It’s hard to find halfways-decent magazines these days, and when,
like me, you’ve gone on one airline journey already this month,
the range of reading materials at Orange County airport can start to
look rather thin. Which is how I ended up picking up a copy of Wired
for the first time in years, paying $4.95 for the privilege – a
full dollar more than the much glossier and more enjoyable copy of W
I read on my flight the following day.
Wired, you probably won’t be interested to learn, has
had a full-scale redesign this month, and there’s even an editor’s
letter talking about how “the changes are both editorial and visual,
reflecting my own vision for the magazine”. The vision, in case
you were confused, is that of the Editor in Chief. He’s not alone
on the masthead, however: others glory in the titles of Executive Editor,
Managing Editor, Deputy Editor, Articles Editor, Senior Editor (nine
of these), Assistant Managing Editor, Senior Associate Editor, Assistant
Editor, Copy Editor (two, who look as though they work for the Copy
Chief), Research Editor, Assistant Resesarch Editor (three), Editor
at Large, Contributing Editor (sixteen of these), Contributing Copy
Editor (another two), Photo Editor, Deputy Photo Editor, and finally
the Founding Editor and the Editorial Director. Add in the 32 Contributing
Writers, 21 Contributing Artists, 29 Contributing Photographers, two
Contributing Photo Researchers, as well as the Creative Director, Design
Director, Assistant Design Directors (two), Senior Designers (two),
Designer, Design Department Assistant, Photo Editor, Deputy Photo Editor,
Photo Assistant, Production Director, Associate Production Director,
Associate Production Manager, Senior Production Artist, Production Artist,
Prepress Specialist, Editorial Business Coordinator, Assistant to the
Editor in Chief, Director of Photography and – of course –
the Special Correspondent, and it’s lucky someone has a
vision to keep all this together.
When you stop to consider that the three main features, including
the cover story, are all by people who don’t appear anywhere on
the masthead, you do pause, briefly, to wonder what all these people
actually do. I’d love to bump into Jennifer Hillner at a
party, just to find out whether “Senior Associate Editor”
means anything at all, and if so, what.
The job titles also seem to bear no relation to the structure of the
magazine. Our friendly Editor in Chief guides us through the signposts:
first there’s the Start section, then Play, then View, then Found.
Features get a subordinate clause somewhere in the middle there.
The sections all look and read exactly the same way, however, rather
defeating their purpose, at least as far as the long-suffering reader
is concerned. Magazine sections only become memorable when they stand
out from the rest of the book, but no-one at Wired seems to have
The new design is even more depressing. After all, Wired was
always, at least before it was bought by Condé Nast, the most
visually innovative magazine on newsstands. (Raygun competed
for that distinction, but got marked down for being so innovative as
to be unreadable most of the time.)
What we have now, in any case, is lots of white space and a general
design which looks like it was lifted wholesale from The Face
What we also have is a credulousness of will-sapping proportions.
The cover story, on Steven Spielberg, is as fluffy as any Vanity
Fair cover story, only without any actual writing: it’s
in Q&A format. It’s followed by a six-page blowjob for a Star
Wars spin-off video game, and later on by a similarly uncritical piece
on the new Stephen Wolfram book (“even if he is wrong, A New
Kind of Science is an incredible achievement, one that will richly
reward adventuresome readers”). Maybe Stefan
can tell me what that rich reward is – bigger biceps from lifting
the thing, perhaps?
There are two pieces worth reading in the magazine: one on computer-animated
faces by New Yorker writer Lawrence Wechsler, and one on rusting
supertankers by Richard Martin. Niether seems particularly suited to
Wired, as opposed to, say, GQ or Gear or the New
York Times Magazine. In other words, insofar as the new Wired
is good, it doesn’t have an identity; insofar as it has an identity,
it isn’t any good.
Meanwhile, judging at least from the size of the masthead, Condé
Nast is losing a fortune on this franchise. I was one of Wired‘s
most avid readers ten or 12 years ago, so it pains me to say this, but
it’s time to put the thing out of its misery. Let it be a fond memory,
rather than an embarrassing rebuke to its former self.