The New York Review of Magazines » Frederick Dreier http://nyrm.org The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 Going Long http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/going-long/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/going-long/#comments Wed, 12 May 2010 15:01:31 +0000 Frederick Dreier http://nyrm.org/?p=2038

By Frederick Dreier

On the icy morning of Dec. 22, 2005, New York City firefighter Matthew Long pedaled his road bicycle along the streets of Manhattan toward the department’s training facility on Randall’s Island. At 52nd Street, a 20-ton bus carrying employees of now-defunct brokerage firm Bear Stearns turned unusually wide, striking Long. The bus wheels snapped Long’s pelvis and leg, and the bike’s handlebars skewered his abdomen like an aluminum fishhook. He lay motionless under the bus in a slick of blood.

“I was told I was conscious under the bus,” Long says. “I don’t remember weeks or months from before it. I only remember what was told to me.”

Long does remember a day one year later when Charles Butler, the managing editor of Runner’s World, interviewed him at a Starbucks in Manhattan. Before the near-fatal accident, Long was a passionate endurance athlete who competed in Ironman triathlons and clocked a marathon time of three hours and 14 minutes. Butler had heard about Long’s story and wanted to know if he planned to run again.

At the time of the meeting, Long was unable to walk without crutches and was still undergoing surgeries to repair his left leg. He had spent five months in a hospital bed after the accident. Surgeons had sliced him open to repair his abdominal wall, coat his stomach in cadaver skin and insert titanium rods into his shattered leg. He still was using a colostomy bag.

“I told [Butler] if everything goes well, I’d be happy to run a lap around Central Park some day and then retire and go have some pizza,” Long said. “It wasn’t much of a story. It was going to be a little piece about some guy running six miles and then drinking beer with his buddies.”

The two maintained a loose correspondence over the next eight months. By early 2007, Long’s body had made remarkable progress, and he had graduated from crutches to running shoes. His running goal had also progressed, from one Central Park lap to all 26.2 miles of the New York City Marathon. Long phoned Butler with the news. This was no longer a little story about a man, Central Park and pizza.

Long’s story became one of the most successful journalistic projects in Runner’s World’s 44-year history. Butler followed Long for more than a year, and the ensuing 9,000-word article was the longest story in the March 2009 issue. It was also a major hit online. RunnersWorld.com featured the entire story, accompanied by six individual documentary videos, shot during Long’s recovery. As of this writing, the web package has generated more than 72,700 page views from about 18,000 unique users. Visitors to RunnersWorld.com have played the Long videos a combined 108,710 times. According to editor David Willey, those numbers are big for the site.

“On one hand, this is a story that’s a great example of something print is best at — showcasing great storytelling with amazing photography and layout,” Willey said. “But it showed us how we could tell the story in a different way on [the Internet.] The video picked up so much that didn’t come through in the story. Do we need to do that with every story? No — but we can pick our battles.”

Within the publishing world, it is widely accepted that cyberspace is a poor home for long-form journalism. Many simply believe the human eye prefers paper to the screen. In his 2007 report titled “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal,” for the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, media critic William Powers writes: “Everyone knows that reading on screen is still a different experience from on paper — more taxing, less conducive somehow to extended concentration.”

“When it comes to delivering news, screens work well for short-form reportage and commentary that can be read quickly,” Powers argues. “But for long stories and essays requiring sustained attention and focus, readers still gravitate to paper, where they can settle down and find that snatching of serenity.”

That opinion is generally accepted in the world of active-lifestyle magazines. Magazines such as Runner’s World, Backpacker and Outside cater to enthusiasts of a sport, and explain sport’s culture and nuances — as well as training secrets and reviews of products — to those who participate. The websites they have created are as individual as the activities they cover. Each of them, however, has put an emphasis on shorter stories, not long features. The preferred content at these sites is best described as service journalism: product reviews, tech tidbits or training advice.

“The key is to keep things short — the absolute best use for the web is to offer instruction,” said Steve Madden, vice president of digital product development at Rodale, which owns Runner’s World and Bicycling magazines. “I can write 2,000 words about how to change a flat tire and still not get the point across, or watch a two-minute video of a mechanic changing a flat tire. There’s no comparison.”

The migration of eyeballs from print to screen has brought innovation to these shorter, service-oriented stories. At OutsideOnline.com, readers can scroll through 700-word advice columns written by aliased bloggers such as The Gear Junkie, The Adventure Adviser and The Eco Adventurer. At Bicycling.com, a “Gear and Bike Review Finder” lets visitors read detailed critiques of the season’s latest and greatest racing bicycles before they make a purchase. At Backpacker.com, wannabe camp cooks can learn to prepare their own teriyaki beef jerky.

RunnersWorld.com emphasizes service journalism as well. Visitors can search out popular running routes in cities across the country, learn how to stretch calf muscles properly and ice an injured knee. The site offers detailed training plans written by professional coaches for running races ranging from a “5k” to a marathon; the prices range from $20 to $40. Readers can also buy into the $130 Runners World Challenge, which provides a training plan, access to the magazine’s online community forum and a chance to race with the magazine’s editors in a marathon in Richmond, Va.

“We’ve found the most important role of the web is to build community, and you do that through instruction,” Willey said. “Not many people really want to read a 9,000-word story online.”

That said, many active lifestyle brands also pluck longer feature stories from the magazine and place them online. A handful of these stories find similar success online. According to Chris Keyes, editor of Outside, the magazine’s archived profiles of members of the 2006 U.S. ski team scored big numbers online in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In January 2008, Bicycling ran a 9,400-word magazine feature, titled “Broken,” on its website. The piece, which told the story of Ross Dillon, a Sonoma, Cal., man who was killed in 2007 after colliding with a speeding Mitsubishi, called attention to bicycle fatalities and the rights of cyclists in hit-and-run accidents with automobiles. According to numbers from Bicycling, the story netted about 12,200 unique visitors in its first month, a number on par with the website’s best-performing service pieces.

“We don’t put all of our magazine content [on the website], we try to pick and choose,” said Loren Mooney, the editor-in-chief of Bicycling. “Print is still the best way to cozy up with a good, long story.”

So why did 75,000 people read Matthew Long’s story on a computer screen? Butler believes that the video segments provided an easy point of entry to the story. The clips tracked the stages of Long’s recovery, from his physical therapy sessions to his actual race. In one clip, Long trots along in Central Park, his stride shortened by a painful limp, as a string of runners speed by. In another, Long’s physical therapist strains to stretch the shortened muscles in his injured left leg.

Butler said he devised the idea to film Long after watching him jog around the running track at Randall’s Island on one of his first training jogs. “He was running with the New York skyline in the background,” Butler said, “and you can see how slow he is going. His stride does not look good. It looks painful.”

But Long’s story connects with the reader on a higher plane, even without the moving images. Butler opened his story with Long preparing for his November 2008 marathon, which turned into a seven-hour trek from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the finish line in Central Park. Butler wove scenes from the race with others from before and after his collision with the bus. His detailed account of the accident showed just how close Long actually came to dying, and how frantically two doctors at New York Presbyterian Hospital worked to save his life.

His body was also mangled with a compound fracture of the left tibia and femur, a compound fracture of the left foot, a fractured right shoulder, a fractured right hip, perforated abdominal walls, a torn rectum, extensive pelvic nerve damage, and a crushed pelvis.
“His chances for living were five percent,” [Dr. Soumitra] Eachempati says. “Maybe even less than that.”

And Butler’s year of reporting unearthed complex emotions from within Long. As his reporting progressed, Long’s alpha male demeanor melted away. During the first months, Long preferred to talk about his running training, his physical therapy and his recovery. As Butler’s relationship with Long progressed, the firefighter gradually let down his guard, and a more vulnerable side appeared. He discussed his bizarre attachment to his colostomy bag. He admitted to wishing he’d died on the operating table.

“His insides were destroyed, emotionally he was destroyed,” Butler said. “This guy came back from so many issues, it became a story that people could relate to.”

The online success of a well-reported and compelling story like Long’s could be a sign that the era of shorter-is-better website writing has an end. Perhaps our T.V.-shortened attention spans are lengthening, or maybe readers simply appreciate free content. If a story turns pages in print, after all, why shouldn’t it do the same on a website?

Ted Genoways edits The Virginia Quarterly Review, which regularly posts long-form stories on its website, including features on the 2008 terrorist bombings in Mumbai and the 2010 parliamentary elections in Iraq. The Mumbai piece wowed Genoways with 750,000 page views — a huge leap for a publication with a print circulation of 7,000. Genoways believes the magazine’s readers now expect longer investigative pieces online.

“I think people are far more accustomed to reading things on a screen than they were a decade ago,” he said. “The [Mumbai] piece showed us there is an increasing audience for the kind of writing we’re doing online. We’re trying to build a reputation with that readership.”

Butler has continued reporting and this fall will release a book about Long’s recovery. Long said the book caps off several years of personal transformation, from his initial meeting with the editor when he was hesitant to tell his story; he didn’t want to sound like a tragic character searching for sympathy.

He said his improving physical state spurred his ability to open up. After the accident, he could not participate in physical activity for nearly a year, and as a former top-level athlete, this enforced idleness sent his emotions spiraling downward. Once he was able to lift weights and run, his mood improved.

“Being active was taken away from me, so mentally and emotionally I was dying,” Long said. “The further I got out from the surgeries, the more I saw the worst times were behind me, the more I got comfortable with Charlie.”

Long still walks and runs with a pronounced limp, but he has regained enough strength to run additional marathons and compete in Ironman-length triathlons. He works part time for the New York City Fire Department and tours as a motivational speaker on the side.

“I still don’t remember what happened [under the bus],” Long said. “I wish I could just spin back time and have it reversed. But a lot of good things have happened to me since that accident.”

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Dead or Alive? http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/dead-or-alive-2/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/dead-or-alive-2/#comments Wed, 12 May 2010 04:01:33 +0000 Frederick Dreier http://nyrm.org/?p=2505 By Frederick Dreier

We all love magazines, but how should we gauge the health of the industry? Sure, the global recession has caused advertising dollars to dry up for all print publications. And even your mom is spending less time reading Mother Jones and more time reading on her MacBook. But for every expert writing an epitaph for print magazines, there is another promising clearer skies ahead.

They’re Dead
“Magazines are not dying. It’s the people behind them who are committing suicide. They devalued the reading experience so much, and the free business model is not sustainable.”
Samir Husni, director, University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center (Campaign, Nov. 6, 2009)

“The situation’s changed. We all kind of regret that our ancestors gave away the magazine for too little money.”
David Granger, editor in chief of Esquire (The New York Times, Dec. 16, 2009)

“Any publisher who thinks that magazine spending is going to rebound to their levels before 2008 and 2009 is naïve and deluding themselves.”
Lee Doyle, C.E.O. of North America of Mediaedge (Advertising Age, July 2009)

“In a climate like this, I think people are really weighing what’s more important to them: being eligible for the National Magazine Awards or making their budgets.”
Susan Lyne, C.E.O. of Gilt Groupe (The New York Times, April 7, 2009)

“The world has changed; the methods and speed with which we can receive information, the pace of life and consumers’ changing lifestyles will change the magazine model.”
Tony Jones, C.E.O. of Pensord Press printing company (PrintWeek, May 22, 2009)

———————————————————————————

Not So Fast!
“I want 1.6 million women to go to the newsstand every month to buy Cosmo, and they do. We don’t want that genie out of the bottle. I don’t have any interest in challenging that economic model.”
Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines (The New York Times, May 31, 2009)

“I can’t see anyone sitting down with a cup of coffee and picking up their electronic version of a magazine — it’s not so tactile and simply does not have the same attraction!”
Richard Gray, managing director of Prinovis Liverpool printing company (PrintWeek, May 22, 2009)

“As long as people are willing to pay more than £5 for a watch, then we’ll have watch advertising, and we’ll have magazines.”
Russell Davies, columnist for Wired (Campaign, April 3, 2009)

“We get many world exclusives that are beating out the Internet. It’s quite an accomplishment for a print media form to continuously do that.”
Rob Borm, associate publisher of Game Informer (AdAge.com, June 9, 2008).

“Print can’t deliver music, video, but what print can deliver is beautiful, in-depth visuals and journalism that explores subjects in a particular kind of way.”
Gary Belsky, editor in chief of ESPN The Magazine (The New York Times, Oct. 11, 2009)

“We’re looking at double-digit growth through November, December and January. You only have to look at a bellwether title like The Australian Women’s Weekly. This month it’s 400 pages and full of ads. The top-10 industry selling titles are very strong at the moment.”
Peter Zavecz, commercial director of Pacific Magazines (The Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 4, 2009)

“The market is definitely stronger. November has exceeded our expectations on revenue.
All indications are very positive.”
Lisa Hudson, C.E.O. of Fairfax Magazines (The Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 4, 2009)

]]> http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/dead-or-alive-2/feed/ 0 Modern Drunkard http://nyrm.org/2010/05/11/modern-drunkard/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/11/modern-drunkard/#comments Mon, 10 May 2010 19:51:28 +0000 Frederick Dreier http://nyrm.org/?p=550 Modern Drunkard]]> By Fred Dreier

Circulation: 50,000
Date of Birth: 1996
Frequency: Six times a year
Price: $4.50

I first picked up an issue of Modern Drunkard Magazine during a pub crawl in my hometown of Denver back in 2002. The lightweight, staple-bound book sat in a stack, free for anyone requiring some reading material at the bar.

The magazine’s pages were covered with a retro 1950s design built around Americana-style black-and-white illustrations, the kind you might find in an Edsel ad in a Korean War-era issue of Life. It was a style reflected in the retro culture sweeping through the Denver scene at that time. The city’s unending supply of sports bars was slowly yielding to hip drinking establishments with names like Bender’s Tavern, the Old Curtis Street Bar and the Hi-dive, where pompadoured Greasers outnumbered Broncos fans.

Flash forward eight years and Denver’s transition to a retro heaven is nearly complete. The Drunkard, as it is commonly called, has also evolved. The magazine is printed in color now; it has spread from Denver to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia; and its circulation is around 50,000. The magazine’s chief scribe, Frank Kelly Rich, works alongside a co-writer, Richard English. It sells ad space to local bars and liquor companies to pay the bills.

The magazine has kept its retro ’50s image, including the illustrations-only design. It prints six issues a year, and has a comprehensive archive on its website.

The Drunkard has also maintained its focus, which is to glorify drinking, the lifestyle of bars and pubs and the culture of “the functional alcoholic.” It does this with a satirical voice that requires a cocktail or two to fully appreciate.

It’s not that the Drunkard’s stories lack humor — the pieces are extremely funny. But the magazine’s promotion of drinking is so extreme, so against the grain of America’s “only in moderation” stance on booze, that it’s best read with sufficiently loosened morals.

For example, the 2009 feature story “The 10 Best Things About Booze” offers an intellectual justification for alcohol consumption, arguing that it “lends you the energy and excuse to exercise the full gamut of human emotion, from righteous Moses-coming-down-the-mountain rage to deepest, purest romantic love.”

The Drunkard’s format is similar to mainstream magazines, with short news bits from the alcohol world up front (“UK Nixes Scheme to Overcharge Drinkers,” “Oregon Mulls 1900 Percent Tax Hike on Beer”) alongside infographics that review bars and drinks. Each issue includes two or three feature stories (“Barhopping Through History,” “Cold War Cocktails,” “Three Drinks Ahead with Humphrey Bogart”) and then short advice columns, fiction and poetry written by and/or for the inebriated.

Although the Drunkard does not serve up fabricated news, a la the satire publication The Onion, it does walk the blurry line between truth and fiction. Its “Booze News” section includes factual global news stories related to alcohol, such as results from a 2006 Swedish study about alcohol’s preventive powers in treating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In its profiles, the Drunkard calls special attention to the drinking habits of celebrities, such as Andre the Giant’s daily 7,000-calorie alcohol intake, and his ability to down 119 beers in six hours.

It’s within this potent cocktail of truth and lies that the Drunkard runs the risk of losing its reader. In the story “No Beer, No Peace. When Drunkard’s Revolt: The Chicago Lager Riot of 1855,” the reader is told “…in 1855, prohibitionists went toe-to-toe, both physically and in the courts, with brewers and drunkards, and were thoroughly Whack-A-Moled. We can, and should, learn from this bit of our exciting drunken history.”

It’s an enchanting story, told in brilliant prose, but can the reader trust it as concrete fact? Perhaps — but it might go down easier with a whiskey sour.

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Ben Behaving Badly http://nyrm.org/2010/05/06/ben-behaving-badly/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/06/ben-behaving-badly/#comments Thu, 06 May 2010 15:46:55 +0000 Frederick Dreier http://nyrm.org/?p=1296 Sports Illustratred exposes Ben Roethlisberger as being a drunken, miserable jerk. ]]> By Frederick Dreier

Kudos to Sports Illustrated for its six-page cover story on the grotesque behavior of Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. For those just entering the Roethlisberger conversation, the QB has been benched for six games of the 2010 season by the NFL for “violating the league’s personal conduct policy” for allegedly raping a 20-year-old woman in Georgia, and then covering up the investigation.

SI’s team of four reporters (including J school grad David Epstein) wove together stories from Pittsburgh, Milledgeville, GA (where the alleged rape took place), Roethlisberger’s hometown in Ohio and Lake Tahoe about the quarterback’s bad conduct. What emerged was the supreme image of athlete entitlement, a picture of a man whose gratuitous flaunting of fame (he dropped the “Do you know who I am?” line… often) is, simply put, gag-worthy.

According to reports, Roethlisberger was no friend of the food service industry, and walked out on tabs, sexually harassed waitresses and even had some poor Tahoe waiter fired for asking a female companion to see her ID. According to the SI story, Roethlisberger’s actions against women were even worse. In 2008, Roethlisberger called a hotel employee into his room to fix a television (it wasn’t broken), and proceeded to grope and rape her.

The story is a major win for SI, whose weekly magazine looks thinner each week, except, of course, for the annual Swimsuit Issue. *

* The author of this column obviously recognizes the irony in Sports Illustrated writing a condemning story on an athlete’s objectification of women, given the aforementioned fact.

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Virginia Quarterly Review Scored Big With Mumbai Story http://nyrm.org/2010/04/17/virginia-quarterly-review-scored-big-with-mumbai-story/ http://nyrm.org/2010/04/17/virginia-quarterly-review-scored-big-with-mumbai-story/#comments Fri, 16 Apr 2010 20:47:23 +0000 Frederick Dreier http://nyrm.org/?p=317 By Frederick Dreier

Virginia Quarterly Review tackles large stories, despite the fact that, with a circulation of roughly 7,000, the magazine is quite small. In November the publication ran a four-part web story looking back at the Mumbai terror bombings in 2008. The story, written by Jason Motlagh, is nearly 20,000 words long, and is titled Sixty Hours of Terror.

VQR did not include the story in a print edition.

Would you take the time to read 20,000 words on a computer screen? According to Ted Genoways, editor of the VQR, almost 750,000 people have read the story so far.

I am one of them. The story is a compelling read, and definitely the most in-depth piece of journalism I have seen about the bombings.

Yes, we live in an age of degenerating attention spans, where 200-word blog posts and 30-second video bursts are just about all the news we can handle. But this story kept me reading. It’s worth checking out.

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Want to Take the Runner’s World Challenge? http://nyrm.org/2010/03/30/do-you-want-to-take-the-runners-world-challenge/ http://nyrm.org/2010/03/30/do-you-want-to-take-the-runners-world-challenge/#comments Tue, 30 Mar 2010 14:32:55 +0000 Frederick Dreier http://nyrm.org/?p=119 Runner's World.]]> By Frederick Dreier

It’s no secret that in this, the digital age, media companies have tried to create platforms where the reader can interact directly with the writer, thus eliminating the old one-way communication model of the past. Open the doors to the drooling masses and you will truly engage them (and their pocket books). Not a bad theory.

How is the staff at Runner’s World (the world’s first active lifestyle magazine, founded in 1966) trying this? Last year they started the Runner’s World Marathon Challenge. The consumer forked over $130, and got to run the Richmond Marathon alongside 14 members of the staff. Customers also get a customized training plan designed by running coach Bart Yasso (www.bartyasso.com).

Interesting concept. The magazine is expanding the challenge for 2010 to include a handful of other races. I suppose that means the staff is going to have to train more.

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