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Review of Model Railroad News Magazine. (August 2008)

September 9, 2008

There are some good features to this otherwise unpolished magazine.

MRN cover

Quick Review:

MRN review


Model Railroad News claims to be on the cutting edge for product reviews for a few years now. I can agree with that statement, although some of the material in the August Issue (Written in July, as most magazines are written obviously a month before press time.) is a bit dated, but still welcome. They are keen as to what will be a popular model release, although I think the N scale GS4 would have made a better cover subject than *another* HO scale Big Boy offering, but that just my humble opinion. They have downgraded their page layout size to a standard magazine format from a large trade sized gloss paper, full color newspaper format that allowed them to run larger, more detailed photographs showing some models in actual size. I suppose this is due to shipping costs or US mail regulations.

Value for Your Money?

The Magazine Averages at a cost of $0.05 US cents a page, compared to Dan’s Assesment of Model Railroad IssuesIt’s par for the course. You get the same for your money. I did include advertising pages, as they contribute to the entire reason why this magazine exists: to review products. Unlike Model Railroader, there aren’t any how-to’s, just product reviews. Although some reviews do include advice on how to use the product being reviewed, it’s a different ballgame.

Why are the Editorial Scores So Low?

Mainly, I believe that blatant errors (Minor errors are excusable.) deserve an automatically low score. It seems a bit cutthroat, but a misplaced photograph or incorrect unit of measurement when describing an item (present in one of the reviews when feet and inches are switched, with puzzling effect.) can really confuse a causal reader and might even influence them in a negative way to decide NOT to buy the product. I’m always on the lookout for a building that might fit a certain space on my layout and I have to rely on the information as correct when in published form, it’s one of the main duties of a magazine to uphold good editorial skills and provide the public with a polished, readable product that someone doesn’t have to put on their editorial “hat” to cover for someone who is PAID to edit the material. There were a myriad of typographical errors obviously a product of using “spell check” and not reading the sentence to determine the correct word to use in context. There were quite a few two, three and four letter words that were incorrect.

It’s lazy.

Also as seen in the photograph below, this blatant error is patently inexcusable. To put the wrong PHOTOGRAPH in a magazine (with the correct caption for the article, mind you) is really amateur. Obviously one of the employees who did this isn’t a diesel fan, or even capable of cognitive skills to determine that that locomotive looks nothing like the one that’s being reviewed in the article.


Uphold a sense of REALISM, please.


You’re a Model Product REVIEW magazine, and nothing else. In a strict sense I believe it’s dishonest to show that 4-8-8-4 with voluminous smoke erupting out of it’s twin stacks when the model you’re reviewing DOES NOT EVEN HAVE THAT FEATURE. It would be like photo-shopping a model fighter plane shooting a missile, it’s not representative of the capabilities of the model being reviewed. (Although I think in the future smoke like that might be possible through holographic projectors, but not here and not now with that model.)
How about the COAST daylight, KATO’s newest release, cruising past ANASAZI Indian cliff dwellings somewhere in the southwest? It’s NOT representative of a realistic location in which those beautiful GS4’s operated. You could do what MR does with the grassy knoll, small timber bridge and ballasted mainline with the big sky in the background, at least. Why not go the extra mile and build a little diorama with the train, ballasted main, and the ocean in the background, like it’s heading south past ventura in 1941? Accurate models are created to represent reality, back that up with a realistic setting.

HOWEVER, It’s Not All Bad..


Their in-depth reviews of models, their core business, is fundamentally strong. They write excellent, probing articles that patently tell you the best and worse attributes of the product their reviewing, and in this article covering the re-release of the Proto 2000 GP7 and SD7, the guy actually contacted Walther’s to ask why they hadn’t updated the drive for the SD7! Good investigative journalism, even if it’s easy to do by sending Walther’s a customer service notice.

Great Touches

The chart showing the speed tables, the vital stats of the locomotive all up front, as opposed to searching through the article to find each tidbit of information like in a Model Railroader article, is a VERY NICE way to approach this. The model photos showing just the model with a completely white background allow you to really look closely and asses the details of the product, a very professional touch.


If there was a previous version of a particular model, in this case the AristoCraft C-16 2-8-0, they do a head-to head comparison, with very favorable results. You can clearly see the shortcommings of the inferior model and it really makes the superior model stand out. It’s THE way to review a re-release! They compare statistics, measurements, and performace between the models and you see how superior the newer model is. It also highlights detail differences, which is what modeling is all about: details.


However, some things are still weak.

The Editorial “At the Crossing” started off strong with the Automobile news from HONDA proclaiming that they ship most of their automobiles by Autorack instead of over-the-road car carriers, which is more efficient. That made for an interesting and informative read, but the following editorial “cruise” down the author’s memory lane left me disconnected from the rest of the content and kind of alienated me, the reader. It talks about the author’s first family car (only vaguely related to the supplied photo..what happened there?) and the universally tragic loss of a relative. What is the reader to do? You cannot directly reach through the magazine and pat the author on the back and say “I’m sorry for your loss.” it locks you in a moral dilemma: choosing whether to care sympathetically for the author or ignore it. THIS IS NOT THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, we’re mainly talking about Model Railroading products, which are supposed to be fun? Hello? Personal struggles are supposed to be cast aside once you enter your layout room, not revisited in the pages of a magazine that supports and discusses the same topic. However sad it may be, there’s no reason to negitively impact the mood of the reader for what is claimed to be the “Fairest Model Product Review” by sharing something genuinely sad with the audience.


Although not all the reviews were top-notch, they made for an informative read. Stick to what you do best: product reviews, and keep sad personal stories to close family members, learn to go a bit deeper into your research, improve the realism of the scenes that are depicted on the cover. Stop photo-shopping things that aren’t available on the model, and SHARPEN YOUR EDITORIAL SKILLS, PLEASE.

Model Railroad News has the potential to fulfill it’s wishes to become the BEST source for, you guessed it, MODEL RAILROAD NEWS if they make sure to improve upon an excellent concept. I believe they can, with a more dilligent editor, some higher quality photographs and more in-depth research on the real-life counterpart of the models you might want that MRN reviews and becomes the reason why you went down to your local hobby shop and opened your wallet wide, for you were well informed by the best source in model railroad news. So sharpen your product MRN, and you’ll really become the cutting edge! Otherwise, you’ll be another dull, throwaway rag that model railroaders will use, crumpled up inside their scenery, as a filler material for their terrain, imtombed in plaster gauze and sprinkled in ground foam.

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