In late 2009, Phil Hagen was charged with a near-impossible task: assemble a team of Las Vegas’ best journalists and launch a first-to-market hybrid newspaper-magazine within a few weeks—in the aftermath of one of the city’s worst economic crises. Jumping without a parachute might’ve had better odds. Despite many victories, challenges, creative agreements, inevitable differences of opinion and countless long, long nights, Vegas Seven was born on February 4, 2010 … and now 354 issues later, the same motto rings true: “What about next week?” Here, Hagen shares the story of those early days.
What do you remember most about the climate in the city when Vegas Seven started?
Uncertainty. Our community’s legs were still wobbling from the blow of the Great Recession, and it didn’t seem like the best time to launch a weekly publication—in a city that already had two!
What attracted you to the project?
The challenge of interpreting a highly unusual mission (a hybrid newspaper-magazine) visually and editorially, then putting together and coaching a team to do it—52 times a year.
What scared you about the project?
Everything. The bosses wanted Vegas Seven conceived and the first issue out the door in about three weeks. Magazines like this can take many, many months to properly develop and execute. Plus, they were very good salesmen, which meant we’d be publishing big, fat issues every week—a luxury if you’ve got the staff of Time magazine, frightening if you were us.
What was the greatest challenge in the first year?
Doing it and doing it well enough to build readership and respect every week.
What was the greatest victory?
Vegas Seven finally winning Best Weekly publication in Nevada [General Excellence, First Place, Nevada Press Association].
… If you mean early on, it was that first Intriguing People issue. It was a super ambitious request from [then publisher] Ryan Doherty, because we were still struggling to put out a 100-page magazine every week, and this was a special double issue that had to have 30 tight profiles and amazing photography—and both had to justify each person’s inclusion. It took tremendous collaboration between the editorial and art departments and, I think, it was our proudest early moment.
What is your favorite story?
[Former editor] Greg Blake Miller’s award-winning cover story about the 20th anniversary of UNLV’s basketball championship run, “The Rebel Alliance.” It was our first big shot across the bow about what we were about (or rather, what we were going to be about): a magazine that, a little more each week, told the true story of Las Vegas. Yeah, it was an article about basketball, but more importantly, it was about a unique city finding community during interesting times (the early 1990s) through interesting characters.
What is one thing you thought would work that didn’t and one thing you didn’t think would work that did?
The newspaper component didn’t work—it was like hammering a square peg in a round hole every week. (Two different editorial mind-sets, one staff.) The Intriguing People issue worked far beyond anyone’s expectations (except Doherty’s).
Since his departure from Vegas Seven in 2014, Hagen says he has been “practicing fiction writing and cleaning the house until I get a sign about what to do next.”