Stop the presses. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn't just alter the New York skyline, it changed the print media landscape, too. With the barrage of op-ed pieces, talking heads, and soap-box rants, how could magazines possibly keep up? Editor David Remnick had just 36 hours to reinvent the Sept. 24 issue of The New Yorker. He ended up producing the magazine issue of the year, with the cover of the year. Setting a tone, he omitted almost all of the cartoons. He ran a poem on the last page--instead of the usual witty footnote--surrounded by white space. The lead essays by New Yorkers were all poignant; the photo portfolio by Joel Meyerowitz, simply awesome. But it was the stark graphic of the black on black towers on the cover--the magazine world's graphic equivalent of a White House flag flying at half-staff--that broke our hearts. Art Spiegelman actually did two covers for the issue, one for the newstands, one for subscribers. Interviewed on NPR, both Remnick and Spiegelman said they kept thinking of their children while they worked on the issue. Locally, that issue sold out in three hours.
Pitching a magazine to current, very current, events is never easy. The popular political magazines of the day continue to make the effort to stay relevant and not just swoon at every celebrity or hot film. But for many of these magazines, there's a revolving door of the same writers, editors and advisory boards. These are all good people. It's just that they're often the same people. Barbara Ehrenreich, a contributing writer for The Progressive, has a column in their latest issue, and is also a contributing editor for In These Times. David Bacon has a piece in the latest In These Times and in the latest Z Magazine. The two best magazines that have kept up with the changing "look" of print magazines without sacrificing content or commitment to progressive causes are Mother Jones and Ms. Both have added lots of color and creative graphics in the last year. It should be noted that Mother Jones has become The Independent West, with former Indy staffers Eric Bates and Barry Yeoman now hanging out in the staff box. Alternative Press Review is one magazine that bridges the political generation gap, fusing political commentary with a Factsheet Five review salad. Alas, they only publish about 8,000 copies three or four times a year.
Having consumed too many words and listened to too many commentaries and up-close-and-personal pieces this month, I have to admit my favorite guilty pleasure (buying into the monolithic entertainment industrial complex for this issue only) was the arrival last week of the "special Harry Potter collector's issue" of Vanity Fair. Pure escape. Poor Harry's being sold on every street corner, on every entertainment platform known to Madison Avenue. I don't care, I just want to see how they do those Quidditch scenes. My broom, please.