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Celebrated literary mag The Believer, once housed at UNLV, back to original owner

After a journey even the creative minds at The Believer could not have imagined, the celebrated literary magazine is back in business and again being run by the company which first owned it.

Founded in 2003 by the writers Heidi Julavits, Ed Park and Vendela Vida, The Believer has published works by Leslie Jamison, Anne Carson, Nick Hornby and many others and has received multiple nominations for National Magazine Awards.

But starting in 2017, the magazine owned by the independent publisher based in San Francisco, McSweeney’s, endured a series of upheavals that included financial struggles, an editor in chief leaving amidst allegations he exposed himself and the sale to a digital marketing company that at one point included an article — the subject of much internet anger — titled “25 Best Hookup Sites for Flings, New Trysts, and Casual Dating” on The Believer’s website.

As of Monday, thanks to three private donations and a “drastically reduced” asking price, McSweeney’s repurchased the magazine from Paradise Media and its CEO Ian Moe.

“It takes enormous courage to do what Ian’s done in reconsidering his initial purchase of the magazine,” Amanda Uhle, McSweeney’s publisher and executive director, said in a statement. “When Ian understood the immeasurable gift he’d be providing generations of readers and writers by making this change, he was quick to roll up his sleeves with us and work out a reasonable and agreeable way for us to move forward.”

Moe said in a statement that he joined “all of those who expressed their desire this past week to see The Believer remain in print, and everyone here at Paradise Media agreed that the best way to make that a reality is to return the magazine to the place where it began its journey.”

Changes at The Believer began five years ago when McSweeney’s sold it to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, during a “financially challenging time,” as McSweeney’s acknowledged Monday. But the magazine faced new and unexpected troubles. Editor in chief Joshua Wolf Shenk left in 2020 while facing allegations of sexual harassment, including exposing himself during a Zoom meeting. In October 2021, UNLV announced it would no longer publish The Believer, citing a “strategic realignment” tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's not clear to me why the magazine was not sold back to McSweeney's" in the original sale, said Paul Levinson, a professor at Fordham University.  "Universities have been under enormous pressure and [UNLV] was not focused in this situation."

Later in 2021, the school quietly sold the magazine to Paradise Media, as first reported by the Vice tech site Motherboard. With its return to McSweeney’s, The Believer is planning a “special homecoming issue” for November and its 20th anniversary celebration next year.

“We are overjoyed to bring The Believer back into the fold and include its sharp insights, beautiful writing, and essential cultural coverage as part of our publishing program,” Uhle said Monday.

The Believer ( is luckier than many literary magazines, but not entirely in the clear. McSweeney’s is a non-profit; operations for The Believer need to be rebuilt and the subscription base renewed. On Monday, McSweeney’s announced a Kickstarter campaign.

Amanda Uhle, publisher and executive director, McSweeney’s;  Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies, Fordham University

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.