Thursday, July 10, 2008

Magazines: Even Whiter Than Before!

Thanks to the holiday weekend, my Entertainment Weekly arrived on Tuesday, instead of last Friday. I sat down to read it last night – because on Tuesday I was too preoccupied with hoofing it halfway across Manhattan because the Lower Upper East Side is a cesspool that is not easily reached by civilized transit (the subway) – and, holy cow, for issue #1001 they’ve totally redesigned. With a lot of whitespace and greyscale. And I am…not sure how I feel about it.

I love Entertainment Weekly. Most magazines, I flip idly through and read a few articles at a time over the course of a week or two before I toss it into the bin. But EW, man. I sit down and read it cover to cover, every week. And I have a hard time recycling old issues, as my cluttered coffee table and closet can attest to. So I take a redesign about as lightly as I do a friend getting a nose job. Whether it’s for better or worse, it’s still different, and acquires acclimating.

Is it better or worse, though? Whitespace is certainly trendy. When I worked as an editor on my college magazine, I remember a constant struggle to reconcile one designer’s love of massive amounts of whitespace versus my love of articles that were longer than, say, 200 words. It’s interesting, though, how this plays into the way EW has played with color schemes for a while. In the 90s, the layout was very modern, a lot of black with muted dark red and blue and green accents, very boxy and classy. Then, sometime between March 2003 and October 2004 (judging by the older issues I was able to dig up) they redesigned. It was a color explosion, bright everything, and a lot of the front of book articles eschewed borders. Really eschewed borders. Particularly low-rated items from weekly charticle The Bullseye (“They shoot, we score: rating the biggest hits and misses in pop culture this week.”) were relegated to the margins of the next two or three pages. I was not a fan of the new look, but it grew on me. I did appreciate being able to easily find the green-coded television section when I wasn’t sure what to watch on TV that night, and the FOB had a nice flow to it. But here we are, with a whole new design, and it’s back to being less colorful. But whereas the 90s-era EW was dominated by bold, dark splashes, this new version is very light and austere.

For comparison’s sake, I threw together some scans of the last two designs and the newest design of the News + Notes front page:

It’s a lot less colorful (not in terms of which colors are used, but where), though certainly not boring. In fact, the newly-muted design really makes the graphics and photos pop. Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. But while the structure is back in the front of the book and the articlettes no longer look ready to float off into space, the pages are now a little too busy. In fact, I got a headache trying to read the FOB, because my eyes kept flicking from article to charticle to sidebar – three or four per page – only digesting a word or two from each. This is, of course, largely a failing of my ADDled mind, but the old design never gave me so many problems. It’s also no longer as easy to flip through to specific non-feature sections like books, movies, etc.

And in a head-scratching (no, not that kind) move, they’ve split the DVD section up into two parts, Movies on DVD (which follows the Movies section) and TV Shows on DVD (which follows the TV section). Are there people who just buy one and would rather not know of the existence of the other? I assumed everyone had the same mixed movie/TV collection I have and would appreciate getting the skinny on the new releases all in one place. It’s possible this change was implemented to allow them to fit in more reviews, though. In the current issue, for movies on DVD, there are mid-size reviews for 6 DVDs and a charticle of “Also in Stores” listing 9, and for TV Shows there are 4 (which oddly includes Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a movie…one that was made-for-TV, sure, but that seems like a weird place to split hairs) and “Also in Stores” charticles 5 more, bringing the total up to 24 (…yes, I had to use a calculator to total that up). For comparison’s sake, the June 13th issue featured one large review of Dirty Harry, 3 small reviews, an articlette on The Onion Movie, and the weekly top 20 sales chart (now missing in the redesign). So the new format certainly makes more room reviews and release blurts, but the category splitting still strikes me as unnecessary. What will happen to concert DVDs? Will they go under Movies, or will they wait until enough are released to make a Music on DVD section to accompany the Music section?

And, the biggest disappointment, Stephen King’s fantastic column, "The Pop of King", is now consigned to the barren wasteland between the front of the book and the features, page 22, instead of the last page, which is now taken up by The Must List (which, to be fair, was on the last page before King was, and filled in when he went on vacay). And while I am happy that this week’s Must List acknowledges the awesomeness that is Wipeout, I liked ending the magazine with King. (Or the wonderfully wry Mark Harris.) King’s columns always give interesting food for thought that leave my mind turning long after I put the magazine aside, but now I have to fight the mind-turning to continue reading past page 23.

Oh well. I’m sure this redesign, like the last one, will grow on me. And Entertainment Weekly still features the absolute best entertainment writing of any magazine – or newspaper or blog, for that matter. They were even wise enough to snag the adorable and compulsively readable Michael Ausiello from TVGuide. And it’s one of the proud few entertainment mags that doesn’t feature icky candid pics of celebs gracelessly shoveling food down their gullets and running to the store in ratty sweats and flipflops, lest we forget that stars are just like us (only more talented and attractive and wealthy).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, EW informs me that Mad Men Season 1 is on DVD, so I have to go update my Netflix queue in hopes of finally seeing what everyone’s been yammering on about.

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