NEW YEAR'S MEDIA MASH: A Year's Worth of Magazine Reviews

Musically speaking, the Masher thinks last year's New Year celebration was better than this year's. Much better to ring in January 1 with Prince than with Richard Strauss.

Aside from that, it's been quite a negative year, with a stolen election, a squashed economy and a new media monster in the form of AOL-Time Warner, to mention a few of the lowlights. Nevertheless, Happy 2001.

In case you have been too busy -- which is apparently true for most Americans, and by the way, not healthy -- the Masher has been monitoring the magazine business for you. The dotcom meltdown sent the formally euphoric new media/new business magazine sector into a deep dive. This confusing flock of magazines lost so much weight in advertising pages, some of them appeared anorexic.

Industry Standard's new entry, Grok, disappeared after a few hard-to-figure-out issues. Business 2.0's new start, Fuse -- a slick attempt to weave hip lifestyle into the work place -- was killed even before it arrived in the mail. What will happen with Inside.com's quick entry into the magazine market, a collaboration with Industry Standard called "Inside," is anyone's guess. But it would be hard pressed to do worse than its online business model. Inside's first two issues suggest they are steering away from the "new media" world, but is there an audience of media industry junkies big enough to attract consumer advertising? After all, finding that mysterious market was Brill's Content's goal. (One thing for sure: that logo with the name always bracketed [Inside] is very annoying.)

Speaking of Brill's Content, despite overall good material, the mag is moving closer to a Talk/People model with celeb profiles. As for Talk, well, it's so slow and infrequent that it can't be newsy. Let's just say it hasn't yet found its niche.

And can there be a worse magazine than George? Somebody put it out of its misery, please.

Fast Company, the soft business/personal growth hybrid, is the big winner in the 2000 magazine sweepstakes. It was bought by Bertlesman (which also invested in Napster, covering their old media/new media bases) from the already far too rich Mort Zuckerman (New York Daily News) for hundreds of millions of dollars. Those German deep pockets should make Business Week, Forbes and all the rest shudder, not too mention the lesser lights like Red Herring and Business 2.0.

Fortunately, below the blurry corporate magazine surface, there are magazines we can be thankful for. While the Utne Reader struggles for air, an heir apparent called Yes: A Journal of Positive Futures, (www.yesmagazine.org) is making an impression with a bold vision, especially their Fall issue's call for the abolishment of prisons. Casey Walker's tiny labor of love, The Wild Duck Review: Literature, Necessary Mischief & News, (www.wildduckreview.com) is pretty dense, but it forces us to confront life's fundamental questions, like the ramifications of human cloning and the end of human nature.

While Jim Hightower and his partner Susan DeMarco have dropped the curtain on their four-year-old radio show from the Chat and Chew Café in Austin, Hightower's very well written and researched newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, is going gangbusters, with circulation approaching 50,000. Subscribe to it at www.jimhightower.com/newsletter.html.

Also, a new milestone will be achieved next month when Laurie Ochoa, the new editor of the LA Weekly, becomes the first Latina to head an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies newspaper. She joins Estela Reyes, managing editor of the San Antonio Current, as the two Latina editorial leaders in a virtually exclusively white world of alternative newspaper editors. Ochoa comes from Gourmet Magazine and previously the LA Times, where she was the food writer.

As we begin a new year, many agree that Mother Jones is much stronger with some new staff and editor Roger Cohn. The Utne Reader has picked Mojo as their magazine of the year. (By the way, if you don't already subscribe to the Utne reader, please respond to one of those ubiquitous appeals by Nina Utne and join the Utne Family. And definitely sign up for Leif Utne's free daily Internet review, which almost always offers a gem of an article to read each day.)

While Mojo is much improved, the Masher is a little harder to please, looking for more unique material not seen before. The current issue makes some steps in that direction. Mojo's most important job, as a bimonthly, may be to echo the issues and the investigations already percolating at the grassroots, spreading them to a larger audience. Meanwhile, The Nation continues it's provocative editorial mix -- mostly stimulating, occasionally exasperating. Interestingly, both the Nation and Mother Jones are attracting a lot of traffic to their Web sites, where there is fresher material.

A final magazine note: As Dave Borden, director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network (www.DRCNet.org)points out in the latest DRCNet newsletter, the story of drug war prisoner Kemba Smith (who was finally pardoned this week by President Clinton) was originally blown up in 1996 by a magazine called Emerge. Emerge reported that at age 22, Kemba was sentenced to 24 1/2 years in federal prison for a minor role in a first-time, nonviolent drug offense.

But Emerge was closed down by Black Entertainment Television (BET) last year and is being replaced by Savoy, a magazine that has as its purpose "offering entertaining and insightful articles that chronicle those people and events that shape the worlds of business, politics, sports and entertainment." The death of Emerge was a loss for those seeking intellectual substance in a wasteland of infotainment-oriented magazines. Here's hoping that Savoy takes its legacy seriously.

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