People send us their newspapers and magazines. Sometimes, we review them.

The Times of Acadiana, February 19, 2009

Whatever Cody Daigle is earning, I’m sure it’s not enough. As the sole masthead writer for Louisiana’s Times of Acadiana, a content-light and ad-heavy free weekly, he seems to be responsible for over three quarters of its February 19 issue. And I’m suspicious about how many people helped compile the “staff reports” bylined article offering Oscar party tips like “make dishes themed to your favorite Oscar-winning movies.” (Liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti, perhaps?)

Mr. Daigle, whose copy passed my technical muster with flying colors, clearly has the pendant’s curse. The Times’s “Hot Links” feature, a curated roundup of four blog recommendations, includes two grammar-snark sites, one of which is, dedicated to chronicling ill-deployed and meaning-distorting quotation marks. The layout staff managed to keep ads with such offending usage away from that spread, but I can only imagine Daigle shuddering while reading the classified encouraging readers to dial “‘235-ROOF’” or while glancing the exterior photo of Pop’s Black Pot (restaurant review, page thirty-nine) with its sign half-heartedly claiming “‘Good ‘Ol Cajun Cooking.’”

The highlight of page fourteen is a quarter-page ad for a local branch of the Stanford Group—yes, that Stanford Group—woefully promising to help clients “fulfill financial goals with a long-term view towards preserving wealth.” As that time capsule would suggest, the issue under review is a bit stale. But that’s lucky, because it came out in the midst of February’s Mardi Gras, and its event listings offer distant readers a peek at how locals view the fun.

Take, for example, the “courirs and bouchiers.” One listing for the former promises a children’s “chicken chase”; of the later, the Times notes that “Among Cajuns anything can be a celebration, including the butchering of a hog.” A short article offering recommendations for readers planning the two-hour trek into urban New Orleans from the Times’s Lafayette distribution area strongly advises the use of public transportation upon reaching the city, and makes the unsettling suggestion that abstaining motorists organize their own convoys: “If you must drive to where you need to be, travel in packs…”

Notice must also be drawn to the giveaway’s film section, where Trey Domingue offers two write-ups of weekend releases accompanied by a letter grade “prediction.” A cursory reading makes it clear that our reviewer has not seen the films in question, leaving this reader to conclude that what’s really being reviewed are trailers, publicity packets, or other reviews. Haven’t we learned our lesson about the dangers of derivatives?

Of one such flick, the tale of two young men who attend cheerleader camp, Domingue writes that “Fired Up at least seems to have taken the teen and ‘raunchy’ comedy sub-genres and blended them together to create a potentially funny hit” before dialing down that hedged bet and honestly admitting that he “may be wrong about the whole ‘blending thing’ mentioned above.”

I can only hope that, by next week, readers got Domingue’s post-screening thoughts. And that Cody found a moment to chat with Trey about his “raunchy” quotation marks. –Clint Hendler

Sojourners Magazine, April 2009

Sojourners is a Christian magazine, and, according to its cover, it’s interested in “faith, politics, and culture.” In tone and subject matter, Sojourners often feels like the magazine embodiment of NPR’s Speaking of Faith, only slightly more preachy, and more narrowly Christian.

The magazine is strongest when covering social justice issues, illuminating topics frequently neglected by mainstream outlets. A short explanatory feature in the front of the book explains the shortcomings of a commonly cited statistic, the poverty level:

Our current way of measuring poverty sets the poverty line equal to three times a subsistence food budget. In 1955 (the best data available when the measure was set in 1964) the average family spent one-third of its income on food; “three times food” became the official formula—and remains unchanged to this day, except for annual updating for inflation. If your family’s pre-tax cash income is below the threshold, you’re counted as poor.

There are many problems with this. Compared to a half-century ago, the price of food today is much less important than housing and utility prices. Medical expenses have grown; child-care expenses have increased as single parents work more.

Here’s the most important problem, however. In the last four decades, the U.S. has greatly expanded help for lower-income families, including food stamps, housing programs, medical care assistance, and changes in tax laws to benefit the poor. But our current poverty statistics are based only on families’ cash income, and none of these programs affect cash income—so none of them affect the official poverty rate.

CJR Staff is a contributor to CJR.