MEDIA BRANDS: Sunday magazines have more benefits for newspapers than just advertising revenue

The Sunday magazine insert Parade reaches nearly 80 million people on a weekly basis, but in recent years, none of them were readers of New York City's newspapers.

The Sunday magazine insert Parade reaches nearly 80 million people on a weekly basis, but in recent years, none of them were readers of New York City's newspapers.

That will change with the New York Post's recent announcement that, like more than 300 other newspapers, it will begin distributing the magazine as part of its redesigned Sunday paper. Given Parade's high concentration of toothless celebrity journalism, hyper-patriotic fare, and rather bland health and fitness stories, this development is most interesting not in what it means for New York journalism, but because it prompts a much broader question: Whither the Sunday magazine? A recent Associated Press story, framed by The Boston Globe's recent redesign of its magazine, tackled just this question. The article reported that fewer than 20 still exist, a dearth that's been caused by a lack of synergies between the newspapers and magazines because of the different schedules for advertising and production. Tough as it is to argue with that, it's a lot easier to quarrel with the contention that the magazine format didn't showcase what often turned out to be the newspaper's best stories. "On a given Sunday, potentially the very best story in the newspaper was in the magazine," Anchorage Daily News executive editor Patrick Dougherty told the AP. "The magazine would be section G; it would be wrapped in the classified section. Meanwhile, we might have a story that was not quite as good on the front section." The Daily News scrapped its We Alaskans in 2000, and since then others have followed suit, including my hometown newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer. While there might be a good business argument to be lodged against the Sunday magazine model, this doesn't account for the more intangible effects of the trend. I didn't realize what The Inquirer Magazine meant until it was gone. The lesson was that a strong Sunday magazine - with more in-depth profiles, strong news reporting and writing, and well-illustrated features - is crucial to the experience of reading a newspaper on a Sunday morning. In many ways, its worth is more than the sum of its stories, which may or may not be better than the front-page content. It's tied up in the way readers relate to the newspaper - its ads, as well as its news content. This is an admittedly emotional argument and a tough one to make against dollars-and-cents rationale. But a good Sunday magazine goes far in adding value to the brand with which it's associated. When executed well, it suggests a commitment to not only strong journalism but also to things that don't come across in the staid black-and-white layouts of your average broadsheet, things like creativity and a flair for design. And these are things that work with readers, as Dirk Van Susteren, editor of a Sunday magazine in Vermont, knows. He told the AP: "Can it be justified by ad revenue? It's like our sports section or our editorial pages. No, if you add up the costs and what it brings. But the surveys show it's really popular with readers, so I guess that's why we keep doing it."

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