What next


Dear Editors,

I like your magazine, generally, and I’m currently a subscriber. I thoroughly dislike this cover on the newly mailed issue, though. I suppose it’s an attempt at high-toned ‘cheek,’ but seriously, this one-two-three-badump is nothing more than crass. It’s awful. I can’t help wondering if you invited a bunch of high school kids in to put this thing together.

Even without that third item — ‘Mitch Albom is an idiot’ — it would have been cheap composition. But that one I took like a slap in the face when I saw it. I’m not a fan of Albom, and I don’t doubt that his book is tripe. But he is not an idiot (take a moment to look up the word, if that’s helpful) just because he’s added a title to the long, long train of contemporary spiritualistic bunk publishing void of real religious understanding. I can hardly express to you how distasteful it is to me to find a serious journal coming to my box with this foolish sneering attitude in raw display on the cover. It’s insulting, not just to that big public target Albom, but to the little nobody readers like me. I’d be glad to see a prominent editorial apology both to your readers and to Albom. Make the reviews as hard and pointed as need be. But cut out the name-calling.

Paul Bowman
Baltimore, MD

UPDATE 12/16/09 —

I received a quick — next-day — reply, below, from head editor Joseph Bottum. To which I want to say, Well, well. And also Wow. I really am a nobody reader; certainly not used to receiving explanatory correspondence from anyone in Mr. Bottum’s position. It’s gratifying, but heartening too. Somebody’s listening.

Dear Mr. Bowman,

Thanks for the note. That’s pretty much what I told the staff. We’ve brought in some energetic new editorial talent, especially Dave Blum and Joe Carter. I’ve given them their head, and they’re doing great work lining up exciting material for issues down the road: a college evaluation, some nice reporting, some art work — all stuff to add on top of what we already do in the magazine and on the website. In the meantime, though, they’re going to make mistakes, and they need to get up to speed on the audience of FT and the pose the magazine offers to the world.

I will say that the effort to be cute on this cover was run by me as an experiment, and I let them have it — so the blame for it belongs to me. Our circulation among paid subscribers is again what it was at its peak from four years ago, I’m told. But we’re still lower than that peak in total circulation — entirely because of the utter collapse of newsstand sales. The idea of the cover on the issue was to test something that was aimed at newsstand buyers rather than subscribers. While I didn’t like the cover, particularly, I let it go as the test the staff wanted.

Ultimately, though, you’re right: It’s a wrong direction. I want to redesign the magazine to handle some of the new things we want to do — art reporting in particular — which will require at least some glossy pages. But the direction should be toward greater elegance, not greater vulgarity. And until we redesign, it’s probably a mistake to try to tweak the current design to do work it was never intended to do.

Still, the numbers from this month’s newsstand sales should do nicely for the test. No mention from you of the new call-outs and subhed decks in the pages? Dave et al. were excited about them — which is probably proof that editors get excited about things readers don’t even notice. A strange breed.

A Blessed Advent,

Joseph Bottum

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