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Goodbye, Lucky Peach – and the golden age of magazines

My heart belongs to magazines. Remember those? Shiny and portable, they were cooler and more fun than newspapers or books, yet just as intellectually hefty (if you picked the right ones). I loved them with a singular devotion – and then I forsook them. From the look of things, so did you.

Lucky Peach, the hyper-designed food magazine co-founded by Momofuku chef David Chang, is about to fold – this week, the staff was told that their jobs will end in May. Sure, the six-year-old publication was always niche, meant for hard-core food nerds and devoted Chang fan boys with disposable incomes. But if niche mags aren't tenable right now, neither are mainstream ones that might expect a larger audience.

Last fall, Rogers publishing killed off the print version of titles such as MoneySense and Flare, and severely reduced the print run of heavyweights such as Chatelaine and Maclean's. Similarly mighty U.S. names have also fallen, such as Gourmet, which disappeared in 2009 after a 68-year-run. The brands may persist, but the print magazine itself – from the underground rag to the doctor's office staple – has been in decline for ages.

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None of this is a surprise to me, since I'm part of the reading public that turned its back. I used to be a magazine addict who took special trips to favourite newsstands, where I spent ages picking up and putting down treasures before buying too many. Now I can't remember the last time I paused at a set of magazine racks, let alone walked away with $50 worth of goods.

I don't believe the persistent lie that people no longer care about words or ideas: Everyone's mad for so-called long reads and many are excellent, despite that terrible term. I might be nostalgic for a type of design – most publications have a less dynamic, more templated look online than on paper – but thrilling images, too, are now found everywhere, to the aesthete's delight.

I'm definitely not lamenting the rise of digital media. Yes, the speed and volume of information can get exhausting. Absolutely, the rare truffles produced by budding subcultures require more time than they're currently getting to ripen before being rudely unearthed. But if I miss the sense of self-congratulatory sophistication that came with paying $15 for a British music magazine, it's balanced by being able to hear sounds from everywhere at any time. Ultimately, this is a media landscape full of wonderful treats.

Our real-time ability to access information and smart context from around the globe is good. That's my macro take. On a micro level, I simply miss magazines. I'm sad to accept that they no longer seem to fit into the world.

I know that magazines still exist, but admit it: They're simply not as urgent as they used to be. I'm not interested in dull, pretty lifestyle journals, such as Kinfolk, and I find it hilarious when friends bring gossip mags on trips (I knew all that dish days, if not weeks, ago). What made magazines special – worth saving indefinitely in a tall, dusty pile – was the combination of gorgeous physicality, sharp ideas and a significant cultural moment. The thing is, I think capturing news that way is almost impossible now.

Take the magazine that comes with the Sunday New York Times, to which I still subscribe. Every weekend, all of the pieces in the printed version of the magazine are online days before it gets to my door. The issue after the U.S. presidential election contained an editorial apologizing that the results weren't reflected in its pages.

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That touchable beauty requires the laborious process of putting ink to paper in a big industrial plant somewhere, and there simply wasn't time for the print product to catch up. While I still sit down with the mag most weekends to absorb curious ephemera, intelligent information and eloquent words, it's not with a sense of immediacy, of having to do it right now, the way there used to be.

That's what the loss is, really – a feeling of excited discovery in a finite package, the idea that one bundle of lovingly designed paper could bring me up to date. It really is the magazine itself I miss, the shiny promise of that flippable, clippable, moment-in-time keepsake.

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About the Author
Journalist and editor

Denise Balkissoon is an editor in the Globe’s Life section and a columnist in Comment. The National Magazine Award-winning writer is also a co-founder of The Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race and ethnicity in the Greater Toronto Area. More

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