What's Wrong With Chicago Magazines? | Letters | Chicago Reader

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What's Wrong With Chicago Magazines?

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To the editors:

Michael Miner's "Does the Tribune Love Its Free-lancers?" (Hot Type, August 11) asked an important question: Why can't Chicago sustain its magazines? It is doubly important because it appears that Chicago is having a hard enough time sustaining two newspapers whose faculties of social judgment are almost identical. If, for whatever reason, Chicago can't sustain its two independent (?) dailies, how can it sustain the far greater cultural and political diversity demanded by a vital weekly and monthly magazine trade?

Unfortunately, Miner steered the course of possible answers down the same old beaten path: Perhaps "Chicago just doesn't have the free-lance talent to sustain many publications," he quoted James Warren as having recently suggested in the Tribune. Yes, perhaps. But neither Miner nor Warren think so. Nor do the editors and free-lancers canvassed by Miner for his piece. Nor for that matter do I.

Actually, the debate over whether Chicago has enough free-lance talent to sustain important, culturally and politically diverse magazines is beside the point. Consider instead the nature of the publishing industry, whether dailies or magazines. A popular myth has it that their primary market is subscription and newsstand sales, and that publications live and die with their readership. Wrong: Their primary market is commercial advertisers, or all those businesses willing to pay publications to run all those wonderful automobile, lingerie, and washing machine ads. This market--the advertisers, not readers--exercises the strongest content-constraint over what in James Warren's very euphemistic way of speaking was described as that "cohesive community . . . of magazine editors and writers . . ." (in Miner). In fact, such a "cohesive community" already does exist--the community of writers who say all the right things, stick to only the most innocuous topics, and whose work no doubt is structurally homologous (if you'll pardon my language) with the expectations of the advertisers, whose demand for a certain class of readership no editor has ever gotten to where he is without serving.

In other words, the failure of Chicago's magazines (and dailies, too) isn't to be blamed on a lack of free-lance talent, a point with which Miner would agree. However, the question of free-lance talent is a moot point. To debate the quality of local free-lancers is to repeat the myth that writing need only be good to be published--a bad joke if ever there was one, especially when the publication in question is the Tribune. After all, "Where the voice of the people can be heard," Noam Chomsky likes to say (and with a doubly apropos meaning in the case of the Tribune), "it is necessary to ensure that that voice says the right things." Given the nature of the publishing industry, the tightest constraint of all is the ideological one. Imagine the reams of ideas and pieces turned away from the Tribune, just because they don't say the right things!

Patti Szymarek

Waukegan

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