”Mr. Magazine” on the New Readers Digest


”Mr. Magazine” Samir Husni is the Chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi, and, in his spare time, a dedicated blogger on the subject of magazines. Dr. Husni has been critical of the direction Readers Digest has been veering in under the leadership of Jacqueline Leo. This past July, after sinus surgery, Dr. Husni — stirred by the connection with DeWitt Wallace, who conceived of RD in a hospital — blogged a critique of the new magazine. Jackie Leo responded, eloquent and passionately, in part, ”Had the Wallaces lived to see the explosion of television channels, the Internet, the rise of Google, the speed with which information and ideas travel, they would have had two choices: Reflect the cultural shifts in the society by evolving the magazine and staying in the center of the mass market, or, reduce the circulation to that of, say, The Virginia Quarterly and hope that people would still want to read it.”

FishbowlNY asked Dr. Husni via email his thoughts.

FishbowlNY: You have been critical of RD straying from their original mission. What do you think about the magazine lately?

Samir Husni: I think the magazine is becoming more and more a women’s service magazine, which was never the intention of the founders, at least as far as I understand the original mission of the founders. The magazine continues to stray away from that mission and continues to search for different audiences where the need and mission is one: deliver more information of value, a lot of value, for an audience who is stressed for time … Time (as in the hours and not the magazine) is the number one competition for RD and unless the magazine go back to that great role of surveying the media’s
landscape and covering the readers the best of the best, it will continue to slide year after year … They used to be one of a kind, now they are a me-too publication. There is not a better time for a magazine to search the media landscape and sum what is out there in a nice healthy package for today’s readers. Look what a great job The Week is doing following the same mission that Reader’s Digest used to do.

FishbowlNY: Can RD attract the younger generation?

Samir Husni: No and yes. No if they are going to be a me too publication like the rest of the women’s service magazines and Yes if they go back to their USP providing readers of all ages the cream of the cream of what is essential and important to them…however, let me be quick to add reaching an audience from 18 to 88 is next to impossible nowadays … they are much better off catering to a targeted age group (say 35 – 55) and hope those 20 something and 60 something will find some good in the magazine too …

FishbowlNY: How would you change/alter RD for the next generation if you had a chance?

Samir Husni: Again, same as above … more information from great sources sifted in a great editorial package…there is so much out there is so good but left unread or unseen because of the huge volume of stuff out there … RD must go back to staffing its offices with readers and scanners to go through all of the stuff and give the reader the best digest of stuff ever. That is the only way.

(image via olemiss.edu)