The magazine’s new incarnation arrived on May 1. In addition to the new name, the publication has taken on a matte, instead of glossy finish, and added a number of items to its table of contents. They included a page in the back called “Who Funded That?” which lets readers know who paid for the research data and studies underpinning its articles, as well as a new department in the front called “Culture Lab,” which examines “what research can tell us about pop culture.”
In between is the usual, impressive selection of feature stories. Reflecting the magazine’s new identity, the May/June issue includes a fascinating piece about the significance of the US “turning to face the Pacific rather than the Atlantic.” In it, Bruce Cummings, chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, argues that the Obama administration has made “a series of defense-policy moves that amount to the most significant transformation of American’s military position in the world since the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed.”
A significant transformation may be underway at Pacific Standard as well. In its early years, the magazine received numerous plaudits from critics such as the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, which called it “a treasure chest of well-crafted, deep and original science reporting” and a “refuge for long-form journalism.” But it struggled to make a similar splash beyond the scholarly community.
In 2010, the Los Angeles Times’s media reporter, James Rainey, noted that while the magazine had “gained a toehold with academics, government officials, and journalists,” it was “virtually unknown to the general public.” To “expand its appeal beyond its wonky base,” Rainey suggested, the magazine would “need to venture further from its roots and tell compelling stories using everyday characters from outside academia.”
While keeping an emphasis on the research-driven reporting makes its work so unique and trustworthy, Pacific Standard appears to be moving in that direction, covering a wider variety of political, economic, and cultural topics. The May/June issue has terrific, character-driven narrative about Dr. Jay Shubrook, a doctor in the foothills of Appalachia who is turning diabetes treatment “upside down” by recommending that his patients consider going straight to insulin injections before traditional first-step remedies like diet, exercise, and medication.
Maybe that’s still a bit wonky, but outlets like KQED Quest and Pacific Standard are pushing multimedia and long-form science journalism forward in the West. In doing so, they’ve joined the ranks of occidental standard bearers like the Colorado-based High Country News. With once trusted papers like the Los Angeles Times laying off their environmental reporters, they have also proved that we still need pioneers.