The word “networking” was fairly new in 1981 — but that’s what Greta Belanger deJong was doing when she attended a conference at Westminster College, a gathering of people interested in what became known as the mind-body connection.
“There was this energy that was bubbling up around the country … in terms of brain-mind expansion, holistic health — the things that are now considered commonplace but were considered kind of out there,” deJong said in a recent interview.
At Westminster, she met people from up and down the Wasatch Front who shared an interest in what is sometimes called “New Age” thinking. “There was no central organizing principle for all these people communicating with each other,” deJong said. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Who are you? Where did you come from?’”
In the early 1980s, deJong said, “it felt like Salt Lake City was really ripe for something.”
That something, deJong decided, was Catalyst, the Utah-based magazine she and others first published in April 1982 — and which will publish its 400th and final print issue in December. (It’s expected to arrive at locations around the Salt Lake Valley in December.)
Catalyst joins a list of Utah publications — including The Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News and Davis Clipper — that are either eliminating or curtailing their print runs. (The Clipper will end publication Dec. 4; The Tribune and Deseret News will launch weekly print editions at the start of 2021.)
Catalyst, like Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers, will focus on what it can publish online — though how that will work remains a work in progress.
“We’re really opening the door to something new to happen that we can’t quite envision yet,” said Sophie Silverstone, Catalyst’s community outreach director and deJong’s stepdaughter. “It’s going to happen organically, like everything else that happens at Catalyst. Magically and organically, something cool is going to happen.”
‘Something that’s fun’
Greta deJong, who moved to Utah from Wisconsin, said she is “a born magazine editor. When I was a kid, and people would say, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’, I’d always say, ‘I’m going to be a magazine editor.’ And I didn’t even really know what that meant.”
But when deJong started meeting with others about creating a publication, things didn’t quite jell at first. The others wanted something “more erudite,” like a scholarly journal, while “I wanted something that’s fun,” she said.
“What I envisioned was something that was mostly a resource directory and a calendar,” deJong said. “And we had parties where people would network. It was all about getting people together, and getting advertising from people who were into all these things, who wanted to share them with other people.”
The parties were an important part of the mix. DeJong recalled going to Denver and meeting people who threw parties to connect people — or “networking.”
“On the flight back from Denver, I thought, ‘These people were a real catalyst,’” deJong said. She decided that would be the magazine’s name, and her collaborators agreed.
Collaboration has been at the heart of Catalyst, deJong said, even though she’s been the constant for nearly 40 years. “It’s been a community effort every step of the way,” she said.
The first issue was 16 pages, with a prospectus detailing the magazine’s mission, a lengthy events calendar and advertising. DeJong said the only advertiser in that first issue that’s still around is The King’s English Bookshop.
On the cover, like the newspaper editor Charles Foster Kane’s “Statement of Principles” in “Citizen Kane,” was Catalyst’s manifesto:
A monthly herald of regional events and services whose focus is on new ways of being.
A networking medium for agents of creative change.
A forum for personal and social transformation.
A call for responsible commitment to action on behalf of our planet and its people.
Reaction to the first issue, deJong said, was positive — though it was sometimes puzzling to the traditional media in Utah.
One TV interviewer, deJong recalled, asked, “‘Don’t you find it a challenge starting an alternative magazine in Salt Lake City, Utah?’ I said, ‘Oh, it’s so easy to be alternative in Utah.’ If we did those things in San Francisco, nobody would even notice.”
The events calendar “would go on and on and on,” deJong said. “All kinds of interesting events. We’d try to publish events that you wouldn’t find typically in other places.”
Over the years, deJong heard from readers who made the most interesting connections through the events listed in Catalyst. One woman said she found her sister, from whom she had been separated at birth. A man told deJong, “I met my wife through a listing in your calendar for a flute group.”
In the early issues, the articles delved mostly into personal growth — topics like “transpersonal psychology” (which focuses on humanity reaching its highest potential) or “neuroplasticity” (the notion that one’s brain capacity wasn’t fixed, but could expand). Over time, particularly in the 1990s, deJong said, the magazine expanded its reach to cover environmental issues.
At first, deJong said, “a lot of people in the environmental movement felt like they were on the ground doing real things, and that people in the personal growth/human potential movement were doing airy-fairy things.” Over time, “it’s become very clear that there’s totally an integration of body, mind, spirit — and body includes our environment, our planet.”
In the 1990s, Catalyst published a lot of investigative journalism about the environment, deJong said. It also began running Amy Brunvand’s column, “EnviroNews,” which the magazine still publishes.
Digital publishing, plus parties
For more than a year, deJong and Silverstone — who describes her job, which ranges from writing to social media to ad sales, as “if there’s something a millennial needs to do in the office, I usually end up doing that” — have talked about Catalyst making the transition from print to online. The COVID-19 pandemic solidified that switch.
Technically, Catalyst stopped printing in April, with its first all-digital issue. But the digital issues published since then have remained rigidly in the print format, and a reader clicks to turn the “pages” online. Going forward, Silverstone said, “we’re putting digital at No. 1.”
“Catalyst has got to do some soul-searching right now,” Silverstone said. “How are we going to consume media? What is effective? What is nourishing to people? What is not so nourishing? … We’ve got to completely reorient and reinvent the way that we want to tell stories.”
To help answer those questions, the magazine has brought in Jenn Blum, who runs Minduct, a Salt Lake City firm that specializes in marketing, content, communications and strategy for nonprofits (like Catalyst’s parent company, Common Good Press) and businesses.
Blum, who holds the title of content and community manager, said her goal is to “help maintain the spirit of Catalyst, the community of Catalyst.”
“We’ve got this opportunity for refocusing where stories appear, and how stories are told, moving from a print format to an online format,” Blum said. Part of the process, she added, is “figuring out which writers will want to move into this format with us.”
Part of the change is that the 69-year-old deJong is retiring as Catalyst’s editor. She will remain on the magazine’s board, and “I am very willing to be involved as copy editor, proofreader — the ghost copy editor — as needed, if I’m asked, on a volunteer basis.”
One part of the internet Catalyst has already embraced is fundraising. The magazine has an online fundraiser going, aiming to pay for the final print run, finance Blum’s work and help boost the magazine’s future.
Asking for money online isn’t as fun as the fundraiser party that launched Catalyst in 1982, deJong said.
“It was the best party I’ve ever attended,” deJong said. “The party was such a success that we almost just thought, ‘Oh, we’ll just stick with having networking parties,’ because we just introduced so many disparate people and started interesting conversations.”
Catalyst parties — usually held at the three-story house, called “Big Pink,” that holds the magazine’s offices at the ground level and deJong’s home upstairs — have been legendary, Silverstone said.
Big Pink, Silverstone said, “is located on a street where a lot of college students live. We’ll get this random flow of longtime Catalyst supporters who are in their 60s or 70s. And we’ll have some college kids show up with a big [bottle] of rum and say, ‘Hey, I’m here for the party.’ Just walked in the wrong door and thought, ‘They’re having a cool party down the street.’”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic passes, deJong said, she hopes the parties return. “The Catalyst parties,” she added, “were an integral part of — I hate that word ‘brand’ — but the Catalyst brand.”