ITF Post-It

The original Post-It note of ideas for naming the website that would become InTheFray.

This is InTheFray’s 50th issue. As the co-founder of the magazine and its first editor, I have seen the magazine grow over the last four years, with highs and lows along the way. Many times I asked myself why I continued to volunteer for this project — or why anyone else would.

As I see it, InTheFray has never been about selling products, spreading a brand, winning awards, amassing influence, or bringing any politician to power. We haven’t made any money off the Internet. The staff is all-volunteer. I’m sure we could find more entertaining ways to spend our weekends than proofreading articles, writing photo captions, and collating grant proposals. And yet we continue to do it. Many of us have even dipped into our own pockets to keep this project afloat.

For the scores of writers, photographers, artists, editors, and businesspeople who have worked on this project since we started publishing in April 2001, InTheFray has truly been a labor of love.

To be honest, at times it has felt more like labor than love for me. You could call it a kind of perpetual pregnancy (if I can venture to imagine such a thing), necessitating frequent back massages and pints of Ben & Jerry’s from an angelic spouse, culminating in our monthly bundle of journalistic joy, who looks like perfection in my eyes until I notice that little typo under her chin or that extra bill hidden in her crib …

But whenever I get frustrated with my work, there are two things that bring me back, again and again, to this magazine. One is my belief in InTheFray’s mission. The breadth and the ambition of our efforts have grown over the years (as you can see this month’s anthology of greatest ITF articles), but the objective has remained the same: to help people better understand one another.

Today, in these precarious times — with war and disaster ever in the headlines, and poverty and inequality ever in the shadows — that mission is arguably more important than when we started this magazine. It may, in fact, become the defining struggle of our generation: how to live in peace in a world of fewer borders and greater risks, growing freedom and thornier ethics, expanding cultures and shrinking resources.

I hope that InTheFray has contributed something to this important debate. I hope that we have touched readers with our words and images, challenged their prejudices and assumptions, and made them think hard about the way they live their lives. I hope that we will continue to enlighten, provoke, and inspire people in the years to come.

The other thing about InTheFray that continues to inspire me is its people. I co-founded this magazine four years ago with the help of many friends, and along the way I have met many more. I want to thank all the staff members who have given so generously of their time and talents, especially the veterans who have stood behind the magazine from the beginning. I have never met a group more curious about the world or less egotistical about their work. They are truly the embodiment of the principles our magazine stands for, and I feel blessed to know them.

The lesson I have learned after four years and 50 issues is that these small things in life matter. How we treat each other — on the street, at home, in cyberspace, on a volunteer staff — matters. The respect we show, the kindness we express, matters. We each have the power to overcome ignorance. We each have the strength to stand against injustice, to teach compassion, to reach out to another human being. InTheFray is just a vessel for this message. What we do in our ordinary, everyday lives — this makes all the difference.

Victor Tan Chen
Co-Founder and President
New York


To commemorate ITF’s 50th issue, we’ve republished many old favorites, like ITF Editor Laura Nathan’s interview with director Shola Lynch, my interview with Vandana Shiva, PULSE Columnist Laura Louison’s interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Shipler, and some of ITF’s best columns and cartoons to-date, all of which our readers and editors selected as the &lrdquo;Best of ITF … so far.”

We also asked the writers of your favorite stories from each channel to reflect back on what inspired them and have included their personal musings, along with a link to their winning pieces. Here are the winners:

  • Richard Martin for his poem “Gay Lit,” which won hearts by taking on the perspective of a gay prison inmate.
  • Rhian Kohashi O’Rourke for her remembrance of her grandfather in “Tofu and Toast.”
  • Russell Cobb for investigating the dirty work left to immigrants on Mississippi chicken farms in “The chicken hangers.”
  • Laura Nathan for exploring Jewish heritage in her review “Strangers in a strange land.”
  • Andrew Blackwell for following love to Colombia in “Fear(less) in Bogotá.”
  • and John Kaplan for his photo essay “Life after torture.”

    As we prepare to embark on a new year — one we hope will be far less tumultuous than the last — we also bring you a few new stories, including Gergana Koleva’s story of her own kidnapping in Haiti, Erin Cassin’s exploration of how Hurricane Wilma brought her closer to her Cancún neighbors, and Annette Marie Hyder’s prose poem inspired by Pakistani woman Mukhtar Mai’s battle against her village’s tradition of retributive rape. On Monday, December 12, we will feature part three of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Kaplan’s “Vanishing heritage.”

    We also bring you three new book reviews: Michelle Caswell on Bakari Kitwana’s non-fiction book Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop, David Holtzman on Ernesto Quiñonez’s novel, Chango’s Fire, and Nicole Pezold on Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.

    Thanks for reading — and sticking with us through the ups and downs of the first 50 issues!

    Coming next month: The Best of ITF 2005. Please help us select the winning stories by taking two minutes to vote for your favorite stories of 2005!

  • Victor Tan Chen is In The Fray‘s editor in chief and the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. Site: | Facebook | Twitter: @victortanchen

    In The Fray is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers. If you liked this piece, could you please donate $10?