Arthritis Today

As per my hyper-acerbic mandate -- really, people, stop egging me on -- Arthritis Today is the type of magazine I'm supposed to shred. I'm supposed to scoff at its proudly old-fashioned approach and demean its rickety readership, topping off my casual cruelty with an uncalled-for challenge to those who don't agree ("You could write or type me a note to complain, but your fingers are so gnarled as to render such an endeavor a mere exercise in futility," etc.).

But here's the thing: I like Arthritis Today, despite a few issues I have with its overall execution. I admire the way it balances health and lifestyle information, as well as its straightforward, no-dawdlin' tone. I believe there should be publications just like it for sufferers of other chronic conditions and diseases.

This can't be stated strongly enough. I have no idea why the magazine business insists on attempting to lure eager young tarts who have repeatedly stated their preference for the Internet, yet ignores huge, underserved niches like this one. No, arthritis sufferers may not be the most demographically/psychographically desirable audience out there. But they've got disposable income and, given their physical plight, they tend to be proactive in looking for treatment options, salves and anything else that could ease their pain.

Let me put it this way. Which reader do you want: the one carefully monitoring information about a chronic condition that affects every aspect of his or her daily existence, or the one who pays half-attention to anything not involving clogs or Patrick Dempsey? And yet we wonder why most magazines fail to find a loyal audience.

Semi-logical rant over. Now, back to the November/December Arthritis Today, which covers everything from the seasonal (gift ideas and shopping tips for those with physical maladies) to the practical (reader Q&As with rheumatologists and pharmacists, news of a new test for rheumatoid arthritis). It presents a handful of neck exercises (or you can try mine: tilt head towards TV, remain motionless until the credits roll) and, in "Drug News," offers B.S.-free information on new therapies.

Arthritis Today, notably, doesn't overplay the empathy card, even in the surprisingly light-minded piece written by a reader on her battle with Raynaud's disease. The mag goes out of its way to debunk myths, questioning whether certain spices can ease arthritis pain, and explains how music can play a role in reducing chronic pain... well, unless you're listening to Dave Matthews. Then there's the issue's two main features, one surveying how arthritis affects parent/child relationships, the other on how word of mouth influences healthcare decision-making. Both present information with a minimum of fuss and treacle, thus respecting readers' intelligence.

Sure, the mag could use a little help on the design side of the ball. The cover's purple hues look as if they've been lifted from circa-1976 wallpaper, while the headline fonts are thin and overly quaint. Too, Arthritis Today ought to invest in some non-stock photography, as there are only so many shots of skinny, smiley people one can stomach. The mag looks like something you'd find in a doctor's waiting room; this, for numerous reasons, ain't the message it wants to be sending.

I'd recommend hiring a wordsmith or two and charge him/her with sprucing up the joint editorially. Neither the headlines ("Jolly Ol' Rituals," for a piece on holiday activities) nor the scant captions draw the reader in, and several stories boast lead paragraphs that might generously be described as calamitous: "Putting RA into remission may not actually be as daunting as the death-defying tasks that brought super-spy Ethan Hunt out of retirement in 'Mission Impossible III.'" I'm guessing this is simply hideous writing, rather than a stealth Paramount/arthritis tie-in.

The content that strays into generic-lifestyle-mag territory doesn't add much, either. Teflon cookware? Online trainers? Yes, it'd be tough to fill a 108-page issue exclusively with items that directly address arthritis, but much of the front-of-book content comes across as filler. It doesn't help when the mag attempts to forge a weak arthritis connection within an otherwise unrelated story -- as in the super-sympathetic piece on weight-loss surgery, which notes that "osteoarthritis surely was developing" in the knees of an overweight woman. Oh, really, doctor?

I'm probably asking too much here. After all, Arthritis Today is published by The Arthritis Foundation, which likely has weightier matters on its mind than appropriately festooned sidebars. Despite its shortcomings, the mag should serve as a model for future pubs targeting readers with comparable physical limitations. You want opportunity? You want your relatively unclaimed niches? Here you are.

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