Dear Rosie:

 

Now That You Mention It... 
By Kristan Zimmer


Editors, especially new ones, are always asking for feedback on their magazines. They want to know what readers like and don’t like. This month, Rosie O’Donnell and her revamped McCall’s staff (with just a few new team players) launched the May issue of her new magazine, Rosie, at newsstands and bookstores everywhere. Since we’re a magazine about magazines and this is our first issue, we thought we’d use our would-be letters-to-the-editor space to write to Rosie:

Dear Rosie,

In the first issue of your new magazine… Well, it’s actually McCall’s with a new face. No, it’s actually G&J USA Publishing’s magazine with your name on it. But it’s titled Rosie: The Magazine with Personality, so maybe I’m completely wrong and it does have a life of its own.

I bet you were hoping McCall’s subscribers wouldn’t notice anything different: you sent Rosie to all of McCall’s readers and said on page 26 of the magazine that if they didn’t cancel their subscription, this is what they’d be getting from now on. But it costs a dollar more and is twice as thick as McCall’s, so it’s hard not to notice the difference. But hey, sometimes change is good, right? I would like to congratulate you on your organization — not your company, KidRo Productions, but the layout and structure of your magazine. It’s so organized that no article is without a column head. Was it actually your intention to make every article into a column or did that happen by accident? Normally, I would be concerned that having a titled column for every story would limit you in the type of articles that you’re able to publish, but it seems as though you have a column here for everything in the world, so maybe it’s a good idea. Now it’s impossible for readers to finish a story and miss the point. If they do, they can refer to the column head.

I found myself doing just that when I read the article on page 80. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t have a headline (just a long sub-head that says, "Tracy Chutorian Semler exposes the culprit behind your out-of-whack back and aching neck. Put that heavy bag down, and listen up!"), it was quite confusing. It’s about a woman who carries too many bags and has neck and back problems as a result, so she offers readers advice on how to simplify their totable stash. But when I finished reading, I wasn’t quite sure who this woman was or why she felt the need to share her wisdom with us if she can’t even bear to unburden her own shoulders. She wasn’t identified as a chiropractor or a bellhop, just a woman with a lot of stuff. Then I noticed the column head said "PULSE" and everything became clear to me. This was a column that could be written by anyone with a pulse. Now it made sense!

I know you’re going for the "We’re Aimed at Younger, Hipper Mothers With a Sense of Humor" image, but I’m afraid that if readers really want humor they’ll probably skip Rosie and watch Letterman instead. You know that piece called "Don’t Quote Me" in the "Kidding Around" column, in which your personal comments were added to famous quotes? It’s not funny. I only point it out because on your cover you say "love a laugh — see page 36." I was disappointed. After you list the quote by Cassius Longinus, "In great attempts it is glorious even to fail," you cite Weight Watchers as the only exception. As Susan Ungaro, your consultant, said, "Stand-up comedy doesn’t translate well on paper sometimes." Maybe you should consult with her a little more.

I also noticed Rosie is visually different from McCall’s. As the editor-in-chief, Catherine Cavender, said in her editor’s letter, the goal at Rosie is to create "a completely new and different women’s magazine — one that combines beautiful lifestyle stories with uncommonly good writing." Well, I think it’s definitely different. I don’t know if this is the look you were going for but it’s thicker, glossier, cuter, softer, friendlier and more stylish than McCall’s. Although you’ve kept the same font, it has thicker paper, bolder print, brighter pictures and two columns to a page instead of three. The pastel colors and the style of writing give readers that warm fuzzy feeling they seem to want. And, thankfully, you have ads for things from Target, J.C. Penny and Sears that people would actually want instead of all those awful collectable dolls, statues, plaques and music boxes that we remember from McCall’s. James Brady, a columnist at Advertising Age magazine, said to me just last week that McCall’s has been a women’s service magazine and he thinks the people at Rosie are going to have to let people know things have changed, but I think the changes are small enough so that readers won’t be shocked, and some readers may even find the new look and personality pleasant.

While we’re talking about visual changes, I was shocked to see that after all that deliberating you said your staff did over the design for the cover, you still copied Oprah’s. I know everyone has been comparing you to Oprah Winfrey since you won that daytime Emmy a few years ago, but do you really need to make it any easier? You said in your letter to readers that you considered a circle or even writing your name down the side. Did a focus group full of avid Oprah fans suggest the little blue square that is exactly the same as the little blue square on Oprah’s O magazine? If so, I suggest you refocus your research team. If you want to call Rosie "new and different," try not to copy your competitors.

I heard you’re thinking of retiring the "Rosie O’Donnell Show" this year, but if I were you, I would keep in mind the stand-up comedian’s rule of thumb, with which I am sure you are well acquainted: until you make it big, don’t quit your day job.

Sincerely,
Kristan A. Zimmer
New York, NY
 

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