back to the Black Table

Buzz is the hydrogen of our mediaverse -- its most common element, gassy and volatile, its natural fuel. Such clouds of hype have enveloped the launch of Radar magazine that even young Iraqis in the desirable looting demograhics have stopped to tell CNN how delighted they are by editor Maer Roshan's quirky editorial philosophy and determination not to treat celebrities with the usual glossy obeisance.

Like them, I've recently paused while toting an armload of stolen televisions to reflect that it's about time a plucky magazine stuck it to those goddamned celebrities while telling me about life at Kinko's and then I remembered I haven't actually seen a copy of Radar.But I've read so many previews, reviews, gossip items and evenhanded New


York Times assessments that I know all about it. I'm familiar with the magazine's grass-roots approach), its mix of highbrow and low, it's hand-me-down Tina Brown-isms.

Thanks to the buzz, I feel like a charter subscriber. Now you can, too, with this guide to what the rest of the world thinks about Radar.



Seth Mnookin, Newsweek

After you wonder, not for the first time, about the derivation of Mnookin, and whether, in the same way the surname Baker originally meant "someone who bakes," if Mnookin once referred to "someone engaged in mnooking," you'll notice how Newsweek's new media pundit has shrewdly traced Radar's geneology back to the heyday of 'zines. Shrewd because it establishes him as a critic who sees past the easy antecedents all the other pundits are content to mention -- namely Spy and National Enquirer -- to connect Radar to a different, equally plausible cultural context. Roshan and his editors are willfully eclectic in that damn-the-focus-groups way that kings of the photocopier were in the '80s. (It's no surprise that one of the features is an homage to Kinko's, which Mnookin rightly describes as feeling a decade overdue. Didn't Fast Company do this in 1979?) "Overall," Mnookin tells us, "Radar's a fun title. Maer's a fun guy, and he has good taste."

Then again, Mnookin loses points for a reminder, apparently aimed at our grandparents, that "'zines are still around, but they're online these days and now they're called blogs." Wha … blogs? You say I can find those online? Is that like the Internet?

Jeff Bercovici,

This review head-butts you with the bad news first thing: "Whether or not a new magazine is any good has distressingly little to do with whether that magazine survives to profitability," it begins, concluding, "enjoy Radar while you can." It will take a miracle, he says, to keep it alive. I haven't seen the magazine and already Bercovici's fitting me for a black armband.

Bercovici enjoys Radar's needling of celebrities and cute charticles, its features on washed-up reality-TV stars and life at Kinko's, and I enjoy Bercovici's enjoyment. Reading about magazines means never having to say "I subscribe." Everything I need to know about Radar I learn from Bercovici. That the magazine is "funny, sometimes uproariously so," which is good, and that it's "writer-friendly," which is very good, since it's not writer-enriching (it pays a subsistence-level buck a word). That Radar is smart not to position itself as a direct competitor of Vanity Fair. And that it'll probably fail anyway because it's "too smart for its own good." If only I could get Bercovici to read Jane Eyre for me.

Lewis Lazare, Chicago Sun-Times

This critic could have engaged in a little more mnooking, which we'll define here as the attempt to demonstrate to your editors that you're a good media pundit by trying harder to see beyond easy first impressions.

"Can you hear the publicity wheels in overdrive?" Lazare asks, barely able to hear Nike ads over the roar of Radar's hype. It's enough to make a man cranky. After reminding us that "hip" is "passe," Lazare grouses, "Radar obviously hasn't decided just how hip it wants to be or how to express that in-the-know attitude in the editorial mix." He blames Roshan for driving Talk into a ditch ("Roshan slashed budgets and staff in half. And still Talk failed"), then notes, "Roshan is back with a magazine he and his mostly ghost financial backers apparently hope will work …" Apparently! To the keen eye of Lewis Lazare, it's not entirely clear whether the Radar crew really hopes the magazine will work.

Lazare, naturally, proves to be a fun guy with good taste. Let the rest of the lickspittle media praise Radar's cover feature, a roundup of celebrity misbehavior. Lazare will find it rehashed. ("Nothing you couldn't find in at least 10 other publications"). Let Bercovici find the Kinko's story "quirkier still"; Lazare will find it "flat" and "psychographic."

Psychographic, of course! Now it all makes sense. (For those who aren't studying for the SAT, psychographic means "A graphic representation or chart of the personality traits of an individual or group.")

"Radar needs to sharpen its act considerably if it's to succeed," he says. And this is what he means by "sharpen": laddie mags. "It wouldn't hurt if Radar displayed a lot more of that irreverent sauciness those books do so well." Prescribing more irreverent sauciness in a magazine whose editor admits he's a "publicity whore"? Now that's some serious mnooking!

Joyce Wadler, New York Times

At Radar's launch party -- which, like everything else about the magazine, incorporates Good Tina (buzzy, irreverent, decorated with celebrities) and eschews Bad Tina (reckless overspending) -- Wadler gets a quote from Brown that Roshan will someday use in the inevitable memoir covering this crazy dream: "I thought he was the only real natural male magazine editor of his generation."

Further heartfelt accolades were offered by tabloid mainstay (and nice person) Lizzie Grubman who said, "Best guy in the entire world." And supermodel (and extra nice person) Naomi Campbell who opined, "I just met him." Told that everyone's talking about him, Roshan, employing the sort of wit that's standard equipment with only real natural editors of their generation, quipped, "You'll have to ask everybody else about that."

Cindy Adams, New York Post

Responding to Roshan's jibe that he'd have sex with Cindy Adams for two more column inches, Adams, apparently after consultation with several junior high students, comes back with this zinger: "My sources claim those two extra inches Maer could use are not in a column."

Really? He's always looked tall enough to me.

Aileen Jacobson, Newsday

If Roshan would've had sex with Cindy Adams for two column inches, one shudders to imagine what he submitted to for this huge story in Newsday (although, since Newsday is based in Long Island, a sliding scale of value applies). Jacobson dissects the magazine's pre-pub buzz, quoting Mediaweek critic Lewis Grossberger on the sense of anticipation among the smart set: "The only thing that could possibly hurt Radar's success would be its debut."

In at least two instances, Jacobson proves that reading reviews of the thing are better than the thing itself: She notes that the magazine's home entertainment columnist will be Bret Easton Ellis, and that its domestic life columnist will probably be Candace Bushnell. Thanks for the warning, Aileen.

And here, at last -- just as I was turning blue from holding my breath -- Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine, pops out of his gopher hole in the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. "The plans look great," he says of Radar, perhaps grumpy that so many other reporters have violated the unwritten but ironclad rule that he be quoted in every story remotely involving magazines. "But to me, it looks more like pie in the sky. … Can he succeed where Tina Brown has failed? That is the 6-million-dollar question."

David Carr, New York Times

Obligatory comparison of Radar's low-budget beginnings to Talk's free-spending debut? Check. (Roshan spent an un-Tina-like $100 on drinks to celebrate the first issue.) Grim assessment of the long odds against a pie-in-the-sky operation in a slumping magazine market? Check. ("Radar is on a lonely road, one that is littered with the corpses of many well-turned magazines …") Sympathetic ear lent to Roshan's pluck and cool self-confidence? Check. ("They don't understand that we are involved in a very different model of publishing ...") Expected observation on the idiosyncratic, some would say haphazard, approach? Check. ("It has an idiosyncratic, some would say haphazard, approach.") Well, that's the Times; don't hate it because it's dutiful.

At the end of his piece, Carr quotes Roshan as saying "This is the 'Blair Witch' approach to making a magazine." He didn't bother to point out that "Blair Witch" was five pounds of movie in a 20-pound bag, a marketing campaign with a hollow center, all buzz and no sting -- a triumph of hype. Let's hope that's not Roshan's answer to the $6 million question.



Scott Dickensheets is the managing editor of the Las Vegas Weekly. He has never successfully mnooked, although not for want of trying.