The New York Review of Magazines » Susie Poppick The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 Blurt Wed, 12 May 2010 17:01:54 +0000 Susie Poppick Blurt]]> By Susie Poppick

Circulation: 30,000
Date of Birth: 2009
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $4.95

The very existence of year-old Blurt magazine is bold, and not just because of the recession.

Blurt dares, in the age of the Internet, to represent the ineffable auditory experience of music through words and photos, without any handy play buttons offering MP3 samples or video clips. The quarterly flips the traditional print-to-web formula — it is the new offspring of an existing website, — and eschews top 40 pop hits in favor of the “indie”-prefixed genres. If those weren’t warning signs enough, founder Scott Crawford’s last print music magazine, Harp, folded in 2008.

These red flags suggest a novel challenge, to which Blurt’s response is surprisingly traditional. The magazine’s spirit (and most of its word count) is devoted to good old-fashioned music journalism, with intimate articles on rising artists and vivid curatorial music reviews that would seem right at home on the pages of Rolling Stone, were the artists less obscure. The writing is perceptive and often beautiful; a reviewer in the winter 2009 issue remarks that the electronic group Fuck Buttons’ newest album, Tarot Sport, “was gulped down by the press with a wince and a lemon slice; it had harsh waves of treble, oily swamp-hiccups of bass. … It is quite nearly the inverse of the former album, with the same shape, the same cracked teeth percussion … and the same cawing jungles of multilayered synth, but everything now bright as a body turned inside out, bleeding colour.” With descriptions like that, who needs streaming audio?

Features and interviews round out the content, providing indie music junkies — those who subsist on albums by Heartless Bastards, Of Montreal, Grizzly Bear, Deerhoof, My Morning Jacket, Lykki Li, Conor Oberst and TV on the Radio — with a feast of information that blurs the lines between the obscure, fascinating and trivial (e.g., did you know a groupie once stole Kings of Leon vocalist-guitarist Caleb Followill’s $1,200 jacket?).

But Blurt, for all its wordplay and insight, misses the mark when it comes to presentation. Many photos, including a centerfold spread of the Avett Brothers in the winter 2009 issue, are dimly lit and low-resolution. Some are even recycled from issue to issue. And writers of ransom letters may as well put down their scissors; Blurt’s text is often so tiny it has me reaching for the bifocals I don’t own and shouldn’t need.

In an interview with The Washington Post last year, founder Crawford explained that in order to limit overhead costs, the magazine is produced virtually, by staffers who e-mail each other from around the country and work out of their apartments. While such frugality is to be admired, it is no excuse for sloppy editing and poor photography, particularly at a time when print magazines must offer some added value beyond what online publications can provide. If Blurt is to graduate beyond the status of recycled web companion, it needs to push its production values up a notch.

To be fair, some sections of the magazine already have that needed gleam of professionalism. Chris Eichenseer’s photos from Lollapalooza 2009 are sassy and polished, skillfully framing musicians against the grass, trees and ambient sunlight. A clever fall fashion spread shot by Edward Smith shows various indie artists lounging in colorful vintage attire. Blurt would benefit greatly if such attention to aesthetics were more consistent throughout its pages.

Another area that is strong but could use more consistency is Blurt’s front section, which features short articles and columns. Inventive imaginings such as “Cover Songs We’d Like to See” (e.g., Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covering M.I.A.’s “Bamboo Banga”) and “What a Pair” (e.g., Quentin Tarantino directing a Katy Perry music video) are entertaining and show that Blurt writers know the industry well enough to lampoon it successfully. Articles like “Near-Life Experience,” in which a writer describes playing music for tips and working up to paid gigs in the online virtual world Second Life, offer an unusual perspective on the tactics aspiring rock stars must sometimes employ to get their names out. These pieces are all well executed but do not seem to fit into predictable slots at the magazine’s front. As Blurt matures, it would benefit from some regularity in this area, so that readers can grow attached to specific columns.

With a bit more consistency and attention to presentation, Blurt would be well positioned to stay in the print game. At its core, it is a solid, well-written magazine, with interviewers who ask the right questions and writers who find the right words to translate the verve of music into prose.

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I Am Woman, Hear Me Blog Thu, 13 May 2010 04:01:28 +0000 Susie Poppick By Susie Poppick

Last May, Slate’s newly launched women’s blog DoubleX published an article titled “The Trouble with Jezebel: How the Gawker Site Is Hurting Women,” criticizing Gawker’s spin-off-blog-for-girls for being — essentially — anti-feminist. The blogosphere exploded.

Jezebel responded with posts titled “Who You Calling a Bad Feminist?” and “Faux Outrage over Slutty Feminists Is F-cking Hurting America.” The blog Feministe posted: “Actually, attacking women is hurting women.” Turner Broadcasting’s countered that Jezebel actually overdoes it with “knee jerk cries of misogyny and sexism.” And Ann Friedman of the ad-supported laid into DoubleX directly in a piece titled “The Trouble with Double X,” published on The American Prospect’s website.

Some, such as women’s lifestyle website, denounced the controversy itself, while others, like Rebecca Traister at’s feminist blog Broadsheet, rejoiced. “I could not be more pleased that there is an argument between multiple female writers of multiple ages and experiences and multiple platforms all arguing about what feminism means,” Traister wrote. “This is what it means.”

This eruption of debate, which unfolded over just three days, reveals how the web has democratized feminist media. Any woman with a computer and an Internet connection can start a blog and call herself a feminist, leading to not only a proliferation of more obscure blogs and personal websites, but also a rich ecosystem of more mainstream feminist blogs and e-magazines, including Jezebel, Feministe and others named above. This complex online landscape has not only increased dialogue and disagreements about the meaning of feminism but has also influenced the very topics covered by the sites. Though they post on some more serious, traditional feminist issues, the sites increasingly reflect Internet-age values, with more stories on click-enticing pop-cultural events and personalities than, say, sexism in the workplace. It is telling, for example, that the blogs and e-magazines above have had more to say about Tiger Woods’ affairs than about how healthcare may affect women.

Writers and editors at these sites argue that the “Internetizing” of feminist dialogue is a positive development in the movement; it allows feminists to have more inclusive debates and apply their lens to topics that more readers may find interesting or relevant to their lives. But old-guard feminists worry that those of the Internet generation are spending too much time attacking each other and discussing celebrities, and not enough time defending women’s rights. The reality is somewhere in between.

Founded 38 years ago on the eve of Roe v. Wade, Ms. Magazine is considered by many to be the grandmother of feminist publications. The magazine, which was the brainchild of a team of editors that included Gloria Steinem, has traditionally focused on political issues affecting women. Current Ms. Magazine senior editor Michele Kort said she disapproves of the trend among many online publications of criticizing other feminist organizations, because it takes the focus off of protecting feminist political causes threatened by conservatives. “We say, ‘Take your fight to the right,’” Kort said.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of Ms. Magazine’s co-founders, said feminists today take for granted the rights their mothers earned. “Today’s generation thinks it has the luxury of focusing on Lindsay Lohan’s drinking problem and so-and-so’s belly-button ring,” she said. “I have so little patience for that discourse while women’s reproductive rights are being threatened by right-wing backlash.”

And while some online feminist publications, such as, devote more space than other blogs to political discussion, Pogrebin said virtual words do not amount to change: “Exchanging outrage on the Internet gives the illusion of activism. I want to ask, ‘Why aren’t you out on the streets?’”

But feminist bloggers said their online commentary, whether about politics or fashion, is more than just virtual chatter. Dodai Stewart, Jezebel writer and deputy editor, said she feels that turning her feminist focus on pop culture is “both fun and important,” that gender norms about how women should dress or act often have insidious cultural — if not political — repercussions.

“I’d rather be writing about Teen Vogue than abortion,” Stewart said. “An era is often defined by pop culture and media, and products so aggressively marketed toward young women can have a real effect.” Just the act of discussion can cause change in people’s perception of what are and aren’t acceptable messages for young girls, Stewart believes.

With eight-figure monthly page views and the category headings “Sex,” “Celebrity” and “Fashion,” Jezebel might be the best example of a feminist site that uses pop culture to draw readers. But even Ms. Magazine has felt the pull of the digital world and its fascination with the hyper-current. The new Ms. Magazine blog, launched this past March, includes a post on the iPhone application Tiger Text, which allows cheating spouses to delete sent and received texts from their cell phones, an analysis of how the characters on ABC’s Lost conform to stereotypical gender roles, and a piece that questions Lady Gaga’s status as a feminist icon: Is she or isn’t she?

Kort is more optimistic than Pogrebin that the pop-culture topics covered by the Ms. Magazine blog will serve a higher purpose than pure entertainment. She said she hopes it will be able to court younger generations using more light-hearted posts as a gateway to more serious writing. “Maybe they’ll be drawn by the cultural commentary but stay for the other things,” she said.

There is a reason that such commentary is so attractive to readers. Given the speed of blogging, feminists can dissect mutable pop culture trends as they happen in real time, complete with YouTube links. Were the Super Bowl ads this year especially sexist? Feministing seemed to think so. Was Mo’Nique’s Oscar win a step forward or backward for black women? The Ms. Magazine blog had “mixed feelings,” since her character in Precious was so stereotypical and negative.

It is difficult to calculate exactly how many feminist e-magazines and blogs exist on the Internet, but in addition to the few dozen best-known websites, there are hundreds — and likely thousands — of personal or regional feminist sites; Bust Magazine’s website alone lists links to more than 150 feminist blogs, and blog directories like list hundreds more.

Despite the satisfaction of reading hyper-current feminist analysis, readers have showed some loyalty to (and patience for) the few dozen feminist print periodicals sold nationally. Though leaner and less frequently issued than it has been in past years, the now quarterly print edition of Ms. Magazine lives on with a circulation of 110,000, subsisting on a blend of grant money, donations, newsstand sales and subscriptions. Seventeen-year-old Bust Magazine has more than 100,000 readers and 14-year-old Bitch — which managed to get readers to donate $75,000 last year so it could stay afloat — is a survivor, with a circulation about half that of Bust’s.

Still, the allure of the online is potent. Blogs can be launched on a whim, with little or no overhead, and may therefore begin with a looser premise than would be financially feasible for a print publication. When Slate first launched its DoubleX blog, intending to give its female writers a space of their own to discuss topics especially interesting to female readers, the writing team wasn’t sure what to write about, said co-founder Hanna Rosin. The staff wondered, “Do we write about our kids?” she said. But then Hillary Clinton announced for president and suddenly everyone had an opinion. “Each woman’s lens became central,” Rosin said.

Even the sparring between feminist blogs is not to be dismissed, some feminists said, because it helps keep everyone in check. Despite the backlash “The Trouble with Jezebel” generated, “It wasn’t intended to be the voice of DoubleX against Jezebel,” said Rosin. While the piece, written by Linda Hirshman, criticized Jezebel for not taking feminism seriously enough, similar charges have been leveled against DoubleX. Rosin was once called out by a conservative blogger for being superficial when she commented that Nobel Prize-winner Herta Müller and Project Runway contestant Louise Black look alike.

Still, compared with Ms. Magazine and feministing, DoubleX is less concerned with political change and more focused on cultural analysis, Rosin said. “We take this post-feminist world and try to figure it out. We take what women wear and ask what it means … We take everything issue-by-issue.”

The very term “post-feminist” is objectionable to Kort at Ms. Magazine. “Just as we aren’t in a postracial America, neither are we in a postfeminist America,” she said.

Some perspective on such disagreements was offered by professor Ellen Dubois of the University of California, Los Angeles, an expert in the history of American feminism. “The discourse is exciting,” she said. “Feminism has an important historical tradition of having contradictions built into it. For example, it promotes equality and is meant to represent women, but by some accounts makes the category of ‘women’ meaningless.”

The feminist analysis popularized by Ms. Magazine has spread, not only to the online world, Dubois said, but also to magazines that were once more traditional, like Mademoiselle and Ladies’ Home Journal. “Feminist perspectives have spread into the mainstream,” she said, as women have showed they are no longer content with just “thin fare.” Still, this change does not mean that it’s time to give up fighting for women’s rights. “Like any standard of social justice, there is a constantly receding horizon with feminism; each generation has new aspects to discover.”

While online feminists may sometimes be too politically complacent, as Pogrebin suggested, their new brand of digital activism adds serious feminist counterpoints to important debates shaping our cultural identity. Jezebel’s feminist critiques of the fashion industry may seem trivial today, for example, but they actually are part of a much older philosophical tradition dating back to the days of Amelia Bloomer. Though her mid-19th-century biweekly, The Lily, was primarily a vehicle for promoting protofeminist ideas about women’s education and rights, Bloomer still found space to criticize the unyielding skirts of the Victorian era in favor of her comfortable namesake trousers.

As the Internet expands the pool of participants in and topics available for feminist scrutiny, it is becoming clear that not only the personal, but also the pop cultural, is political.

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Techvolution Wed, 12 May 2010 04:01:23 +0000 Susie Poppick By Susie Poppick

Months before the launch of the iPad, Sports Illustrated developed a software prototype for tablet computers that would allow readers to rearrange pages, watch videos, view sports scores live and share stories over e-mail or social media. Soon after, Wired followed with its own sleek prototype. As more and more publications prepare for the tablet platform, it may seem that a technological revolution is brewing in the land of magazines. But the iPad is not the first innovation to add new vitality to the seemingly inert medium. Here are some highlights — both low- and high-tech — from the last 50 years in the print magazine world.

Mad magazine begins including a “fold-in” back page. A twist on the foldouts in Life and Playboy magazines, creator Al Jaffee’s satirical illustrations reveal a hidden image when doubled over like a folding fan.

3M invents the fragrance-releasing pull-apart sheet, allowing fashion magazine readers to begin baptizing themselves with all the scents of a Macy’s perfume counter.

National Geographic wows readers by decorating its cover with a hologram of an eagle.

Japanese inventors create the two-dimensional “QR Code.” This modified bar code will appear more than a decade later in the articles and advertisements of such print magazines as Elle, Vice and Wired, directing readers to a web address once they snap a photo of the code with their smart phones.

Inventor Richard House patents the first paperboard CD pocket inserts for magazines, giving publications a handy sleeve in which to bundle music, videos and all that other digital content readers never knew they needed.

JPG magazine launches with the novel premise of filling a print publication with digital images submitted online by citizen photographers. Online, readers get to vote on which photos should appear in the magazine.

’s “Sexiest Man” issue includes scratch-and-sniff photos of male celebrities scented with aromas they’ve chosen to make them “feel their sexiest.” A Welch’s ad in the magazine earlier that year encourages readers to lick the page for a taste of “100% grape juice.”

An Esquire cover printed on electronic paper depicts a flashing tagline: “The 21st Century Begins Now.”

An issue of Entertainment Weekly contains a video chip ad from CBS and PepsiCo. The clip includes audio, and readers can even recharge the display with a mini USB cord, so the gimmick never needs to die.

Esquire ups the ante with a new “augmented reality” issue, allowing readers to hold the magazine’s pages up in front of their webcam and — once they’ve downloaded software from Esquire’s website — watch those pages come to life on their screen.

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A “Minority Report” Approach to Magazine Publishing Thu, 01 Apr 2010 22:49:49 +0000 Susie Poppick By Susie Poppick

Check out a cool new video, below, by eMedia Vitals, which shows how we might buy magazines in the future: By sliding virtual issues off of virtual newsstands, onto our tablets.

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