Paying Attention: New York Magazine

The Fall Edition of New York: A must read.

Since it’s founding as the Sunday Supplement of the New York Herald Tribune in 1968 by two of the very best creative minds ever to work in New York, Editor Clay Felker and designer/artist Milton Glaser,  New York magazine has been one of the  best publications in America.  Although originally envisioned as an alternative to the other New York City based publication, the literally-peerless New Yorker (whose pedigree was established by the legendary editor William Shawn), New York magazine rather quickly went national, primarily because of it’s razor sharp social commentary and push-the-limits writing.
It was New York magazine that became the home of “the New Journalism”, a style of writing that combined traditional fact-based journalism with the hyperbolic stylings of a novel, resulting in a breezy, impactful article narrative that managed to not just describe the times, but be a part of them. Among the writers who rose to fame writing for New York were Tom Wolfe, now a literary giant, whose article on “Radical Chic”, describing the Upper East Side old guard’s very dangerous flirtation with 60s radicals like the Black Panthers;  Jimmy Breslin, the newspaper columnist who once ran for Mayor; the recently departed Nora Ephron, writer and film director;  political reporter Joe McGuiness, and a host of others.
Over the years, the publication has undergone a series of ownership changes (Felker and Glaser started the publication, were eventually forced out by Rupert Murdoch who bought it and merged it with another publication he owned CUE, thus giving the publication a massive database of “listings” for restaurants, art exhibits, and live entertainment; Murdoch exited the magazine business and sold the publication to to KIII, a Henry Kravis/KKR investment company but that ownership period was short and not creatively very productive, and the publication was sold to the late investment banker Bruce Wasserstein in 2003. It should be noted that Wasserstein “got it” in a way no one else but the original management team of Felker and Glaser “got it” and was an absolutely terrific owner, leading the publication to new editorial heights over the last few years.
One of the editorial traits about New York magazine is that somehow, it has always managed to remain relevant, failing to soften its’ editorial stance  in the name of the misguided modern trend known as “political correctness”.
Often cited as the very epitome of what a modern “City Magazine” should be, New York rather quickly escaped the listings, events, and restaurant reviews that define that genre of publication (city magazines live on their ability to specify and detail life in their city of coverage) and to move into the more rarified atmosphere of modern social, crime, business, and social commentary. Yes, it’s published in New York and it has a New York attitude and covers New York events and politics but it also devotes a lot of space to national issues and local issues that ultimately become national. It’s a very good barometer of what’s happening and, importantly for those that don’t live in New York,  what’s going to happen.
New York is a weekly—not a monthly—and this frequency gives it the ability to stay current and right on target with the topics its covers. One of the problems of monthly magazines is the long-roll publishing cycle: 30 to 60 days to put together an issue, prep it for printing, a week to print, another week to distribute and, suddenly, writers and editors are often two months removed from the events they are covering, always editorially playing from behind.  With monthly publications, the editors need to put together a magazine that either tells you in detail what happened or projects what’s coming up. Staying close to the action is tough for monthlies in an era when a story can break instantly on the internet.
Weekly (and obviously daily publications like newspapers) have the advantage of working close to the event timeline and can use immediacy in their favor.
A weekly publication can be spot on in timeliness of coverage, never more than a week away from an event; i.e. close enough to provide current information and background but distant enough for a sensible perspective. Another advantage of the weekly publication is the sheer editorial freedom the schedule provides. Take a chance. If it doesn’t work, there’s another edition coming up next week. A weekly publication can take the risks a monthly publication cannot even think about and, if you like magazines or good reading, this is a very good thing. Great creative work requires risk and a 52 week a year publishing schedule provides ample opportunity for tap dancing on nitroglycerin.
Currently, New York is edited by Adam Moss, who seems to possess perfect editorial pitch. He and his staff have won a boatload of National Magazine Awards (seventeen plus) and New York’s digital edition, which is readily accessed, is also superb. New York is the first publication to win awards for both print and internet editions in the same year. In other words, the very epitome of modern journalism, doing it in print and online simultaneously.
In addition to consistently first tier film, theater, and restaurant reviews,
has a few extra editorial features that are worth the price of weekly admission. My personal favorite is their very last editorial feature, “The Approval Matrix”, a grid of what’s in/out/hot/cold/trending. On one page, you can get a precise—and pointed—snapshot of where the American culture and zeitgeist is on any given week.  It’s just Top Rank, information and attitude in extremely sharp, quick detail.
New York is a subscription magazine and in recent issue, the subscription offer was a year (42 issues) for $29.00. Highly recommended. Get it and get into it.

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