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Magazines Matter

Volume 1, September 2010
This past month I've spent all my free time reviewing dozens of movies for three upcoming festivals. It's been fun and interesting but very consuming. Giving myself more work would seem stupid, but, in between my review sessions in September I've been reading dozens of magazine articles. Just as I've been recommending certain movies and warning off certain others, I'm going to be doing the same for published, paper periodicals in a new column for The M Report called "Magazines Matter."
In August, I happened upon a really amazing piece in New York magazine about Specialist Codey Wilson from Lynchburg, Va. that even had online video attached. Yet, if it was reported in the mainstream media on TV, cable or the Internet, it totally passed me by. Obviously, the mainstream can't pick up on everything and even if it could, the average person would still need some kind of filter to weed out the good from the bad or to steer you towards written pieces that are outstanding.
I suppose the judging panel of the American Society of Magazine Editors at Columbia University kinda would be that filter. Yet, unlike MTV's Video Music Awards, no one goes Lady Gaga over the Pulitzer Prize or even the National Magazine Awards. It's better TV to see Lady Gaga come to the VMA's in a meat dress and gay soldiers as her entourage than Barbara Laker of the Philadelphia Daily News or Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek come in regular dresses not made of any kind of food material.
Magazines Matter will be like the Technorati or Bloglines for those articles by people who may not make headlines like Lady Gaga but who still are producing some great written work. Unlike other forms of media like books, TV shows or movies, magazines don't really promote themselves in ways that are obvious and if they do, it's never to promote a really intriguing article. For example, when was the last time you saw an ad for Esquire or Popular Science? And, it's not just great or fascinating pieces of journalism, but also amazing short stories. I dare say comic books could be labeled as periodicals, but do comics advertise on a mainstream level?
The only time I think about magazines is when I walk past them in supermarkets or times when I'm in the city and see the occasional newsstand. All I'll notice are the tabloids and usually I ignore them after first glance. Magazines have their targeted demographics and can be so specific. Most don't interest me, but there is a list of about 70 major magazines that I want to start analyzing and choosing which of their articles are the best of the bunch or that matter the most in my opinion.
Because I'm a movie buff, a lot of the articles I'll recommend will be movie-related. That alone will mean pouring through a ton of magazines because nearly all of them use movie stars to push their paper.
AARP magazine, formerly Modern Maturity, publishes six issues a year and every issue in 2010 except one has had a movie star on the cover. Though I'm not an avid reader, the past four issues have made me a bit of a fan. Its profiles of Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas have been very interesting. Bill Newcott's "Movies for Grownups" are probably my favorite pieces, which spotlight those 50 and over who work in the film industry.
AARP is of course targeted for the over 50 crowd, the crowd one would assume is the most allergic to new technology. Yet, the Sept./Oct. issue proudly proclaims, "People over 50 are the fastest-growing group visiting online dating sites." Inside, you'll find a spread on technology tips to make the elderly more gizmo and gadget-friendly. I particularly liked the section where the mag asks you to "Listen to the experts," and the experts they list are three New York Kids no older than 10. One kid with my namesake even goes into the advantage of an iPhone over a Blackberry.
Looking at various magazines all month long, I did notice a re-occurring theme. Several, September 2010 issues echoed the importance of education and how schools in this country don't quite make the grade. President Barack Obama made the cover of a few. While Dinesh D'Souza in Forbes called Obama "the most antibusiness President... in American history," Amy DuBois didn't. DuBois, the editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine, sat down with the commander-in-chief to discuss education reform.
The President's wife, meanwhile, graced the pages of Ladies Home Journal. Sally Lee wrote about "Michelle Obama's New Mission," which involves physical fitness for young school children, while Lisa Guernsey and Sonia Harmon listed "America's Most Amazing Schools." It's the perfect companion piece to Amanda Ripley's "What Makes a School Great" in Time magazine, which previews the documentary Waiting for Superman where Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim follows America's progress in education.
Also, in Time, their Sept. 20 issue featured an article from Michael Scherer about Amy Kremer and the Tea Party Express' campaign to take down Mike Castle, the former Republican candidate for Delaware's Senate seat. I didn't really get into too many political magazines, but, as the November elections come and go, I'm sure they'll have plenty to say. In anticipation of what's to come, I'd like to point out something I saw in Sept. 17's issue of The News Journal. Gary Soulsman and Erica Cohen's "Positively Palinesque" culled the early criticisms that Christine O'Donnell is a Sarah Palin clone.
It seems the nation for the next two months is going to be keeping its eye on this Delaware political candidate. If there isn't one already, I'm sure that Delaware Today will do a profile on O'Donnell. In the meantime, the best article in September's issue is Maria Hess' "Black and White" about the firing of Anne Marie Cammarato from the Delaware Theatre Company because of her controversial play "Ten Months," which dealt with racial issues.
Coastal Living visited the First State. Skipping politics, racial issues and certainly the numerous sex scandals, the magazine named Lewes, Delaware, as one of "The Best Little Beach Towns." Its citizens saved Canal Front Park from becoming condos and a strip mall, and features Agave, a Mexican restaurant good for getting tequila.
Tourists are encouraged to travel there, as well as to places along the Gulf of Mexico, but not before they read the Sept./Oct. issue of Audubon. Its cover story was a special report on the "BP Gulf Oil Disaster." The oily wave that marks the cover is sick. The now infamous photos of oil-soaked animals punctuate its articles on the effects the spill had on birds and wildlife. What's outstanding is Mike Tidwell's report on oil energy versus wind energy, not just in the gulf, but along the shores of North Carolina up past Delaware.
But, if you'd prefer to see nature not in peril, the "Beauty of Insect Eggs" by Rob Dunn with photos by Martin Oeggerli in National Geographic is your best bet. If this issue is any indication, there's no question why this magazine is one of the best-selling in the country. Its piece on "King Tut's Family Secrets" by Zahi Hawass with photos by Ken Garrett are nothing short of fantastic.
What isn't fantastic was D'Souza's piece on Obama in Forbes, I also yawned my way through the Sept. 27 issue of Fortune magazine, which profiled Mike Duke, the CEO of Wal-Mart. Nothing against those two publications. Business and finance stories in general bore me, but if I happen to come across an interesting one, I'll let you know.
Now, there are some magazines designed to make you laugh. MAD and the Harvard Lampoon are two of the most famous, but, this month, I think it's a safe bet to add Cosmopolitan to that list. Turn to its Love & Lust section where Bethany Heitman includes some positions from the "Cosmo Kama Sutra" along with unexpected places to have surprise sex. If names like "Stairway Sizzler" and "The Cosmo Couch Bend" don't get you giggling, then the accompanying pictograms certainly will. Yet, truly the most comical thing in the September issue is the article called "Guy Sex Confessions," which has 37 blurbs by Myatt Murphy of 37 dudes revealing things that they perhaps shouldn't have. One particularly hilarious one is "If I have zero interest in getting with her, it's always because I tapped myself a few times earlier that day fantasizing about someone else --Kevin, 26."
Mika Brzezinksi, the co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, contributed an "Internet Intervention" to LHJ. Meanwhile, Lisa DePaulo profiled Joe Scarborough, the actual star of MSNBC's Morning Joe for GQ magazine. The piece entitled "Thank You For Not Screaming" is very well written and includes some cool quotes. If you like GQ as I do, also check out September's "Punch List."
After all that, here is my list of the ten best articles of September 2010. The articles I would consider Pulitzer-worthy or at least worthy of reading by a mass number of people.
1. "Sister Soldiers" by Abigail Hauslohner in Essence magazine. Despite having Naomi Campbell, Iman and Liya Kebede, three beautiful, black models, this article, which put Essence in Afghanistan, spotlights four black women in the military, something of which in the past decade you've not seen much.
2. "Sex Offenders in the Pew" by Marian V. Liautaud in Christianity Today. It's something that we think is unforgivable but there are many sex offenders who get out of prison and still have to live their lives and this article explores some who wants to help them.
3. "Prison Without Walls" by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic. I think if you ever needed a companion piece to put your mind at ease about the previous article, this would be it. Wood's piece analyzes an ankle bracelet by ExacuTrack as well as a system in Hawaii known as HOPE.
4. "Straight Man's Burden" by Jeff Sharlet in Harper's. I first heard about this story on Rachel Maddow's show. Current TV's Vanguard devoted an hour to it, but through his letters from Kampala, Sharlet charts the American roots of Uganda's anti-gay persecutions, which turns out to be shocking stuff.
5. "America is a Joke" by Chris Smith in New York magazine. No, this isn't anti-nationalism. It's the cover story about Jon Stewart, which wonders how The Daily Show would operate in the less mockable Obama era but no worries, the show is doing fine. In the same issue as that article and in light of the new Basquiat documentary, check out "Judge Jerry" by Jerry Saltz as well as Rebecca Milzoff's review of "Catfish."
6. "Hipster Faith" by Brett McCracken in Christianity Today. While I don't agree with the mag's Viewpoints section, especially its takes on sex and sexuality, its CT Reviews section does feature interesting write ups this month of the new series No Ordinary Family and Arcade Fire's new music album The Suburbs, as well as a column on comedian Michael Jr, but this article on the subculture of young evangelicals is very telling of our changing times.
7. "The News Merchant" by Sheelah Kolhatkar in The Atlantic. This profile of Larry Garrison, a TV producer and consultant, sheds some interesting light on how talk shows and tabloid shows and even some cable news shows work. In that same issue, check out "A Death on Facebook" by Kate Bolick.
8. "Pat Tillman Died for Our Sins" by Tom Carson in GQ. This piece breaks down the documentary and the controversy surrounding the Pat Tillman story.
9. "The Itinerant Artist" by Tom Chiarella in Esquire. This profile on James Franco as well as the numerous sidebar articles prove how interesting a person he is not only as an actor but as someone trying to do as many bold and different things as possible. In the same issue, check out "What's With All the Secrets and Lies?" by Stephen Marche and "The Encyclopedia of Now."
10. "King Tut's Family Secrets" by Zahi Hawass with photos by Ken Garrett in National Geographic. New technology reveals some old secrets from one of Egypt's greatest pharoahs through detailed study of the DNA of various mummies.
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