Editor's Note: Taking A New Mag Tack
A couple of years ago, my colleagues at MediaPost asked if we could create a new publication aimed at the magazine community. We were already covering news about the print business in our flagship MediaDailyNews, so we wanted something that would appeal to magazine mavens on an entirely different level. And it hit me, why not a critique? There were plenty of reviews of TV shows, movies and other media, but for the life of me, I could not recall any regular series critiquing individual issues of a magazine. And as soon as we conceived of Magazine Rack, the first person I though of writing it was Larry Dobrow, a long-time member of the MediaPost bench team, who also happened to be the funniest -- and dare I say, most insightful -- among our contributors. But it wasn't until Larry actually started penning Magazine Rackthat I realized just how good a match that ultimately was.
I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. Over the past two years, I've gotten similar feedback from just about everyone out there. Readers write us constantly telling us how, "That Larry Dobrow guy is one of the best things about MediaPost." And nary a meeting goes by with some influential industry honcho when he or she doesn't pull me aside and tell me that Larry's Mag Racks are among their must-reads. I've heard this from high-level publishing types, and from people who have nothing to do with the magazine business, at all, but simply enjoyed hearing Larry weave some personal introspection to uncover the underlying truth of some glossy mag -- for better or worse.
We've also heard that quite vociferously from the publishing elite, like the time we received a typewritten letter commending Larry's writing and insights, but taking exception to his characterization of a recent issue of Playboy magazine. It was signed, simply, Hef.
On another occasion, Julie Pinkwater, the publisher of Ladies' Home Journal, turned her page 3 column over to one of Larry's critiques.
In the end, I think Larry has been so darn good at Magazine Rack because he has truly cared about what he was writing about -- the mark of a great writer of any kind. And he cares so much, that the inevitable happened a couple of weeks ago when he informed me that he'd have to close the book on his participation in Magazine Rack. Mainly, he said, it was because he was burned out, and truly realized it when, "I found myself reading one of my columns and it read like a bad parody of myself." The other truth is, it was only a matter of time before other, shall I say more lucrative, opportunities discovered Larry's brilliance.
I am therefore disheartened to inform you that today's is Larry's last contribution to Magazine Rack. So if you're like me, and Hef, and Julie, and countless other fans, you'll miss Uncle Larry's dispatches delving into the best and worst of magazine content, his attempts to play guitar, fend off unstable neighbors, and survive New York Marathon death marches.
Joe Mandese, Editor-in-Chief, MediaPost
And here's Larry:
My favorite magazine sucks.
Actually, that's not fair. Sports Illustrated does not suck, relatively speaking. Much like the worst Springsteen song ( "Trouble in Paradise") trumps the best Bryan Adams one ( "Cuts Like a Knife," I suppose), Sports Illustrated still whups ESPN The Magazine and the rest of the offline competition. It remains the best at what it does and I look forward to its arrival in my mailbox every Wednesday afternoon.
That, of course, doesn't mean Sports Illustrated should be thrilled about its dominance, at least quality-wise, in a thinning category, or that "Trouble in Paradise" is remotely listenable. Frankly, I'm beginning to suspect that SI is deliberately trying to run me off.
In recent months, SI has plummeted in just about every way that matters, hemorrhaging its best writers, getting all poofy and goofy with its design, and haphazardly rejiggering its content mix to lure younger readers -- who, of course, have little interest in a magazine still primarily geared towards fogeys who don't recognize "bike stunt vert" as a sport. It's as if the mag is daring sports-saturated dummyheads like me, who grew up with SI and haven't missed an issue since the mid-1980s, to look elsewhere for our weekly fix. I don't know how else one can rationalize the changes the mag has effected over the last year or so.
The front-of-book "Scorecard" section, once a bastion of taut reporting and droll columns, has been folded into the dopey "Players," which gives us lazy pop-culture grids (whoa -- Mark Ellis likes "Old School"!) and, in the Sept. 24 issue, a Q&A with 1968 Olympic luge gold medalist Susan Sarandon. The news stories, while still sharply observed, have started to trend towards personality-lite journalism. The piece earlier this year on Tony Parker and Eva Longoria, for example, would have been negged by People as too fluffy.
What does that leave? The "Inside" columns, as dependably informative as they've always been; Rick Reilly, at least during those 40 weeks of the year when he breaks a sweat; and the features, especially when authored by L. Jon Wertheim or the peerless Gary Smith. The mag has also done well with big-picture issues, like the recent "NFL 500" season preview and the report on sports and the environment. The Swimsuit Issue? Meh. My suppliers of soft-core titillation don't suddenly switch gears and barrage me with sports once a year; I wish SI would have similar respect for the separation of sexy church and state.
Perhaps my biggest issue with SI is that it continues to shove the "Golf Plus" supplement down my throat most weeks. Don't get me wrong: Its thorough PGA tour coverage equals that of most golf-only titles, plus I'm enormously flattered to have been deemed demographically desirable enough to receive it. Indeed, my inclusion makes me feel like I did upon being elevated from the kids Passover table to the adults one, which happened at age 29.
Here's the thing, though: I have no interest in golf. If I wanted to read more about golf, I'd probably take the radical step of, say, subscribing to a golf magazine. Similarly, it annoys me that SI wants it both ways. When you're in the demographic wheelhouse of its golf advertisers, the mag is happy to soothe you with old-school writin' and reportin'. But elsewhere, the mantra seems to be "younger and dumber." Make up your mind, will you?
SI's tendencies, both the good and the maddeningly meandering, are on full display in the Sept. 24 issue. Here's how I suggest reading it: After checking out the neatly angular "Leading Off" photos, skip over the "Players" fluff -- especially the "gosh darnit, Miss Mitzi, I'm jus' a good ol' country boy at heart" visit with rotisserie baseball god Brandon Webb -- to the something-interesting-is-happening-here piece on the Houston Texans. Dispose of the "Golf Plus" section with great prejudice, breeze over the serviceable pieces on Curtis Granderson and USC football, then lose yourself in the good stuff: the heartrending profile on a Double A baseball coach who died during a game this summer and the six-pack of "Inside" columns, even the WNBA one. Along the way, take a minute or two to appreciate how SI's photographers always seem to be in the exact right place at the exact right moment.
I acknowledge the need for venerable journalistic institutions to change with the times - for SI to chunk up its fonts, for instance, or for Time to... uh, to do whatever it is Time is doing. I understand that long after I've moved onto more adult pursuits, like writing agitated letters to my Congressperson, SI will need to replace me with a younger set of eyeballs.
But from the way Sports Illustrated has been pinballing from one approach to the next, I worry that it's all downhill from here. I hope I'm wrong. Either way, I'll keep reading.
This marks my last Magazine Rack column for MediaPost. Thanks to y'all for reading, and especially to Phyllis Fine, Joe Mandese, Amy Corr and Nate Pollard at MediaPost for their support and patience.