Summer Research Project: City Magazines


I haven’t blogged much this summer because I’ve been hard at work on a research project, funded through a Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Grant at Linfield. The grant has given me the chance to purchase magazines for analysis and — best of all — hire a terrific student research assistant, Jaimie L. McDonald, for the summer. Jaimie is a Mass Communication and Music double major at Linfield and is a talented singer and writer.

The project is focused on a topic I’ve been interested in for some time — the role of city magazines in their local areas. I have long been curious about how these magazines define their communities, unite their readers around a common local identity, and inform them (or not) about local issues and events. This summer, we’ve been working on content analysis of both the magazines themselves and their Twitter efforts.

Two components of this large, multi-method project are going to debut next week. One aspect of this research looked just at the coverage of local environmental topics in these city magazines, which — unfortunately — turned out to be rather scarce. However, I was pleased to also find some examples of environmental stories that both match city magazines’ typical style and do a good job of informing readers. Jaimie and I will present this component of the research in a poster session at the Ecological Society of America conference in Portland next week. I’m very excited about sharing this interdisciplinary work, and particularly about being able to offer some recommendations for scientists for outreach to city magazines.

I am also presenting next week at the AEJMC conference in Chicago (it’s going to be a hectic week!) on a panel focused on Social Media and Magazines. There I’ll discuss my analysis of city magazines’ Twitter outreach, and examine ways that their uses of social media may actually reflect a significant shift in their local functions.

I’ll share more of the products of this research here as I get them wrapped up. In the meantime, I would love to hear questions or comments on these topics!


  1. Way to go, Susan! You are a smart, sensible researcher who’s always tuned in to the trends with a critical eye. Looking forward to hearing the results of your work.

  2. Susan: What a great research topic, though I’m not too surprised by your initial findings. Seems like city magazines are more interested in covering arts and culture than environmental issues. BTW, are you only studying print publications? I wonder if you included online-only city magazines — if there is such a thing — if the results would be any different. I will definitely tune in for future results.

    Michelle Rafter

    • Thanks, Michelle! Indeed, the results aren’t surprising, though I’m happy to have data to confirm what we might all intuitively expect. There were some really good examples of making environmental issues appealing to city magazine audiences — having them fit within the usual “formula” of topics — and it would be great to see more of that kind of work.

      There indeed are a lot of online-only city “publications,” of different varieties, and they would no doubt offer different varieties of coverage. I would like to be able to include a wider variety of city media in future studies, perhaps by analyzing one city’s mix of information sources in depth. The “How News Happens” study by PEJ did this in Baltimore, but didn’t include city magazines. It’s unfortunate that they are overlooked as either current or potential sources of serious local coverage, because some city magazines do really engage in that kind of work, and I’d like to see it more widely recognized.

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