Magazine Stand Blues.

sam-worthington-esquire-september-2009

Alyssa praises and laments that much-discussed Esquire piece on Walter Hern, the last American doctor specializing in late-term abortions:

True, magazines like Marie Claire, theoretically the smart-girl’s alternative, and magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour, do publish pieces about abortion and reproductive rights more generally. But pieces like this, that truly encapsulate the debates, and do it in extraordinary language and with intense vividness, seem to end up in Esquire or GQ. I’m not sure why. I loved the piece, and I would have loved to read it in a magazine aimed at my demographic. But its appearance in Esquire just made me feel, yet again, how entirely women’s magazines seem to have given up on their readers, while at least some men’s magazines, for some reason, still seem to hope that their subscribers value something thoughtful, articulate, and finely crafted. When did we become the gender exclusively devoted to junk?

I empathize with Alyssa here, as I’ve made the same complaints about reading excellent, thorough profiles of black luminaries in mainstream magazines and coming across puff pieces on “celebrities” like Boris Kodjoe in black magazines. To some extent, this has to do with pedigree.  Esquire may have moved in the direction of other men’s magazines, but its alumni include some of the heavyweights of American letters. The New Yorker is, well, the New Yorker, and every writer  in America wants to be on its staff. We’re talking about extremely talented writers working with a lot of resources.

But as Jenna writes, another big part of this is just editors with limited expectations for their audiences shoehorning things into a familiar, unchallenging shape.
Just a few weeks ago I happened to get into conversation with a junior editor at Vogue — which, for all its faults, is still one of the only American women’s magazines to actually include any long-form feature writing that goes much beyond Area Woman Brought Closer To Husband By Bad Disease. This editor told me that she was itching to cover the financial crisis. (Vogue has apparently noticed that there has been a financial crisis.) The only problem, said this editor, was that her magazine’s coverage would have to take the form of a profile, and because of Vogue‘s female audience, the profile would have to be of a woman. What’s more, any appropriate profile candidate would need to be attractive. “I pitched Sheila Bair to the photo department,” said this editor, “and they said, ‘Are you kidding? We can’t shoot her.'”
That next week, the New Yorker published an excellent profile of Bair, the chairman of the FDIC, a profile that explored her Republican background and how her pro-choice leanings probably scuttled her own political ambitions within her party, and explained how Bair had tried to address the subprime mortgage crisis before it actually came to threaten the rest of the economy. Vogue’s latest issue, in case you’re curious, has a story about Vanessa Traina (rich, likes clothes) and devotes two pages to a mother-daughter duo from Austin who sometimes like to share dresses and shoes. I did not notice any stories about the financial crisis.


Here’s what bugs me: There are about 300 or so blogs in my Google Reader — blogs on politics and race and gender and pop culture and economics and sports and social science — and I’ve never come across a link to an article/feature in Ebony or Essence (unless you count the ladies at WAOD excoriating them) or Glamour or Cosmopolitan (unless you count Jezebel going after them for airbrushing some photo of a celebrity). How is it possible that this age of RSS feeds and Twitter and Facebook that nothing published in such widely-read magazines seems to bubble up into the larger digital consciousness? I suspect some of this has to do with privilege — the demographics of the writers and their readers certainly matters — but I don’t think that’s the whole story.

6 thoughts on “Magazine Stand Blues.

  1. quadmoniker August 24, 2009 at 12:11 pm Reply

    Also, the New Yorker basically has a greenlight from Conde Nast to spend whatever it wants to maintain quality journalism whether they’re operating in the black or not. Most of the time, they aren’t. There aren’t many magazines for which that’s true.

  2. shani-o August 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm Reply

    How is it possible that this age of RSS feeds and Twitter and Facebook that nothing published in such widely-read magazines seems to bubble up into the larger digital consciousness? I suspect some of this has to do with privilege — the demographics of the writers and their readers certainly matters — but I don’t think that’s the whole story.

    There are plenty of blogs that link to the mags you mentioned…but they’re just not very good blogs. They’re written by people who can’t wait to see who’s on the cover of Essence, (even if it’s always Halle Berry/Mariah Carey/Will and Jada) and people who nod their heads while reading about how women need to stop being uppity to catch a man. I don’t think your sample of blogs includes that group. Mine doesn’t either, really. Aside from, like, YBF.

    BTW, I couldn’t find stats for GQ, but according to Esquire’s media kit, 30% of its readers are women.

    • G.D. August 24, 2009 at 2:34 pm Reply

      Which is what I’m saying. Even blogs/sites with the same ostensible audience — think the Root — never, ever link to Ebony or Essence, which I think is indicative into how marginalized those publications have made themselves.

      • shani-o August 24, 2009 at 3:10 pm Reply

        This is ancillary, but do you really think The Root is aiming for the same audience as Ebony and Essence? I mean, I think that’s the audience they have, but I get the impression that they were aiming for disaffected former readers of those kind of magazines — you know, people who aren’t being served by Johnson Publishing (not that anyone really is).

  3. ladyfresh August 24, 2009 at 1:25 pm Reply

    this sounds like a potential money making venture folks…

    I was one of the female readers that would read Esquire & GQ
    yes even details and maxim (those puff pieces were at least fun and interesting
    i found out even penthouse had interesting articles from time to time…or was that playboy i forgets

    either way i agree and have abandoned women’s magazines for the most part they simply aren’t marketing at me, i’ve also abandoned jet and ebony their pop just wasn’t esoteric enough

    i’m grateful for blogs (thanks folks) and my RSS feeds

  4. LaJane Galt August 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm Reply

    I don’t really read magazines anymore. But in a waiting room, I’ll pick up Esquire before any woman’s mag.

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