March 03, 2003

The Atlantic Meets Joe Millionaire

The New York Times reports today that magazine sales are booming in two categories: "blatantly escapist, and loaded with gravitas."

Typifying the former is US Weekly, whose circulation is up 55 percent in the last six months; leading the latter is the Atlantic Monthly (circulation up 52 percent), which last year won the heavyweight division of the gravitas competition by publishing William Langewiesche's 60,000-word "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center."

Newspapers as well as serious magazines can capitalize on the public's thirst for knowledge and understanding in these confusing and dangerous days.

As I said a few weeks ago: "In an age of omni-media, where the incessant bleating of broadcast and Internet pundits, and the reduction of reporting into stacks of scroll bars creates a clamorously poisonous atmosphere that chokes out quality journalism, newspapers have an opportunity to foster a healthier, more vibrant news environment whose deep reporting, evocative writing and enticing photographs give the public's interest in knowing what's going on in their communities a chance to thrive." [Read Journalists Biased? Yes, in the Worst Way]

In a similar vein, the Times quotes Adam Moss, editor of the paper's Sunday magazine:

"Times of change and anxiety make for very interesting journalistic opportunities, and for the most part, writers are rising to the occasion. In the 60's, for instance, it was pretty difficult to publish a bad magazine, and I think the same holds true for this period. Serious magazines are just better than they've been for a while - a hungry market plus better product equals a serious magazine boom."

I like Moss' use of the phrase "rising to the occasion." It indicates responsiveness, in this case to the tolerance, in fact the desire, of readers for longer, deeper forms of journalism.

Of course, as the Times points out, the same public that embraced William Langewiesche also breathlessly awaited Evan Marriott's every embrace. As Cullen Murphy, managing editor of The Atlantic, put it: "It's the venerable bread-and-circus syndrome. The very same conditions that prompt a surge in seriousness also promote an escapist impulse, even in the same people. I spent last Monday editing a serious piece about the Middle East, and then went home and watched `Joe Millionaire.' "

 New York Times Readers Are Looking for Mixed Fare

Posted by Tim Porter at March 3, 2003 08:40 AM