Battle Of The Women's Service Mags: Good Housekeeping Vs. Ladies' Home Journal

As women's lives and roles keep evolving, so do their magazines.  Look at veteran long-time rivals Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal. No longer hard-core "little homemaker" pubs, both now include more of what's become the generic formula for women's books, including stories on beauty, fitness -- and yes, sometimes unfortunately, celebrities.

How do these mags compare now?

At Your Service: GH, A; LHJ, B.  The Good Housekeeping Research Institute, which evaluates all products mentioned in each issue (for both ads and editorial) is the linchpin for GH's service articles. Grounded in expert opinions and testing, these are the least, um, bullshitty how-to pieces I've seen in any women's mag. In the March issue, there's a feature on products recommended by dermatologists, test results for "the best headphones for fitness," and a helpful piece on handling girls' food issues by an author who owns that topic, Geneen Roth. A detailed checklist on "What's Your Skin's Real Age?" shows how to quantify one's wrinkles according to "a decade's worth of peer-reviewed scholarly papers" -- a fascinating, if intrinsically horrifying, test for most women. ("Do I look more like Cinderella's eldest stepsister -- or Snow White's stepmother?")

LHJ's service section is perfectly fine, but contains more generic topics and approaches -- from a piece on new lipstick shades to... here comes the bullshit... a story on how to take a relaxing shower. Freshest/most useful: an article on rewards-based credit cards.

Features: GH, B-; LHJ, B. GH's articles range from the entertaining and insightful (a first-person essay by a woman who kept a diary of how much lying she does every day) to the too-sappy-for-my-taste, but-it's-not-my-demo, tale of a woman attending the birth of her grandchild. "Siblings Of A Sort" skillfully works the human-interest angle of reproductive technology by profiling families where the kids were born from donated embryos.

LHJ has nothing as cringe-worthy as the Grandma article, but some of its topics are less-than-fresh: I could swear I've read that piece on forgiveness before -- was it in Shape? In  O? Still, "The Art of Friendship" livens up another evergreen topic with useful personal anecdotes. Extra points for 21st century relevance come with  "Social Networking 101" and "Good Green Fun," describing eco-savvy projects for the whole family.  And I learned something new and potentially useful from a story about a breed of dogs that can help soothe people with chronic pain.

Can this magazine be saved? Meanwhile, LHJ's signature column, "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" survives  (trumpeted as "the most enduring women's magazine feature in the world"). It's fascinating, as always, to see how psychotherapy can help regular couples. But since LHJ lacks the organizing focus that GH's Institute provides, I wonder if LHJ should merchandise this franchise more -- perhaps zeroing in on relationship coverage as a differentiator from other women's service magazines?

Celebrity coverage: GH, B; LHJ: B. GH works the celebrity beat with quick quotes from an assorted range of famous ones, from Chris Rock to Lisa Rinna. Many speak about parenting -- which is how the cover profile of Sally Field reworks familiar ground (her life) with added relevance to the readership.

LHJ's cover interview with Ellen DeGeneres captures the comedienne's earnestness well -- but perhaps tries too hard to win over any gay-unfriendly readers by showing how non-threatening and just like hetero love her match with Portia is. It ends with an almost purple description of a painting that, Ellen says "shyly," she painted for Portia "There is emphasis and urgency in the rendering. The painting reads: I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU." Can we chill just a bit, guys?

And the fact that Ellen's cover photo is backed by a Cover Girl ad spread starring her as model received a rebuke from the American Society of Magazine Editors, as reported by Mediaweek.

Bottom line: Both are fine reads for their target demo, but GH rocks the consumer-testing franchise -- while LHJ could stand a sharper, less generic-women's-mag focus.


Good Houskeeping
Published By: Hearst Communications, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly
Web site:


Ladies Home Journal
Published by: Meredith Corporation
Frequency: Monthly
Web site:

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