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Wednesday, 03 February 2010


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Great piece, Mike... you captured it. This is exactly why I stopped my Time subscription about 8 or so years ago, having subscribed since about 1970. Now I read The Economist, which is much closer to the old Time.


In december I quit my job at a local newspaper (I was the editor of the Arts section) in Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco, México. After ten years, I lost every hope in dealing with the last emperors (naked, of course) of the dying editorial industry: the designers (for this theme, I strongly recommend the novel "Inmortality", in which the author Milan Kundera talks about the "imagologists" and how they are now the real power behind the press -ok, it was written when the press was still a power).

All the details you mention and more: the white space, the "concept" covers, less pages, less words (people don't read anymore, don't you know?), "impact" (they made me hate that word) photos, pictures of the journalists, two word headlines, the ubiquitous pop stars; all of that was spread around every little newspaper or magazine in the world in the last decade (ever heard of Villahermosa?).

I love photography, but I feel that this culture of the empty image is quietly eroding our reasoning. "The dumbing down of the population" is on.

Great article Mike, should be discussed in journalism classes.

Francisco Cubas

I too was a rather bookish boy, and one who used to read one of my elderly great uncle's cast-off issues of US News & World Report and Newsweek in the summers of 1975 and 1976, often cover to cover, as I spent my summers on my grandparents' farm, where television consisted of three network channels, one independent channel, and the PBS. i loved the Sunday visits when my uncle would bring over two or three or four recent issues of the news magazines. As I recall, the articles were wordy and deep,and text rich and lean on graphics and fancy typography. It wasn't too long after that that I began to devour,cover to cover, issues of Popular photography and Modern Photography magazine. Much like Time ca. 1968 and Time ca. 2010, the photo magazines have gone the same way--less impact in photos, more huge headlines, lots of sidebars and bullet-point "articles" (ha!),and weaker portfolios, if any. The last time I compared the two, a typical mid-1970s issue of Pop Photo had about 100 more pages than an isue from the mid-2000s, and like Time, a typical mid-2000s' issue of Pop Photo had fewer articles than the 1970s issues typically had, with the new magazine featuring very short and almost flippant articles, and a much less-focused consideration on photography as a craft and art and avocation, and much more of an emphasis on what I call photographic "recipes", meaning articles describing how one can sort of "do this-do-this-do this-and-arrive at this result." Photo mags of the 70s seemed to be focused more on concepts and ideas, whereas by the 2000s they seemed focused on specific software and specific and time-relevant new gadgets,and less on the craft of photography.

As a fourth grader, in the early 1970's, I started reading old issues of Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and Argosy,cover to cover as entertainment in our little mountain town where we received only three over the air TV channels and it snowed much of the winter. Today, I only read Outdoor Life and Field & Stream at the barber shop--and those magazine too are thinner, more brief, and have writing that is a much lower quality than the same titles had throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Hmmm....was it really uphill both ways to school back in those days? Like my young son says disdainfully when I try and explain to him how much things have changed in the 40 years since I was his exact age, "Oh, dad, I know--back in the old days there were four TV channels and no remotes and candy bars were 10 cents..." Sigh.

Well The Times they are a changing don't cha know. I can't believe I was the first to say it. Or maybe you all thought better of it?

I must say that I much prefer the style of the older one. Yes the photography is perhaps not as good but the I love the word count and the layout. It looks like a good read even if it wasn't.

The key event was the launch of People Magazine, the first trash celeb gossip rag from a legitimate, big time publisher, in 1974. That is the exact moment the slide began. The current TIME resembles the People Mag of 20 years ago.

It's kind of sad how the changes in TIME reflect the changes in our society.

Also, I believe the original phrase "Wherefore art thou, Romeo" meant Juliet was asking why Romeo was who he was, not where he was. Just a little pet peeve of mine.

Superb post, Mike.

"the dumbing down of the population, greater competition, truncated attention spans"

Indeed. And I distinctly remember the complaints when all this started, and the almost ubiquitous cries of: "I've had enough of serious issues, I want entertainment".

Well here is the entertainment, in all its magnificent stupidity...

I first read an issue of Time magazine cover-to-cover when I was eleven years old, and that I felt very grown up and proud of the accomplishment for having done it

When I was about 14 (around 1980) my English teacher (my native tongue is German) gave me a stack of Time magazines (and another of Newsweek). In the following weeks I read them all and found them enormously interesting - and myself enormously grown up ;-)

It's true that today we see an obsession with 'celebreties' in much of the press as well as in other media. It would be interesting to find out if this is really that much of a change compared to for instance the 1960s. There must have been magazines telling people where the Beatles went. Otherwise it would be hard to explain the rows of hysterically screaming girls you see in photographs and news footage from the era.

Agreed. In the seventies I subscribed and the dumbing down process was noticeable. I became irritated by the constant use of the phrase, 'A passer-by/taxi-driver/hairdresser/somebody else who knows absolutely nothing but I have to mention because it gives the article local color and authenticity - made me realize that their criteria and real content of value was minimal.

I also gave up subscribing religiously to
Time many years ago and get the Economist
through Zinio downloaded to my Mac.
Mike and Marc both hit the nail on the

"anxiously ditzy, like a youngish mother who thinks she's hip trying to communicate with a surly teenager" ...

Now that's curmudgeoning! You're on good form today, um, dawg.

You'd have thought that somewhere among those 30K readers there'd be someone who's in a position to set a seasoned wordsmith to gainful employment. But, as you point out, white space (or its written equivalent) seems to sell better these days...

You have surely confirmed what we all suspected!

Excellent article! Well written, well considered.

I've noticed the same in most publications, both those from the US and in those in Europe. Therein lies the decline and the inevitable dumbing down of western civilisation.


Reading your article on the past Time and the current Time made one thing come to mind, which you mentioned near the end: reduced attention span. That seems to be one of the main driving factors in much media today, and every year it worsens. People on the whole appear unable to concentrate for more than a milli-second on anything and want to be able to get stuff in chunks, pre-digested. I don't know, maybe it has always been that way with mass media, but it truly seems to be on a long, slow slope into nano-second attention span oblivion. Thank you for a thoughtful set of words that require a bit of attention (span).


And The Economist covers more of the world than either era of Time knew existed. I would be interested to see 1968 Economist vs. present day Economist.

Nicely researched and well written article, Mike.

"...the 1968 issue is undeniably a much more serious magazine, with a friendly but sober and distinctly adult tone." Society and discourse in particular seems to made the same change. Why the change took place is an interesting question.

The old layout changed significantly by 1971, as I have several copies pertaining to Apollos 15 to 17 that look much more modern than your 1968 example.

Hey, there's Cousteau's diving saucer on the left hand page of the oceanographic piece.

Agree that the Peter Hapak portrait of Harry Carsonof would make a FAR more powerful cover.

Rod S.

I tried some of the other news magazines and Time was still the best for clear knowledgable writing while presenting both sides of the argument. Today's world does lead to some of the changes, I subsribe but may weeks the only thing I read is Joe Klein. We are all busier these days. Though I still find time for TOP.

That is such an insightful piece that IT ought to run in New Time...though likely too long.

If only they dared.

Nice work. And concur.


Odd, I had the same yearning recently. I remembered how pleasant it was in the 60's to get the new issue of Time. Always something interesting. So I resubscibed. I hardly ever open the things. At least it isnt Newsweek.
I wish I could agree about the Economist. It doesnt speak to me. I guess because I am an American. The only person I know who really likes it is a scary ex CIA operative who lives nearby

The only news magazine that I find worth reading is The Economist. They still assume an adult readership. I gave up on Time and Newsweek long ago.

Before long Time will be history as will all the printed media who think modern pop culture fanatics will buy their magazine. It's about time (pun intended).

Time really got you thinking and inspired, Mike. This Time article got me thinking in terms of the role of photographs in today's media content. Lots of publications have become less serious, more volatile if you like. Except tradional writing, novels, fiction, the works of famous writers. Lots of publications have become 'digital' either in pre production or as a final product. With it the use of photographs has increased, of course reproduction of full colour photos has become really affordable.
Did the use of (more) photographs in publications contribute to them getting less serious? Maybe, but we all know some pretty good exceptions. Still, on saturdays in my town people really line up in the main bookstore, like never before. And most of them are buying literature, novels, detectives, fiction. 'Serious' stuff, in most cases deriving from one serious individual's mind. Is that going to change with the increasing popularity of ebooks and ereaders? I must admit I've never actually read a novel on any electronic device, but I would imagine books still look like paperbacks. Yet including (at least some)photographs in traditional books is possible and affordable. We all know books with illustrations, Ed McBain sometimes used illustrations like drawings or an entire diary page in his 87th precinct books that got my attention and made me wonder why hardly any other author's did the same thing. With more ebooks, ereaders and Ipad coming our way will any of these authors start using photographs in their digital novels? Steve Jobs might love it. How about us readers and the authors? We're not used to actually seeing the characters except as in our own imagination (Kopf Kino as germans would say). But once a spy novel has become an Academy Award winning motion picture the main character looks like Harrison Ford or Matt Damon. Whether readers or writers like it or not. What would happen if some famous novelist decided to include photographs in his (e)books, and decide for himself what his characters and venues look like. Would this make books less serious? Will there ever be this new opporunity for photographers or is it just unwanted 'newthink'. I wonder if any of you know of any already existing examples.

This decrease in real reporting is also true for Newsweek.

Mike - perfect example of a grumpy olde man's comments on the diminishing desire of the masses to actually "know" things.
I run into this almost daily. My wife wwondering why I have the answer to obscure questions, friends and neighbours puzzled at my knowing historical facts and winning trivia contests (outside of the areas od sports and entertainment).
To those not wishing to know the details behind how things work, or why events happen it is infinately more interesting to know the details of Paris Hilton's latest shopping trip or to learn the sordid details of some celebrities falling off the wagon. After all, science, humanities, politics, thinking, they are so passe. Why trouble one's poor little mind when you can fill it with mindless crap.
The remedy is to get the masses thinking. To get them to want to know the details of the real world around them. Unfortunately, this would have to make thinking sexy, or being a valued and trendy component of one's self. As in, making an effort to use the grey matter between one's ears for a higher purpose than holding ones hair in an acceptable position.
There is no easy answer.
In the meantime, I will continue to read your column, it being written by someone of good knowledge and abilites, though not paid well enough for it!

Fascinating piece, Mike. Your other commenters have spoken out so well on your main topic that I don't think I have anything to add there, but I absolutely love your idea of page layout software with a preview that distorts content near the gutter! There's no reason why it couldn't be done.

One of the courses I'm teaching this semester is "Introduction to Digital Design" and I read this immediately after coming from that class. I'm now thinking that my students might get "Design your own Time magazine cover" as a project assignment. We'll see if college freshmen can do any better the designers at Time...

There used to be a saying that went something like " Time is for people that can't think and Life is for people that can't read ". That saying preceded the advent of People, the magazine that dropped their standards to a new low while making a lot of money. What the "reading" public seems to want these days is quick "sound bites" about celebrities; the Internet is the perfect vehicle for this. We'll be lucky if any of the better periodicals that are becoming more and more niche players, survive. I'm pretty certain that magazines like The New Yorker will not exist in hard copy much longer;eliminating printing and distribution costs by going to electronic delivery will let them survive.

As someone that likes the printed word (and spent forty years in the publishing business), I dislike reading on a screen but have reconciled myself to that coming reality. As everything moves in that direction and the competitive universe changes, I don't see a publication like Time having much of a future.

Thank god for Harper's.

I subscribed to TIME while a student a Sweden in the late fifties and then for ten more year. Now I don't even look at it when it is available for free on flights.

Two years ago I bought a small stack of early fifties New Yorker Magazine on a flea market in Normandy, France. I read them from cover to cover, still very enjoyable more than 50 years hence. Actually I still get the odd copy of the New Yorker if and when I can find it in Europe. Worthwhile reading.

Same thing seems to be going on at America Photo in the latest 2 issues. New editor as usual brings new ideas however it really has gone virtually entirely digital. I miss all the art and culture round photography it regularly published.

Just to add a couple of more points.

I have a young partner (We are often considered to be highly educated as physicians) who could not understand why I would like to have an iPad, inorder that I might more easily carry my books to work. Not because the technology might replace the tactile advantage of hard media but because he never reads books!

Also, recently on a photoblog there was an interview with a teenager about why video is the future, not still images. It seemed to boil down to the fact that they need perpetual stimulation or they will get bored and move on. Substance is not a issue any more for most people. Our culture is in real danger

Mike, thank you for this piece. I have read it over several times, along with all the astute comments. As others have said you are discussing not just Time's devolution, but the unsatisfactory decline of our common culture. The comment referencing the wonderful covers of the old Fortune (now almost unreadable and diminished)was particularly acute.
The New Yorker is not at all what it was, either. Nor is the Times (New York or London). And really this is all a commentary on us. We are not at all the people who used to inhabit this wonderful country, where a high school graduate had familiarity with the best of our culture.
You should be grumpy. I am.
The Spectator used to run cartoons showing yobs surrounded by the buzz from their walkman earbuds. Thats us now.

Mike, this was good to read as people always say these things have degraded but no one ever actually provides evidence.

I will give another nod to the Economist. They pack a lot of information into short stories, they cover a lot of topics and they never have lots of white space. The only thing that bothers me is the political views every magazine feels they must provide (I HATE politics). I also always feel like I am only person who reads the Science/Technology and Books/Arts sections first and not the Business, Politics and Economics related sections.

The one drawback to me for the Economist is the cost of a yearly subscription- $127! They recently raised prices...only to see subscriptions go up! Sounds like a Veblen good. Lucky for me my father discovered the magazine and one of my Christmas gifts every year is a subscription since he can give gift ones at half price.

Nothing happens by accident. The dumbing-down of things suits somebody's purpose. This is not conspiracy theory on my part. I can't believe in conspiracy theories. I don't think that people can organize themselves well enough to take part in long-term conspiracies. Or at least, I haven't seen that happen with my own eyes. But, systems always evolve in ways that benefit someone, it's not random. I believe this.

It suits someone's purpose to have a compliant, ignorant, infantile, and ill-informed populace. The beauty of it is that it feeds on itself. The more ill-informed and ignorant you are, the easier it is to convince you that you don't need reliable information.

You can argue that this is what people want so the media gives it to them. Or you can argue that the media is forcing it on people. That debate is probably a waste of time, and I have this uneasy feeling that it suits someone's purpose to have us waste our time having that debate. It prevents us from examining other things.

Am I too pessimistic? I hope that's all it is.

Ian writes: "Instead of the old 'paste-up' method you are today designing on a computer."

Quite apart from social changes regarding our reduced attention spans and increased media options, that statement is a vitally important consideration with regard to the readability of the printed page.

The principle also has ramifications for digital photographers' workflows (see #2 near the bottom of this post).

Back when I started out in publication design (in the pre-computer-layout days), the designer worked almost entirely at 100%, hunched over a light table, peering at type printed on paper and pasted in columns onto larger sheets--all at the exact same size as the printed result would be seen by readers. The designer instinctively knew that if he or she had trouble reading the page, the end-reader probably would struggle too.

Now, however, that subconscious "test for readability" is gone for designers. Publication designers often zoom from 25% or 50% view to 200% or 400% view on their screens and do not spend any time at all pondering a 100% printout of what they've designed on screen, not even when the end product is primarily going to be viewed in print! In fact, when a designer is working fast, small jobs often are not printed out at all before they are sent off for review (by the client, usually only onscreen as a zoomable pdf) and/or for printing onto paper for public consumption.

The result is that words and sentences are too often regarded not as the content or essence of the printed piece but instead are seen by the designer as "design elements." (For example, unreadably tiny rows of All Caps of justified type -- which look like so many elegantly equal horizontal lines -- are routine in some designers' reports and brochures.)

Two related thoughts:

1. Print-publication designers also face the same reality that website designers face: design awards even for word-driven productions are bestowed far more often for visual creativity, innovation, and graphic boldness than for plain old readability. That inevitably affects what the designer produces. (It also explains the common overuse of Flash and needlessly complicated navigation in website design as the designer strives to produce "something that hasn't been done before.")

2. The discrepancy between "the large image that the creator is working on" and "the small product that the end-user sees" applies in spades to photography.

A digital photographer drooling over all of the detail and visual power when a photo is viewed on his 24" or 30" monitor often overlooks the importance of considering the same photo at the size most of the audience will see it (e.g., 600 pixels wide for many blogs). Millions of photos on Flickr are labeled "Best when viewed large," but the reality is that on the web and in print most of the public is never going to view most photos larger than perhaps 4x6 inches. This is ever more true as the web is increasingly viewed on small portable devices rather than medium-to-large computer screens.

Experienced photographers know this simple axiom: A photograph that's strong when it's small usually retains its power when enlarged, but countless photographs that are impressive when viewed large lose their power when viewed small.

Perhaps the difference in word:image ratio between old and new issues is because photographs can now be obtained for low or no cost (as we've recently seen), whereas writers still generally require some degree of commensurate payment for their efforts (i.e. there's no microstock agency for articles). So you lower editorial costs by running several large images across multiple pages, rather than filling the space with expensive text.

It wasn't long ago, that folks from English-speaking countries living in Japan were desperate for English language reading material. We would pay the equivalent of $10 for something like The Economist or The Sunday NYT, because we could spend a lot of time reading and absorbing the articles. We'd get our money's worth. But even then even then---1992/93---TIME (Asia-version) was suspect. It always seemed patronizing and cheerleading more than serious reporting.

The final straw for me was in about 2002 or 2003 when it published an issue almost entirely about the latest "revolutionary" computer. A new Mac. I was not very happy to pay for what amounted to an ad. The remainder of the issues went right into the garbage.

But as many have mentioned, it seems they are all going the way of TIME. Even the fluff has become fluffier. Several years ago, Bicycling magazine, just shortly after publishing an issue mostly devoted to photos of cyclists' legs, decided to redesign itself to look more like the web. I think it succeeded, but who wants to pay for a magazine that resembles some sort of Internet forum?

I haven't noticed this to the same extent in Japanese publishing, although the fluff is there if you want it. Then again, I don't have any 1968 era magazines to compare.

Rolling Stone magazine, then and now, same phenomenon.

A possible explanation is that there's so much information available, on everything you can think of, that maybe readers don't want to spend too much time on one source or one writer. Every source and individual writer is biased in one way or another, so maybe readers would rather just get a synopsis from a wide variety of sources instead of an in-depth treatment from one source. I know that when I'm researching something, I like to cast a wide net rather than spending all day in one fishing hole. Technology makes that possible today.

Great read. I had similar experiences in my teens (in the '90s) when I started reading Newsweek cover to cover - the feeling of pride and maturity - but what I was reading was far closer to your modern examples than to the 1968 examples. Even so, I can't even open that stuff anymore. The covers are almost offensively trite and cute, and what's between the covers is generally shallow.

A great thing about these days is that we have blogs to sort through all the chaff and collect the best commentary in a cluster of links. I can read the gems of a variety of magazines without having to look at the silly covers or skip over 50 pages of flashy nothings.

For me it was the English newspaper the Daily Mirror. I remember one or two of the front pages from when I was a kid in the 1960s. The late Keith Waterhouse wrote for it, as did John Pilger. It was a quality publication; even the cartoon strips were finely drawn, with The Perishers, and Garth, among others.

But just look at it now. What a shame. You can guess what it's like now.

It seems that publishers just expect us to buy folded bits of paper with words and pictures, and they don't think it matters what those words and pictures are, so long as they are there.

The Mirror's circulation went up to over five million in 1967, but it's now about a quarter of that. Perhaps it does matter what the words and pictures are.

The 1935 annual subscription price for Fortune is $10 or about $150 in today's inflated fiat currency. One would expect original art and meaningful content for that kind of price.
For $150 what else could you find about Ozzy Osbourne?

It struck me that there is a parallel here. I mean the decline of attention span and intellectual engagement you speak of in relation to the magazine business is similar to what happened when television replaced radio as the medium from which people gleaned their information and entertainment. A family sitting around the radio, listening intently, forming pictures in their minds was a real part of our existence back in the days before the television set became our ubiquitous background radiation. I miss the days of thoughtful, informative and entertaining radio programs. Consider the drivel now available on our hundreds of television channels. Is it not like the comparison of Time 1968 to People 2010?

It appears our culture is headed inexorably downhill.

Is it any wonder that that we have people clammering for political candidates that are visually appealing but intellectually vapid?

It all reminds me of a movie titled "Idiocracy", which, though a comedy, is one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen.

Even worse, I can't conceive of any way this trend will be reversed.

I'd bet good money that this article is being or will be read by editors and writers at TIME and others. You've put to shame the grumpy complaints we get on forums and letters pages everywhere about all sorts of things. Brooks's comment ("of themselves") made me laugh out loud, too.

Once Time Magazine was the largest circulation news magazine in the world. I believe People Magazine now has a larger circulation.

Mike, you wrote:

"...In fact, in my opinion the weakest visual aspect of the new Time is the knee-jerk overuse of double-truck photos. There's just no need to make them that big..."

In my opinion, this applies to most displayed photographs, not just in magazines. They're typicaly printed too large today, frequently validating the maxim "if you can't make it good, make it big." The world could use a good dose of Strand...

Very stimulating piece, Mike.

Everything you are saying about Time is why I subscribe to The New Yorker. The writing and editing are first-rate and stories are usually given plenty of space to explore things in depth. It's not exactly a news magazine, so the comparison may not be fair, but if it was all you read, you'd still be pretty well informed. In addition to great writing (and great journalism), it has oddly become one of the best magazines for photographs. There aren't many, but they are generally excellent (and often made by A-list photographers). And it has cartoons!

What I can get on TV today seems far, far better than what we got in 1968. It's just mixed in with lots of drivel. The dramas are better, the nature programs are better (they really benefit from HD), the history programs are better, and there never was anything like Myth Busters back then (despite the annoying tendency to drag things out). The news shows...um...I'm not sure I know what the good TV news shows are today. They might not be as good (but what was there to compare to Jon Stewart back when?).

It's not a direct replacement for Time, Life, or Newsweek, but everybody should go read The Economist (only a small part of the content is available free online, though).

Robert Roaldi: Nothing happens by accident. The dumbing-down of things suits somebody's purpose. That, in a nutshell, is the very essence of conspiracy theory, despite your denials. Many things happen by accident; in fact most things. Very little happens as the direct and intended result of people's decisions.

It's funny you should mention the spongy ending. That's one thing that has always annoyed me about Time magazine articles: the nauseating endings. It almost seems like a house style.

It seemed to boil down to the fact that they need perpetual stimulation or they will get bored and move on.

I hear that argument repeatedly. And it's nonsense. I hate getting linked to YouTube videos for most things, because video has such a slow information rate. I can read an article, or look at a couple of well-chosen still pictures, many times faster than I can run through their dratted 3 minute video. That's three minutes of my life I'll never get back! Whatever reason it is for people preferring video over text, it's not information rate, not a question of mental stimulation.

Great historical/editorial comparison! A recent Frontline on PBS was devoted to the effects of computer technology on modern day communication, education, attention spans, personal relationships, you name it... Seems while more people think they're doing more, more effectively (multi-tasking), they're actually putting out bits and pieces of barely coherent patchwork. Everyone is more connected- just don't ask a college student where a state or foreign country is.

That portrait of Harry Carson is as strong and attention getting as it gets, and definitely screams... Cover! Unfortunately, it's not an instantly recognzible celebrity face, and its aging though still hard edged (and dark) features still translate into potentially threatening, and off putting, to the "average" buying public.

Finally, why didn't I read and respond to this post yesterday- it was just soooo long...

Walker Evans was an editor at Fortune magazine. I don't know what a modern-day equivalent might be, but I doubt we'll see such a thing anytime soon.

Newsweek should get some credit for valiantly attempting to reverse the "dumbing down" trend. Acknowledging that people are getting their "news" elsewhere, they have converted mostly to thoughtful columns and articles of some depth. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of time and effort to read these, running counter to the trend. Based on the ad pages, I'm afraid the new format is not "selling."

The Economist has very few photos. Part of me thinks that the lack of photos makes it appear more serious, and lots of colour photos suggests a puublication more interested in entertaining than serious coverage. Does anyone else agree?

{And those of us on the other side of the world would love to be able to subscribe to the Economist for USD127 - it costs about double that in Australia...)

Ian Loveday's informative comment seems directly related to perhaps the most famous essay ever written on the subject of print design and typopgraphy, Beatrice Warde's "The Crystal Goblet".
(Available here for those who are interested:

Warde started out as a secretary/publicist for England's Monotype corporation, a producer of book printing types, but she was also a brilliant scholar who correctly identified the true source of the historical typeface falsely identified as Garamond. As this occured in the 1930s, she had to publish her findings under a male pseudonym to be taken seriously.

The gist of Warde's essay was that typography and design must be transparent and invisible, conveying the author's thoughts to readers as smoothly and directly as possible, without imposing any interference or self-conscious embellishments. And she said it with great style.

Maybe the lesson is also that you get what you pay for. Bobdales points out that the 1935 annual magazine subscription price of $10 would be about $150 now; I pay about $125/year for the Economist and think it is worth it. Tim says he "miss the days of thoughtful, informative and entertaining radio programs." But they still exist: on public radio. NPR provides in-depth news programs and addresses its listeners as thoughtful adults, and I support that with regular contributions too. Most of the web looks like it is being typed by a million monkeys poking randomly at keyboards, so when you find a site like this one, support it with your money too :-)

Exactly the same with the venerable "Gramophone" magazine, which used to be a haven of erudition, and something from which I learned a high proportion of my appreciation of classical music. It now has "charts" and has allied itself with a populist radio channel which treats classical music in bite-sized chunks, interspersed with repetitious advertisements. This goes hand in hand with the current idiocy of describing as "opera singers" artists who make albums of operatic lollipops, and who would not be heard in the front row of an actual opera house without the help of a microphone!

I stopped reading Time when I learned that reporters' stories from Vietnam were being changed by the editors.

I left Time and Newsweek mnay years ago for precisely these reasons. The only decent world news magazine left that still treats its readership like adults is the Economist.


As a former Time reader I totally agree. I was hooked on both Time and Newsweek during the Vietnam era. Like you I would read each from cover to cover. Sad state of affairs. And to think that Walker Evans regularly published portfolios in Fortune. Here's a blog post about one: http://thingstolookat.blogspot.com/2009/05/walker-evans-for-fortune.html. How the mighty have fallen. New Yorker anyone?


Great stuff. Many of the comments mention our ever-shortening attention spans as part of the problem. This article from a 2008 issue of The Atlantic suggests how the interwebs might be contributing to this. Just a little more grist for the mill.

Mark Roberts, FYI, I assigned that article, along with a response paper, to my freshman engineering design students. Might be a nice supporting supplement to your assignment idea.

Is attention span a generational thing? I'm not so sure. I find myself with less attention than I used to - not so much because I can't concentrate but there are so many things competing for my attention. I get distracted by all the interesting things.
I had to stop all my magazine subscriptions because I just don't seem to find the time to read them. The intenet makes things worse - it puts more stuff more immediately available to me.

The "football" issue of TIME includes text written by James Nachtwey. Talk about spongy! "An earthquake is an act of nature. Tens of thousands die in a few minutes. Who is to blame? Regime change is not an option. How can anger be directed at the earth itself?" Don't give up the photography yet, James.

I subscribe to two publications: The Economist and TOP. Nuff said.

David Dyer-Bennet

I probably expressed myself badly. When I state that I don't believe in conspiracies, I mean that I don't believe that hidden powers get together and consciously engineer an outcome over an extended period of time. I don't think people can behave that way; they are not wise or far-thinking or cooperative enough, in my limited experience. I don't think you can get three people in a room to agree on the colour of the walls. :)

When you relax supervisory rules on financial institutions, for example, inevitably some benefit at the expense of others. I don't believe that a roomful of people deliberately got together to design a system open to fraud and abuse 20 years ago. People (probably mostly) acted in good faith and made a series of decisions based on beliefs and assumptions. But when you look back at what was done, it's hard to say that it was random or accidental. A system was put into place, and the rules and structure of that system had inevitable consequences.

The UK's Sunday Times went the same way.In the 60's and 70's it was a bastion of investigative journalism and the magazine was full of quality photo-journalism from the likes of Don McCullin.

Then Rupert Murdoch bought it.

I would say that The New Yorker has evolved in the opposite direction. I am a subscriber (it's surprisingly cheap, even taking into account that I live on the other side of the Atlantic), and now that they have opened their archives, I find current issues much better: more or less same piece length and depth, but much less advertising, especially those ads that are mixed with the article text and that make reading much more difficult.

Old or new, a pleasure to read. I also like The Economist, but I let my subscription lapse because I was a little fed up with their recipe to solve all the world's troubles, free market.

Hey, the same thing happened with Playboy magazine. One used to buy it for the articles. Since they're no good anymore, one just has to put up with the pictures.

Once again, great article. I agree with your comments so often it is a little scary. In addition, I too once read Time from cover-to-cover at a young age and felt a sense of maturity and sophistication. I was older than eleven, but I’m not telling how much. Good writing is still abundant, but often is now confined to the web. Need I mention that your site is an example and that in 1968 your essay (and I use the word purposefully) would have appeared in print.


While I am exactly your age and feel pretty much the same, reading no news magazine less densely worded than The Economist, I will point out that our complaint is a perennial one. Go read Hermann Hesse's complaints about "feuilletonism" at mid-twentieth century or go back further to George Gissing's late 19th century "New Grub Street" in which he makes fun of the new journalism and hack writers for putting together magazines with short subjects geared to train passengers' available attention spans. As much as I agree with everything you've said, I wonder if we're not just grumpy old men muttering, "kids these days" into our gray beards?

Well done!

I believe the media as a whole has deteriorated into non-seriousness since the late '60s.

Lots of blame to be shared. Barbara Walters, for example, was one of the first to infiltrate news with touchy-feeley bits that eventually erupted into infortainment.

John McWhorter does a good treatment of the decline of everyday English in his book, "Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care"


"I don't believe that a roomful of people deliberately got together to design a system open to fraud and abuse 20 years ago. People (probably mostly) acted in good faith and made a series of decisions based on beliefs and assumptions. But when you look back at what was done, it's hard to say that it was random or accidental."

I agree with Robert Roaldi. Daniel Dennett has posited the idea of an "intentional stance" as an evolved human brain mode that may explain some of our gullibility with regard to religion. It has survival value for us to infer or impute intentionality to events even where there is none. While useful when responding rapidly to threats in the natural world (that crouching tiger "wants" to eat me) it leads to paranoid thinking of the conspiracy-theory variety and beliefs about what the gods demand of us. Which is not to say that sometimes bad people don't conspire against us, only that it can't be inferred from the observed outcomes.

I am originally from Chile, and I remember one friend telling me a quarter of a century ago (boy time flies) that he was reading the Times to improve his English. Thinking back about that recently, I could not figure out how that could be possible given the type of magazine they publish now.

Now I see that he was reading a very different creature.

Great post, thanks.

Was he reading "Time," or "The Times"? "The Times," in England, refers to the Times of London, the newspaper in that capital; in the United States "The Times" usually means The New York Times, also a newspaper.


Yes TIME and the times have changed.

I was born in 1962, and grew up in a home with LIFE, Time and Time-Life books. Time was a serious newsmagazine, but even by 1976, it had become hollowed-out and drowned itself in the stupid celebrity culture. (Cher, Peter Frampton, etc.)

For writers like Gore Vidal, Time was always a stupid magazine: prejudiced, provincial and appealing to that great middle American, whoever he was.

It is fascinating that Henry Luce, the publisher, was also quite a bigot. Look in the archives of TIME in the 1930s and you will find letters disparaging blacks and Jews and bemoaning the arrival of "Goldblatts" on Chicago's State Street in 1936. The magazine did little to tear down the rise of fascism, and may have even contributed to its acceptance by certain reactionaries in the US.

But the serious tone and look of the magazine that you remember, is sadly gone. Some people say that the newsmagazine is defunct but I believe it has become irrelevant because the glib and instant do not belong in print.

Perhaps TIME should return to its weightier and less glitzy style. An oil painting of Lady Gaga on the cover would be a good start.

"the glib and instant do not belong in print. Perhaps TIME should return to its weightier and less glitzy style."

I'd think it could just as easily pander to peoples' self-image of themselves as serious, thoughtful, well-educated people and good citizens, as easily as it can pander to people who like Black Sabbath and fun birthdays.


"I'm even offended by the diction of the header. It runs like this:

10 Questions. In his new autobiography,
I Am Ozzy, the rocker tells his side of the story.
Ozzy Osbourne will now take your questions"

Offensive diction, indeed, and doubly so. What else would a "rocker" do in an autobiography, besides tell his side of the story?

This writing isn't merely lighter than it once was; it is inane. In fact, I think it's likely that this kind of writing makes its readers less intelligent.

Truth is times have changed. I grew up in the so called 3rd world and for lack of a of entertainment options, even as teenage students ( 70's and 80's)we devoured all manner of written materials voraciously, from every kind of novel to whatever magazines we could lay our hands on. I remember those days with a great deal of nostalgia. But would you seriously in this day and age sit down to read a 100 page magazine from cover to cover? Personally, and I still love reading - not likely. May be internet has spoiled it all for good :-(

Another perspective is that society is not dumbing down, but the cost of providing suitable material for airheads has come down in price. If you are in the publishing business, the airheads provide a large market.

The growth of Wikipedia shows there are people around who value information (although there are fluff articles in Wikipedia as well).

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