I visited my 30-year-old cousins this weekend in Florida after the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. They had just moved into a new home that was filled with unpacked boxes and controlled chaos as their 2-year-old daughter, infant son, and 4-year-old dog got the lay of the land.
On Saturday morning, I caught my cousin typing on her laptop computer. She was quite excited, she told me, because she had just finished forwarding all of her magazines from her old address. She loved reading them, she said, and didn’t want to miss a single issue.
The writer in me was delighted—it’s so rare that anyone younger than 50 tells me they love anything but the Internet these days—but my happiness would be short-lived. When I asked her which magazines she read, she ticked off a list that included Parents, Pottery Barn, and Pottery Barn Kids.
Now, I have nothing against the Pottery Barn catalogs. I’m an avid subscriber myself. Just placed an order, actually, and highly recommend the new grand chenille throw. But to those of us who craft articles for a living, those printed, glossy mailers are absolutely not magazines. They are, at best, magalogues, meaning catalogs with some magazine-style shopping information included.
The thing that really kills me about my cousin’s word choice is that there was no difference in her mind between these catalogs and the true magazine. All three were pretty, useful, printed mailers that she enjoyed reading when the kids gave her five minutes of quiet. That one of the three titles required dozens of journalists and Ph.D.s to do endless research and fact checking, while the other two were fashioned by marketing people, well, that simply wasn’t part of her thinking. They all entertained and informed her, and that was all that mattered.
Her word choice says less about her than it does about the state of our magazine industry. After years of advertisers pushing magazine editors to be more friendly toward their products in print, the line between editorial and advertorial appears to be unalterably blurred.
It makes me want to focus my efforts even more tightly on doing serious journalism, if only to remind readers that such a thing does exist.