Commentary: Candy for Smart, Influential People

Posted: September 26, 2010 in Grade: A, Magazine: National, Magazine: News, Reviews
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Commentary (

Issue reviewed: October 2010, Vol. 130, Issue 3

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by Commentary Inc.
  • Circulation: 25,000


  • thinkers/intellectuals
  • highly educated and influential people
  • activists

Overall Editorial

Commentary is made up of multiple long, thoughtful essays on current political and social issues. It is candy for people who really like news, philosophy and debate. It is death for people who live for photos, adore sidebars and have the attention span of a gnat. The editors of this publication focus all their energy on gathering or writing articles relevant to their audience, and they waste no time with endeavors that supplement said articles.

Overall Design

For a magazine that has no photos (and I mean it: NO photos), it’s not that bad. It’s wordy, obviously, but the designers work well with the typography, making it very readable and breaking up each and every page with a pullquote or large cap. The type throughout is justified, which I usually dislike, but this is a stiff book and stiff type seems to fit it well. I imagine rag right copy would look sloppy in this format. Commentary does use color, though: It’s well-placed and adds visual interest without detracting from the stories.

Cover Design and Blurbs

The cover is some strange pencil-type design with — guess what — words all over it. But it probably speaks right to the people who would read this magazine. It highlights five articles and their authors, including The Mosque Provocation, How States Went Broke and The Global Poverty Paradox. No teasing, no gimmicks, just a straightforward list of what’s contained within. I mention the authors because this magazine, more than any other I’ve encountered, bills its authors as experts. It encourages readers to write in about articles, challenging the experts if desired, and the expert answers the challenges. Commentary’s website calls reading this magazine “[taking] part in the great American discussion,” and by soliciting and answering such feedback, it truly is building a conversation, as well as print can do.

Editor’s Note

In keeping with the rest of the magazine, the editor’s note, How To Provoke, is text on a page, unmarred by photography of any type. It’s written by John Podhoretz, and it addressed the New York City mosque problem, which another writer goes into more detail on later. Podhoretz establishes himself in the beginning as one of this group of intellectuals who read and write this publication. He offers his opinion on the matter at hand and helps draw the reader in, if for no other reason than to read what the other writer wrote about the mosque.

Departments and Columns

Commentary’s only departments are the editor’s note, letters to the editor and a monthly joke, called Enter Laughing. The joke is, er, not really funny. It’s kind of funny, but not really, and it’s a long way from the beginning to the end. What’s funnier is that the editors know it isn’t really funny and they instead solicit exegeses from the readers to explain or interpret the joke. Bizarre. But it’s kind of cool because it’s very “insider”: If you don’t get it, you’re not one of us. I was always told that if you have to explain a joke, you didn’t tell it right … but I guess that’s why I’m not one of them.


The features are smart, thoughtful, philosophical, political, questioning. They are not meant for you to read and accept as they are. They are meant for you to read, contemplate, challenge and choose what you want to believe. If you have a valid argument against the rhetoric, write a letter to the editor. It’s why they dedicate four pages to letters. One feature is fiction: It’s seven pages of a short story to break between the multitude of articles. I’m not sure why they inserted a fiction feature (it must resonate with their audience), but it’s nice to see an appreciation for good writing and good storytelling even in a hard-facts political-debate magazine.

Use of Photography

Ahem….they don’t have any.

Use of Illustrations

The folks at Commentary do add a little color to the publication with a few illustrations. The joke from Enter Laughing gets a political-cartoon-like illustration that’s very cute and almost forces you to stop and read that page. And the cover feature, The Other Existential Threat, has that same penciled illustration from the cover, just at the tops of the pages.

Relevance to Intended Audience

Like I said, I think this magazine is candy for people who like politics and social issues and debate. It doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. It is probably just like its audience likes it: no frills, no glitz, no flash, just commentary.

Integration with Website

Commentary doesn’t push readers to its website at all. It’s a shame because it’s got tons of online-only articles there. A lot of the content is blocked and is for subscribers only. Commentary Inc. is a nonprofit organization, so it has to push more for people’s funds than huge magazine publishing houses do.

Flow, Story Hierarchy

Commentary is broken up into categories once its departments/columns are out of the way. It begins with eight feature articles, each five to eight pages long. Next comes the fiction article, then two sections called Politics & Ideas and Culture & Civilization. The articles after the fiction story are markedly shorter, from one to five pages. In other words, Commentary starts with short appetizers, moves into the steak, then more steak, then … seriously … more steak, before you get the potatoes and veggies. Then the reader finishes with multiple small desserts. It would take someone like me an entire month to get through all 84 pages. It is a lot of words.

Paper Quality

Printed on thick, matte pages with stiff covers, Commentary has the feel of a small, softbound textbook. It’s perfect-bound and 84 pages plus covers. It is easy to hold onto for long reads — it bends back easily and doesn’t crinkle up at all.

Overall Opinion

Commentary was all new to me. I’ve never encountered it, and I’m definitely not a part of its target audience. But I can see why people who do make up the elite group of readers would love it. It offers a real forum for serious readers, it is committed to its content, and it doesn’t dumb itself down in order to capture a larger audience. For that, I give it 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

  1. I once had a co-worker who subscribed to this magazine and use to forward copies. I remember that the articles were always well written and on thought provoking.

  2. flyinggma says:

    I’m afraid that I am probably not in their target audience. Although I happened to catch a title in the magazine review that peaked my interest. In the current state of our state’s economy in Minnesota the article titled “How the States Went Broke” looks interesting. I’d like to find a copy of it to read.

  3. flyinggma says:

    Thanks, I looking forward to reading it.

  4. runningfast says:

    It’s a brilliant magazine. And, while I am more of a moderate than a conservative, I find that the articles are so well-done that even my more liberal points of view can be changed by its arguments. With so many screaming, seemingly unintelligent pundits running around these days, Commentary is a breath of fresh air. I love the design. I am not a glossy-mag person, and Commentary’s design is attractive and even a bit daring for a magazine of its ilk. It’s not only the articles that pique my interest, the design does too. I agree, this mag deserves an A.

    • Hi, runningfast! I think it’s interesting that this magazine has changed your mind on some things. I can see how it would. The articles are about stating a clear argument for one’s case, rather than saying outrageous things to get a sound bite like people on TV. Commentary’s method is a much better way to convince someone.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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