Our Immodest Ambitions

Some guidance along our road to greatness.

In a February 2018 post titled "Worth Saving", I said I'd like Linux Journal to be for technology what The New Yorker is for New York and National Geographic is for geography. In saying this, I meant it should be two things: 1) a magazine readers value enough not to throw away and 2) about much more than what the name says, while staying true to the name as well.

The only push-back I got was from a guy whose comment called both those model pubs "fanatically progressive liberal whatever" and said he hoped we're not "*planning* to emulate those tainted styles". I told him we weren't. And, in case that's not clear, I'm saying it here again. (For what it's worth, I think The New Yorker has some of the best writing anywhere, and I've hardly seen a National Geographic outside a doctor's office in decades.)

Another commenter asked, "Is there another publication that you'd offer up as an example to emulate?" I replied, "Three come quickly to mind: Scientific American, the late Dr. Dobb's and Byte. Just think of all three when they were at their best. I want Linux Journal to honor those and be better as well."

Scientific American is the only one of those three that's still alive. Alas, it's not what it once was: the most authoritative yet popular science magazine in the world—or at least, that's how it looked when my parents gave me a subscription when I was 12. Back then I wanted to read everything I could about science—when I wasn't beeping code to other ham radio operators from my bedroom or otherwise avoiding homework assignments.

Today, Scientific American is probably as close as it can get to that legacy ideal while surviving in the mainstream of magazine publishing—meaning it persists in print and digital form while also maintaining a constant stream of topical stories on its website.

That last thing is the main work of most magazines these days—or so it seems. As a result, there isn't much difference between Scientific American, Smithsonian, Wired, Ars Technica and Inverse. To demonstrate what I mean, here are stories from those five publications' websites. See if you can guess (without clicking on the links) where each one ran—and which one is a fake headline: