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Ben Siegel: Editor, Block Club

Get to know a Buffalonian...

You’d think Artvoice would be intimidated by, you know, those other guys in town. But in reality, our fellow partners in print are pretty good guys and anyone outside the local media status quo—*cough* Buffalo News—is cool in our book. We spoke with media studies guru and Block Club editor Ben Siegel.

What role does Block Club play in the Western New York media scene? What do you do better than everyone else out there—Artvoice included?

We make a magazine that aims to remind Western New Yorkers of the amazing city and region they already live in. We can complain about what we don’t have, what we used to be, what we aren’t, but isn’t it more satisfying to point all that we do have? I think our strength is our ability to stay positive without being corny, and relevant without being preachy. If we make you smile at the city instead of scream at the city, then we’ve done our job. I think the downfall of mainstream media in town, and nationally, is that it doesn’t inspire readers enough to be better people.

How did you get involved with the Block Club crew? Whats the most interesting thing you’ve learned about this city since you launched Block Club?

Block Club Magazine started as the idea of our publisher, Patrick Finan. In early 2007, we met through a mutual friend and began talking about our ideas of what a new, young, hyperlocal magazine in WNY could look and sound like. I had written for The Buffalo News and wanted to stay in town so long as there was challenging and exciting work for me. We began working on the first issue during that spring and premiered in May 2007. We just finished production on our 20th issue.

What is the creative process like at Block Club? Artvoice’s typically begins with a copious amount of beer.

We all have different styles and tastes, though we are all on the same page about where we’d like the magazine to be, creatively speaking. Having studied theater my whole life, and since I’m a writer, I believe that the story dictates the storytelling and visual formats that wind up on the page. Patrick and Brandon Davis, our advertising director, have very contemporary and progressive tastes in visual design. Steve Soroka, our photographer, sees the beauty in detail and nuance. When you combine these different perspectives it creates something exciting and new. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished creatively. And yes, beer sometimes steers the ship.

You guys are very forward thinking in terms new media. Is this necessary for the survival of the dead tree edition and what could those publications do better to ensure their futures?

I don’t believe that journalism is dying, nor that print media is either. However, the tools are changing, as they did when the printing press and personal computer hit the scene. It’s certainly sad that so many newspapers are folding across the nation, but it’s also a waste of energy to lament the loss too much. There are stories that need to be told, and we’re going to tell them if it’s on a computer screen, in a Facebook status update, or printed on dead trees. Or all of the above.

Is Buffalo under or over cultured relative to its’ size? What is one thing about this city that still surprises you when it comes to our availability of big-city fare (food/theater/music/arts)?

It never surprises me when the quality of artistic work is high. We have incredible talent in town and with more than enough room for everybody to have their own private corner. That breathing room allows people to fail and try again. We also live in a global community now. Inspiration is everywhere, and it is limitless. Put talent and inspiration in a room, they’re going to make something spectacular.

Did you actually learn anything at the NEA’s recent Arts Institute at USC? Or was this just an excuse to catch some sun in Santa Monica and grab an In-N-Out burger?

You got me there. I only went to Los Angeles for 11 days to get a cheeseburger. The weather was actually nicer here than it was out there. I learned spectacular things at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute, from my 24 fellow participants and from great faculty. But the most rewarding lesson is the understanding that the work I’m doing in Buffalo with Block Club is already starting to answer the question of where journalism is going.

BONUS: Do you realize you share a name with the notorious Jewish gangster who built Las Vegas?

Indeed, I do. Growing up my rabbi called me Bugsy, which confused me for years. I thought he didn’t know my name was Ben.

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