From Strange Roots We Flourish
A Q&A with two of Buzzsaw’s founders
Sam Costello and Abigail Bertumen are two of the founding editors of Buzzsaw magazine. Costello is currently a technology manager for the ad agency Digitas, and Bertumen is currently a lawyer in Washington, D.C.
NK/SG: Where would you say the idea for Buzzsaw came from? Why did you want to get involved?
SC: Buzzsaw was born out of frustration: frustration with the on-campus media choices at that time; frustration that there was nothing in print at Ithaca College, or really even in the city of Ithaca, that matched the sensibilities of the founders. The Internet was still relatively young at that time, and the explosion of social media, blogging, and other kinds of publishing democratization was years away at that time. If it wasn’t in print, it was as if it didn’t exist. There wasn’t anything that we could read that sounded like us, that said things in the way we would, that talked about what we cared about.
AB: A lot of us were current or former Ithacan members, so we knew what it was like to crank out a newspaper. I remember we started an email chain about it and then decided to meet, and that’s when we really talked about putting it together. I think all of the editors had different reasons for wanting to start and be a part of Buzzsaw. For me, it was to be part of something new and to provide students with some newspaper alternatives on campus when there weren’t any.
NK/SG: How was funding secured for the first issues?
SC: Mr. James Sigman. The first three issues were funded entirely by James. He’d graduated the year before and so was making more money than probably all of us had combined at that time. And he’d had his own issues with The Ithacan, so it was a good match. Without James [and Our Press, the magazine’s longtime and current printer], Buzzsaw never would have happened.
NK/SG: What was the process like to take your initial idea and actually make it happen, actually produce a publication?
AB: When the first issue was published and distributed, it was definitely a very exciting experience, although we produced it so quickly that it seemed pretty effortless. I remember after or around the first issue we were trying to get funding and other benefits on campus, and to do that we had to become a club recognized by the Student Government Association. I remember going to the SGA meeting and talking about Buzzsaw. I think people were pretty skeptical at the time. The one thing they couldn’t seem to get over was the name; they didn’t really think it was serious. But I think it was good to sort of break down people’s notions that good writing or good ideas or bringing people news had to be packaged with some sort of serious-sounding name, or somehow incorporate “Ithaca” in it.
NK/SG: Sam, the early editorial meetings of Buzzsaw took place in your room, correct? What was that process like?
SC: The early ones, yes. Eventually, as Buzzsaw got more established and the number of people involved got larger, we had to move them into classrooms, but the early ones were in dorm rooms. We’d call the meeting and ask everyone to come with ideas for what they wanted to write. We generally let people figure out what was interesting to them and pursue it.
NK/SG: What sort of response did you receive from students and faculty?
AB: I would say that the response from students and faculty was very positive. We even had some high school students visiting the campus who picked it up and liked it. And I think the positive response was largely due to the fact that it was something new; it was something different, and finally there wasn’t one source of print media on campus. That’s definitely not how it works in the real world, so why should it have been that way then?
NK/SG: When you started Buzzsaw, what would you say was the spirit of the magazine?
SC: Angry. Funny. Acerbic. Immature. Sophisticated.
AB: I think it was a little rebellious. We were definitely looking to have some fun since we were all friends, but we were pretty serious in our mission to provide an alternative newspaper.
For more on the history of Buzzsaw check out King’s and Gest’s in-depth article, coming this spring.
Nate King and Samual Gest are senior journalism majors who wish they could be as alternative as this magazine. Email them at nking2[at]ithaca.edu and sgest1[at]ithaca.edu.