Making More Magazines: A Reading List

Photo: Sharon Terry

Last year, Longreads published a list with behind-the-scenes stories about magazines. Last week, Anne Helen Petersen published an article about the state of Tiger Beat for BuzzFeed News. Inspired, I decided to create an addendum to Making the Magazine. This reading list includes bigger names, like an archived examination of Ms. and Petersen’s update regarding Tiger Beat; a feminist-food magazine; a defunct magazine for sex workers and their supporters; and a lesbian/queer magazine for denizens of D.C. and beyond.

Ms.
“Ms. Fights For Its Life.” (Peggy Orenstein, Mother Jones, Nov./Dec. 1990)

Ms. has been on the ropes for a number of reasons: a decade-long backlash against the women’s movement; mistakes made by its editors in an atmosphere where no mistakes could occur, in an industry where the ephemeral eclipses the enduring, in a culture where a magazine dedicated to selling women’s ideas instead of their bodies is unacceptable; and finally—and perhaps most tellingly—because of the sheer gutlessness among advertisers whose influence over publishing has effectively narrowed the scope of voices on the newsstand.

But without Ms., or something like it, what is going to convince today’s eleven-year-old girls that they can fly? I imagine Tibetha Shaw, still flame haired and rebellious, barreling defiantly down some city street in a pro-choice demonstration, clad in her regulation black. Or perhaps she decided feminism was her mother’s trip, and joined the flocks seeking happiness through the great and powerful god, MBA. Either way, part of whomever she has become, and who I am, is due to Ms. We donned those towel capes because we saw, for the first time, that little girls could become not just women, but wonder women, women who could participate in the full scope of public and private life. Ms. was dedicated to that possibility, and no other mass-market magazine has taken up that torch since, or is likely to do so.

Tiger Beat
“Tiger Beat Turns 50, But Teen Idols Stay the Same Age.” (Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeed News, Sept. 2015)

The way we use the internet, and the way teens use the internet in particular, is moving away from websites and homepages and toward content discoverable on various “tools” — whether Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, or whatever’s next. Tiger Beat plans to use all those tools, but it’s also remaining defiantly analog. Unlike other reboots of legacy publications (think Newsweek), the magazine itself — the actual, tangible, print magazine — will remain central. Because the one thing digital culture still hasn’t mastered is the production of the physical, fetishizable, tangible object.

Until our walls become digital screens, teens will still need a source from which to carefully cut images of the things that matter to them, even if only for the week or month to come. “You can’t rip apart your tablet or your phone,” says [Editor-in-Chief, Leesa] Coble. “With the magazine, you want to physically hear that rip when you tear the poster out of the middle of the magazine, and figure out that perfect spot in the middle of your wall where you can plaster it. And then you want to look at it every night before you go to bed.”

Tagg
“Eboné Bell, Founder of Lesbian Magazine Tagg, Talks Racism, Labels and Building From Scratch.” (Miriam Zoila Pérez, Colorlines, Sept. 2015)

Four years ago Eboné Bell, a D.C.-based producer of events such as Capital Queer Prom, was frustrated with local LGBTQ publications. “Every time I’d open one, I’d see nothing but white men,” she says. So Bell, then 29, began planning to launch her own magazine. “I wanted to focus on lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, queer, and genderqueer people and people of color,” says Bell.

$pread
“Remembering ‘$pread,’ the Magazine That Gave Sex Workers a Voice.” (Anna Cafolla, Vice, Feb. 2015)

“We knew that sex workers read magazines, that those were the things most commonly strewn throughout their workplaces. So even though it made almost no business sense to start an independent, print-only glossy magazine in 2005, this was exactly what we committed to doing. It felt important to create something tangible and in a “legitimate” format, and maybe this was fed by the general anxiety that people had in the mid 2000s about the digital shift coupled with the sense we had that the 90s-style zines were too alternative to be taken seriously by most sex workers who weren’t alternative or activist-y at all—just normal people who read US Weekly or Cosmo. It was important to us that sex workers could actually hold something in their hands, something that seemed familiar.”

RENDER
“This Feminist Food Magazine Will Change the Way You Eat.” (Jill Filipovic, Cosmopolitan, Sept. 2014)

“I want RENDER to empower women in the food industry, and I want RENDER to empower everyone with a rich and educated relationship with food. A lot of magazines are completely unrealistic, unless, of course, you’ve got all the money and time to spend on a lifestyle so picturesque. One thing you won’t see with RENDER are stark white, thick stock pages with sparse writing and too many full-page photos of the most perfect mismatched rustic dinner table set up in the woods with someone in plaid staring in the distance.”