings. The small magazine had an advice column, poetry and tributes to mothers written by the magazine’s readers.
“We had a vision. People want to know about ordinary individuals,” said Stewart. “There are so many magazines about celebrities, but none about you, me and the rest of us.”
Stewart, 47, has a long history in printing, publishing and graphic design. In high school, he learned how to set type and how to operate offset and letter presses. He studied graphic design at Trident College and Chicago State University, and later opened up his own print shop in the Loop. He currently works as the material management coordinator in Malcolm X College’s print shop, a position he’s held since 1992.
In the case of “Spotlight,” Stewart’s plan included publishing three, free test issues of the magazine in October, November and December of 2001.
“It was a test pilot,” he recalled, “to see what kind of response we would get.”
The magazine, though, shut down in January 2002 after the test run. But soon, the calls started to come in. Stewart said readers liked the magazine’s focus on ordinary people and its mix of stories, interviews, religious news and features. They wanted more.
The response inspired Stewart to restart the publication, this time at a charge. At its peak, nearly 600 people subscribed. Stewart made trips to Detroit and St. Louis to promote the magazine. “Spotlight”, he said, even reached Kenya after local subscribers sent issues there.
But after a 15-month run, Stewart, again, has to cease publishing.
“We couldn’t keep up. Trying to get stories, edit them, get the magazine out and trying to do my regular job – it was getting out of hand,” he said.
“Spotlight on You” was also part of a broader business called “S” Productions that Stewart founded in 2000. “S” Productions organized fashion shows, concerts and gospel theatre, among other events. Stewart was able to advertise and promote those events in his magazine, which he distributed at the events his company produced. It was a way of increasing the visibility of both brands.
Stewart said he still gets recognized on the street by people asking him when the next issue of “Spotlight” is going to be published.
“I forgot that my picture was on the cover,” he said.
Now, he has an answer for them – he wants to start publishing “Spotlight on You” this spring, possibly by March.
After another three-month trial, he plans to decide whether to publish the magazine on a monthly basis again. This time, Stewart would like to possibly pay some of his freelance writers, and use old and new databases of contacts to rebuild his subscriptions.
“I can’t sit still,” he said. “I got to thinking, ‘I’ve got to keep on this.'”