The New York Review of Magazines » Joel Meares http://nyrm.org The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 The Most Widely Read Magazine in the World http://nyrm.org/2010/05/13/the-most-widely-read-magazine-in-the-world/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/13/the-most-widely-read-magazine-in-the-world/#comments Thu, 13 May 2010 04:01:52 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=1504 The Watchtower a mass-circulation empire.]]>

By Joel Meares

It’s the first Saturday of March and a perfect day for Jehovah’s Witnessing. The sky is clear, the air is crisp and a fresh copy of The Watchtower, stamped March 1, 2010, is ready to be distributed.

At least, I assume it’s a good day for Witnessing; this is my first time. Frank and Lydia Tavolacci — from a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Glendale, Queens — have invited me along for a morning of door-knocking in their mostly residential neighborhood. A longtime recipient of the Witnesses’ famous “good news” wakeup calls, I jumped at the chance to see what it’s like on the other side of the door.

The day begins at the small, red-brick Kingdom Hall on Glendale’s Myrtle Avenue, where about 40 Witnesses gather in couples and families. Some thank Jehovah for the blessed day, others thank him for the coffee that got them here by 9 a.m. A few quick hellos in the Hall — a trapezoidal room with churchlike rows of chairs, a churchlike stage but no churchlike iconography — and the Witnesses head downstairs to arm themselves.

Their ammunition is The Watchtower and its companion magazine Awake!, each sitting in piles on a bench in the beige basement-level hallway. At first glance there’s not much difference between the two — both are flimsy, pamphlet-like 31-page monthlies, each colorfully adorned with photos of smiling faces and illustrations of Biblical happenings. But while Awake! is an attempt at a general interest magazine — travel and science stories, with a Witness twist — The Watchtower is strictly Biblical, its contents a doctrinal guide to Witness beliefs. March’s cover boy — a bearded scribe writing at a desk awash with golden light — sits over the cover line: “The Bible, Is It Really God’s Inspired Word?” Inside, a table of contents provides the answer. Page 4: “The Bible Really Is God’s Inspired Word.” Page 8: “Why You Can Trust the Biblical Gospels.”

Frank takes six copies of the English-language Watchtower, while others select from of piles of Romanian, Italian and Polish editions. Every month, nearly 40 million copies of The Watchtower are printed in more than 180 languages and sent to 236 countries. There are no subscriptions and you won’t find it on newsstands, but it’s still hard to miss. Thanks to the efforts of Witnesses like the Tavolaccis, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed magazine in the world, with a circulation of more than 25 million. Last year, the world’s 7.3 million-strong Jehovah’s Witnesses spent 1.5 billion hours knocking on doors and “street Witnessing” — stopping folks in parks and on streets — to preach the “good news” with a copy of The Watchtower. Its closest competitors are AARP The Magazine (circulation 24.3 million) and Better Homes and Gardens (7.6 million). It doesn’t hurt that The Watchtower has been free since 1990, with the option of a small donation.

Armed with their copies, Frank and the other Witnesses at the Glendale Kingdom Hall head back upstairs for a pep talk. “Elder” John Juels leads the 10-minute session from the stage, offering tips on how the congregation might keep doors open this morning. Frank Tavolacci calls it “a little bit of rah rah rah.”

“Raise a topic of interest,” suggests Juels, a short, bespectacled man in a bright orange tie. He invites a young blonde, “Sister Rachel,” up from the crowd to the stage for a role play. After a quick knock-knock and some polite doorfront introductions, Juels says the government is a hot topic right now, so Witnesses might raise the spectre of Governor Paterson to keep their bleary-eyed targets listening. “The government of Jesus Christ is coming,” he tells his mock door-opener. “Certainly God would do a better job than some of the people we have today.”

After a prayer, the group divides into pairs to tackle a block of Queens for the morning. I join the Tavolaccis to cover the block directly next to the Kingdom Hall. The two Glendale locals have dressed for what they call “the best volunteer work there is.” Frank’s wearing a checkered beret, gray suit and orange tie, and Lydia has wrapped herself in a chic, ankle-length black coat, her long blond hair tucked under a black woolen cap. Both are 40, gregarious and equally endowed with the kind of thick “Noo Yawk” accents you might expect to hear heckling the umpire at a Yankees game.

Their first door belongs to a large, two-story brick home on the wide and leafy Union Turnpike. Stepping up to the door, Lydia switches off her BlackBerry and tells Frank to get Psalm 104 ready in his black leatherbound Bible. Hers is a little tatty from use. Passages are highlighted, verse numbers circled and dozens of bright orange and pink sticky notes peek out from pages. Lydia is out on “field service” for at least two hours every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Ringing the bell, she asks Frank to hold The Watchtower so it is visible to whomever should open the door. Nobody does.

After three minutes, she rings again. She always rings twice. Again, nobody answers. On a piece of yellow paper called a “House Call Card,” a Witness couple working in tandem with the Tavolaccis notes the address and writes “NH” next to it, for “not home.” Other codes include “CA” for people who ask Witnesses to call again, “B” for busy and “C” for when a child answers the door.

And so it goes. NH, NH, NH. “It’s not a chore,” Lydia insists, as they move on to a woman who dismisses them with a curt “I’m Catholic.” “I mean, it’s not something you want to do, but it’s an important thing to do and it’s something you can do for God. You’re saving people’s lives.”

Frank and Lydia get their chance at the second-to-last house on the block. Amanda, a teenager with pulled-back frizzy brown hair opens the door wearing pajama pants decorated with pictures of milkshakes and the words “Shake it baby!” She is in the mood to talk. “Do you believe the Bible is inspired by God or just written by man?” asks Lydia in a sweet, slow elementary school teacher’s voice. “Inspired,” answers Amanda, after taking a moment to think.

They talk for five minutes before Lydia returns to the sidewalk and takes a purple-covered diary from her bag. On the top leaf of a pad of heart-shaped sticky notes inside, she writes down the scripture they discussed and which Watchtower edition she left behind. She promises to return next Saturday.

“I want to come back with a good question,” she says, clearly excited by Amanda. “Like, ‘Do you think we’re living in the last days?’”

While some magazines have religious followings, few have actually started religions. The Watchtower did just that. Back then, it was Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, so named by its founder, the writer and preacher Charles T. Russell. A former assistant editor of the Second Adventist magazine The Herald of the Morning, Russell released the first edition of Zion’s Watch Tower on July 1, 1879. It looked much like a newspaper of the time, with two columns, simple headlines and no images. Inside, readers learned that “we are living in ‘the last days,’ ‘the days of the Lord.’”

Russell, a charismatic Pennsylvania preacher with a big graying beard and an even bigger bank account, amassed followers in the years leading up to 1879 through public speaking tours and writings in newspaper columns and the Adventist magazine. He began questioning Adventist doctrine when the world failed to end, as it had predicted, in 1878. Russell used the monthly Zion’s Watch Tower to expound a new brand of Christianity to small congregations of Bible Students, as Witnesses were then known, mostly in the Northeast.

The new brand, familiar to many today from television exposés and house calls, taught that Christ would return to Earth in 1914 to govern the world, destroy nonbelievers and leave Witnesses to transform the planet into Paradise. It was revised in the 1930s, when the religion adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses, to teach that Christ did return in 1914 — he was just invisible — and that within a generation Armageddon would finally arrive. Witnesses now take a less specific approach to the end of the world.

Today, The Watchtower is the flagship publication produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The magazine and other literature is published by their not-for-profit corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania; Witnesses also use another not-for-profit corporation in the United States, named the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., which is responsible for printing and distributing the magazine. The Tract Society’s catalogue includes the two magazines, a ballooning collection of books and brochures and The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, the religion’s official Bible. As of this year, 165 million New World Translations have been printed since it was first published in 1961.

The mammoth operation is funded by donations, mainly from Witnesses leaving anonymous contributions in boxes titled “Worldwide Work” at the back of Kingdom Halls. The money is funneled to the U.S. world headquarters to fund the publishing empire, as well as disaster relief. Just how much moolah makes that journey is unknown — as a religious organization, the Tract Society does not have to file an annual return with the IRS — but in 2001, Newsday listed the Tract Society as one of New York City’s 40 richest corporations, with revenues of $951 million. Last year, a report stated that the Society had pulled in $125 million for the fiscal year ending in August.

Manhattanites might recognize the Tract Society’s headquarters from the skyline to their east — a pair of stout beige towers nudging the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and the shore of the East River in Brooklyn Heights; squint and you can see the word “Watchtower” stamped across their peaks. The Brooklyn Bethel, as the faithful call it, also functions as the religion’s world headquarters. Here, the nine-member governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses pulls the sect’s doctrinal strings and steers its publishing enterprise. All members of the governing body claim to come from the “little flock,” an anointed class of 144,000 Witnesses who will ascend to heaven upon Armageddon; other Witnesses will have to be satisfied with paradise on Earth.

Few non-Witnesses are allowed inside the Bethel headquarters and you’d be forgiven for conjuring fantastical reasons as to why — the anti-Witness publishing industry rivals The Tract Society’s in size and includes among its titles The Orwellian World of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and 30 Years a Watchtower Slave. But the day I visit, Brooklyn Bethel is less Airstrip One than Pan Am corporate headquarters circa 1965. In the lobby, a dull-painted plaster globe — the size of a boulder Indiana Jones might have to outrun — spins forlornly. Along maroon-carpeted corridors, cheery men in snug dark suits apologize for being too rushed to stop and chat. Everywhere, everyone asks you to stay for lunch.

Despite the absence of a masthead and bylines, The Watchtower is no immaculate conception. Each edition’s journey to your door begins a year ahead of publication at a meeting of the nine-member Writing Committee in the Writing Committee Conference Room, a boardroom dominated by a long polished wooden desk and two mammoth Sony flat screens on the wall; more Vogue Living than Mother Jones.

James Pellechia is one of the magazine’s writers and a member of the Writing Committee. Dapper in a dark gray suit, dark gray vest and even darker gray tie — all under wispy gray hair — 66-year-old Pellechia is a third-generation Witness. His grandparents converted in 1908 after migrating from Italy to Roseto, Pa., and he came to Bethel in 1982 to join the Writing Department. He and his fellow committee members choose the theme of each Watchtower issue and the articles it will feature. “It’s for Witnesses but also for the public,” Pellechia says of The Watchtower. “For people who would be interested in what the Bible would say about subjects like child-rearing and how to keep marriages united.” The magazine might focus on infidelity in May, homosexuality in June and earthquakes in July. Articles might answer questions like “Should you be honest at all times?” and “Has God left us?” (Yes, and no, in case you were wondering.) Each article is littered with scriptural references, which function like hyperlinks, directing readers to Bible pages for further reading. The committee also decides questions and answers for the special “study” editions of The Watchtower produced specifically for Witnesses already in the flock to study at Kingdom Halls every week. The number of study editions printed is undisclosed.

The Watchtower then comes together like most magazines, Pellechia explains. A writer is chosen as a “Compiler,” functioning like a magazine editor, and an assignment editor distributes briefs to writers — there are about 20 on staff. Copy is fact-checked, copy-edited and rewritten as it moves through the 70-person Writing Department. Illustrators and photographers, at a Witness training campus in Patterson, N.Y., provide the images.

Writers live with about 1500 other Bethel workers, including cooks, secretaries, cleaners and committee members, in five buildings throughout Brooklyn Heights. Meals, accommodation and an allowance are provided to keep the focus on God’s work. One Witness-occupied residential tower on Wilson Street might be the best deal in New York, housing 500 Witnesses, a library, a medical center and a dining room. Witnesses call it the “Towers Hotel.”

Despite rumors to the contrary, women can write for The Watchtower, but not on scriptural matters. “That’s what the Bible indicates according to our concept of it,” says assignment editor John Wischuck. “If they wanted to write something about dressmaking, a sister could do that. It might be in another case that she interviews another woman and writes up her life story. That would go through an editor or a rewrite.”

Before the magazine is sent to a facility known as Watchtower Farms, in Wallkill, N.Y., and to 16 other production centers across to the world — to be printed, bound and packaged for distribution — the Writing Committee takes a final look. “All nine of us read it,” says Pellechia. “Each one sees the previous writing committee member’s marks and either adds to it, reinforces it, or, once in a while, may change it. We need to ensure it is in agreement with our doctrine, scripturally.”

Of course, the magazine does not always agree with itself — or past versions of itself — on these matters. Early in its history, for example, The Watchtower told followers that the mischievous men of Sodom and Gomorrah would be resurrected. In 1988, an article in The Watchtower reversed this position. “Our publications are not infallible,” Pellechia says. “Certain Bible texts, certain doctrine, may need adjustment as more information is researched and understanding grows.”

David A. Reed, a critic and former high-ranking Witness, wrote in his book, Jehovah’s Witness Literature, that “much like a collection of White House news releases written during successive Democratic and Republican administrations, the Watchtower Society’s books and magazines reflect the sect’s changing leadership over the years.”

In an e-mail to me, Reed wrote that he stopped reading the magazine in 1999, a year before Don Alden Adams became the religion’s leader. In general, Reed says, today’s Watchtower and the religion behind it are far different from their earliest incarnations. “In terms of internal organizational politics, or religious positions, they are more conservative now than in the days of founder C.T. Russell. The Witnesses are now a tightly controlled, disciplined group, which they were not under Russell.”

The most tightly controlled aspect of the Witnesses’ publishing arm may be the names of Watchtower authors. No Tract Society publication has carried bylines since the early 1940s, because, according to assignment editor Wischuck, the “glory should go to God.” Pellechia expands on that: “There were about 40 writers of the Bible and for the most part, people who read the sacred texts may or may not have known who wrote that information. The material should stand on its own merits and attention should be focused back on the word of God rather than the individual.”

This sort of fifth-person approach to writing means The Watchtower can read like a textbook rendering of the Bible; big on plague and pestilance but short on the simple, beatific prose that marks its source. Former Witness Kyria Abrahams describes the magazine she read growing up in a Kingdom Hall in Pawtucket, R.I., as “extremely boring.” “They were pretty much all on the same theme,” she says today. “‘Why does God allow blah blah blah?’ ‘Is blank okay?’ And you know that it isn’t. For the most part, it was written at a fifth grade level.”

Abrahams, now 36 and living as a writer in New York City, parted with the Witnesses 11 years ago. She courted her own “disfellowshipping” by cheating on the husband she had married at 18. “I wanted out of the marriage so bad that I ended up just having an affair,” she says. “I was so entrenched in the idea of the religion that it was like I was somehow playing by their rules in order to leave.”

Abrahams has not spoken to her father since she left the religion, and has not heard from her mother in three years. She probably won’t hear from either ever again after the release of her acerbically funny account of her life as a Witness, I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed, last year. In the first chapter of the book, she reveals that her Jewish grandmother became a Witness after discovering a copy of The Watchtower on top of a trash can. In the third chapter, she describes her own experience with the books and magazines produced at Bethel. “My children’s books alternated between Dr. Seuss rhymes and tales of how sinners would scream and gnash their teeth at Armageddon,” she writes.

Like the Tavolaccis, Abrahams did her duty, door-knocking three times a week in her teens with a close friend named Kathy. She would do anything to get out of it — only pretending to ring the bell, encouraging Kathy to take long coffee breaks — and remembers many slamming doors. But it was a man who played along that stings her memory most sorely. After Abrahams told him she’d be happy to accept a small donation, he looked at her disdainfully and said, “I bet you would,” before handing her some change. “He saw right through me,” says Abrahams, who was 14 at the time. “I was totally aware that I was just this really annoying, weird person at the door, and I didn’t even know what I was talking about.”

Today, she sometimes sees The Watchtower in the back of a cab or in a doctor’s office. “I will pick it up and look at it for nostalgia,” she says. “It’s still the same as it was when I was a kid — nothing shocking, nothing weird. I would think that I’m going to get a big laugh out of it, but I just end up being sad and put it away.” No Witnesses have knocked on her door since she left her religion, husband and family behind.

But there are those who look forward to the familiar ring of the doorbell on a weekend. I joined Frank and Lydia Tavolacci on their fifth return call to 81-year-old Dominic Bonura’s small one-bedroom walkup in Glendale. The couple makes several of these return visits to people they’ve met while door-knocking every week. “What took you so long?” Bonura asks cheerily, opening the door.

Bonura’s wife died 12 years ago. “She was the most gorgeous thing you ever saw,” he says as we take our seats in a small living room cluttered with portraits of grinning grandchildren. A former butcher and sometime boxer, Bonura’s thin-skinned hands have been knotted by carpal tunnel syndrome. Resting on his knees, they look like large, crushed spiders.

He is dressed as if he were expecting us — polished shoes, pressed pants, a navy button-down all buttoned up — and he has a lot to say. He cuts Frank short before he can discuss the last readings he left. “This carpal tunnel is killing me, Franky,” he says huskily, stretching his arms and fingers out in angry defiance. “I tried to lift a two-pound weight the other day and it hurt so bad I wanted to go somewhere and croak. I’ve been disgusted with people in the world and with myself. I’m not going to lie to you Franky, I didn’t read a scripture, a Watchtower or an Awake!.”

Frank moves over to Bonura, crouches beside him and asks him to read from a Bible page stamped with extra-large print. Bonura pulls a pair of glasses from his pocket and loudly and clearly reads from the book of Isaiah. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” He lowers the Bible.

“When a father is holding a little boy’s hand, how does that little boy feel?” asks Frank.

“He feels safe and protected,” answers Bonura, his face softening. Reflecting on his recent tough times, he says, “Satan might have grabbed me by the shirt, but he doesn’t have me by the heart.”

From here, Frank talks with Bonura about his wife, his daughter and the stresses of staying cooped up in his apartment. Frank explains that “All scripture is inspired, not half, and not a quarter. God’s word can help us with any principle of life.” This is the message of the month’s Watchtower cover story.

Before we leave, Bonura stops Frank. “I was just thinking about that little guy in the street, Franky, holding his father’s hand. If he let go, it wouldn’t take a second for a car to sweep him away.” He pauses. “He can’t let go.”

“And he hasn’t let you go,” says Lydia from the couch. “Dom, we’re here.”

Bonura then turns to me and tells me to write this down, word perfect, with an exclamation mark. “There’s nothing like the truth, nothing!” he says. “These people, this organization, are beautiful. You can trust these people with your life.” He looks at Lydia. “You keep coming back like a song.”

“You know who encourages us to come back,” asks Lydia. “Jehovah.”

The Tavolaccis make tentative plans to return next Saturday before heading downstairs, leaving Bonura alone with his thoughts and a copy of The Watchtower.

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/05/13/the-most-widely-read-magazine-in-the-world/feed/ 202
Eater’s Digest http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/eater%e2%80%99s-digest/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/eater%e2%80%99s-digest/#comments Wed, 12 May 2010 04:01:12 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=1768 Wired, O, Vogue, and Vice?]]> By Joel Meares

This summer, Rolling Stone will dare to go where Playboy, Maxim and Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter have gone before, opening the first of several Planet Hollywood-style chains of restaurants in Los Angeles. The menu’s a secret as of our publication date — surely they can’t not serve Red Hot Chili Peppers — but Rolling Stone promises it will be a hip and tasty affair. We think it’s a great idea and encourage other mags to take the foodie route on their revenue hunts. To help out, here are a few menus we prepared:

Wired
Nestled between warehouses on a nondescript Brooklyn street, this shabby-chic diner serves a cheap brunch, lunch and supper with speedy, free Wi-Fi.

Starters
Geek Salad
Cup Noodles — with Salsa Picante
Chicken or Shrimp sachets

Entrées
iPad Thai — not yet announced, but rumors suggest it will feature enough nuts to save an industry
The Mr.-Know-It-All — a question of your choice covered with pithy answers and an expert opinion, served in a grilled panino

Desserts
Hashtag cookies — perfect with a game of Grand Theft Auto

O Magazine
This Chicago chain of restaurants is all beautifully furnished wood, comfy couches and framed magazine covers. Found on nearly every corner in the city, the rooms range from mammoth halls to closet-sized standing-room-only bars.

Starters
See! Zar! Salad!
Pulled! Pork! Sliders!

Entrées
Tofurkey burgers — may at any stage be replaced with full-grease, full-beef patties
Book Club Sandwich — served with Franzen fries (check availability)

Sides
Gayle King

Vogue
Chichi runway-wide eatery in the shadow of the Highline in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District serves the best-dressed salads in town. Smoking allowed.

Starters
Just be glad you’re even allowed an entrée

Entrées
Smoked Coddington — a tough, tasty, oft-underappreciated fish
Men’s Vogue (out of season)

Dolce
Wintour Sampler — thinly sliced mix of apple, celery and carrot, served with a glass of water, chilled
LeBron and Gisele Cookie

Vice
Your house? My house? That kid Dan’s basement? Whatever, as long as there’s a fridge and it’s not in Manhattan.

Starters
Ask your server for our, err, specials

Entrées/The Dos
Last night’s pizza (cold)
4 a.m. gyro (hot)
A buddy’s half-full pack of American Spirits (bummed)

Sides
See starters

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/eater%e2%80%99s-digest/feed/ 0
The New Yorker Examines a Local Murder Trial http://nyrm.org/2010/05/07/the-new-yorker-examines-a-local-murder-trial/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/07/the-new-yorker-examines-a-local-murder-trial/#comments Fri, 07 May 2010 15:21:17 +0000 Susie Poppick http://nyrm.org/?p=1476 By Joel Meares

Every couple of issues, The New Yorker seems to produce a piece that gets the “magasphere” (hey, I tried) buzzing. In their May 3 issue, it was a piece by Janet Malcolm about the trial of Queens mother and immigrant Mazoltuv Borukhova, accused of arranging for her ex-husband to be murdered. I’m still working on it — it stretches from page 34 to 63 of the magazine and we’ve been busy closing the magazine — but am completely enthralled by the twists of this trial, and the unsympathetic character at the center of it. One of the most interesting aspects for those in the industry is Malcolm’s take on other journalists covering the trial — David Carr looked at this on Media Decoder — and the fact that she steps into the trial herself after interviewing one source, who had testified at the trial, whose views she found might suggest mental instability. Cue ethical debate…

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/05/07/the-new-yorker-examines-a-local-murder-trial/feed/ 0
Time’s Influence http://nyrm.org/2010/05/05/times-influence/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/05/times-influence/#comments Tue, 04 May 2010 17:15:41 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=1143 Time lists today's movers and shakers.]]> By Joel Meares

Time just released its most influential people issue. And sure, the names are all in the right places — Jobs, Palin, GaGa. But doesn’t this just make you pine for — or, at the very least, recall — a time when Time itself had some influence?

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/05/05/times-influence/feed/ 0
Out http://nyrm.org/2010/05/01/out/ http://nyrm.org/2010/05/01/out/#comments Fri, 30 Apr 2010 20:38:27 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=584 Out]]> By Joel Meares

Circulation: 200,000
Date of Birth: 1992
Frequency: Monthtly
Price: $5.99

The 18 months since the election of Barack Obama — and with him, the passing of Proposition 8 — have seen gay marriage rights denied in New Jersey and New York, and revoked in Maine. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is still in effect, despite promises to the contrary, while abroad, a bill before the Ugandan parliament proposes the death penalty for homosexuals and jail for those who don’t expose them. Flick through the pages of Out, America’s most prominent gay magazine, and you wouldn’t learn any of this.

Out has stayed out of these debates and true to its mission — to be a kind of out-of-the-closet Details, reveling in an unabashed idea of “gayness” that encompasses disco, mesh and Capote. To that end, a September redesign carved the front and back of the glossy book into three pretentiously titled new sections bracketing its features and fashion pages. There’s “Foreground,” devoted to fashion, music, fitness and style; “Symposium,” which covers esoteric matters like Norman Mailer’s gay boy Friday; and “Surveillance,” a catalog-like section advising readers on the best hatchbacks, clothes racks and instant cameras on the market.

The tone of these pages is snappy, light and readerly. Readers are schooled in gay musical history, where a list of best comebacks includes Kylie Minogue and Judy Garland, and advised on how to dress like Jean-Michel Basquiat. There’s a nifty breakdown of the differences between deodorant and antiperspirant — try Botox for anxiety-caused pit-stains — and my favorite piece: “Get a Great Ass.” Always keep your back straight, a personal trainer says. “Curving it outsources the work to your back and leaves your butt jiggly.”

My jiggly butt and I would love all this if there were meat between the low-cal bread. But what’s in Out’s center leaves me hungry. In February’s issue, which was published after the New Jersey marriage vote, all four features were profiles and none even mentioned the development in Trenton. Instead, we’re off to Argentina to meet a teenage photo blogger and to London for a sit-down with the latest British thesp to invite the “Is he or isn’t he?” question. The fashion pages then take us to Puerto Rico for a 16-page swimsuit spread where we learn that Speedos are out and mesh, abs and cut-offs are in. The writing is rarely sparkling enough to justify the political blind-eye. All too typical is writing like that in Gareth McLean’s profile of waifish actor Ben Whishaw, unimaginatively employing the much overemployed profile pivot: “No one, it seems, is more surprised by this astonishing ascent than Whishaw himself.”

Better is a piece on Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia, which touches on the troubling anti-gay sentiment taking hold in his country. Indeed, there are examples of grit and goodness here and there. Still, the most significant gay-themed journalistic work of the year, Matt McAllester’s piece on Baghdad’s gay pogroms, “The Hunted,” was found in a mainstream publication: New York.

There is, admittedly, a nod to activists in Out’s annual Out 100 issue. Dan Choi, Chaz Bono and James Neiley, the 17-year-old who spoke memorably to Vermont’s state legislature three weeks before it passed gay marriage, share page space with Adam Lambert and Neil Patrick Harris. But it’s Lambert, the inky-haired provocateur who publicly came out after coming in second on American Idol, who has dominated Out’s pages all year.

In his editorial letters, editor-in-chief Aaron Hicklin devotes more space to contemplating whether Lambert is out enough — adequately, publicly, spectacularly gay enough — than to advocating for the rights of those who have more to worry about than fending off the paparazzi. In an open letter to Lambert in the December issue, Hicklin bemoans the restrictions Lambert put on Out when he agreed to appear on its cover and the too-tame interview he gave to Details. The message: If you’re going to come out, Adam, come out.

It is this issue of outness and the process of coming out that drives the direction in which Hicklin pushes the magazine. He writes in his October editor’s letter: “Of the 300-plus entries for Out’s inaugural Best Gay Short Fiction Contest, at least 301 were coming-out narratives. To quote Dale Peck, who chaired the judging,  ’It remains, for whatever reason, the primary gay narrative.’”

I get it. I came out just over a year ago. It’s a tough journey, and, for me, an ongoing one. It deserves coverage. But reading Out, the flagship gay publication in this country, I am left wondering: What comes next? What might the secondary gay narrative look like? What happens when the closet door shuts behind you? From what I’ve seen, that’s when the next fight begins. In New York, in Maine, in California, in Baghdad, in Marrakech and in New Jersey, battles remain to be fought. For now, Out seems content to remain on a beach in Puerto Rico.

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/05/01/out/feed/ 0
iPad Impinging on Editorial Freedoms http://nyrm.org/2010/04/16/ipad-impinging-on-editorial-freedoms/ http://nyrm.org/2010/04/16/ipad-impinging-on-editorial-freedoms/#comments Thu, 15 Apr 2010 22:07:26 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=349 By Joel Meares

Turns out the iPad might be less savior than Trojan horse. This week, Apple denied Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore his iPhone (and subsequently iPad) application because it conflicts with the product’s license, which reserves the right for the company to deny applications it considers objectionable. So the company we’re hoping will save us — and our industry — might be about to impinge on our editorial freedoms? Ryan Chittum’s great piece for CJR.org explores the implications of this latest Apple move for journalism’s future on Apple-made gizmos.

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/04/16/ipad-impinging-on-editorial-freedoms/feed/ 0
The Advocate Announces NBC Partnership http://nyrm.org/2010/04/12/the-advocate-announces-nbc-partnership/ http://nyrm.org/2010/04/12/the-advocate-announces-nbc-partnership/#comments Mon, 12 Apr 2010 04:09:44 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=334 By Joel Meares

Some good news for oft-imperiled gay mag The Advocate: It was announced this week that NBC will partner with the magazine to share reporting and stories.

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/04/12/the-advocate-announces-nbc-partnership/feed/ 0
Time Magazine: Pricey on the iPad http://nyrm.org/2010/04/02/time-magazine-on-the-ipad-is-pricey/ http://nyrm.org/2010/04/02/time-magazine-on-the-ipad-is-pricey/#comments Fri, 02 Apr 2010 05:00:47 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=275 Time has announced it will charge $4.99 — more than the newsstand price — for its weekly iPad edition.]]> By Joel Meares

Apparently, this is how it goes: With Steve Jobs’s tablet-like messiah of magazines — the iPad — now in Apple stores across the country, Time has announced it will charge $4.99 for its weekly edition. That’s more than the newsstand price. Will other magazines follow suit? We will have to wait and see.

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/04/02/time-magazine-on-the-ipad-is-pricey/feed/ 0
I’m on Gawker http://nyrm.org/2010/03/30/im-on-gawker/ http://nyrm.org/2010/03/30/im-on-gawker/#comments Tue, 30 Mar 2010 14:35:42 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=123 By Joel Meares

So, here I am, direct tweeting the editor of Out to get a cover image for my review for The New York Review of Magazines, and suddenly, I’m on Gawker. I suppose we can file this one under “extremely slow news day at the Gawker office.”

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/03/30/im-on-gawker/feed/ 0
Roger Ebert Discusses His Esquire Profile http://nyrm.org/2010/02/28/roger-ebert-discusses-his-profile-in-esquire/ http://nyrm.org/2010/02/28/roger-ebert-discusses-his-profile-in-esquire/#comments Sun, 28 Feb 2010 05:34:57 +0000 Joel Meares http://nyrm.org/?p=160 By Joel Meares

Chris Jones’ profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire’s March edition is one of the finest pieces of magazine writing I have read in years. Jones’ intimate take on Ebert’s day-to-day life: That now famous photo of the critic’s sagging, jawless face, the high drama of the voiceless Ebert angrily enlarging the type on his computer screen – it’s a kind of brilliance. Jones’ prose, the images, and the post-it notes across the page all demonstrate the power of the printed magazine.

In his response to Jones’ article, posted to his Sun-Times blog, Ebert demonstrates the power of the Internet to strike up and extend conversation. Graceful in his take on Jones’ piece, Ebert praises the writer, while at the same time honestly delving into that strange shock all subjects feel when they read what is written about them. In response to Jones’ line about “dying in increments,” he writes:

“Well, we’re all dying in increments. I don’t mind people knowing what I look like, but I don’t want them thinking I’m dying. To be fair, Chris Jones never said I was. If he took a certain elegiac tone, you know what? I might have, too. And if he structured his elements into a story arc, that’s just good writing. He wasn’t precisely an eyewitness the second evening after Chaz had gone off to bed and I was streaming Radio Caroline and writing late into the night. But that’s what I did. It may be, the more interviews you’ve done, the more you appreciate a good one. I knew exactly what he started with, and I could see where he ended, and he can be proud of the piece.”

]]>
http://nyrm.org/2010/02/28/roger-ebert-discusses-his-profile-in-esquire/feed/ 0