Did y'all see this in yesterday's New York Times? Apparently, there have long been marauding bands of meth-fueled "magazine crews" fanning across the country, leaving a host of unfulfilled subscriptions and shattered hotel-room TVs in their wake. To hear the story tell it, life on a magazine crew involves regular beatings, muted threats and unattainable quotas -- kind of like writing Magazine Rack, but with a more generous per-diem.
I'd like to equip these hooligans with copies of Good, if only to remind them that there are still people out there trying to raise the level of discourse within the publishing biz. Yes, one's first inclination might be to mock any title so self-reverential as to label itself Good. But even 20 pages in, it becomes quite clear that its founders have invested an awful lot of time and effort in distinguishing their product from the dreck populating most newsstands. It's perhaps the best-thought-out magazine launch of the last half-decade.
What makes Good so darn-tootin' OK (hello, thesaurus) isn't its expansive yet balanced editorial slate, nor its frequent reminders of just how inspired it considers its mission to be ("Good is for people who give a damn. It's an entertaining magazine about things that matter," it proclaims on its cover). It isn't its unabashed learn-from-us-because-we-know-that-of-which-we-speak 'tude nor its save-the-world gallantry (the mag is printed on paper so environmentally simpatico that it spontaneously disintegrates upon contact with the trash can).
No, it's that Good's writers, editors, photographers, illustrators and probably even its waterboys are on the same page -- which, if you take a gander at the editorial miasma that is Newsweek, ain't easy to accomplish. It doesn't hurt that its writing and thinking soars, either. Rather than rote regurgitations of ideas and thoughts propagated elsewhere, Good offers deliberate, lengthy takes on much-discussed issues without the dreaded day-after/revisionist twist.
Take the lengthy analysis of network news, which serves as the centerpiece of the March/April "Media Issue." The writer glosses over the usual recitations (e.g., that 6:30 is a stupid time to air anything except "Scrubs" reruns, that people aren't watching Katie Couric because they're not yet comfortable with the concept of receiving headlines from somebody with a VAGINA, etc.) and gets to the core of the matter: that TV news folks have no more idea how to traverse the new-media landscape than you or I. The accompanying illustration -- blurry, pixelated shots of the anchorfolks -- subtly accentuates the story's main thrust. It is an incredibly engaging piece of media journalism.
The feature on the "51 Best Magazines Ever" does a better job encapsulating in 50 words what makes a publication sing than I do in 600; it gets bonus points for precisely specifying when each of the anointed titles excelled (Sassy, for example, is cited for the years "until it moved from L.A."). And though the analysis of why HBO has excelled in its original programming inexplicably omits the greatest TV comedy of all time (that'd be "The Larry Sanders Show"), the story shows how far a little creativity, intelligence and confidence in one's audience will take you. Sound like a magazine we're currently discussing?
The smaller items connect as well, whether the single-page profiles of "people doing things that matter" (this description pretty much ensures that yours truly won't ever be featured) or the back-of-book "Provocations" essays by, among others, a veteran record producer profoundly unimpressed by MySpace and a filmmaker currently plying his trade in Baghdad. Still, I liked the "Transparency" section best, even if it goes a little heavy on the "sustainability" shtick. The section features a wealth of information on everything from the financial wherewithal of Big Pharma to the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, and does so in a design-intensive manner that conveys the information a hell of a lot more enjoyably than blocks of words.
It all works, even the stuff that sounds like a horrible, kitschy idea until you see it (the undeniably clever tear-out media mogul trading cards, which list one titan's age as "shadowy"). Can it generate enough of an audience to remain financially viable? I have no idea, but I'll be rooting for it. Good -- cue blindingly obvious outro declarative statement here -- is quite great.