New magazine hopes that twentysomethings are ready for Swing time

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Swing -- the latest slick-and-glossy magazine aimed at twentysomethings -- tries to buck the stereotype of Generation X slacking, offering instead a vision of twentysomething empowerment. If its founder and editor -- 23-year-old publishing neophyte David Lauren, son of Ralph -- has his way, media portrayal of disaffected twentysomething whining will be replaced with "I think I can, I think I can" derring-do.

"I want to inspire this generation," says Mr. Lauren from his New York office on Madison Avenue. "I want people to walk away from reading this magazine feeling better about themselves. I wanted to put together a magazine that I could read and that my friends could read. We were looking to go on to bigger issues like politics or business or people that were inspirations to us, instead of just music or fashion."

To that end, Swing's 104-page premiere issue contains stories about:

* Who should pick up the tab when the woman makes more than the man.

* How to start saving for retirement.

* How a working woman in New York lives comfortably and stylishly -- on a budget.

* And, in a world rife with AIDS, why twentysomething kids can't keep their hands off each other.

The latest incarnation of a magazine Mr. Lauren started while a sophomore at Duke University, Swing is distributed by the Hearst Corp. and beefed up with ads from Absolut, Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Pepe Jeans and, of course Dad, the fashion titan.

"I like to think of Swing as a younger Time magazine. It's general interest," Mr. Lauren says. "We're not interested in discussing the latest fashions. This is not a trendy or downtown magazine. This is a thinking magazine, and it's asking bigger questions about ourselves."

That, according to Mr. Lauren, separates Swing from a shelfful of other magazines aimed at twentysomething readers -- such as Vibe or Details or Spin, or more fledgling, smaller-circulation publications such as P.O.V. or Huh in New York, alternative music magazines, the political magazine Who Cares in Washington, or Blaster in Orrinda, Calif.

Not everyone is so convinced.

The magazine's self-proscribed role of guide for twentysomethings as they depart the Land of Dis-enchantment for a Land of Plenty, may be the magazine's biggest problem, according to industry analysts and twentysomething readers.

"This issue is very self-consciously done," says Abe Peck, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and chairman of Northwestern University's magazine publishing department. "They're trying to stake out who they are and what they want to articulate, but they have to figure out a way to do it without jumping up and down."

Mr. Peck -- who says he'd like to evaluate the second issue as well -- adds that the magazine's style simply isn't adventurous enough.

"The magazine reads a little external; it's a pretty basic treatment," he says. "You can't proclaim yourself as a generational magazine and be editorially distant at the same time."

Adds Anthony Young, a twentysomething from Towson, as he flips through the magazine at Borders Bookstore in Towson: "You have to give them credit for putting out a good-looking magazine, but it seems to me from this issue that they're just a bunch of rich city kids wrapped up in their own culture and fascinated with acquisition."

Swing's name refers to Mr. Lauren's idea that the 46 million members of the twentysomething club with its more than $125 billion in disposable income could constitute a "swing" vote -- and thus have a voice in the arenas of public policy, entertainment, media and business.

"Swing is the vehicle for twentysomething dreamers and doers, once perceived as apathetic slackers, to recognize their potential influence, to discover a mission. . . ," writes Mr. Lauren in his first Letter From the Editor.

Apparently his notion is selling, so far. According to Mr. Lauren, booksellers are having trouble keeping the first 100,000 copies on their shelves. How much of that is first-time curiosity or interest generated by the Lauren name is unclear, says Todd Pruzan of Advertising Age.

"It's my impression that a magazine like Swing has too much of a broad-based, general-interest view than is good for them," says Mr. Pruzan.

"If you're approaching an advertiser and saying you're putting out a general-interest Gen-X magazine, I've got news for you: There are 40 of them trying to do the same thing," he says.

"And narrowcasting to advertisers can boost the confidences of other young publishers in the face of a Hearst-backed competitor. It'll be interesting to see who survives after the dust clears."

Although the magazine is being billed as dual-audience, only 10 of the 33 people included on a list of "Most Powerful Twentysomethings in America" are women. Of those 10, half are entertainers, actresses or models, despite the magazine's claim that names were culled "from every industry and profession."

Perhaps that ratio is a product of an editorial staff of which the publisher, managing editor, creative director, senior editor and at least four of the five contributing editors are males, muses writer Sarah Dunn, 26, author of the "Official Slacker Handbook."

And though the editors claim the list mirrors the "diverse" face of twentysomething America, not a single Asian-American is listed, although many Hispanics or African-Americans are.

Although it's certainly too soon to tell, this magazine's biggest hurdle may be its pretention and wholesale adoration of the pretty face of twentysomething "success."

"A 29-year-old millionaire doesn't mean a whole lot to you if you're 26 and working in a cafe," says Ms. Dunn.

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