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There is a turning point in each of our lives, a moment when everything changes either for better or worse. For Pat Means, hers was for the better, and it happened to be Turning Point. It's a magazine, a point of view--and for the 49-year-old, it's a career, a dream fulfilled and a way of life.
Means spent most of her adulthood in product marketing and consumer promotions. She started her own marketing and promotional services company in Dallas in 1983 and then continued that line of work as a consultant when she moved to Los Angeles in 1990.
The initial idea for Turning Point came during the riots in Los Angeles in 1992, when, for a couple weeks, the world thought for sure the city would slip into the sea without help from an earthquake. Means was affected by the crisis and talked with Karen Hixson, a college friend who also had moved to Los Angeles, about what they were seeing on TV. Means says much of what they saw in the news was negative. "We wanted to look at what was right with L.A.," she says, "the positive things going on, and the proactive people."
The two started to think about putting out a newsletter aimed at middle- and upper-class African Americans--it would focus on positive things going on in African American culture. Leave the negativity to CNN, NBC, The Washington Post and the rest of the media masses, they thought.
The newsletter idea evolved into a full-fledged magazine, with Means and Hixson each contributing approximately $1,000 to their new project.
Soon, they began immersing themselves in the world of periodicals, buying "a ton of magazines to see the layouts and trends," says Means, who was also studying the concept's feasibility. She felt there weren't any existing magazines doing what they wanted to do: "a four-color, glossy local magazine with a positive focus that would speak on issues of interest to middle- and upper-income African Americans."
According to Folio, the magazine-industry trade publication, 400 to 500 magazines begin every year, and every year, three out of four magazines fail. But that didn't deter Means and Hixson. They determined Turning Point would be published quarterly and given away for free.
The magazine debuted in 1993 with a circulation of 50,000 and brought in $100,000 that year. The first issue, Means admits, "was a pretty crude little thing." But nobody's saying that now. By 1998, the circulation hadn't changed, but the advertising dollars had: The revenue was up to $600,000. This year, Turning Point expects to make $1 million.
Turning Point can't be found on the newsstands; it's distributed through churches, social and professional organizations, and some retail stores. "We were [and still are] trying to play a positive role in the development of African Americans," says Means, which is one reason her magazine isn't carried in liquor stores and doesn't accept advertisements promoting alcohol or tobacco products.
You Want Me To Work For What?
Means and Hixson worked tirelessly to keep Turning Point from becoming one of those depressing magazine-industry statistics. To pay for living expenses, Means didn't give up her public relations company until 1995, and Hixson kept up her forays into politics and the public sector. And the partners worked hard to cut costs: For the first issue of Turning Point, they initially worked out of their homes, and they searched for writers, designers and photographers who were willing to work on "speculation"--which meant, possibly...for free?
"If the issue was profitable, we would pay them," Means recalls. "And if it wasn't, they wouldn't bill us. They agreed because they believed in the concept. Fortunately, we did make money on the first issue--until we paid them. [We had just] enough money left over from that to work on the second issue."
And then the two publishers worked on the third issue, and then the fourth. It wasn't long before their Turning Point was being distributed throughout Southern California--a larger area than Means and Hixson had ever envisioned their magazine would reach. Northern California came next.
"You have to grow, or you perish," Means notes. And Means and Hixson were doing everything they could to help Turning Point grow. They launched a local radio show in 1994 called Turning Point Live. In 1995, they put up a Web site, an almost revolutionary move back then. But it was exhausting work, and the long hours eventually led to Hixson's departure in 1996. Turning Point seemed destined to finally become one of those annual three out of four this time.
"I think she was just burned out," Means says. "We were working very hard, 60 to 80 hours a week, and so she decided, given her skills and background, she could make more money and work less hard. And she was right."
Hixson had been handling much of the editing and production of the magazine, while Means had managed the marketing and business end. "Even though we were four years into it, I didn't have the editing experience [to go it alone]," Means says. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to find a replacement for the things my partner did."
But Means could and did. She hired someone to take over Hixson's editing duties, and as the sole publisher, Means continued to immerse herself in the magazine. And by 1997, Means herself was almost burned out. "I went to dinner with a friend who always gives me clearheaded, rational advice--a very good businessperson. And I was sitting there sobbing, `I'm so tired.' He looked at me and said, `You don't have the time to be tired. You've got to decide what you want and how to achieve that.'"
It was Means' second turning point in her life, at least concerning Turning Point. Her friend's words made an impact. She pushed forward and didn't give up. "[Publishing the magazine solo] made me look seriously at whether it was worth staying in the business," she says. "But it taught me something about myself. Yes, I have a strong will to do what's necessary to accomplish my goals. It taught me to accept help from people, because a lot of people stepped forward to provide help and advice. It taught me to say `Yes, thanks so much,' rather than `No.' Now, when people say, `How can I help?' I have a list, and I say `What on the list can you do?'"
Mostly, Means says, the magazine has become so successful because "Turning Point hasn't been a singular effort; it's been a community effort [of people saying] `We believe in what you're doing.'"
And Means insists, "I haven't done anything by myself. Every time I turned around, there was someone there to give me a hand or advice, or to make some phone calls for me. The people who work here aren't employees; they're all partners. Turning Point is more than a magazine."
Now It's Her Turn
Growing up in Henderson, Texas, a tiny town of approximately 10,000, Means never thought she'd someday be the editor of her own magazine, and writing wasn't something she pursued. But if there were any clues to her future career, it was that she was habitually on the receiving end of writing. "Reading was my escape. I was reading early on," says Means. "By reading, I could be anywhere, I could be anybody, and I could do anything. It was my way of seeing the broader world."
And now she has, and she's helping her readers see it, too. Means has been to Europe and back, and spends some of her time in Washington, DC, when the call arises, but mostly she's in Los Angeles, where Turning Point is based, still toiling 60 or so hours per week.
With every issue, Means has met, either personally or through the words of her writers, African Americans with inspiring tales to tell, from Dr. Kenneth L. Black, a prominent neurosurgeon who told readers, "I view life as being a real balance; you get what you give," to actor/director/writer/producer Miguel A. Nunez, whom Turning Point quoted in a profile as saying, "Even when I was eating out of trash cans, I knew 100 percent then that I would be where I am today."
Means has also befriended Congressman and civil-rights activist John Lewis, and she's had Rosa Parks over for Easter dinner. "I get goose bumps when I think of them," Means says.
For both Means and her readers, the African American community has become a little smaller, a little tighter, a little closer--and that's just what she wants. Something else has also happened over the years, something you wouldn't expect the editor of a young magazine to say: "I am indeed rich. Richer than I could ever imagine." These were her words in a letter to her readers, and Means wasn't talking about money. "I am rich," she observed, "because Turning Point has helped me grow tremendously as a human being. I am rich because I have the dream job."
Turning Point, (310) 821-6910, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaine W. Teague contributed to this article.