Life is lived forwards but understood backwards. Something similar applies to magazines.
Sometime last week I picked up a copy of my usual car magazine. This is something of a futile exercise, a triumph of optimism over experience. I did as I always did and started leafing from the back pages to the front. For a long time some of the most interesting nuggets have lived in the back of magazines and as one moves forward past features one then gets to the dust and detritus at the top of the cereal box. In between one passes the meat of the sandwich, the long form-articles that are supposed to command our attention.
The next step of the process is to start from back of the features section and read the articles in order of interest. Lately (as in the last five years) it is seldom easy to choose which one is most deserving of my attention. They all seem equally uncompelling. In the end I reverted to the long-term owner tests where automotive journalists seem to let their pose drop somewhat which can be refreshing. However, these days the long-term reviews feature quite a lot of cars that have little to appeal to me: performance vehicles with price tags equivalent to major pieces of surgical apparatus. Car writers do have flashy garages. No wonder they care little for the minutiae of ordinary motoring lives.
My process of reading the magazine forwards has been brought to a halt by the fact that the process is failing at the middle stage. I don’t really want to read these articles. They aren’t what I would write myself and don’t include material that I can either agree or disagree with. This is astonishing in a small way. How much does it cost to send a motoring writer on a 900 mile tour in a car that does 20 miles per gallon? I assume they don’t sleep in the cars but get to eat a meal and stay in a hotel. That’s two sets of both, if a photographer is involved. Imagine spending all that money and having little to generate scintillating prose.
Why not start at the front of a magazine? It’s partly because magazines have lost a clear start page. The first four or six pages are generally taken up with adverts on double-spreads. If you are reading this, Mr Magazine Editor, what evidence do you have anyone is reading these pages? I certainly don’t. The next page might be 200 words from the editor which in all magazines is guaranteed never to contain any worthwhile content. It is as if the process of organising the month’s content has drained the editor of opinion. Nobody reads that.
After a little verbiage comes the contents pages, ruined by a graphic designer who forgot form sometimes might follow function. I don’t read that as it’s quicker to leaf through the magazine than to let my eye take its ADHD path around the collection of numbered tiles of varying sizes that constitute the deconstructivist approach to graphic design. Like the architects, the graphic designers hate their work material and can only destroy it. Doors? Let them be sideways. Layout? Let it fall where it may.
And on the news section, made redundant in my case that I know the news already. By the time the repro data has been sent to HJ Swinford Colour Offset Ltd, Darlington, the news is ancient history.
All of this then means I put the magazine aside. It’s under the sink in the downstairs toilet. The magazine needs a rethink. And anything to do with watches must be expunged.