People send us their newspapers and magazines. Sometimes, we review them.
Milwaukee Magazine, January 2009
The January 2009 issue of Milwaukee Magazine features thirty-six innovators under age forty “who will change Milwaukee.” The most notable (and interesting) picks for us are the three reporters who make the list: Sean Ryan, a twenty-eight-year-old City Hall reporter for The Daily Reporter (“Wisconsin’s Construction, Law and Public Record Authority Since 1897”), who “regularly scoops the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel” and is touted as “a throwback, an old-fashioned newsman”; Ben Poston, twenty-eight, a data whiz at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel whose analytical work has helped anchor the paper’s Watchdog Group and investigative efforts; and Mick Trevey, twenty-seven, a TV reporter for WTMJ-4, who covered the story of a man who was released from prison after serving eighteen years for a rape that he didn’t commit, only to reappear in the news as a suspect in a murder case.
Gossip page The Mil uses opensecrets.org to probe campaign donations “made by the city’s high-ranking culture vultures,” and finds that “quite a few [donors] are Republicans” (Milwaukee Art Museum board members, for instance, donated $118,250 to Republicans and $63,000 to Democrats). Media reporter Erik Gunn writes about the downside of newspapers’ elimination of Associated Press content, and questions the ethics of Journal Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran sending his column to area bloggers “in advance of publication.”
Meanwhile, features include a standard-fare profile of Rock Dee, a well known Radio Milwaukee DJ who committed suicide, and a more engrossing investigation of Amish and Mennonite puppy mills. The strong intro: “Life was a struggle for Wallace Havens. He worked days inseminating cattle for a breeding company, nights manning a motel front desk.” That is, until he started breeding dogs—from cockapoos to goldendoodles to puggles. From there, writer Mary van de Kamp Nohl moves to darker stuff—about how puppy mill dogs can suffer from anything from hypoglycemia to brucellosis to physical and mental deformities, and how many Amish and Mennonite breeders are moving their operations to Wisconsin because it has some of the nation’s weakest regulations. -Jane Kim
Standpoint, December 2008
Standpoint’s mission statement says the U.K.-based publication isn’t a light snack: “In a market swamped by the journalistic equivalent of fast food, Standpoint hopes to offer the discerning reader a feast of great writing — properly edited and presented in an elegant design that makes even longer pieces a pleasure to read.” This new cultural and political magazine is seven issues old and still seems to be defining its identity, as evidenced by a solid, if oddly matched, grouping of articles.
In its physical form, Standpoint is lovely. The pages are a nice semi-glossy stock, and the cover is has a velvet-matte finish. The design is simple, with red and blue accent colors used sparingly. There are nice illustrations, like the adorable mole with bowler, pince-nez, and cane accompanying “The Mole” column, but too many silhouette-cutout photographs perching awkwardly in corners and on edges of pages.
The front of the book, “Counterpoints”, starts off weak with a non-committal sketch of Sarah Maple, a boundary pushing Muslim artist: “Her work has been criticised as provocation for its own sake, lacking artistic merit and mocking religious sensitivities for publicity. In response, it has been argued that regardless of its quality or whether it is deliberate provocation, her artistic freedom of expression should be defended to the hilt.” But two short FOB pieces redeem the section, a rumination on the usage of words “good” and “well” to describe well being or moral standing, and a first-person essay-lette from a man whose brother is a Royal Marine in Afghanistan: “However, I know, deep down, that my brother is just your average man shooting at another average man, no matter how precise his shot is, or what it’s fired in the name of. And to me this doesn’t make his actions futile, tragic or pitiable - it just makes them ordinary. By understanding the ordinariness of war, I can approach my brother’s involvement in Afghanistan without cynicism or sadness.”
The most exciting entry in the next section of columns is “The Mole,” a dispatch from an anonymous source inside the BBC who shares his or her savvy: “For any new recruit to the Corporation, it can come as something of a surprise to find how much responsibility can be foisted on inexperienced shoulders. A young producer can find herself talking to very prominent people and making instant decisions about who should and who should not be put on air. That involves a lot of trust. There is a safeguard, of course, and it can be summarised in six words: “when in doubt, refer it up.””
The meaty well section of the magazine offers a long dialogue—a sort of Q&A between a business commentator and a historian moderated by the magazine’s editor—about the growing terrorist threat. There’s no fear of long quotes here, or of startling ideas: “9/11 itself only cost $500,000 to mount, which is a trivial amount of money for a trillion dollars’ worth of damage.” As a counterbalance to the very serious conversation that precedes “Dialogue 2: The British Gas man cometh (not)” is a very funny, if maddening, transcript of one woman’s attempt to have her heating boiler repaired. It’s refreshing to have a humor piece in the magazine, but I’m not sure that it works when wedged between a lengthy discussion of terrorism and the dry cover story about the influence that Berlin had on David Bowie.
Of Standpoint’s foreign policy pieces, the best is a feature that examines how Obama’s race and nationality may affect his dealings with leaders on the African continent. “The fact that he, a poor boy born to an African immigrant father, could rise in a single generation to become president dramatises America’s promise of openness and opportunity as nothing else could. This almost magical achievement will alone guarantee Obama huge crowds anywhere in Africa and will without doubt spur many more Africans to seek a future in America.” Perhaps this is too simplistic a characterization of the challenges any president faces in dealing with Africa, but it is a worthy reflection nonetheless.
The U.S. equivalent to Standpoint is probably something like The New Republic. But until the magazine finds its voice, I wouldn’t get a subscription yet. -Katia Bachko
Bitch, Winter 2009
If CJR doesn’t satiate your appetite for media criticism, then you may find salvation on the pages of Bitch magazine.
For example, its Winter 2009 issue features an article for its “On Archetypes” column, by Monica Nolan, that analyzes film’s treatment of career women. The column uses the summertime blockbuster Sex and the City: The Movie to bemoan the lack of progress the film industry has made in portraying goal-oriented, successful women.
Nolan begins her piece by declaring her hatred for the film, followed by her disappointment in male critics’ lack of enthusiasm in reviewing the film. She then takes us through a brief history of Hollywood’s stereotypically vapid female roles, examining the careers of actresses like Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck, and evaluates the industry’s progress. Her assessment:
Still, when we look past the film’s box office to its actual content, do we at least see in SATC: the Movie a representation of the career woman that is significantly new? Are you surprised when the answer is mostly “No”?
Not much here is terribly eye-opening or earth-shattering, which Nolan admits: “The absence of women on screen is not news.” Then again, to be fair, most Maureen Dowd columns aren’t either.
Perhaps my inability to identify with the feminist movement leaves me predisposed to dismiss this column—as well as a few of the others in the magazine—as a bit whiny. Leaving my biases aside, though, I found a lot to like about Bitch. The magazine’s features can be smart and passionate. This issue, for instance, features a piece on female artists using their own bodies as canvasses, an interview exploring the misogyny of hip hop, and a look at the newest breed of rape-revenge films.
So, if you find yourself yearning for biting criticism mixed with a heavy dose of feminism, pick up Bitch. Chances are you’ll find it infuriatingly satisfying. -Megan McGinley
San Francisco, December 2008
Quick, pop personality quiz! Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements:
1. “Food stylist” is an actual occupation.
2. A dessert can be capable of “quiet subversion.”
3. Ostrich farms are fascinating.
4. Shoe designer Manolo Blahnik deserves to be referred to as “his Holiness.”
5. Messenger bags can be specimens of “fine art.”
6. “Project Macway” is a clever nickname for a production of Macbeth that features cutting-edge costume designs.
7. San Francisco is just as stylish as New York or LA.
If you chose mostly As, you will probably love San Francisco magazine. You will likely find it quirky and smart and flamboyantly stylized and ever-so-slightly self-deprecating, in the winsome way of a Bravo reality show.
If you chose mostly Bs, you will probably loathe San Francisco magazine. You will likely find it horribly, laughably, and irrevocably pretentious. You will likely roll your eyes when, in an article about the architectural design of a Sonoma observatory (complete with—natch!—a spa), you see a path referred to, without irony, as “a long allée” of trees. You will likely roll your eyes some more when you come across a six-page spread devoted, with barely contained giddiness, to various grades of Hollywood celebrities who have been photographed while visiting San Francisco. (Actual quote: “Planeloads of actors kept celeb spotters satiated with more eye candy than they’ve seen in years.”) You will likely roll your eyes even more when you scan the reverent photos—of fig leaf-roasted halibut and sweet-corn vichyssoise and other gastronomic creations—that accompany a review of the Marin restaurant Murray Circle. You will likely find each of the oversized glossy’s 168 pages to be, in their own way, showy and haughty and, in their “Modern Luxury” motto, woefully out of step with these trying economic times. You will almost certainly conclude that San Francisco crosses the line between appreciating The Finer Things In Life and fetishizing them.
If you chose a mixture of As and Bs, you will probably admire San Francisco’s substance even as you question its style. You might find your mouth watering, Pavlov-style, while reading the cover story about “the Bay Area’s smartest desserts”—pumpkin custard with dehydrated carrot shavings! white-chocolate rosewater panna cotta with saffron-pistachio-milk chocolate ganache! “cigarettes” of rice paper and tobacco-infused cream!—even while your mind wonders, “Um, can desserts really be smart? Should they be?” You’ll almost certainly be moved by “Gone,” a deeply reported and sensitively written piece about a sad, if not new, trend: teenagers leaping to their deaths off the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge. You might find yourself nodding in appreciation at San Francisco’s “Click” section, a series of photos capturing moments of city life—election night in the Mission, the boho-biker LoveFest on Market Street—with equal nods to anthropology and artistry. You might appreciate that, representing as it does a city known for matters of marriage, San Francisco manages to unite the extravagant and the everyday—the Prada spread nestled near the H&M ad, the announcement of a new Gucci boutique followed by the profile of Oakland mayor Ron Dellums, the review of a fine dining restaurant at home with the review of a burger joint, things attainable and things aspirational—into a marriage of equals. A laudable feat, most would agree. -Megan Garber
LA Weekly, December 5-11, 2008
If you don’t live in Los Angeles, go online and read excerpts of the LA Weekly’s thirtieth anniversary issue on its Web site. The issue is a chock-full reminder of what founding editor Jay Levin says in his own epistle: “The backstory was our commitment.” It’s a five-star assemblage of accounts from Weekly editors, writers, and contributors (past and present), paired with “best of” excerpts from over the years. Among the jewels are recollections from previous editors in chief: Levin writes about tackling L.A.’s huge smog problem by assigning arts and culture reporter Rian Malan “to investigate the South Coast Air Quality management District” because he was “such a keen bullshit detector”; Kit Rachlis discusses deciding to place the culture wars front and center by putting Andrew Serrano’s Piss Christ on the cover; Sue Horton recounts the 2000 Democratic convention in L.A., when the paper decided to transform into a daily operation for the week.
Others to look for: Lynell George, who was a staff writer when the L.A. Riots burst, writes about the lead-up to the unrest—“You’d pivot between the city’s disarray and the paper’s droll, sardonic commentary on the state of things”—when the riots struck and she was suddenly “on assignment expected to explain the inexplicable.” Marc Cooper expounds on the Weekly’s coverage of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica during the Reagan administration, when he was news editor, while Ginger Varney writes about being the paper’s first Central American correspondent. Jonathan Gold, a former music editor, grouchily says the paper’s music section “sucks,” but offers an alternative assessment: “the beauty of the Weekly’s music coverage, then as now, lies chiefly in the magnificence of its background noise.” And there are plenty of additional accounts from the arts realm: Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, the Weekly’s first art editor and critic (on reviewing Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party); Alan Rich, who got laid off earlier this year after 16 years as the paper’s classical music critic; film critic John Powers; former film critic Michael Ventura (on “the writer’s editor” Bob LaBrasca); and current film editor Scott Foundas (on Ventura).
As an issue, it’s scattered and disorganized, with overlapping and sometimes self-indulgent memories. It makes for a forensically phenomenal read. -Jane KimThe Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.