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  BERKSHIRE LIVIING  
 

Circulation: 25,000
Date of Birth: 2004       
Frequency: Nine times a year
Price: $4.99
Natural Habitat: Sitting on the porch swing of a $2.5 million cottage in Stockbridge, MA

By Kim Forrest

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There are two different groups of people who call the Berkshire Mountains area of New England home: the people who really live there, who may have spent decades toiling at the old GE plant and can name every mountain by heart; and those who summer there, the ones who race up the Taconic Parkway in their SUVs. It’s clear that the three-year-old regional magazine Berkshire Living is targeting the latter group—and for good reason. They’re the big spenders, the ones who will pay nearly $5 an issue to learn about the new museum exhibit, the new spa treatment, the $30 veal chop.

But any regional magazine worth its salt should be able to appeal to both its visitors and its locals, if only to show its true appreciation of the area. Even when the majority of tourists go home for the winter, the longtime residents will still be there, working hard to keep the Berkshires beautiful for when the weather gets warm again. Writes Berkshires native Kristin Lathrop in a letter to Berkshire Living: “It saddened me to see that your publication bore little resemblance to the Berkshires of my childhood . . . The marketing of your product is clearly for someone other than the local resident.”

It is no surprise, then, that Berkshire Living was founded by a New Yorker, Michael Zivyak, who spent his childhood summers in the region. The editor-in-chief, Seth Rogovoy, is also a New York native who attended Berkshire County’s Williams College and has lived in the area since 1978. “We don’t make distinctions between tourists, weekenders, and natives,” Rogovoy said. “They are united by their choice to be here because they love what the region has to offer.”

But the pages of the magazine tell a different story. The January/February 2007 issue’s cover lines read like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Berkshires Edition. Stories about “Romantic Spa Getaways,” “Ski Butternut’s Family Values,” and “Fireplaces of Cranwell” are highlighted. You can almost hear Robin Leach’s voice.

Toward the back of the magazine, the “Hot Property” section features a mansion on the block for over $2.5 million. When discussing the 5,400 square feet of living space, the author suggests that a future owner consider installing a “tricked-out home-media entertainment center.” Not to be outdone, the next page features an advertisement for a home selling for more than $7 million.

Many of the articles read like press releases. The spa piece ends with this kicker: “The many pleasures of romantic spa getaways add up to sweet dreams, indeed.” In the “Right Stuff” section, a pair of boots will have you “walking on air,” and a fancy honey jar  is “brilliant.” A restaurant “conjures bona fide Alpine ambiance” with its “rich, velvety fondue” and “silky soufflés.” Even though Berkshire Living won a 2006 National City and Regional Magazine Award for general criticism for its arts column, the rest of the magazine doesn’t seem to be very critical of anything.

As I learned when I attended school there, the Berkshires, for all their beauty, can be a pretty boring place. In most parts of the region, you can’t find a good Chinese restaurant for miles, and it can take an hour to get to a theater with first-run movies. And Berkshire Living, even with all its lovely photos, can be a pretty boring magazine, too. As you flip through its pages, only rarely does something grab you and make you want to read it. It’s like listening to a pleasant piece of music, but the volume is so low, you can hardly hear it.
The magazine’s color scheme is like late fall in the Berkshires: lots of browns, dark greens, maroons, and grays. Pictures of snuggly couples abound. A photo essay titled “Winter of Our Content” shows off the beauty of the area with pictures of snow scenes, but they don’t tell you anything more interesting than a postcard photo does. A picture spread of the fireplaces at the historic Cranwell Resort is—well, about as exciting as photos of ornate fireplaces could be. 

Scratch the surface of Berkshire Living a bit, however, and you can find some substance. For one thing, the magazine truly celebrates the arts. More than half the articles are dedicated to the Berkshires’ vibrant arts scene. Comprehensive arts listings feature everything from little-known contemporary galleries to the biggies like MASS MoCA and the Norman Rockwell Museum. And the magazine has a particular love affair with music, as editor Rogovoy is a music critic.

Every so often, you’ll find a hidden gem buried within the magazine’s 116 pages. A piece that caught my attention was one of the few that both tourists and locals could enjoy. Called “The Young and the Not-So-Restless,” it is about four under-forty, well-educated, single locals who have chosen to “eschew city living for the good life in the country.” Each profile is an honest, insightful portrayal. For one subject, “finding love in the Berkshires hasn’t been easy,” and another expresses feelings of isolation.

Indeed, the best parts of Berkshire Living are its profiles of residents doing interesting things: the quirky antiques restorer, the family of artists, the retired museum curator. For it’s the people who actually live in the Berkshires, not the summer visitors who head home at first chill, that make the area what it is. For them, life has its ups and downs. But down doesn’t seem to be of interest to this magazine, unless it’s the stuffing in a pricey jacket.

 
 

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