Men's Journal

Book publishers say women do most of the heavy-lifting reading in America these days, yet in recent years the men's magazine category seems to be burgeoning. Men's Journal is one of the very best of the breed, thanks to a focus on um, you know... words. Not just pictures.

Of course, MJ plays on one of the most crowded of periodical playing fields, thanks to Details, Esquire, FHM, GQ, Maxim, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, and dozens of others, including the many subcategories devoted to everything from sports to cars, sex to cigars. The target audience is "active men" with an interest in actually participating in sports and other adventurous activities, not just watching or reading about them.

No doubt all that stiff competition has contributed to the editorial and circulation challenges MJ has faced in recent years. Though Jann Wenner calls himself editor in chief, the New York Mets' bullpen has seen more stability than the editor's office. Yet despite the regime changes, MJ continues to hold its own. In fact, last week it ranked #1 on Amazon's Bestsellers in Magazines list -- and that's overall, not just in the men's sector.

Recent cover subjects have included Jack Nicholson, Lance Armstrong, Woody Harrelson, The Rock, Harrison Ford, and a lengthy tribute to Paul Newman. In other words, it's the men's magazine that does NOT feature beautiful young women on its cover, or even on the inside pages for that matter. Instead, there's valuable information, if you can imagine that.

In fact, there's a lot of really good info in MJ, from how to ecologically refit your house to how to prepare a killer shepherd's pie to how to dive the underwater ship and aircraft graveyard in the Bikini Atoll. And one aspect continually strikes you: This prose is not designed for armchair athletes, or armchair anythings. From the products MJ promotes to the medical advice it dishes out (should skiers strap their poles onto their wrists?), it's all about participation.

So of course the cover of the January issue promises plenty of "Gear, Tech & Toys" -- or "What Men Really Want for the Holidays." In fact, the magazine even has an entire section entitled "Gear," that catchall term that has become ubiquitous in men's periodicals. No less than 10 pages feature such gotta-haves as the "aluminum-and-polycarbonate" Alurunner sled; the Bushnell Backtrack GPS that fits on a keychain; and the Gravity Leather Wine Bottle Holder. As for those not hip to the benefits of polycarbonates, well, Maxim is featuring a lengthy photo spread of Hilary Duff this month.

But it's the "Arts & Culture" section that demonstrates Men's Journal is just that -- aimed at men, not boys over 21, or boys over 30 for that matter. There are lengthy reviews of obscure Western B-movie director Budd Boetticher's new box set and Barry Unsworth's new historical novel "Land of Marvels." And both reviews reference Hemingway, a name that's unlikely to be dropped alongside essays extolling the posterior of the Bond Girl du jour or the latest Xbox 360 accessory, content staples in most "men's" magazines these days.

Other features prove such gravitas is not a fluke, including the following:

  • A profile of CNN war correspondent Michael Ware is a searing and even haunting snapshot of the Iraqi War's effect on all who have lived through it, combatants and noncombatants alike.
  • The cover story, attributed to actor Emile Hirsch, details his journey through the Congo in somewhat breathless prose -- but certainly provides a welcome alternative to the bulk of public relations exercises that passes for celebrity journalism (to his credit, Hirsch writes: "If the guy from 'The Girl Next Door' is the only public figure the people of Kindu can get to visit them, then what the fuck, right?").
  • "The Tactical Guide to Changing Your Life" is absolutely fascinating, featuring four case studies of middle-aged men who altered their own biographies, including an investment banker who's now a stand-up comedian.
  • Even the back page "Exit Interview" with Gen. Chuck Yeager manages to provide new insights from the 85-year-old icon for hard-core aviation dweebs like myself.

    MJ may be best known in some circles for its annual special themed issues, including The Best (dining, nightlife, the outdoors, vacation hotspots, etc.); The 50 Best Places to Live; and The Life List ("Things to do Before You Die"). But the mag may just be hiding its editorial light under a bushel. There's damn fine reporting and writing in these pages. Even for those who've never commanded an Alurunner sled.


    Published by: Men's Journal LLC/Wenner Media

    Frequency: Monthly

    Web site



  • 1 comment about "Men's Journal".
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    1. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, December 26, 2008 at 10:45 a.m.

      It has long been a struggle to find quality writing and reporting in women's magazines. Even the longer features in the women-focused magazines that try hard tend to leave a self-help/woe is us footprint. And yet - the number of women who read/ subscribe to MJ or Esquire, for example, is significant enough to break out in a media kit/demographic profile. Women are also decently represented in the letters to the editor of those titles.

      I doubt that men would turn to reading women's magazines in droves for any reason, but the fact that a good number of women turn to men's magazines for the writing makes me think there's a missed opportunity somewhere...

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