After 25 years, Mother Jones steps into the winner's circle

New Yorker editor David Remnick got plenty of exercise at the National Magazine Awards last week when his publication won five of 17 categories, an unusual feat. But between his trips to the podium, others in the industry got their chance -some taking top honors for the first time.

Mother Jones, the magazine that champions social and environmental issues, scooped up its first awardfor general excellence this year.

"It was awesome, just awesome," says editor in chief Roger Cohn, who instigated a redesign after assuming his post two years ago. "It's the first time in the magazine's 25-year history that we've even been nominated for this award, let alone won it."

Judges said Mother Jones, which bested other publications with circulations of 100,000 to 400,000, "has remade itself into one of the most entertaining, lively, and substantial magazines in America."

The magazine had won previously in other categories like public interest and reporting, but had not been singled out for overall excellence. It's the second such award the San Francisco-based publication has received this year. In January, it won the 2000 Alternative Press Award for best magazine from Utne Reader, which called it "one of the best chronicles of American life."

Named for 19th-century labor activist Mary Harris Jones, the magazine was founded in the 1970s and is known for its investigative journalism. One of its first scoops came in 1977 when it wrote about the gas tank on the Ford Pinto, which exploded when the car was rear-ended. Recently, it has led the way on stories about advertising prescription medicine on TV, and the fatal effects of an asbestos mine on the residents of Libby, Mont.

Despite the celebrity focus that dominates many magazines, Mr. Cohn says there's still room for good reporting on important issues. "I think a lot of places are doing it," he says, "but they often tend to be smaller places."

Other magazines receiving an "Ellie," as the elephant-shaped awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors are called, include Nest for design, and Teen People for general excellence in a magazine with a circulation of more than 1 million. For a complete list of winners see,

Got a question? Ask a journalist.

Both CNN and The New York Times are giving the public the opportunity to ask reporters questions - ranging from how Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan invests his money to the mechanics of video technology. CNN's "Ask CNN" segments began Jan. 1, and the Times debuted its "Sunday Q & A" column last week.

Media outlets are more frequently looking for ways to interact with the public -adding ombudsmen, for example, as cable channel MSNBC did recently. In the case of CNN, its new feature is also a way to drive traffic between the Web and TV. The cable network says it receives 200 questions by e-mail each weekday (and 350 on the weekend). It airs 12 each week with answers from reporters or organizations like the Postal Service.

At the Times, editors wrote the questions for the first column, which included the answer on Mr. Greenspan: "He does not play the stock market." The paper hopes to attract questions (it alrealdy has) from readers that bounce off Page 1 stories, says weekend editor Nicholas Kristof. The format has worked for topics like science and travel, he says, and is now meant to spice up the "A" section.

Second US city gets Metro paper

International phenomenon Metro arrived in Boston last week, leaving more of an impression on local authorities than readers. Before the free paper's debut Thursday, it was in a spat with transit officials over the placement of news boxes near subway stops.

While sorting that out, Metro is trying to win over a college town whose population is perfect for the commuter paper, says Boston publisher Russel Pergament. Metro has made inroads with young readers elsewhere, who like its easy-to-scan wire items and cost. It wasn't able to make a deal to distribute on public transit in Boston, as it has in Philadelphia and some of the other cities around the world where it's published. Instead, it is relying on hawkers and 500 news boxes.

It's already won kudos from readers for its international flavor. But judging by the number of copies left in boxes in some locations, it will take time to get the attention of a city that hasn't had a new daily paper since the 1920s.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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