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MALE COMMUNICATION GETS THE SHORT STRAW WITH THE DEMISE OF SHORTLIST

Last week saw another sad day for print journalism, as ShortList announced its closure after more than a decade. It’s the latest victim of declining advertising revenue and the increased cost of paper, meaning so many beloved magazines and papers have found it impossible to make free editions profitable.

Launched in 2007, the magazine offered an antidote to the outdated ideas of ‘lad’s mags’. Founded by Mike Soutar, it was famous for its strapline; ‘For men with more than one thing on their minds’.

So why has it joined the likes of the very magazines it’s tried to speak against, such as Nuts, Loaded and Zoo, who have all closed their doors in recent years? Why, in a world where men need helpful, genuine resources are we losing one of the oldest?

We also need to look at why ShortList has failed, but Stylist, the female equivalent has soared.

Although doing way more than other publications, sadly, it seems it needed to do even more. Stylist forced itself into the lives of women outside of simply being something you might read when there’s a severe delay on the Jubilee line.

Lisa Smosarski, editor-in-chief of Stylist since its launch, said: ‘Stylist has always inspired intelligent women who want more from their world and served as a spirited, brave advocate for our audience. Never before has this message and momentum been so important and relevant’.

Getting to the heart of what your audience wants and needs is crucial to the success of a publication.  ShortList’s ambition to challenge modern masculinity was so important. Time has never been so turbulent for male identity, with depression and suicide the biggest killers of men under 45 in the UK. Let’s not pretend that a magazine about new films, art shows, beard styling tips and career advice can solve that crisis. It won’t. But a weekly publication that acted as a reminder to men that they don’t have to always follow the norms shouldn’t be underestimated, either.

I asked a group of men in our office their thoughts on the demise of ShortList, and what it means for male advice in 2018.

‘It is a huge loss for the modern man. Lots of people can offer the same advice, or similar content – but rarely is it as well written, well shot, carefully considered and all in one place, like it is in ShortList. Easy to imitate, but hard to match. We will all be poorer for it not existing’, says Alex.

The gap it leaves is real. ‘Outside of speaking to close friends or searching online, I can’t think of a concrete place to go for advice’, shared George.

This idea of having nowhere real to go for advice, help and even just a place that understands you was admittedly really surprising to me. When asking the men in the office where they get their advice from, (general as well as ‘deeper’ stuff), all except one said Google. And they’re not in the minority. According to a recent survey by The Health Group, 65% of men would rather turn to websites such as Google instead of confiding in loved ones when it came to their problems.

A search engine is the first place men feel they can turn to. But why?

‘Google is an infinite and private resource. So for mental health, it means no one has to know men aren’t OK and they can try to deal with it in silence. For style and fashion, it means men can avoid asking questions, looking feminine or having our sexuality questioned. For culture, lifestyle and politics, Google stars to shortcut to what is right and what is not – but without a trusted editorial vision it’s hard to know where to turn”, said Alex.

For Peter, the reason was even simpler; ‘We turn to Google out of embarrassment for not knowing all the answers.’

Hearing this as a female, whilst worrying, I mostly found it really sad. From whether or not to get a fringe, what book to read next or how to perfect the G-spot orgasm, there’s nothing I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking my mom or my girlfriends.

So in an ideal world, where would men get their answers from? Frank shared his thoughts.

‘My preferred choice would be a magazine (online or print) which had a very defined point of view on the world that matched my own. That way I would trust their recommendations (and probably pay more attention to their ads).

I hark nostalgically back to the pre-internet days when magazines like i-D and The Face were exactly that – supreme arbiters of taste. Though I guess now personal recommendations are a big source, and that extends to Instagram.’

There’s certainly scope for sites like Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr etc. to help rather than hinder, and many communities existing on the above platforms that already do.

In fact, George felt this could be taken a whole level further; ‘I’d love to see a social media channel which gives out advice for men (both serious and silly stuff). It would be perfect – it’s more personal than a search engine, but more approachable than a person.’

Social media is unique because it opens us up to on-demand life advice and niche passion communities not found anywhere else. And for the guys I chatted to, that was really important.

From reggae radio enthusiasts to South London skateboarders, social media allows them to reach out to guys (and girls) in worlds they’re interested in. With these groups comes support, understanding and encouragement. Something we’ll miss from ShortList.

To sum up, ‘its approach to cultural journalism was impeccable. It had interesting features, top notch style, gorgeous photography and forward thinking contributors’, shared Alex.

It will be missed.