Matt Niswonger

Looking back on 20 years of running an independent print publication, we are humbled and inspired to keep Adventure Sports Journal alive for the foreseeable future.

That’s why we need your help. 

After twenty years in print, ASJ is the story of how publisher Cathy Claesson kept the flame alive and worked her butt off through thick and thin. As her husband and business partner I’m still in awe of how hard she has worked these past two decades.

Since the beginning I have always had a second job besides ASJ, to bring some health benefits, and hopefully a small retirement fund to our household. In 2011 we hit a low point. Having weathered the Great Recession, I lost my second job, and we made a bad real estate investment that was hurting our finances. Luckily ASJ was expanding at the time, with national and regional companies jumping on board to support our vision of a California free outdoor magazine. Still, with the loss of my other job, we were raising three kids in financial uncertainty. Cathy kept us afloat by grinding hard at advertising sales, print production, distribution, and being a good mom. My steadfast wife inspired me to keep the ASJ dream alive and meanwhile I got a better job doing electrical work to keep the family health benefits going.

Freshly inspired to help Cathy carry the ASJ  torch, I realized that to be a good editor for ASJ I needed to compartmentalize the business stress and focus more on quality storytelling across print and digital channels. We began making some key changes to our editorial focus. I also began to go deeper down the rabbit hole of why we started ASJ in the first place.

Sometime before we formally launched ASJ as a free magazine in 2001 with our co-founder Christa Fraser, we were heavily influenced by climbing authors Doug Robinson, Lynn Hill, Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard and a few others. Their message was simple: “Find your best self seeking adventure in the Sierra. Take calculated risks and let nature be your teacher. That’s how to heal yourself, have fun, and save our planet at the same time.” We expanded this climbing philosophy to include skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, surfing, and other human powered outdoor pursuits. 

At the time Doug Robinson was living in Aptos. We met in downtown Santa Cruz and he told me starting a magazine while raising a family was riskier than climbing a V8 highball boulder problem without ropes. “Don’t quit your day job,” he said in the nicest way possible (see note from Robinson on page 16).

Fast-forward fifteen years and we were at a crossroads. After getting help from talented partners like Pete Gauvin, Michele Lamelin, Jen Stein and others on the production side, we also had some of the best outdoor writers in the country on the editorial side. We were putting out a kick-ass product and we had a growing readership. We traveled throughout the state and connected with the ASJ tribe at bike races, outdoor festivals, and trade shows. People told us that reading ASJ actually changed their lives for the better. One guy in Tahoe told me he launched a successful SUP brand after reading an early issue of ASJ. That put wind in our sails, but there was a problem.

 Around 2016 we noticed that the more popular ASJ became, conversely the harder it was to sell ads. Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram had unleashed an ocean of digital content promising hyper-targeted advertising opportunities for companies who were willing to commit to the smartphone paradigm. This put pressure on our ad sales. Some companies stayed loyal to ASJ, but others committed all of their marketing budgets to the digital empire. Later we all questioned the increasingly toxic atmosphere of smartphone driven social media platforms, but by then it was too late. By 2019 our issues were getting thinner as some potential advertisers gave their marketing dollars to PR firms who dress fancy and perpetuate the myth that print media is obsolete. These same PR firms want “earned media” (free press) in the pages of ASJ. 

It’s a David vs. Goliath story that we are taking straight to our readers. If you are tired of being the subject of smartphone data mining and believe in the value of independent media, we need your help. Please support us by going to our website and becoming a member — it includes a subscription. If you have friends in the industry, or work in the outdoor industry yourself, please tell outdoor companies to advertise in our print magazine. Ask your favorite outdoor retailer or bike shop to support us. From the bottom of our hearts we ask you to resist the digital empire and support the print resistance.

(Click here to become a member.)

Viva la Zine!

— Matt Niswonger