Time: The world presented in Time’s May 23 issue includes news from the week past, but it isn’t what many might think of as the news of the week. The 82-page magazine functions more as a supplement to a broader news diet, with a mix of topics and a mix of seriousness.
There is some national affairs coverage, a smattering of international news and an increasingly large area for pop culture in “the back of the book.” Today, that term may refer only to where something appears in the magazine; it may say little or nothing about what magazine editors consider the material’s significance. In the May 23 issue, the cover story (Microsoft’s new game console) and the other piece teased on the cover (an interview with the comedian Dave Chappelle) reside in the “back of the book.” There is actually, by page count, more soft news than hard news.
The issue has three big interview subjects: Bill Gates, Chappelle and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel . Of those, it is Sharon who doesn’t make the cover, even though the interview with him is an exclusive.
What we found to be the main stories in our study of a Day in the Life of the News got little space in Time. King Tut got a two-page spread of photos and captions. The United Airlines story got about a quarter of a page and got the most space out of any of our big stories in the magazine by far. The plane that violated airspace got about 10 lines. And the Michael Jackson trial was handled in a quote from Macaulay Culkin.
Cover — The main cover topic is Microsoft’s new Xbox game console, and the dominant picture is Gates staring at the reader, Terminator-esque, the glowing “on” button of the new game box serving as his right eye. “Inside Bill’s new X-Box,” the text reads.
The cover-story package is 14 pages long, though the amount of text is considerably less than that. Graphics and large pictures (the hallmarks of the news weeklies nowadays) make for considerably less actual type. There are, for instance, only 16 lines of type on the first two pages of the piece, which carry a large picture of Gates playing with a controller. The piece itself is a trip inside “Xbox Headquarters,” where the machine was built, and a look at the thinking behind it.
Along with the main piece, Time includes a three-page spread full of pictures of video game “innovators” — or “visionaries,” as they are also called.
The package tries mightily to invest what many might consider an essentially light topic with extra heft. It isn’t just about the new video game system, the cover story says, but rather “about a sea change in American culture, which has embraced video games, formerly a despised hobby, as a vital force in pop culture.” Whether that is true is one question. Whether that is news because of the latest Xbox is another. The story offers some discussion of changing American culture, but is largely a commercial for the newest endeavor of Bill Gates, one of the people Time would eventually name a Man of the Year for his philanthropic activities.
The other piece teased on the cover, about Dave Chappelle, is the second largest package in Time, a six-page piece including a Q&A interview. Chappelle, who went AWOL early in 2005, has a new program on Comedy Central called “Chappelle’s Show.”
The piece doesn’t wade too far into any “larger significance” of the comedian or his hiatus, perhaps because it’s not clear what that would be. Pictures make up two of the six pages of the package.
Other stories — The third biggest story in the issue is the interview with Sharon . The lack of any reference to the piece on the cover suggests that the magazine now clearly sees itself less as a news magazine than a general-interest magazine with news included; Time’s current editors apparently are willing to forgo such items on the cover. That is also reflected in the division of space between the covers. The “front of the book,” the part of the magazine devoted to covering hard news, ends on page 42 with the end of the Sharon interview. The lighter “back of the book” takes up 38 more pages. Subtract the 15 pages for the table of contents, letters from readers and other items, and the back of the book accounts for more than half of the issue. Based on the topic page counts from Hall’s Magazine Reports in recent years, that appears to be fairly typical.
The names and images on the cover — Chappelle and Xbox — also probably have more relevance to younger readers than Ariel Sharon.
Elsewhere in the issue, Time devotes eight pages to national affairs. The pieces include one on President Bush’s ban on funds for stem cell research, the religious leaders behind a filibuster fight that was going on in the Senate, and the outed anti-gay mayor of Spokane, Wash. In World, the Sharon package also included a short piece about the relatively unknown ad man who helped soften the prime minister’s image and win him the election in Israel.
The magazine also features a three-page “Your Time” section in the back (a combination of news you can use, random facts and short interviews), a page of shorts on “People” and a closing essay.
The news of the week, the stories that pass through the public consciousness day-to-day, appear in the Notebook section in the front of the issue, a series of quick short items. It was here that the United Airlines story, the one about the plane that violated D.C. air space, and the Macaulay Culkin quote appeared, along with shorts on Arianna Huffington’s blog, military base closings, the successor in Pope Benedict’s old job, a book called “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” a contraption that vaporizes alcohol for quicker consumption, and plans to change the president’s daily intelligence brief.
Time is a magazine that seems caught in between genres. It feels compelled to pay attention to the news of the week, but only in passing, and to try and cover serious issues like the Middle East , but it isn’t clear if its audience really wants to pay attention. And Time looks as if it isn’t sure how much its audience wants to read.