Can a small trade publication take off its glasses and revamp into the relative glamour of a mainstream women's mag, competing with the big girls on the newsstand? That's the question for HealthSpring Communications, which transformed the journal of the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and National Nurses into the quarterly consumer book Every Woman.
In its push to be more like Health and less like JAMA, Every Woman has incorporated many basic elements of women's consumer magazines. Celeb cover photo and interview? Check: Teri Hatcher, who looks almost too young and pretty. Cover lines featuring numbers and diet/fitness content? Check: "7 Diet Myths Busted." Silly psychological quiz? Check: "Are You Nice Enough to Yourself?"
But do we really need another women's health/lifestyle book, especially one with such a goofily generic title? (And, according to the book's managing editor, the mag isn't targeted to every woman, but to the over-40 demo.)
With a tagline of "Your prescription for healthy living," Every Woman tries to milk its one big point of difference from other titles. Almost every article is written by nurses instead of journalists. The diagnosis: it's an approach that doesn't entirely work.
For example, while the writing is fairly clear and professional--I caught only one major typo when I put my copy editor's hat on--it sometimes reads as flat as a prescription ("At your drugstore is a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug...") Many articles feature straightforward presentations of information about a particular illness or condition, as in pieces on how to prevent strokes, handle a diagnosis of breast cancer or prevent migraine headaches. But it's how health journalists and editors shape such information--adding the important elements of newsworthiness and/or reader identification--that makes compelling reading. And that's sometimes missing in Every Woman.
Another disadvantage of the expert-only voice is being perceived as too close to the medical establishment to provide a nuanced view. I caught a nauseatingly self-promoting quote from a Federal Drug Administration official--"This is another example of our endeavor to counter rising health care costs"--and an uncritical mention of two weight-loss drugs that got slammed in other reports. The fact that the book majors in drug ads didn't reassure me that it was impartial, either.
There should be more that the pub can do with its access to nurses, who are often closer to patients than doctors--perhaps insider pieces focused on patient interactions? In the fall issue, Every Woman's best articles go beyond the drug-pamphlet approach by grappling with medical trends, like the short piece explaining why your next mammogram should be a digital one. Journalist Andrea King Collier writes about The Sister Study, which is surveying sisters of breast-cancer victims. The story illustrates the human face of the disease with emotionally revealing photos of survey participants. Some pose, tellingly, without the sisters they lost to cancer.
This article, though, has some layout problems: the piece lacks a title, and the opening spread features a photo of a house that seems to have nothing to do with the subject. These are the only big art boo-boos; the rest of the book is up to par with appealing graphics. Special kudos to the realistic shot of a woman with a surgery scar, illustrating a story on women's reactions to how cancer changes their bodies.
Rounding out the more serious articles are a mixed bag of lifestyle pieces--not badly done, but not really necessary. Like the Teri Hatcher Q&A. She talks intelligently about topics like breast cancer and sexual abuse--but does the world need celebrity interview No. 155,825? I like "Freewheeling," about cycling and its health benefits, because it makes me want to buy a bike and hit the road. "The Wonder Of The Bra"--how to buy and care for one--is OK service journalism, but the sidebar on the history of the bra is, um, padded with facts that nobody except a lingerie fetishist would enjoy. Then there's that psychological quiz, with its generic advice to "buy flowers" and "gaze at the sky."
In short, Every Woman would do better if it stopped trying so hard to be like every other woman's magazine.