Way back in 2003, The Word magazine made me think I really should check out this new iPod music gadget they were raving about. The Word also alerted me to The Wire months before it was regularly acclaimed everywhere else as “the best show on television”. The Word recommended I listen to The National’s Boxer album — which quickly became an all-time favourite. The Word has changed my life in these and oh so many other positive ways. It’s the only magazine I subscribe to. Not bad for a mag that, upon first impression, doesn’t look much different from its UK music mag brethren.

The Word is different though. It’s not published by a corporate behemoth only interested in filling the monthly page count with celebrity pap, large photos and little readable content. It’s lovingly crafted by a small bunch of enthusiasts (five, to be exact) who established an independent publishing company called Development Hell to, as editor Mark Ellen put it, produce “a sophisticated and beautifully polished fanzine”.

Ellen and co-Word creator David Hepworth are veterans of the UK media scene. Both were writers at the NME and co-hosted BBC TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test in the 1970s. Ellen was Q magazine’s inaugural editor in the late 1980s and established Mojo in the 1990s. Hepworth has launched several successful magazines including Q and Empire and co-presented Live Aid in 1985. Ellen also played in a band called Ugly Rumours with ex-British PM Tony Blair while at school. But we won’t hold that against him.

I picked up my first copy of The Word at Sydney airport. (I was one of the few who did that month —  Ellen later remarked that particular September 2003 edition featuring Dido on the front cover remained “both nailed and glued to the shelves”.) The “At last — something to read” tag line appealed and a quick flick confirmed that, yes indeed, it did have more substance than the average music mag. Amazingly, it’s got even better since then and a new-look, starting with the March 2010 edition, available in Australian now, promises “more to read — even better value!”. Articles on topics as diverse as how the great records were made, the former Fleet Street journalists’ Gentleman Ranters website, and the history of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character kept me reading until the next edition arrived. No mean feat.

And it’s not just a magazine. Ellen, Hepworth and cohorts have cleverly used The Word’s website and podcast to build a community vibe for readers. The website features an open source blog that anyone is free to contribute to. Unsurprisingly, quality varies widely but there’s some erudite, amusing, thoughtful contributors (and me) lurking there, making it a regular destination for a browse or debate. The regular Word podcast, available free via iTunes, makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping on mates talking down the pub. Ellen and/or Hepworth are usually joined by website guru Fraser Lewry and Word writers and guests to chat about whatever takes their fancy.

I treasure The Word and those who produce it each month. They make you feel part of The Word family. If you’re looking for an intelligent monthly pop culture fix The Word is the place to find it.

The latest edition of The Word magazine available in Australia can be viewed here . Your local newsagent should have a nice, feel-good, tactile print edition to buy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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