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DoubleTake dies after long, debilitating illness

Bruce Springsteen may be a man of the people, but lately he’s become the bearer of bad juju. In addition to backing John Kerry’s failed bid for the presidency, the Boss wholeheartedly championed another ill-fated cause: DoubleTake magazine, Dr. Robert Coles’s critically lauded quarterly, headquartered in Somerville’s Davis Square. (See "Double Vision," News and Features, May 9, 2003.) Back in February of 2003, Springsteen tried to resuscitate his friend’s documentary-style magazine by headlining two highly publicized benefit shows at the 891-seat Somerville Theatre. But more than 18 months after Springsteen’s high-profile intervention and a long coma-like hiatus, DoubleTake has finally died.

DoubleTake clung to life more stubbornly than Yasser Arafat did. Founded by Dr. Coles — Pulitzer Prize winner, long-time Harvard professor, prolific writer, and renowned child psychiatrist — the glossy quarterly featured long-form reportage, fiction, poetry, and photojournalism focusing on the everyday stories of "ordinary" people. Its editorial treatment of the seemingly banal was so exquisite that it garnered widespread acclaim and a National Magazine Award. But DoubleTake suffered fiscal trouble from the start, and Springsteen’s concerts raised $1 million to help the nonprofit climb out of deep debt. But money wasn’t the only problem: months after the concerts, an internal mutiny took place, with members of the seven-person staff walking out, reportedly because of Coles’s management style. Some staffers remained, however, and tried to rebuild DoubleTake from scratch while magazine production was put on hold through the remainder of 2003.

This past May, they put up an odd, last-ditch effort to raise revenue: an online celebrity auction. Hosted through Charityfolks.com, a Web site that’s also helping the Paris Review survive, the celestial public sale was a strange fundraiser for a magazine "of the people, by the people, and for the people," offering affluent bidders the opportunity to rub elbows with famous people. Among the sale items were chances to attend The Bourne Supremacy’s premiere with Matt Damon, to enjoy "an unforgettable evening on Broadway" with Glenn Close, to scuba-dive with Provincetown treasure hunter Barry Clifford, to peek behind the scenes of Good Morning America, to hang out with Max Kennedy at the Kennedy Compound — even to dine with the DoubleTake creator himself. When the auction was over, Coles posted a thank-you letter, saying the group "managed to raise significant funding for the upcoming summer months" and that the magazine’s forecast was tenuous, but hopeful, an endeavor that would require a "good measure of planning, goodwill, and, yes, a bit of good luck." But according to the charity site, plans were already in the works for an autumn sequel, called "Take a Second Look: The DoubleTake Re-Launch Auction."

But there would be no relaunch and no second sale. Weeks ago, for rent signs went up in the windows of DoubleTake’s second-floor space. Since then, the office phone has been disconnected. The magazine’s Web site issued the only official word on the subject, an apologetic farewell: "We are deeply saddened to announce that DoubleTake magazine has ceased publication.... We’re sorry it had to end; we’ve simply run out of money and are unable to find sustained sources of support."

Although the magazine effectively died long ago, it’s still a loss to the field of literary journalism. As former publisher Hugo Barreca once lamented, "If it disappears, there really won’t be another like it.... This is something we’re saving because it’s not going to be duplicated." Alas, it just couldn’t be saved.

Issue Date: November 19 - 25, 2004
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