Archive for the ‘Magazine: News’ Category

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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

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Commentary (www.commentarymagazine.com)

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

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

Audience

  • 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.

Features

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

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The Week (www.theweek.com)

Issue reviewed: September 17, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 481

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by The Week Publications Inc.
  • Circulation: 517,000; 1 million unique views per month online

Audience

  • average age: 51
  • average HHI: $251,800
  • 30% are top management at their companies
  • busy executives and thought leaders

Overall Editorial

The Week is not like any other magazine I’ve encountered. It functions as an aggregator for news content: It sums up what other news outlets or leaders have reported or said and puts them all into one article. This is how The Week describes itself:  “Inspired by the daily briefing created for the U.S. President, The Week distills the best in domestic and international commentary, and the latest developments in business, health, science, technology, the arts, culture, consumer products and travel.” It aims to cut through the media bias and offer multiple outlets’ point of view on various subjects. It has received accolades from the New York Times and BusinessWeek, and its subscriber base has grown quickly. The editorial covers diverse subjects (politics to actresses to book reviews) and has multiple sidebars with short nuggets of information.

Overall Design

This magazine is chock-full of words, and it looks like the designers just have to figure out ways to fit a ton of words on each page, and yet keep the copy at a size easy to read for an 80-year-old. (I don’t think the type size is too large, but with the volume of copy, some pages beg for a smaller point size.) I will say this for the design: It’s consistent throughout. Every page looks like the one before it — black type, pink screens, red boxes, small photos. The design doesn’t differentiate each section, and the photos are only there because it would look too drab without them, rather than because the designers want to play up a page or a feature. This magazine could use a redesign. I found a cover online from 2008 that looked much different, so maybe they’ve had a redesign in the last couple of years. It can remain newsy and content-filled without being drab. “Drab” is a harsh word and I already feel a little guilty saying it. But I feel like this magazine could be incredible instead of just very good if it boosted the look of its pages. Some pages do show innovation with a layout that is full of words, such as the headers on “Best columns” (pages 16 and 52) and “Review of reviews” (page 36).

Cover Design and Blurbs

It appears that the designers put most of their effort into the cover each issue. I’ve looked back at several covers, and they’re beautiful illustrations of news-related concepts. Great ideas, excellent execution. The cover blurbs address the issues on people’s minds: With this issue, that’s the American economy and recent newsmaker Glenn Beck. It helps to have a pretty woman on the cover (Hilary Swank) and an actual action shot of water (yes, action shot of ice cubes dropping into a glass of water). In line with the magazine’s mission to help people save time, it tells you what pages each story is on so you don’t have to go searching. And thank goodness, because this magazine doesn’t have a contents page — absolutely no contents page. Weird.

Editor’s Note

Hidden in a teensy little box on page 7 with no photo or any reason to read the text in this space, the editor’s note lurks like a long footnote. Editor William Falk makes good use of his closet space, tying in a poll about what people want to do with their lives, with what he’d like to do — become a cult leader — which invoked in my mind a picture of the Koran burner, as I assume Falk was trying to do. It’s a short but intriguing commentary, one that had me curious about Mr. Falk. He’s an elusive guy: On the website, his editorials are behind a subscription wall, and once you get there, he has no photo — just a list of his previous editorials. So I googled him and found this interview he did with Mr. Magazine, and it warmed me up to this well-read editor. I wish he had more of a presence in the magazine and online. Adding a face to this brand would really improve it and would likely make people feel more connected to it.

Departments and Columns

The Week is broken into News, Arts, Leisure and Business. Each section is well-chunkified — that is, broken into multiple bite-size pieces. So the copy is easy to read and covers a broad range of topics. The most interesting department to me is Talking Points, in which they have four subjects  — in this case, Religion, Extremism, Glenn Beck and The Mosque — and three differing viewpoints on each. They are quick reads and yet make your brain work through the different perspectives.

Features

This magazine doesn’t really have features. There are just different lengths of articles in pre-defined sections. At the back, in The Last Word, The Week ran a long portion of an article that originated in the LA Weekly about Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. If you know anything about Penner’s/Daniels’ transgender story, you know it’s captivating. And The Week’s choice to run this excerpt of all other pieces in the media during that week shows it is a magazine that cares about good human interest issues as much as it does hard news. Kudos.

Use of Photography

Most photos are editorial stock images, and most are used small and just as a quick this-is-who-we’re-talking-about addition to the story. The biggest two pictures in the magazine are of Hilary Swank (good choice) and a grainy image of $7.5 million house (not really a good choice). It looks like the photos are stuffed into the places they fit, rather than planning pages around good photography. One photo of food to illustrate a recipe for grilled peach and mozzarella salad shows how important good food photography is, because this photo (and the smallness of it) makes me never want to eat or make said salad.

Use of Illustrations

The cover illustration is really, really good — and the only illustration in the entire magazine. It’s a shame because with cover illustrators like they have at their disposal, it would be great for the editors to utilize them more.

Relevance to Intended Audience

According to a study published on The Week’s website, 53% of its readers read each issue in its entirety, 48% read it the day they get it, and 47% call it one of their favorite magazines. I see that The Week should have very broad appeal, not just to top managers but to anyone who feels time-crunched but still interested in the news. I’m going to spend more time with my copy and see if it’s for me — because I hate to feel dumb about an issue but I also hate to spend a lot of time watching the news or reading papers, and I have a hard time finding “the truth” in the media.

Integration with Website

The website is more appealing visually than the magazine is. It’s clean and well-organized, and — thank goodness — it has no pink screens. Most of its content appears to be free, although some is open to subscribers only. The only push I see in the magazine, though, is on The Puzzle Page, where they direct readers to the website for Sudoku and crossword solutions and to enter a weekly contest that rewards one’s knowledge of a subject and relevant wordplay (like creating headlines or state laws).

Flow, Story Hierarchy

The Week functions as a page-turner only because you’re curious to see what’s next, not because it’s building to something. The Weeks positions its bread-and-butter (U.S. and worldwide news) at the beginning and leads into the lesser parts from there, almost like a newspaper rather than a magazine. It does end nicely, with The Last Word feature and The Puzzle Page, giving the reader a moment to come down before closing the issue. And I was caught off-guard every time I went through the magazine by the Best Properties on the Market page because it doesn’t seem to fit in any part of the magazine. It’s not listed under one of the magazine’s four sections, and it has more and bigger photos on that one spread than almost anywhere else in the book, so it looks out of place. And it has no intro or conclusion editorial, so it almost looks like a page pulled from one of those free real estate guides at the grocery store. Weird.

Paper Quality

The paper is thin and hardy, perfect for traveling. It’s a lot of material packed into only 60 pages, and it doesn’t wrinkle up or show a whole lot of wear, even after repeated use. The magazine is saddle-stitch and very newsy-looking from the outside.

Overall Opinion

If I were to judge only on editorial, I would give The Week an A, but I feel like it lacks so much in the visual department that I have to assign it a B. The great things about it are its diversity of content, its concept of aggregating stories for the reader and its illustrated cover. With a change in its design philosophy, it would be much stronger and more interesting to hold and flip through. Other improvements I would suggest: Create a more visually appealing editor’s note, add a contents page or section, and push the readers to the helpful and attractive website.

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

Update 4/24/11: TheWeek.com won an award for Digital Team of the Year from Min Online. The online magazine wrote the following about The Week: 

One of the most successful weeklies in recent memory, TheWeek brand finally brought to the Web this year the energy and unique editorial perspective that made the magazine such a winner. A host of new digital features have been thoughtfully customized for Web consumption while they embody TheWeek’s brand identity. Round-ups of key videos, the top news of the week, the best that is said on Sunday talk shows, the most poignant editorial cartoons and news videos and an at-a-glance view of what is news now all make the site a vital part of the 24/7 Web information machine. The effort more than quadrupled TheWeek.com’s audience reach in less than a year and almost sold out its available ad inventory.