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:

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