Abby O’Reilly reviews First, a new weekly glossy magazine aimed at women and marketed by Emap as a ‘groundbreaking’, ‘intelligent read’ that gives readers ‘a broader perspective on the world.’ So, does it live up to the hype?
If you’re one of those magazine aficionados who regularly embarks on that long journey along magazine stalls in your local supermarket, you may have already encountered the newest addition to the glossy mag empire, First. If not, however, it’s unlikely to have registered on your glossy mag radar. Launched by Emap in May this year, and following on from the success of their weekly fashion mag Grazia, First has been marketed as a “groundbreaking”, “market defining magazine… which will reach women at a whole new life-stage who seek an intelligent read that gives them a broader perspective on the world.” Essentially it aims to be the premier women’s current affairs and news weekly in the UK.
Although anticipated to attract a readership of women in their mid-30s, the concept of First is a welcome change to all of us who, suffering from over-exposure to images of Kiera Knightley’s midriff and Britney Spears’ cleavage, were beginning to feel we knew them intimately, as if like trench-coat wearing stalkers we’d secretly spied on them whilst they bathed. It’s not a good feeling.
But is the revolution upon us? First claims to provide intelligent analysis and coverage of international events, contradicting its competition by showing that women cared about what was happening in the world more so than whether or not Katie Price continued to pump her breasts full of silicone, or if Tara Palmer-Tompkinson’s nose lasted through the festival season. Regardless of how many fingernails the WAGs broke, First apparently won’t bat an un-extended eyelid. Yes ladies, finally, a magazine appreciating that sometimes our heads are full of more than just tea cakes and fluffy kittens…
But, it is just a dream; unfortunately, First has not delivered. Despite the promise on its cover to provide a ‘new look at the news,’ First bears all the hallmarks of the celebrity weekly, beginning with its lacklustre, uninspired appearance, and extending through the generally outdated news reports and predictability of the features that characterise its 100-pages. The title is emblazoned in a white, lower case font, set against a red background, towards the top of the front cover, with priority given to photographs of the showbiz world over those pertaining to international affairs.
In many respects, it looks like Heat‘s poor relation, undoubtedly attempting to imitate the cover design, poised to take on the machine guns of the big boys armed only with a knife and fork. With previous issues adorned with images of a scantily clad Victoria Beckham, Heather Mills McCartney and Davina McCall, First easily plays the part of the insecure little sister, trying hard to forge an identity amidst changing international affairs, but proving too unsure of herself to diversify from the monotony and hum-drum of the celebrity life favoured by her older sisters, Closer, Now and Reveal.
Instead of providing an alternative to the media perpetuated image of the body beautiful and the shallowness often propagated by the top print media moguls, First does nothing but confirm the narrow mindedness of the fat cats occupying the top positions in this industry, who methodically select and decide what we, as women, consider newsworthy. And, in all honesty, whether Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are likely to last the distance or not isn’t it. First, as yet, has done nothing but confirm the reforms that need to be made with regards to the perception of both the women who are plastered across these pages, and also those who are likely to read them.
First opens with a number of photography led news stories drawn from around the world, and although the photography is unquestionably outstanding, these images provide a backdrop to only a short paragraph of text, giving the impression that this is nothing more than a glorified children’s picture book. But, that said, the concept of the magazine has to be commended, and in its defence, it is competing with so many hugely popular celeb-led weeklies that in order to even chisel a small space in this ruthlessly competitive market it had, to some extent, imitate its less sophisticated comrades.
It’s just unfortunate that it thinks it needs to cover showbiz scandals and celebrity secrets as carefully manicured bait in order to reel in the unsuspecting reader before bludgeoning them with the devastating truth that, yes, the world revolves around more than the contents of David Beckham’s underpants. Contrary to popular belief, we do not need coaxing to appreciate the wider world around us, and it’s disheartening that the brain behind this venture obviously thought that, like a petulant child, we’d needed a sweet incentive to take our weekly dose of international affairs without throwing up.
Admittedly, at times, First does sensitively and maturely deal with international events. A recent issue contained an in-depth feature discussing the implications of the current political tensions in the Middle East, showing how the Lebanese people have suffered as a result of Israeli attacks. The article drew on the recent media emphasis on the innocent children that have become embroiled in the conflagrations, with their use of photographs fully encapsulating the needlessness and sadness of such unprovoked attacks. This theme was expanded in the proceeding issues, where families in Cyprus discussed how amidst the fighting and bombing they feared for their lives, but against all the odds, and motivated by a desire to live, they were able to tell their stories.
First has also looked at the long-term financial ramifications of this crisis, projecting the detrimental effect this calamity will have on tourism in Beirut. These articles were insightful, but their impact was diluted by their juxtaposition with horoscopes, weather forecasts, puzzles, cooking recipes and TV listings. The main point of contention with First is that it is neither a current affairs rag nor a celeb blag mag, but rather a monstrous hybrid, waving its arms in so many directions that we are unable to discern what it really looks like. Although the true-life stories featured in First are truly inspirational, in many cases a lots of these tales would be more aptly placed between the pages of Chat, Take A Break and Woman’s Own.
In some of the issues, unnecessary emphasis has been placed on less important news stories. Reports about continued international socio-political uncertainty are replaced with what appears to be more quirky, trendy stories, which is disappointing since when First does deal with the hard stuff it does it outstandingly well. One of the leading stories in a recent issue told how a number of cows in Corsica, in response to the heat, were, like the surrounding humans, getting relief by swimming and sunbathing. The article was accompanied by an amusing photograph, and although providing light relief, it seemed superfluous to devote a two-page spread to an article that, at the most, totalled at 200 words. You can imagine middle-aged businessmen in the city returning home from a hard days graft with a cheap bunch of flowers and a copy of First in their hand in an attempt to placate the little missus sat at home, who feels trapped by the domesticity of suburbia and wants to learn more about the world.
The general feel of this mag is that of condescension. If there’s a pig in Colorado, Texas who’s taken to smoking a joint, with the ability to burp the alphabet, while standing on one hoof after a few pints down his local, then this is the place you’ll hear about it. That’s not to say such news isn’t entertaining, and, in comparison to similar publications on the market, First has its moments of brilliance – a previous issue featured celebs who agreed to be photographed without make-up in order to provoke a discussion of the implications of women having to change their external appearance in a culture that promotes the body beautiful, and also contained a health feature discussing the importance of getting enough sleep. It’s just that in comparison with what was expected, First has fallen significantly short, and if you’re expecting a lot more that exposure to the trivial then you’re likely to be disappointed. However, if what you’re looking for is a little light relief or a leisurely read this is probably the mag for you, just don’t take it too seriously.