If you're a regular reader of this column (and why wouldn't you be? It's free!), you might have realized by now that I'm not so much an actual critic; I just play one on MediaPost. By day, I'm your standard, opinionless reporter. This means that when I take on a story, I talk to everyone involved, read other articles on the subject, separate the facts from the spin and then try my best to write a fair, balanced piece that will get linked to on Gawker.   

Critics, on the other hand, don't contact their subjects. They take the product at face value and offer their thoughts. Why do I bring this up now, other than to waste a couple hundred words? (I had a very, very, very long New Year's Eve). Because this review marks the first time I've actually contacted my subject, Paper magazine. (More on this later.)

Paper describes itself as a pop culture magazine that aims to go beyond the mainstream, to get at the heart of the groundbreaking ideas and trends that shape our world. In my opinion, it's a mission expertly accomplished. Paper manages almost every month to feature many of  those ubiquitous "stars of the moment" that pop up everywhere at once to support some new book or movie. But the stories always feel fresh thanks to Paper's alternative, intelligent point of view.

For example, the December/January issue features a profile of "Juno"'s Ellen Page, not exactly a media wallflower these days. But the focus is on her process as an actor, how she chooses her roles and her feelings toward the Hollywood hit-making machine. It feels a lot more honest and intimate than anything you'll read in Entertainment Weekly. It helps that the reporter writing the story is clearly of a similar mind to the 20-year-old Page. For example, the two seem to share a fondness for music I've never heard of, such as The New Young Pony Club. This leads Page to be a little more frank and open with her interviewer. 

The issue also includes a small piece on actress Chloe Sevigny, but not about her day job. Instead, Paper asks about her new clothing line for avant-garde New York boutique Opening Ceremony. Hint: This is not "Jaclyn Smith for Kmart." There's also a lengthy Q&A with director Gus Van Sant that gets awfully deep into the tension he feels between realism and production design. Naturally, this kind of grad-student journalism isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for those who crave it, Paper does it remarkably well.

And no review of Paper should neglect to mention its appearance. The photography throughout is beautiful and, dare I say, honest. Think American Apparel ads without the smut. Subjects are photographed in natural, vibrant settings, and a minimum of gloss is applied. Those new to Paper may be shocked to learn that some celebrities have physical imperfections, but the look gels nicely with the magazine's mission of going beyond the fluff.

What can be frustrating about Paper is its ambition. It seeks to cover everything from film to fashion to photography to celebrities to music, all in equal doses. And in the middle of it all is quite a bit of coverage of New York nightlife. None of the other subjects are particularly Gotham-centric, yet Paper devotes a number of pages to Time Out New York-style listings and reviews. That's just one reason readers may be a little confused as to what Paper really is.

But there's a greater cause for confusion here. When I first began reading Paper about a year ago, I could tell it was some kind of art or culture magazine, and an extremely hip one at that -- but what was with the name? At first it made me think Paper was a photography magazine, and its artsy look bore that out. But it didn't take long to realize I was wrong. Paper is also not about literature, forest conservation or the EZWider corporation. So what gives?

Hence the phone call to Paper's Manhattan offices. I didn't really want to bother, say, the editor in chief with my query, so I had the following conversation with the receptionist:

Me: "Hi, I write magazine reviews, and I was wondering, why is your magazine called Paper?"

Receptionist: "I have no idea. I'm just the [irritated] receptionist."

My new friend then gave me the e-mail address of a marketing person named Emily, who eventually told me she wanted to run my question by the pub's "editor/founder/publisher." Which means that in one day I managed to annoy both the most and least important people at Paper! Perhaps this is why critics don't contact their subjects.

Of course, it also means that even people who work at Paper don't know why it's called that. Does that strike anyone else as odd? And perhaps even a bad idea?

Incidentally, I never did get an answer. If I eventually do, I'll post it as a comment for this review. In the meantime, I welcome your guesses. As always, irresponsible speculation is encouraged.


Frequency: Monthly

Published by: Paper Publishing Company

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