Withering Magazines

In the mid- and late-1990s, Fast Company was my favorite magazine. Every issue was interesting, and was as thick as a phone book, packed with slick ads … until late 2001 when the tech bubble burst and the ad market crashed.

Pretty soon, the phone book resembled a flimsy brochure and, for whatever reason, the magazine itself just lost its groove, and I eventually decided not to renew my subscription.

This weekend the May issue of Wired landed in my mailbox and my first thought was “Oh, no. It’s Fast Company all over again.”

The last few issues have been incredibly thin — in content and in heft — and I’m afraid my favorite magazine is heading in the wrong direction.

Its content isn’t as good, except for a few regular columnists, and it seems to me Wired is trying to figure out what it wants to be. (Like Fast Company did when the early ’00s saw fewer startups to hype.)

Here’s the difference: The real reason I subscribe to Wired is so that I can get unlimited access to its website, which is my browser home page.

Every day the staff is cranking out really good material, so much so that the print edition is an afterthought. Sorta.

Magazines have always been a big part of my reading diet, and that’s why I’m easily spooked by indications one of my go-to’s is withering away.

In this case, though, if Wired doesn’t beef up its print pages I feel thismuch better knowing the web edition is a vibrant and viable alternative.

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The Great Harry Shearer

Few people are as talented as Harry Shearer.

Most people know him from his role as Derek Smalls in “This is Spinal Tap” and the voice of countless — some estimate 21 — characters on “The Simpsons.”

I remember seeing him on “Saturday Night Live” — during his second tour with the show — in the 1984-1985 season impersonating Mike Wallace (like this one from Nov. 17, 1984).

There was also a great sketch that I can’t find anywhere online, it might have been only 15 or 30 seconds, where he plays a radio announcer at a station which only airs the time.

So, I asked about it on Twitter, a long time ago, and Shearer himself replied:

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Yes, it was very cool to receive a direct response from the person who would know. (And another memory of when Twitter was half-decent and useful.)

In 2005, I discovered the podcast of his weekly radio show, “Le Show” and have listened to it ever since. It’s available on Sundays and a great way to cap the weekend.

Fast forward to 2016 and his six-part series based on actual recordings from Richard Nixon’s Oval Office, “Nixon’s the One.” I’ve watched the entire series at least five times and it only gets better.

As you watch it, you have to remind yourself that what you’re laughing at are things that were said with utmost sincerity at a time the president was kinda losing his mind.

If you want to learn about his career, from appearing on Jack Benny’s show to directing a documentar on Hurricane Katrina, watch his long interview with him from 2016. Lots of good stuff here.

The Shipping Forecast

One of challenges of watching “The Crown” is getting sucked into looking up British history and then being derailed by recommended articles and YouTube videos.

The latest? The shipping forecast from the BBC, BBC Radio 4 to be precise.

From a 2017 article in The Guardian:

The shipping forecast, the longest continuous weather forecast ever made, has been a public service since 1867 when it was used to warn of storms. The warnings were first issued using the electric telegraph until radio became available. Storm warnings were sent over the telegraph wires to harbours, where signals were hoisted to warn ships at sea.

I haven’t yet been able to hear it live on the BBC, but I’ve been listening on and off to this five hour audio recording of it from a few years ago.

The broadcast has a 350-word limit and its area forecasts are structured by wind direction/speed, weather and visibility. After a while, you can understand why many people find its rhythm conducive to bedtime listening.

Update: Here’s a short video from the MET Office about the history of the shipping forecast.

Supporting the Little Guy

Most of the money I spend on subscriptions each year goes to big-name media outfits. They don’t necessarily need my money to stay afloat but it nevertheless has made me feel good to support quality journalism, locally and nationally.

But, if I look back on how I consume media throughout the week, the vast majority of my time and attention goes to these smaller — usually one- or two-person — productions. It’s time I threw some support their way on a consistent basis.

So, now I’m going to redirect the money I give to the big outfits and spend it on people whose work I enjoy, whether through podcast memberships, Patreon, or YouTube channels.

Now I just need to decide who makes the cut and how I divvy it up.