Website Building Application

     Sometime around 2018, the Dana Foundation decided that its mission to transform neuroscience had grown stale. A lot had changed for the better—especially better government funding and mental health awareness—since its important founding in the mid-1980s to promote neuroscience through grants and outreach. At the time, neuroscience and all it encompasses —from stroke, dementia  addiction, depression, paralysis, and all the other countless other afflictions—lagged far behind cancer and heart in research money to maybe overcome a global propulation that was living longer and longer. A group of people with great foresight, led by fomer retired advetising guru David Mahoney, decided to try to do something about it with a foundation that would bring together its leaders to try to change things.

     And, to their tremendous credit, they had.

     But now the foundation had to change with the times. And so a strategic plan process began. To that point, I had edited Cerebrum, a monthly online article and quaertly book review—generally about a brain research topic—for about six years. We also published an annual print anthology (about everything we had published on the website that year). My feeling was that the topics suggested by my scientific advisory board were important but mostly too complex and lacked the crucial storytelling ingredient necessary to inspire and keep the lay reader engaged.  

           The original idea for Cerebrum, introduced in the late 1990s by Dana Chair and President William Safire—the former Nixon speechwriter and New York Times columnist — was to attract some of the top neuroscietists in the field to debate controversies and ideas. A great idea but pretty much impossible to pull off in a monthly format. Getting one top neuro geek to write was hard enough; two was unrealistic. Plus, these academics were way too busy and not anxious to criticize other ideas and colleagues .So, Safire's vision had morphed to dense, painstakenly detailed articles that mostly centred around the biological mechanisms of neurons, proteins, or areas of the brain—complete with citations and End Notes.     

           By the time I had arrived as editor in 2011, at least three previous editors had struggled with content and sometimes missed deadlines by months. We were respected but uninspiring. We complety lacked the storytelling aspect needed to keep people, even geeks, engaged. So I saw this new strategic plan as an opportunity to get back to to Safire's vision and maybe then some. I felt I could use my magazine experience to create an appealing and readable online quaerterly magazine—and meet Dana's budget constraints.  

     The Dana board and executive team agreed and off we went.

     Bringing mental health and well balanced public policy concerns into the mix and assembling the right team would be crucial. One major lesson I had learned was that the better a magazine looked, the more likely people would be drawn to its content. My instincts told me that my old friend Bruce Hanson, who operated his own one-man design firm in Hightstown, NJ, would be the perfect freelance art director/designer for the look I hoped to achieve. I had met Bruce at Rutgers, where he was designing a newspaper for Rutgers staff and faculty, but we had never worked together. Eventually, through mutual colleagues, we learned that we both played guitar. After a few lunchtime acoustic jam sessions, we formed a cover band—and even had an occasional gig. To promote the gig, Bruce would design amazingly creative posters.       

     But designing a magazine from scratch was a long way from brochures and posters — plus Bruce had worked exclusively in print. But print was in the midst of dying a slow death, and I knew Bruce's was having problem finding new work. Over a few conversations, I convinced him that he needed to use e his considerable talent and apply it digitally. I think the idea of designing the magazine as an E book, which mimics a traditional print magazine, hllped convince him. Together I knew him and others could create something Dana would be proud of.  

     And, with the help of a host of other folks, mostly notably my young colleague Seimi Rurup—smart with a keen eye for aesthetics —we published ten issues before Dana pulled the plug. While Bruce hit it out of the park and we received rave reviews for the topics, authors, and departments we introduced, Dana's new president and the board decided to take the Foundation in a new direction — one that focused exclusively on grant giving.  

     The last thing the new president wanted was a foundation that advocated points of view. She had decided to kill an article that from the African American head of a university that centered around the need for more diversity in neuroscience. Then she ruled against  comic-style content from the head of hearing and cognition at Johns Hopkins that pointed to a bill before Congress that would cover the cost of hearing aids under Medicare, a bill that would enhance the lives of tens of thousands seniors. Four years later, Medicare doesn't pay for hearing aids.. We were now a very long way from Safire's vision. So this chapter closed. But we sure had fun bringing it to the readers we had while it lasted, and I like to think we could have kept growing and making a small, positive contribution to neuroscience journalism.

     In the end, we almost made a comeback with another foundation. But that's a whole other story.


Transition to a Magazine