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The Social Role of the American Consumer Magazines…The Size, Role & Future of Consumer Magazines: A Blast from Mr. Magazine’s™ Past… Dissertation Entries Part 2.

February 27, 2015

1983

The social role of magazines: we start with education...

The social role of magazines: we start with education…

1. Magazines as Educators

Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date encyclopedias. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium. With the increase of variety in magazines year after year, much more so than any other medium, magazine readers are offered a wealth of reading matter that assists them in their pursuit of knowledge and education. Roland E. Wolseley in his book The Changing Magazine referred to this huge content of the magazine as “a jungle of reading matter.”

The educational role of the American magazine was recognized even in its earliest years. In 1788, George Washington wrote a letter to Philadelphia publisher Matthew Carey in which he expressed the hope that American magazines would succeed because he considered them “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the moral of an enlightened and free people.” John Tebbel, commenting on Washington’s letter, noted that magazines were incomparably better purveyors of knowledge than the newspapers of Washington’s time.

The above information was written in 1983 and taken from a portion of my dissertation when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia where I obtained my doctorate in journalism. And while the majority of the material still holds true, things have changed drastically in some areas.


2015

Magazines have always worn many hats when it comes to the roles they play in our society. From the days of Washington to the instantaneous information highway of today’s digital age; the printed magazine has blazed the trail of tomorrow and it always will.

One important representation they delivered then and still do now is the execution of educating society. While the internet offers us information with just a “click,” there is one blaringly relevant fact that the ease of the mouse can’t argue with: before one gleans that knowledge that awaits them in cyberspace, one must know what the heck they’re looking for. Think about that for a moment.

Mr. Magazine™ in his official role as a professor and educator.

Mr. Magazine™ in his official role as a professor and educator.

Before Google or Bing or any other search engine can “educate” you; your fingers have to compose the knowledge that you seek in the form of a question or a statement first. And that’s all well and good; provided you already know what you’re trying to learn. If that sounds confusing; let me simplify:

The definition of learning is knowledge acquired through experience, study, or being taught. And while a subject that you’re familiar with or partially know about is an apropos goose to drive to the internet’s market; what about things that you’ve never heard of before or even thought about? How do you Google those? The answer is simple: you don’t.

But with a magazine you can be intrigued by a cover or a tagline; pick it up from the newsstand and flip through it; see a story on how to decorate your home on $2.50 and before you know it; you’re learning about something that you had no idea you were ever interested in.

But that’s just one way magazines educate us and broaden our mind spans. They also help us to digest unbelievable issues that face our world today. Things like bombings and unexpected deaths and the controversies that sometimes plague our political scene.

And with the ever-growing population of niche magazines out there; there is no limit to our ability to pinpoint a topic and delve into it. From raising your own hybrid chickens to cultivating a crop of yucca plants; there is a magazine for it. And new ones are being born each and every day.

In 1983 I wrote: Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date encyclopedias. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium.

In 2015 I write: Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date search engines that know what you’re interested in before you do. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium.

Magazines are a fount of knowledge by their very existence and they remain today exactly as they were in 1788 when Washington wrote his letter to Matthew Carey: “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the moral of an enlightened and free people.”

In other words, Professor Magazine is in the house…

Until next week, when Mr. Magazine™ weighs in on magazines as reflectors of our society…

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