With Nicki Minaj screaming at you like that, how could you stop from picking up a copy of BlackBook?

For that reason, BlackBook gets my vote for best magazine cover of 2011. It invited a staring contest between me and Ms. Minaj, more so than any other magazine cover last year, so that wins it for me.

BlackBook’s cover also made MTV Style’s list of best fashion magazine covers for the year. But at the top of MTV’s list was none other than Beyonce, who graced a cover of Dazed & Confused and who doesn’t lose many contests. In fact, I’ll make a bet now that Beyonce and Jay-Z’s baby graces the cover of some top-selling magazine in 2012.

Vogue, which also won Magazine of the Year from Ad Age, got the thumbs-up mid-year from Newsstand Pros for the magazine’s cover photo of Natalie Portman.

But enough about famous beautiful women. Let’s give the men some love too! OK, says The Mag Guy, who (while not giving Donald Trump any undue positive attention) celebrated the cover line gracing this front page of Bloomberg Businessweek: “Seriously?” Business Insider agreed too, and now I’m adding to the list, putting The Donald on my radar for best of 2011.

Why, exactly? Because while Nicki Minaj’s huge open-mouth display made me look at the cover with intrigue, Donald Trump’s makes me giggle and get heartburn at the same time. And it’s that evocation of emotion that makes a good cover.

Speaking of emotion, where are the big stories of the year? I wanted a good Steve Jobs cover and a good Osama-We-Got-You cover. There were a few. Ad Age celebrates several of those in its roundup. But none of them appealed to me as much as I expected. However, The New Yorker tsunami cover that Ad Age gave #1 props to is poetic, understated and deserving.

And one cover in particular was a great disappointment to me. Lindsay Lohan, whose Playboy show-and-tell spread was so anticipated by millions of disgustingly horny men, appeared on the cover of said issue and didn’t even look recognizable! What a shame. I stared at her face forever trying to figure out if that was even her. I get that it was a Marilyn Monroe throwback, but I guess I just don’t get why they chose to do it that way. Regardless, it’s a 2012 issue, so whether I like it or not is pretty irrelevant to this post — it’s just on my mind!

Hungry for more? Check out Fashionista’s faves and Cover Junkie’s countdown. What are your favorites of 2011?

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Is this the right tree? And how do I know?

Eureka! I had it, definitely. I knew in August 2010 that my purpose was magazines. Writing, reading, designing, critiquing, photographing, circling, buying, reviewing — I just knew this was my thing.

I started this darling blog that I was super proud of. I littered my dining room table with tons of magazines: Jet, Baltimore, Redbook, Playboy, Yoga Journal, Esquire, Bitch. I spent an hour or two every night reading and reviewing these masterpiece periodicals. I was proud as a peacock when I was chosen to be a judge for Folio’s annual competition. I was happy to call myself a blogger, make blogger friends and comment on other people’s blogs.

But my life started changing in a way I had not expected.

A couple of days after my last review (Outlook Magazine in May 2011), the new owners of the company my husband and I work for announced that the company was Alabama-bound, and we were welcome to follow it or find the end of Florida’s long unemployment lines. I spent weeks in denial, then months in preparation for our move. All the while, The Sidebar Review was on my brain, but I dared not spend the last drops of time I had in beautiful Florida tucked away in a dining room, hunched over a computer.

And the longer the time went from my last post, the harder it became to go back to it. How was this blog actually helping my life? Was it enhancing my career? Was I performing better at work? At home? Besides, my job has changed from magazines to social media and digital publishing — it’s still in the same forest but not barking up the right tree.

So I am now at a crossroads: Do I stick with magazines? Do I change over to something else? And if I do, do I change the blog name? And do I keep the old posts?

The answer must be buried inside me somewhere, but it has yet to surface. So by putting the question out there, I’m hoping the answer will feel more compelled to pop out! (It’s like going on a diet — if you don’t tell anyone you’re on a diet, you can eat cupcakes unabated, but if you’re accountable to someone, you have to switch to broccoli.)

Now I am accountable to you, the people who once read my posts, interacted with me and befriended me back when I was a dedicated blogger. How did you decide what to write about? How do you know whether you should stick with something or if it’s time to move on? How do you know that the tree you’re standing under is the right one?

How do you know you’ve “made it”? When someone who calls himself D. Eadward Tree (or, Mr. Tree formally) gives you notice and mentions you in his blog on Publishing Executive Magazine’s website. (OK, maybe SOME of you have your sights set higher, but I’ve always been a practical girl.)

My day has come, and Mr. Tree mentioned me in his oh-so-sexy column where he toyed with magazine names and their slogans. Intrigued? Surely you are. Check it out here. It’s a quick read and quite amusing. Thanks, Mr. Tree!

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Outlook (www.outlookindia.com)

When I went to India a few months ago, I wanted to pick up a magazine I couldn’t read — at all. No English. There were a few to choose from, and the one I ended up with was Outlook.

Obviously, this is not something I can critique on content. And design-wise, it reminds me of the old design of BusinessWeek — the stories are long but broken up with sidebars and charts; the content is serious and newsy; and the photos are mostly stock news photography and headshots. One thing that strikes me as very different from any American news magazine is that it contains what appears to be poetry, spanning four pages, and also what appears to be fiction or humor across several other pages.

Interestingly, American politics takes up some space. One long article includes a photo of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the back few pages, which appears to be a “year in review” photo essay, include photos of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during last fall’s visit there, dancing with Indian children and spending time with the Indian people.

What foreign magazines have you seen? Could you make sense of what you were looking at even without knowing the language?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

National Geographic won big last night at the Ellies, the National Magazine Awards presented by the American Society of Magazine Editors. This is an event I’ve never attended, but it sounds like a lot of fun, especially based on all the hashtag Ellies tweeting I saw going on late into the evening!

One magazine that was recently reviewed here, New York, won for a special section, called “Strategist,” that it ran in three issues during 2010. Another magazine that was recently reviewed here, Backpacker, got passed over for awards in General Excellence and for Magazine of the Year.

AdAge reported that National Geographic got those two major awards, while magazines such as The New Yorker — long accustomed to award sweeps — took home only one trophy.

One great pick was ESPN The Magazine for feature photography in its Bodies issue, which if you’ve never seen it, you’re really missing out. It’s everything about bodies, from the beautiful (semi-nudes) to the grotesque (injuries), and it’s mesmerizing to look through. In another photography category, W won — and W does have captivating photography, but it really beat National Geographic, which is known for its photos? The only way that can make sense is that National Geographic won two other such major awards. The rest of the winners and finalists have made my short list for reviews coming up soon!

Click here to see a complete list of the finalists, with links to content available online.

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Every Day With Rachael Ray (www.rachaelraymag.com)

Issue reviewed: March 2011

Audience

  • median age: 42.6
  • median HHI: $71,166
  • 91% women
  • spends an average of 53 minutes reading each issue

Editorial

If you’re not hungry when you pick up Every Day With Rachael Ray, you will be by the time you finish. Fluffy eggs, drizzled gravies, plump shrimp and juicy tomatoes are pictured on nearly every page — trust me, you’ll want to eat something afterward. The editor, Liz Vaccariello, said the Rachael Ray brand is about “taste, ease and value” and that her personal tenets are being “fun, easy and real.” The reader can sense these principles: Throughout the magazine are fun photos, bite-size articles, whimsical fonts and colors, and budget-friendly price tags. This is not a stuffy cookbook for culinary students; rather, it is a pocket guide for a busy mom who fancies serving her family real meals.

Design

The design is excellent. The photos are great — but really, what kind of cooking magazine would have crappy photography? Other design elements stand on their own, such as font choices, type colors, icons and sidebar treatments. One consistent design element, though, that is unattractive is the colored bar striped across the top of many of the pages. It’s a section header, made to let the reader know what the conversation on the page is about, but the color on the Talk section (a bright green) is really kind of gross, and the bar takes up too much space (that is, it goes all the way across and detracts too much from the page).

What’s Best

  • Features: In this issue, Every Day went searching for the country’s best hot dog in Go Away: Your Ticket to a Great Escape. The whole feature was so clever: Three hot dog tasters from the blog Serious Eats traveled across America and stopped in hot dog joints of all shapes and sizes. In a basketball bracket style of competition, the doggers pitted 64 hot dog joints against each other, narrowed them down to The Sweet Sixteen, profiled The Final Four with mouth-watering photography, and then named the winner with a story about Gene & Jude’s (the best dog maker) and with a follow-up story about Chicago hot dogs in general. In all, Every Day dedicated a generous nine pages to this feature. That is the type of in-depth coverage readers appreciate about magazines, and I love that Every Day gives that to its fans.
  • Fun ideas: Every Day dedicated four pages to a how-to on Family Movie Night, including creating invitations or “press releases” for the kids, recipes for the family and movie-appropriate menus (such as pizzas for Ratatouille).
  • Photos: Did I mention the photos? All I know is, I’m super-hungry right now.

What’s Worst

  • Font craziness: On a couple of occasions (most notably in the feature “Batter Up”), the headline type is so, er …. creative, that it’s difficult to read. Vertical type is generally a no-no, but especially so when you let the letters float in a non-line and stick another word inside one of the letters. I’m all for having fun with headlines, but they should always be easy to read. Sometimes, though, the designers get it right, as they did with “You’re Gonna Need a Steak Knife,” which was carved into wood with — you guessed it — a steak knife.

Overall Opinion

Every Day With Rachael Ray is very much like the character of Rachael herself — a little all over the place, a fan of easy and fun, and always looking for a party. The magazine does a great job of capturing her tone, as well, with words like “faves” and “delish” and “cool.” It feels like Rachael put together every page, and for fans of her work, that’s amazing. That, along with some of the creative concepts and recipes, earn Every Day an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Magazine covers are a common topic on The Sidebar Review. Luke Hayman of design firm Pentagram told AdWeek what he thought the best covers of last year were at this link. He chose the following:

I thought the Spin cover (May 2010), pictured, was the most clever of the ones he mentioned. Because, just think about it: You’re standing at the newsstand looking at the cover, knowing that you want to tear it, but you can’t unless you own it! (Surely, torn ones were on each magazine stand that carried it, but where’s the pleasure if you don’t get to do it yourself?)

What are your favorites? Why?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review