A Fascinating, Opinionated Take on the 'Tortured' Life of Entertainment Weekly

Remember 'Synergy'?

By Published on .

American media history, told through one magazine
American media history, told through one magazine

We're kicking off the Ad Age Summer Weekend Reader -- in which we recommend recently published in-depth articles about media and/or marketing on selected Fridays (think of them as great train or beach reads) -- early this year* to call your attention to "The Trials of 'Entertainment Weekly': One Magazine's 24 Years of Corporate Torture." A sweeping history of the Time Inc. title by Anne Helen Petersen, a writer who literally has a Ph.D. in pop culture (from the University of Texas-Austin's Department of Radio-Television-Film), the novella-length piece published by The Awl on Tuesday might make you nostalgic for that time, no so long ago, when magazines were still at the white-hot center of the media ecosystem, and Entertainment Weekly could be conceived as an exemplar of media-conglomerate corporate synergy.

Petersen's history is well-sourced (she cites historical, contemporaneous coverage from Advertising Age and others) and highly opinionated (some readers as well as current and former employees might disagree with her take on the publication's editorial direction and relative quality at various junctures). But it's hard to imagine that there's any other human being in the world -- even, possibly, at Time Inc. -- who has watched EW so closely and so thoughtfully for its nearly quarter-century lifespan.

And no wonder: "When I was a young and odd child," Petersen begins her piece, "one of the oddest things I did was collect Entertainment Weekly. … I'd read each issue from cover-to-cover, deciding on its predominant 'themes,' and record this data in an elaborate database program on my Apple IIe. As a finishing touch, I'd give each issue a 'grade,' emulating EW's own, then-novel system of affixing a grade to the media products it reviewed."

Now that you know what you're getting into, start reading here.

*Summer technically doesn't start until June 21.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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