Wilson Quarterly editor Steven Lagerfeld calls them ‘clusters.’ Around here we call them ‘packages.’ The jargon refers to a series of stories on a particular subject, such as the D.C.-based publication’s deeply researched, mind-expanding work over the past year on America’s love for and fear of the future (Winter 2006), rethinking retirement (Spring), the changing face of immigration (Summer), and the not-so-simple debate among environmentalists over nuclear power (Autumn).
It seems a logical, even simple, conceit to approach an issue from various angles. In practice, though, very few magazines even come close to providing the sort of surprises that routinely spice WQ‘s pages. Smaller publications are too often catering to niche readers with a particular worldview. Larger media outlets are hesitant to feature truly bold, unorthodox thinking, lest it set off a segment of their mass audience.
Over the past year, the decidedly accessible (read: nonacademic) WQ has turned the craft of cluster-making into an art form, reliably challenging its readers to think outside the dogmatic lines that have been laid down (and electrified) around almost every interesting issue of the day. (For evidence, see the pro-video game essay ‘Playing with Our Heads,’ reprinted from WQ.)
‘By carefully stitching together a variety of voices, we reach a sort of critical mass that gives a topic more substance,’ says Lagerfeld, who oversaw a redesign of the quarterly to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2006. ‘We work very hard to show not one or two but several sides of an issue. In these times, that’s more valuable than ever.’
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