The Good: Good photography, Well-written articles
The Bad: Very addy, Very simple articles
The Basics: Easily readable and generally enjoyable, American Wildlife Magazine has amazing photography as well as a surprising amount of advertisements.
The more magazines I consider, the more I tend to find irony in the whole medium. My latest example is the magazine National Wildlife, which caters to animal-loving environmentalists. And yet, this glossy magazine is very high on advertisements and as such, it seems like it is wasting paper in a way that would alarm its target demographic. Even so, for readers of National Wildlife, this is a valuable resource on the state of animals in the United States. Published by the respected National Wildlife Federation, this magazine is published once every two months and is part of the annual $15 donation to the National Wildlife Federation. That money - or purchasing the magazine on the newsstand - helps to go to environmental conservation projects that preserve animal life in the U.S. as well as other projects the National Wildlife Federation undertakes. And that would be an amazing deal if the magazine was not so filled with advertisements.
For the purpose of this review, I read the August/September 2009 issue of National Wildlife. The magazine is fifty pages long (not counting covers), standard magazine size and is glossy and full of vibrant, color pictures. Unfortunately, the magazine is also full of advertisements. Not counting the ad on the back cover, National Wildlife's fifty pages have thirteen full pages of advertisements and an additional half-page ad. Ads tend to be for generally environmentalist products - like National Wildlife Federation bags - along with a few more commercial subjects, like Geico Insurance and a mattress vendor. Having such a high proportion of the magazine occupied by ads would not necessarily be a bad thing, though in my book it pretty much is, save that some of the ad space contains more writing than the actual magazine! The reason for this is that National Wildlife is filled with some amazing photography of animals to accompany the articles.
Of the thirty-six and a half pages of substance in the magazine, five of the pages are full pages of images without text. There are an additional two pages dominated by single pictures with minimal text, including a page at the back which features an image sent in by a reader! As well, throughout the magazine's articles there are pictures which dominate the page and take the place of text. These photographs of animals are clearly professional-grade and they support the articles well, but it does make for a remarkably thin magazine as far as the writing goes. National Wildlife only takes about an hour to read through given there are so few articles.
The issue I read, in fact, only had four features and six columns. The regular columns include a letter from the editor and a note from the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, a science column (Natural Inquiries), and another on natural habitats within the United States. There are health reports on infections one might have transmitted from animals to humans as well as a regular column reflecting on natural obscurities. There is also a column exploring what the National Wildlife Federation's current efforts in animal and environmental conservation are. These columns are all exceptionally well-written with an eye for detail and a strong, scientific approach to their methodology. For example, the column "Natural Inquiries" this month tackles an evolutionary question on how chili peppers developed to be so hot. The science writer tackles the question and traces it back using geographical, historical and specific scientific (genetic development) facts to illustrate how the peppers evolved. The column is well-researched and very readable.
Similarly, the information on the natural habitat near Austin, Texas, is remarkably specific and fairly well-documented. That article, though, relies more on quotes from humans than it does any sort of commentary on the animals. It also reads remarkably similar to the call to action later in the magazine, save that this goal has actually been accomplished. Arguably the most useful column from a pragmatic, human perspective is the "Your Health" column. This month, the magazine's column investigated how to keep mosquito populations in check and it offered some very good advice for readers. In addition to being remarkably unbiased - the column admits the effectiveness of pesticides like DEET-based products - the article's advice was both easy to understand and follow.
However, as one who appreciates scientific anomalies and the advancement of research and the evolution of species, the Rare Finds column was particularly intriguing. This month, the magazine details the evolution of the Greenland shark in polluted water and captured evidence of how it is adapting to toxins and the cold. The article was fascinating and the photographs that accompanied it were good support for some of the column's assertions.
As for the magazine's four articles, in many ways they seemed like extended versions of the columns. An article on habitats that have been saved from flooding by the National Wildlife Federation reads a bit like propaganda, but it offers a lot to contemplate on the difference between the NWF's approach and that of FEMA. Rather than simply insuring over problems, the article explores how the National Wildlife Federation's efforts are often used to prevent flooding catastrophes. Another featured article is simply a two-page photograph with minimal text on elephant seal pups and more than being about the actual animals, the article focused on what it took to get the photograph. This was the least interesting or useful segment of the magazine.
The other two articles, about places to go to see rare birds and another on jellyfish overpopulation are quite interesting and very well-researched. Both provide a lot of documentation and the article on jellyfish is quite specific with exact species names of the subjects of the article. The articles are easy to read, but not insulting to those who have a scientific background or sensibility. These articles, each only a few pages long, start with a central thesis and truly develop it well, exploring multiple theories and discounting ones they may prove are false. In this way, National Wildlife explores the animal kingdom well and offers readers a lot to think about every two months about the state of obscure animals in the world.
For those primarily interested in just animals and facts on animals, though, National Wildlife might not satisfy as much. The magazine explores the ecosystem of the animals it discusses and a lot of space is spent detailing the habitats and living conditions of animals as opposed to how they survive using their unique features. The obsession with the environment may be tiresome to those who just want to learn a little bit about animals every few months.
For me, though, this is offset by how American Wildlife manages to capture wonderful photographs and present insightful information on rare breeds of birds, fish and mammals. Not often available elsewhere, this sort of information and experience - especially when tied to a strong message of respecting the environment and the animals - is a welcome guide.
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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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