Defunct Believer magazine sold off to digital marketing company

The Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building
The Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building at UNLV, headquarters of the Black Mountain Institute, which recently sold the venerable Believer magazine to a digital marketing company.
(Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

After the University of Nevada, Las Vegas announced last fall it would cease publishing the Believer, the venerable literary magazine now has a new owner.

The journal, which for nearly two decades published acclaimed fiction and essays under the McSweeney’s banner before being sold to UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute five years ago, is now the property of Paradise Media, a digital marketing company headquartered in Puerto Rico. Paradise bought the magazine for $225,000 in cash, according to a business purchase letter of intent released after a public records request. Vice’s tech vertical, Motherboard, was the first to report the story.

Paradise took over ownership and oversight of all content on April 1; the transfer is expected to be finalized this month. The Believer’s last issue under the Black Mountain Institute, No. 139, was published in March.


The purchase comes after UNLV abruptly announced in October that it would stop producing the Believer, citing a “strategic realignment within the college and [Black Mountain Institute] as it emerges from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The news followed a series of allegations against the magazine’s former editor-in-chief, Joshua Wolf Shenk, in the months after he exposed himself to staff during a video meeting last year. He resigned in March 2020. A Times investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment discovered complaints about Shenk’s leadership even before his arrival at Black Mountain in 2015. It also confirmed that Shenk was the subject of at least one Title IX complaint at UNLV.

Hired by UNLV to make it a national literary powerhouse, Shenk’s five-year tenure was marked by a string of complaints over unprofessional behavior.

Aug. 18, 2021

The public records released by UNLV also included McSweeney‘s offer letter to reacquire the magazine, which was founded in 2003 and purchased by the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute, BMI’s official name, in 2017.

The letter, signed by McSweeney’s president Brian Dice and dated Jan. 5, 2022, offered to create one paid academic year internship and two full-time paid summer internships for UNLV‘s creative writing program students; arrange for visits from McSweeney’s-affiliated staff, poets and writers to UNLV; and consider submissions from university students to the Believer and McSweeney’s quarterly. Dice also asked UNLV to cover the financial liability of unfulfilled Believer subscriptions.

The letter does not include a financial bid.

In a statement to The Times, UNLV said it “carefully considered its options. The sale of the publication’s assets was the result of a bid process and, following a review, the best financial decision was made for BMI and its continuing mission.”

Months after the departure of director Joshua Wolf Shenk, UNLV’s institute announced on Tuesday it will stop producing the Believer next spring.

Oct. 19, 2021

“UNLV received two offers to acquire The Believer assets,” it continued. “Paradise Media offered $225,000, with UNLV covering financial liability for unfilled subscriptions. McSweeney’s asked that the assets be granted to them for free and for UNLV to also cover the financial liability of any unfulfilled subscriptions at an overall net loss to the university.”


Dice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The sale was effective Dec. 23, 2021, and signed in early February by Ian Moe, Paradise Media’s CEO; Jennifer Keene, dean of UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts; and Chris Heavey, the university’s provost and executive vice president.

As first reported by Gawker earlier this week, a former Believer staff member raised concerns on Twitter over a clickbait article titled “25 Best Hookup Sites for Flings, New Trysts, and Casual Dating” on the magazine’s website. The piece has since been removed.

A group called the Sex Toy Collective, which is owned by Paradise Media, responded in a tweet that has since been deleted: “Hi, this is the new owner of the Believer. We purchased the website to keep the archives up. Our goal is to bring back the magazine, but since it was losing tens of thousands a month we need to get it making money using SEO then use that to bring back all the original writers.”