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Word

Digest this

Posted on 2009.03.06 at 18:24
Current Mood: busy
Current Music: Diary - Bread
Word has reached us of hard times at the venerable Reader’s Digest. The rumor in the financial pages is that they may be close to declaring bankruptcy. This seems kind of strange to dumb ol’ me, since it is still one of the most popular magazines in the U.S. Yes, its numbers have dropped somewhat in recent years, but they’re still doing way better than most. Ah well, never underestimate the ability of bad management, perhaps.

It had been a few years since I’d perused a copy, so I did just that today. It has changed in some ways, but it retains many of its distinctive qualities and style. As always, it is a combination of news, wisdom, human interest stories, practical information, humorous anecdotes, and unique features such as Word Power. The ways in which it has changed are worth noting. It now contains noticeably more articles focusing on show-biz figures and other celebrities, though it is hardly competing with People in that regard. Its editorial policy has become more centrist, which is interesting. I remember noting in the 1970s that it was not merely anti-Communist, not merely conservative, but consciously targeted against Democrats. Any article addressing political issues at that time could be relied upon, sooner or later, to lay the blame at the feet of the Democrats. Feature stories on corrupt politicians were almost invariably about Democrats; Republicans were given a pass. Even as a teenager with no particular political allegiance or philosophy, I could see their bias clearly. I’m not here today to say whether they were right or wrong; I am simply reporting on their editorial position.

Be that as it may, I drew a sharp distinction between its lack of political objectivity and its overall usefulness and entertainment value. I could depend on Reader’s Digest to offer me hours of enjoyable and edifying reading. I learned a lot of cool stuff from its pages. But that was then…

…Now, I can see that the writing has been dumbed down a bit. Oh, I suppose it’s still more well written than many publications, but it isn’t what it used to be. Old-time conservative readers might mistakenly believe that the magazine has “gone liberal,” but that isn’t the case at all. The first political article I laid eyes on today was critical of many aspects of the Democratic party and the Obama administration, but it lacked the vitriol I became accustomed to in the 70s. Perhaps that’s part of its current problem – liberals will perceive it as conservative and conservatives who expect it to be extremely right-wing will be disappointed. I’m sure that a lot of older readers, irrespective of their politics, are also dismayed to see the increase in celebrity-driven pieces. But like I said, it still has a lot of readers, so I won’t claim to know the cause of its current financial crisis.

Of more significance to me is the specter of the Reader’s Digest going away entirely, because I still have some unfinished business with them. You see, my late mother submitted various anecdotes to them over the years in the hope of being published there, ideally as part of their “Life in These United States” feature. Many years ago, she passed the baton to me, asserting that I could surely craft something that would be to their liking. A couple of times, when I was in my teens or twenties, I submitted stories to them, but to no avail. It has now been many years since I’ve sent them anything, but if there’s a chance their days are numbered, perhaps I owe it my mother’s memory to try again.

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