Thursday, November 05, 2015

Magazines as a force for social and political change

Many years ago the journalism department I work in was visited by two Norwegian media academics. They were looking for partners in a scheme to set up a “neutral” journalism school in the Balkans, believing fractures in that region’s social fabric could be mended with a trusted news provider.

Everything was going swimmingly until I made the mistake of telling them I taught magazine journalism. “Oh, magazines”, they said dismissively and then literally turned their backs on me to concentrate on what the newspaper guys, the real journalists, had to say.

Those two Norwegians came to mind during Ibrahim Nehme’s talk at Modern Magazine 2015. Nehme is a founder/editor of The Outpost, a Beirut-based magazine established in the fallout from the Arab Spring to capture the energy and hopes of young people in the Middle East. Its mission is "to ignite a socio-cultural renaissance in the Arab world through inspiring its readers to explore a world of possibilities". To achieve this it uses narratives to elevate the places in which its readers live; telling stories to make a difference and aiming to inspire others. Nehme finished his presentation by saying, "To move to a better future we need to start telling better stories ... when we make the magazine we are making a prototype for the future."

In the generously furnished goodie bag given to ModMag15’s delegates there was another magazine that reminded me of those Nordic scoffers – the second issue of Weapons Of Reason. This partwork (there will only be eight issues) states its mission very clearly – it's "A magazine to turn knowledge into action". Each issue discusses and analyses one of the planet’s most complex and challenging problems in an attempt to "understand and articulate the interconnected global issues shaping our world" using longform storytelling, illustration and striking data visualisations.

The first issue looked at the Arctic, the second examines the past, present and future of megacities.

It’s easy for media critics to dismiss magazines as a potential force for social good – and it’s easy to think of examples that confirm their prejudices. We know it's a ridiculous generalisation – and The Outpost and Weapons Of Reason refute those arguments in the best way possible.

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