Monday, November 07, 2005

More "newspaper" magazines

Magazines conceived and executed by newspaper people very often don't work because of the gap between the two cultures. This was brought home (to me) twice in the last week.
Firstly, the PG Dip in Magazine Journalism had a visit from Richard Burton of the Telegraph Online; in his CV is a stint in charge of Parkhill Publishing, the Eve Pollard-backed vehicle which published Aura (a magazine for the older woman, if you have never come across it). From the very first issue this looked like a newspaper person's idea of a magazine – it was old fashioned looking and, more importantly, very loosely targeted. It lasted about a year. Richard's background is otherwise entirely in newspapers and in the case of this product, of which he is still very proud (and I am not knocking that at all), it showed.
Then the Sunday Telegraph launched its two new magazine supplements yesterday. Trailed by the paper's editor Sarah Sands as being very pretty and quite gadgety respectively (see this for example, Stella and Seven had quite a lot of hype (almost all of it from the Telegraph camp) to live up to. And quite frankly, neither does.
Stella looks very old fashioned (again) and has nothing in it which other newspaper magazines don't have already, and a lot of it is not very well done. Practically all the new columnists waste space telling us what they will be telling us in the coming weeks, instead of telling us anything new or interesting or useful. You have one chance to make a first impression and there's no point in blowing it by setting out a manifesto - get on with it!
Seven is essentially a listings magazine which doesn't even have any digital radio stations listed (a huge missed opportunity given the demographics of DAB radio buyers). The promised gadgets are few and not original or exclusive. Much of the copy appears to be sourced from outside.
Emily Bell of MediaGuardian sums it up very well in her column today.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lapidary phrases

Sometimes in a piece of journalism you come across a phrase which is so spot-on that it crystallises a number of random thoughts which have been rattling around your brain for ages.

I came across a perfect example of this on Wednesday October 26th, in a piece by Stuart Dakers for SocietyGuardian (read it all here). The paragraph in question reads "Old poverty argued the collective harshness of life, not individual failure; nor, crucially, was it teased with the trinkets of materialism or disabled with credit." Now, that might seem to you a statement of the obvious, or a cliche, or just plain uninteresting, but for me it simply leapt off the page.

Why? Because every year students on the Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University are sent off into Butetown (what remains of Tiger Bay, as was) and every year they come back with tales of how strong the (highly multicultural/multiethnic) community spirit was in the old days even though most people were materially poor, and how disaffected most of the youth are now, even though they are probably better off materially.

Dakers's words encapsulate a complete suite of answers to this apparent conundrum. They help to validate the oldtimers' memories and explain the current situation. Of course it is complex; of course there are many more questions and answers needed to understand and try to ameliorate the problems.

But "Old poverty argued the collective harshness of life" is a brilliant, and brilliantly illuminating, phrase.

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