Breaking out of Bucharest

by Steve Watson in April 2011
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All the magazines we send out on the main version of Stack are in English. That obviously leaves a pretty big hole in our coverage of the global magazine market, so in theory I should be happy when a publisher announces that they’re bringing out an English version of their magazine.

In reality, the announcement of an English version is normally the cue for a creeping sense of dread. Are they going to try fitting English copy on the pages alongside the original language? Are they going to cram all the English into a ghetto of plain text at the back of the magazine? And worst of all, are they going to let a translator mash their copy up into a bland, lifeless English mush?

It was with trepidation that I opened the first issue of DoR, the English version of Romanian magazine Decat o Revista, but it was clear from the first page that I needn’t have worried.

Its introduction letter is a barnstorming statement of intent, a nuanced, clever, brilliantly ambitious declaration: the status quo isn’t good enough, and they’re going to do something about it. I’d like to reproduce the whole thing here, but I’ll limit myself to one passage in particular:

“[DoR] is an experiment in a publishing world where experiments have become scarce. Romanians have given up on old fashioned print media, and the internet is hardly the only culprit. Reporting is sloppy, writing is flat, and design is careless. There is little to indicate that an independent magazine can change that, but there’s even less to indicate that it’s bound to fail.”

The good news is that they carry through on the promise. The magazine is funny, engaging and full of personality, mixing long form stories with creative ideas like this infographic – “A visual guide to one of the most insidious and nerve-racking songs to ever come out of Romania: Inna’s Hot.” I’ve never heard it, but I know exactly what they mean.

The greatest success of DoR is its ability to convey a sense of time and place. This isn’t the view of Romania you’d get from the tourist office or a travel programme – it’s a real local’s eye view (if that local was a particularly cool, informed, eloquent friend). I’m still only half way through reading it and I can’t wait to finish it off – I never knew I was so interested in life in Bucharest.

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