The New York Review of Magazines » Dustin Fitzharris The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 Big Isn’t Always Better Thu, 13 May 2010 04:01:09 +0000 Dustin Fitzharris The Advocate’s case, downsizing may actually spell success.]]>

By Dustin Fitzharris

In 1978, two years after graduating from Northwestern University in Chicago, actor-playwright Charles Busch returned to New York City, his hometown. He had attempted to start a theater company in the Windy City, but that, he says, ended in a “bitter squabble.” At a loss, he decided to create a career for himself as a solo performer. Busch, now internationally renowned, was still an undiscovered talent in 1979, but The Advocate, the oldest continuing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (L.G.B.T.) publication in the United States, recognized his work and did the first review and interview with him.

The Advocate was the best way for a gay artist to be introduced to the national gay community,” Busch says. “It gave this young solo performer a credibility and importance that was instrumental in my career. The Advocate continued to support my progress, as it has so many gay artists.”

Now, 42 years after its first issue, The Advocate is available in print only as an insert in another gay publication, Out, which focuses on entertainment, fashion and beauty. All single-copy distribution ceased in 2009. Some may look at this as a failure. I see it as a success. Here’s why. (And full disclosure: I’ve written for The Advocate.)

First and foremost, because many of the issues that The Advocate pioneered are now routinely covered by the mainstream press. Among the stories the magazine covered first were “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and same-sex marriage. Now those issues are often found on the front pages of newspapers across the country. Furthermore, in 1996, The Advocate featured a story about gay rights groups moving into corporations and using media strategies to funnel their messages to the public. Today, this happens routinely and papers no longer feel the need to report on a company offering same-sex benefits. The Advocate was the first publication to deliver a print interview with Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old student who was tortured and murdered in Wyoming for being gay.

In the late ’90s, the magazine reported on Hollywood’s use of more and more gay characters and gay-themed plots. Fast-forward to 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, a story about a relationship between two cowboys. It went on to nab three Academy Awards, proving how far the public’s attitude toward the gay community had come since 1993, when The Advocate felt the need to write about the film Philadelphia, in which a homosexual lawyer battled AIDS and discrimination. Going even further back, in 1975 singer Bette Midler was the first celebrity to be featured on The Advocate’s cover. At the time, Midler’s team advised her against it, even though she had a huge gay following.

Of course, in 1979 the magazine also covered the assassination of Harvey Milk. And AIDS, from its advent in 1981, has been a deeply personal topic; The Advocate has lost — and continues to lose — staff members to the disease.

I first discovered The Advocate when I was in junior high. I would go into the bookstores in my suburban town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh and see the magazine on one of the upper shelves of the magazine rack, often too high for me to reach easily. If no one else was around, I would struggle to grab a copy — I was nervous about being seen with a magazine that was identifiable with the gay community. I remember looking through it and seeing images of gay people and gay couples, photographed in an endearing and honest way. It made me realize that who I am is acceptable. I believe this is still extremely important for younger people living outside major cities who wrestle with their sexuality and feel that they are alone or need to feel ashamed.

Although there were other L.G.B.T. publications before The Advocate, it was the first to take off nationally. It began as a local newsletter in Los Angeles, published by an activist group known as Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE). In 1969, the publication began to distribute nationally. That was a historic year for the L.G.B.T. community. In the early morning hours of June 28, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Fed up with years of persecution, the gay community finally fought back against the police and took to the streets. The Stonewall riots are often cited as the start of the gay rights movement. The Advocate was there to report the story.

Jon Barrett, The Advocate’s editor-in-chief for the past two years, still believes in the magazine’s power. Although mainstream publications now cover L.G.B.T. issues, The Advocate wants to be the touchstone for these sources to turn to when they want to know more about these issues. “Now, more than ever, I think we are a place of conversation,” Barrett says. “The things that people are hearing about on the web or on TV, they need a place where they can analyze them.” It’s fair to say that for L.G.B.T. issues, The Advocate has been that place all along.

Another reason I see the magazine as a success is because of its increasing online presence. In the past year, the site has tripled its online readership, with monthly unique visitors numbering close to 500,000. And in February, the magazine launched a monthly hour-long TV news-magazine show, The Advocate On-Air, which is being streamed on and will air on the here! network. Most recently, The Advocate signed a deal with NBC, making it the first L.G.B.T.-oriented publication to partner with a major network. will utilize NBC resources to produce daily news segments that will run online and on The Advocate On-Air.

Barrett says it would be a mistake to expect the print edition to fade into the background. “The magazine is the pillar that holds all of these other things up. If we had decided to get rid of the print publication, I think we would’ve just become another website.”

The Advocate has survived in the turbulent economy and is still around for the community beyond print. “Young people might never pick up a print magazine again,” says Barrett. “The Advocate is more than just a magazine.”

What is it then? The world’s leading gay source and that is something to celebrate.

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Q&A: EW’s Movie Critic Lisa Schwarzbaum Wed, 12 May 2010 04:01:49 +0000 Dustin Fitzharris EW critic.]]> By Dustin Fitzharris

Lisa Schwarzbaum can be described as a survivor on an endangered species list. Since 1995, she’s been one of Entertainment Weekly’s two film critics. But more and more publications — most alarmingly, Variety, which in March let go of its chief film critic and chief theater critic — have been laying off their reviewers. If Variety, a weekly entertainment trade magazine, isn’t supporting criticism’s future, does that mean there isn’t one? Schwarzbaum tells NYRM that it’s not time to roll the credits just yet.

How much time do you spend watching movies?
I see a film a day, but sometimes I will see two in one day and nothing for two days.

And how long do you have to turn around a piece?
It depends. I’m seeing a movie this Thursday, and it’s due on Friday. That is a fast turnaround.

How has changed the landscape of your work?
Sometimes what we see misses the deadline to get into print. We will still see it, and then we will put it online. This is a new wrinkle in how most publications do things. There is no such thing as weekly anymore. There’s no such thing as monthly. There’s not even a 24-hour cycle for newspapers. Everything is constantly updated and online.

Many publications have been eliminating critics altogether. Others have been relying on freelancers. Is this frightening?
Of course it is. This is complicated for a couple of reasons. The consumption of “criticism” has changed because you can look anything up online and get something quick — websites like Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic will say 78 percent of critics said it was fresh or it was rotten, but that’s not criticism.

What is criticism?
A cultural critic can look into the components of the piece you are analyzing so you understand how it fits into the culture you’re in. He or she can pick apart the elements of it and can take his or her expertise to describe why he or she does or doesn’t think it fits in and then request you to use your own intelligence to see if you agree or have an argument with the critic. The idea is to challenge and stimulate.

It’s been said that the younger generation doesn’t need critics. Do you agree?
I think they do, but they don’t know it.

If publications continue to eliminate critics, how does this affect the movie industry? Wouldn’t smaller films that can’t afford a lot of marketing suffer the most?
You’re right. A great example of that is The Hurt Locker. That really got its push from critics. They loved it and kept writing about it. Smaller films will suffer and will have to find new ways to be discovered, and those are the very films that can’t afford promotion.

How would it affect the public?
There will be nothing standing between the marketing machinery and the audience of the big films. There are many readers who are more interested in reading the box office as a measure of what is good, rather than reading a critic. Just because something came in at number one doesn’t make it good. Without the critics to distinguish marketing from content, the consumers will suffer.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a film critic?
If you love film or just adore cultural criticism, do it, do it, do it. See everything. Write on your blog — not for how many hits you get but to sharpen your own critical acumen. Now, that’s all high-falutin’ to say because in the meantime you need to support yourself, and I don’t know how you do that.

Is there a future for critics?
I think there will always be a place for writing about movies. Everyone loves to write and talk about the movies. We need smart people to look at what’s coming out and figure out what it means.

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10 Life Lessons to Unlearn Tue, 04 May 2010 17:24:01 +0000 Dustin Fitzharris By Dustin Fitzharris

Martha Beck wrote this piece in O magazine about life lessons we’ve always believed, but we should veer away from. Some of these lessons relate to my life, so I found it very useful.

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Soaps in Depth Fri, 30 Apr 2010 20:59:50 +0000 Dustin Fitzharris Soaps in Depth]]> By Dustin Fitzharris

Circulation: 189,973
Date of Birth: 1997
Frequency: Weekly
Price: $3.99

In 1997, a new soap opera magazine called Soaps in Depth hit the shelves. At the time there were 11 soap operas on television, scattered among the three major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. Today there are seven, and by the end of 2010 there will be six, since As the World Turns, a show that debuted in 1956, will go off the air. Which poses the question: Is a magazine dedicated to soap operas like Soaps in Depth still vital, especially with the Internet breaking all the news — or spoilers, as they’re called in the industry?

Richard Simms, Soaps in Depth’s executive editor, says yes: “While networks tend to ignore them, there is a huge audience out there of soap watchers who are older and not necessarily out there on the web. There are people who still pick up the magazine and are surprised by the things that they read.”

The initial idea behind Soaps in Depth was to give soap opera viewers more individualized and comprehensive coverage of their favorite programs. Instead of buying a magazine like Soap Opera Digest, the original soap magazine, in which all the soaps are covered, Soaps in Depth offered readers three different magazines: ABC Soaps in Depth, CBS Soaps in Depth and NBC Soaps in Depth. From a business standpoint, it was clever. If you watched multiple soaps and they were on different networks, you would have to purchase the different editions.

But less than two years after its launch, Soaps in Depth was forced to scale back when NBC pulled the plug on three of its four soaps, Another World, Sunset Beach and Passions, leaving only Days of Our Lives.

The motto for Soaps in Depth is “Cry with the soaps; laugh with us.” Unlike the other two soap opera publications — Soap Opera Digest and Soap Opera Weekly Soaps in Depth goes for humor. “We love soaps, but at the same time we try to take a little bit lighter approach to them,” Simms says. “We want to bring the fun back to soaps.”

And they succeed. For example, when Soaps in Depth did an article on soap characters who have been in comas, they wrote biting captions for the images they ran. “This is actually Evangeline’s sixth coma,” read a One Life to Live caption. “After all, a girl’s gotta keep her figure somehow, and the eating-through-a-tube thing makes for a fantastic diet plan!”
Simms hopes that this approach will keep bringing readers back for more at a time when spending money on any magazine isn’t a need; it’s a want. You would be hard-pressed to find any publication where you can get the scoop only by purchasing a print product, and Soaps in Depth has a rather expansive website. “We learned that we needed to have the website in order to keep our name out there as someone who can break news,” he says. “Then we focus the magazine on things our website won’t give you. We actually work real hard so that the website won’t become so good that there won’t be any reason for the magazine to exist.”

Furthermore, a print magazine is the only place soap opera fans can go to get behind-the-scenes coverage. Other publications tend to write about soap operas only when they want to say that they are dying.

Although Soaps in Depth offers subscriptions, single-copy sales are what the magazine relies on, says Simms. As a result, they always make the covers pop to capture attention. They are also using Twitter and podcasts to help maintain their brand.

Soap operas may not attract as many viewers as they once did, but they are still part of America’s culture, attracting 15 to 20 million viewers each week. That doesn’t include SOAPnet, a cable channel that is dedicated just to soap opera or soap opera-themed programs. How long soap operas will remain on network TV is questionable, but they will persevere. Soaps are therapeutic. They are a chance to escape into another world. For many people, a magazine like Soaps in Depth is The New York Times for that place.

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Sean Hayes: I Am Who I Am Thu, 08 Apr 2010 15:30:41 +0000 Susie Poppick By Dustin Fitzharris

For eight years he stared as the flamboyant Jack McFarland on Will & Grace. Rumors circled around his sexuality. Now in The Advocate, Sean Hayes finally admits that he is gay.

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Want to Know What Love Is? Fri, 26 Mar 2010 06:11:23 +0000 Dustin Fitzharris By Dustin Fitzharris

There are endless books written about how to find love. In this issue of O magazine, Oprah argues that learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Another person can’t complete you; he or she can enhance your life, but the only thing we really have control over is ourselves.

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