Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Get Back, Conde Nast

Advertising Age this week announced that People is the recipient of their 2005 Magazine of the Year award. Based on the Ad Age article, People carried the day based on the fact that they are the most profitable magazine being published. They were also given props for their efforts to include eight pages of Katrina coverage just hours before the deadline for their annual “Best and Worst Dressed” issue. I didn’t see that particular issue, but I hope they weren’t too snarky commenting on the fashion choices of the flood-ravaged, it can be exasperating trying to find just the right thing to wear to an evacuation.

Other than the aforementioned, Ad Age doesn’t really offer much glowing praise for People’s content, just it’s ability to stay ahead of their celebrity gawking competitors. I’m not much of a People-person. I’ll peruse it from time-to-time in a waiting room, but absent a broken bicuspid or a faulty fuel pump, I’m usually not inclined to look in and see how Julia and the twins are doing.

I tend to go for magazines that provide in-depth coverage of subjects and aren’t necessarily sensitive to any news cycle. Magazines such as this fit nicely between the immediacy of newspapers and the leisureliness of books. They also fit nicely in that small space between the toilet and vanity.

Smithsonian is among my favorites. I discovered it for the first time on my honeymoon, a fact I’m hesitant to mention lest I seem bookish and unromantic. But we were in a bed and breakfast in Seattle, not the Casanova Inn in Reno, so a little quite reading time didn’t contrast with the milieu.

The best thing about Smithsonian is that you’ll find yourself reading about things that you never would have thought interesting – pipe organs, C-list sea creatures, artists whose work didn’t make the cut in the board game “Master Piece” – and come away not only entertained, but a little wiser and more worldly as well.

The New Yorker is good for adding a little cosmopolitan flavor to your reading list. Famous for its cartoons, those little commentaries on contemporary mores, it also has excellent feature articles. And despite the skewering they took from Seinfeld, the cartoons are usually pretty funny, in a smart, non-Beatle Bailey kind of way.

Newsweek is my news weekly of choice, although I’m growing increasing bored with it. I much prefer the content on for this type of thing. The writing is a little edgier on Slate and the online format gives them move leeway as to the variety of topics that they cover. Unfortunately, there isn’t room for a computer between the toilet and the vanity so Newsweek still serves a need. If anyone can recommend a good news magazine that doesn’t sway too far to the left or right, please let me know.

Although my interest in sports has waned over the years, I still enjoy Sports Illustrated. I receive this magazine third-hand and often a month or more after its publication. It’s just as well because I really have no use for the pre-game analysis or post-game reports. You can usually count on at least one good feature article each week. One of my favorites was a story on the perilous world of deep-sea diving. It was utterly fascinating and led me to the book “Shadow Divers”, a riveting true-life account of divers who discovered a sunken U-Boat. Even if you’ve had no prior use for divers or U Boats, I recommend giving it a read.

As a contrast to SI, there is ESPN the Magazine. I once had the misfortune of turning back the cover of this hyperactive rag. It was like experiencing the fever dreams of an ADD afflicted music video director – and this in a static medium. There simply wasn’t a coherent thought to be found in the entire issue.

A common problem among many of the more popular titles is that they’ve determined what their demographic wants to read about and they refuse to stray from the formula. Women’s magazines are notorious for this. The same basic information is repackaged and reused issue after issue. Every cover is filled with teasers such as: “10 Ways to be a Better This”, “30 Days to a Slimmer That”, “50 Tricks for a Wilder . ..” Well, you get the point.

Men’s Health, which I take, suffers from a similar lack of fresh ideas. Not every workout can be the ultimate path to more powerful pecs and I swear that certain foods alternative monthly between being the key to a healthy heart and a one-way ticket to colitis. But the magazine does help one keep focused on health and exercise even if it does little to stimulate the mind.

There are many magazines that I've parted ways with over the years, but still remember fondly. Life. National Lampoon. Entertainment Weekly. Others left me while I still had feelings for them. Brill's Content comes to mind.

Often, magazine choices will reflect a certain point in a person's life. I first picked up a Rolling Stone in high school before switching to Spin after being exposed to alternative rock in college. After alternative went mainstream and lost its edge, I turned to Option to stay hip to the true indie scene.

Here at home, Springfield Magazine, to which I was a regular contributor, kind of lost its way when it attempted to become Illinois Magazine and then disappeared altogether. I’m not sure if Abe is still publishing.

Springfield could use a good magazine, if only to provide me with some freelance work. If there are any venture capitalists reading who want to play Rupert Murdoch and start a little media empire here in the Land of Lincoln, I’m ready to sign on.


Anonymous said...

It would be nice to have something a little more conservative to balance out the Illlinois Times!

Monkey Boy said...

I must disagree on your praise for Sports Illustrated. I recently received a short-term subscription. In comparing what it used to be like back in the 70's, 80's and 90's I find it to be very shallow. No doubt it is geared toward 14-40 year old white males who have the attention span of a lovesick Dalmatian and claim that NASCAR is really a sport.

Most everything in the current SI is merely a blurb with some type of "entertainment value" hook associated with it. I recall "back in the day" being able to actually glean some real sports-related information from it. But it is no worse than my beloved NFL who has also prostituted itself to attract those who care little for the love of the sport and more for what catchy tune an intoxicated Hank Williams Jr. or Tim McGraw will come up with this week. "Yeah, I'm ready for some football, now shut the hell up and start the game!" (Puking sound placed here).