I started with the magazine in a humourous youthful way. Already having an interest in astronomy at a young age, my family and I were at a video rental store in June of 1986. I was 10 years old. I was looking through the magazine racks and spied the issue of S&T there and begged my parents to buy it for me, which they did.
The star chart in the middle (then, done by George Lovi) allowed me to map the few stars I could see in Houston to the charts. This was awesome. It wasn't long before I begged for a subscription. My dad declined, believing that the content in S&T was too advanced for me -- he was an S&T subscriber in his youth -- and instead got me a subscription to Astronomy Magazine.
Now, in many respects my dad was correct. S&T's articles and features were a bit over my head. But I was determined to meet the challenge. I wanted to get the magazine that was "too advanced for me." So I went out and did my best to get awesome grades in school and after a year or so, got my subscription to S&T.
I remember keenly one of the arguments I used to get my subscription. S&T always printed the RA and Dec of objects in their articles; Astronomy did not. I remember arguing that S&T woud help me find stuff better. (Well, maybe.)
So, I've had a continuous subscription (more or less) since the late 1980s and I have a certain strong nostalgia for the publication (and almost...loyalty, if you will). I've seen the publication go through a few editor changes, paper changes, and layout changes. I've watched the publication go from the timely source for amateur astronomy information to -- through the necessities of publication -- being three months late. I've watched them silently struggle with the exponential rising of printing costs and how to make a publication appeal to people in such a broad hobby with different interests and experience levels in this internet age.
Guys, you're still here when many publications have long since folded. Congratulations. That is not easy.
Before this gets too long, here are the things I think S&T does well:
- Publishing issues that have something for everyone in astronomy, regardless of interest or experience level. This is not easy and I could not do better myself.
- Excellent editing, especially of the features. Your articles flow very well. Better than most "amateur" stuff on the web.
- Visual appealing publication. (After all, it is a magazine.)
- Articles on a variety of objects to observe, written by experienced observers
If I were to list some things I wish S&T would do better, here is what they are:
- More sketches in the observing articles. (Of course, this represents the viewpoint of a visual observer.)
- More "to see more, view this video on our web site." Harness the convergence of media better. This alone can help you fight the constraints of a limited number of pages. Many of your articles feel as if they have been edited down substantially in order to fit in the space.
- Speaking of the web site, it needs to be redesigned. It has a very old and clunky feel. The use of a serif font for the text alone makes it look very dated.
I suppose I can't end without a few words about print vs. digital. I read -- and enjoy -- both editions, but in different contexts. I primarily enjoy reading the print edition as I can read it in quiet with no electronics around or even the weight of an iPad in my hand. (Does this make me "old" at the age of 36?) However, I also enjoy the digital edition, which I can easily read on the go or at an airport on my iPad.
The digital edition, obviously, is a clone of the print edition. That is, the length of the print edition constrains the length of the digital edition. Would I be happier if the print edition was discontinued in order to gain a longer digital edition, perhaps with some more advanced or specialized articles? I am on the fence on that one. I do like print. (There is also a practical aspect, S&T editors only have so much time in the day to edit articles!)
In any case, those are my thoughts on a nearly constant companion in my astronomy hobby.