A Few Good Men

Two earnest new-media ventures attempt to atone for a Maxim-ized culture—and Ms. approves!

According to Michael Rideout, the 37-year-old founder of Rideout Media Group, magazines have it all wrong. “I actually saw a 30-second ad for someone to subscribe to a magazine the other day,” Rideout said recently. “I was like, ‘Wow, that company does not get it at all.’”

Rideout, meanwhile, is so convinced he “gets it” that he’s funding a new men’s print magazine with his erstwhile retirement fund (accumulated in part at Time Inc., where he was the publisher of custom corporate magazines). The project, called MadePossible is one of two such ventures debuting this summer, both of which purport to offer a completely new kind of content, with a completely new kind of profit mode: No cheesecakey, Maxim-style spreads of near-naked women, and no subscriptions.

The other, an online publication called the Good Men Project Magazine, is helmed by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, the 34-year-old New York Times Magazine writer notable in past years for exposing “down-low culture,” in which straight black men meet other straight black men for sex; for writing a Modern Love essay about his sex addiction; and for being a “Gawker Hottie,” for whatever that’s worth.

With a lean editorial staff, the Good Men venture is based in Boston and will focus on, among other things, relationships, ethics, health and parenting. Denizet-Lewis hopes the content will “take the best parts of magazines like GQ and Esquire.” MadePossible, meanwhile, aims to be a sort of Forbes-slash-Economist hybrid pitched at young men, according to Rideout, but with an additional emphasis on fatherhood and men’s mental health. Its eight-person board of advisers includes directors at J. Crew and Merrill Lynch, along with sociologist Michael Kimmel, who is often called the foremost authority on contemporary American masculinity.

The lineup for the first issue of MadePossible includes a feature by Rebecca McReynolds, a Bloomberg reporter, about micro-lending; a profile of FiveThirtyEight statistics wunderkind Nate Silver by Martin Johnson, who has written for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal; an article by the former deputy editor of Men’s Journal about the Obama administration; and a column about redemption written by James Frey.

The launch issue of the Good Men Project Magazine is already online at goodmenproject.com, where readers can find a mother’s account of her son’s premature puberty; a feature, written by Denizet-Lewis, about a secret court at Harvard that expelled students suspected of homosexuality in 1920; and a letter of apology, in essay form, by a man who set his fiancée’s hair on fire.

Responses to the inaugural issue have run the gamut. “Without directly referencing feminism, the editors take a stand against patriarchal, authoritarian, heterosexist, racist masculinity,” Ms. raved. Toronto’s Eye Weekly, on the other hand, speculated that the magazine might be a “conservative culty thing.”

These diverging impressions aren’t a source of concern for the Good Men guys—quite the contrary. “Benoit e-mailed [those articles] to me and my response back in e-mail was ‘Perfect!’” said Tom Matlack, the founder of the Good Men Project and an eighth-generation descendant of Timothy Matlack, who hand-lettered the Declaration of Independence.

“We’re definitely not a conservative culty thing,” Denizet-Lewis clarified. “I think it’s unfortunate that if you have an article that talks about ethics and morals and what it means to be a good man, that some people are going to have a knee-jerk reaction.”

Rideout has similar concerns about MadePossible, which launches in July. With a credo partially informed by Benjamin Franklin—“BE AT WAR WITH YOUR VICES, AT PEACE WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS, AND LET EVERY NEW YEAR FIND YOU A BETTER MAN,” reads its founder’s e-mail signature—it has already been labeled “the anti-Maxim” by MediaWeek.

“I don’t want to be called that,” Rideout said. “There’s room for Maxim, and everybody needs entertainment … but what they offer is ubiquitous. You can find it in a lot of places right now. And what is not offered out there is this type of substantive stuff.”

It might not seem like an auspicious time to launch a magazine—particularly a men’s magazine. As of this time last year, sales of GQ, Maxim and Men’s Health are all down more than 30 percent. Men’s Vogue was folded back into Vogue after just three years. But all three of these fellows suggest that they are presenting something revolutionary. “We’re not focused on selling sex; we’re not focused on celebrity; we’re not focused on, kind of, men as entertainment,” Matlack said. “We’re actually focused on men’s issues and on men’s stories.”

Rideout is specific about his goals. “We will offer a much higher percentage of substantive articles around their career and money management, specifically for young men,” he said. “We will not offer lurid content of women. We will not celebrate misogyny. We will not have Britney Spears, ever, in this magazine, unless she turns around and does something great about her career. She’s a young business leader? She’s in.” He laughed. “The other stuff is everywhere. There’s no lack of how to get L-A-I-D.”

MadePossible will be totally funded by brands who want to market their content to his demographic. The magazine will be, in his words, a free “gift of content,” with the initial circulation comprised of current 25-to-34-year-old male subscribers to The Economist, Fortune, GQ, Details and Maxim. In July, one million American men will find MadePossible in their mailboxes, without ever having asked for it.

It’s hard not to wonder whether the same 25-year-olds who spend their discretionary income on Judd Apatow movies will be interested in content about ethics and parenting—especially without the promise of bikini-clad supermodels on the next page.

Both the Good Men founders and Rideout seem absolutely convinced that men want something different. In 2008, Matlack said, his former venture-capitalist and investment-banker friends began calling him up, one by one, saying, “We think we missed out on what’s important, as guys”—inspiring him to abandon the 10th draft of what he calls “a long and miserable memoir” and instead start work on The Good Men Project book.

“One thing to think about young men is, right now, manhood is not clearly defined,” Rideout said. “Women, in general—you individually may have issues with other women, but it’s largely believed among men that women are united,” he said.

Rideout’s voice gets louder when he’s excited about what he’s saying, and this could clearly be heard by two men sitting nearby. One, a thirtyish African-American man, leaned over. “Sorry to bug you,” the man said, “but that—what you just said, about manhood not being defined?—that’s a conversation that a lot of people are having.”

Rideout told the man he was about to launch a platform to address that conversation. “I’d be interested in that, whatever you’re doing,” the man replied. Rideout gave him a business card.

A plant? No way, Rideout insisted to The Observer. “You don’t understand,” he said. “This happens every day.”

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