Good Magazine Grows Up

10/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Matt Haber New York Observer

When Ben Goldhirsh launched GOOD magazine two years ago, he offered journalists an irresistible story. It was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius meets Brewster's Millions featuring the cast of MTV's Real World, but for a progressive Current.TV audience.

The photogenic Mr. Goldhirsh, just 26 years old at the time, was starting a socially conscious magazine and movie company with almost no experience (but a lot of talented, eager friends) upon becoming mind-bogglingly wealthy after the death of his father, Inc. magazine founder Bernard Goldhirsh.

The elder Mr. Goldhirsh, who sold his entrepreneurship magazine for a reported $200 million to Gruner + Jahr in 2000, created the philanthropic Goldhirsh Foundation.

GOOD, which the younger Mr. Goldhirsh was funding with $2.5 million from his own trust fund and whose mostly 20-something staff included Al Gore's son, "Big Al" III, would be progressive but not partisan; dense with information, but not wonkish. The subscription price would be donated to charities through a program called "Choose Good," reinforcing the company's goal to be both a business and a force for social change.

The company's dual purposes--or, to the less favorably inclined, dueling purposes--are united right there in its corporate URL: GOOD would be more than just a magazine, a Web site, or a film company: It sought to position itself at the forefront of a new social movement, to be the embodiment of a growing, nameless sensibility that found itself echoed in young people's embrace of Barack Obama (or before him, Howard Dean), eco tote bags, and socially conscious retailers like American Apparel or Whole Foods.

There's a risk in attaching a magazine to an untested, unfocused "movement": A shift in the wind, and you could wind up like George (whose first cover promised "Not Just Politics as Usual") or Swing, a failed "Gen-X" magazine launched by Ralph Lauren's son, David, in 1994 (when Mr. Goldhirsh was still in middle school). Catch it, though, and you could be Wired, Rolling Stone, or (dare Mr. Goldhirsh to think it!) Inc.

But to do that, the magazine would have to grow up.

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