Thursday, May 8, 2008

Circ Numbers: Talking Quantity...and "Quality"

Circ Numbers: Talking Quantity...and "Quality"
How fast can you paddle?
Posted by Ken Doctor

That's the unabated message of today's ABC FAS FAX circulation numbers being reported. They cover the six-month period, through March 31. Overall, the water keeps rising: 3.5% down daily, and 4.5% down Sunday. Those are in line with what we've now seen for more than three years. The waves aren't subsiding, but rising a bit more. Worse, there's not much relief in sight.

As paper-specific reports filter in, we can expect to see more explanations that "we didn't want the circulation anyway."

That's the heavily discounted circulation, next-to-freebie stuff that many dailies have used to prop up numbers for years. Of course, there's some truth to the statement, but it raises a couple of problems:

---As an explanation, it's getting a bit long in the tooth. When circ began to go substantially south more than three years ago, publishers offered the "cutback to quality circ" argument and said they'd cycle through that within a year or so. In Year Four, it seems like less compelling a reason. Just how much how low-quality circ is out there, anyway, or is the definition of it a rolling phenomenon?

---Selling audience to advertisers is in major change, and in that change, newspapers take on new risk. For instance, in Editor and Publisher this a.m., Jim Moroney, publisher of the Dallas Morning News is quoted as saying "We are trying to get out of the churn business." The Morning News is pulling back on its discounted copies. The paper cut one discounted category -- more than 25% but less than 50% paid -- by 75% daily and 80% on Sunday. What did the cut mean? Massive loss with daily circulation down 10.5% to 368,313 and Sunday down 7.6% to 520,215. Metro dailies' market position has long been offering the mass market better than anyone else. Now as household penetration dives toward 40% of households in many metro areas, that mass argument is harder to make. True, newspapers are making more of a niche argument, but niche is a game that internet marketers are having an easier time winning than those who peddle poor non-interactive browsable paper. In the transition from mass to niche, more ad dollars are put at risk to competitors from Google to Spotrunner.

They aren't many winners out of the numbers released today, but you can almost feel the grin of Rupert Murdoch.

His nemesis, the Times, saw a bottom drop out and his Wall Street Journal showed a .35% gain. The Times Sunday number -- down 9.26% or 150,000 copies -- to 1,476,400 is particularly scary. (It was down 3.85% daily.) The Times attributed two-thirds of the Sunday decline to "the elimination of bonus days" and the familiar "third-party bulk." Last year, it took a gutsy price increase to its readers -- and has been showing positive circulation revenue growth, an oddity in the industry. These circ numbers are the first since last year's increase. If they continue to trend significantly down, the make-the-high-demo-niche-audience-pay-more-for-quality strategy -- one watched by the industry -- will be seen as a loser.

I can't help but wonder about the contribution of Times Select's termination here. As it ended, the Times counted about 470,000 paying customers who received Times Select for "free," as long as they were print subscribers. That called to attention the print/web connection. Take it away, and you give readers pause -- do I really need to take that non-green pile of paper when it's all unambiguously free?

Looking at today's numbers, we see a couple of other intriguing trends:
---Optimistic Buyers of Big-City Metros Beware: Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Minneapolis Star Tribune -- both bought within the last couple of years -- were down significantly. The Strib: 5% daily, 7% Sunday and The Inqy: 5% daily and 6% Sunday. New owners had counseled optimism that new approaches -- marketing forward -- could turn around those papers.
---Flat is the New Growth: The Strib's competition, the Pioneer Press (my alma mater), was essentially flat. Its fellow MediaNews property -- the Mercury News -- somehow managed to gain 1.7% despite its turmoil, newsprint and staff cutbacks. (Other gainers, here.)
---Seattle's About the Only Place Circ Was Up: Starbucks down; news reading up? Particularly dreary, bone-tingling winter?

Today's news, combined with the spiraling downward trends in print ad revenues, only means more misery. With new layoffs announced in Raleigh, we may see the buyouts/layoffs of 2007 simply as prologue. I think what we're seeing, unannounced, is the radical restructuring of the newspaper industry. The drip, drip, drip of change is now becoming a torrent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The New Next: The Brands that Bond

BoSacks Speaks Out: This article has nothing directly to do with magazines, unless you buy into the theory that magazines are about branding.
I am forwarding this along because I just liked the ideas and the imagery and I have filed the concepts away in my brain for future application.

"Tell me what brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals."

Abraham Lincoln quotes (American 16th US President (1861-65)

The New Next: The Brands that Bond
by Tiffany Kenyon

Last year we saw the explosion of online social networks into the mainstream and beyond. Suddenly it wasn't just our early adopters that we were talking to via clever digital activities. But just for a change, let's consider real-world communities.

There is something to be said for the value of face-to-face conversations with people. It's not as easy as it may sound. Taking the time to find and meaningfully interact with groups of the right people requires subtlety and, often, odd working hours. Brands have to resist the temptation to overwhelm captive audiences with their messaging. There is also the challenge of measuring the returns on investment, especially when that investment amounts to a meaningful conversation with a mere handful of people. Am I selling it to you?

There's ample reason to make the effort, especially when targeting specific interest groups - fitness freaks or mothers, or mothers who are fitness freaks. In Argentina we've found a few big brands reaping the rewards of targeting existing communities and giving them useful ways to be involved with the brand.

>> Running the Club
How would you feel if your friendly local running club suddenly got sponsorship from a major sporting brand? Exploited? Not here. One Saturday my coach handed out Puma hoodies to his 40 or so amateur exercise enthusiasts. Two weeks later a Puma representative casually popped by at the end of training to tell us about the brand. There was no liveried vehicle, no obligation to use the equipment, just an explanation - and it was a Saturday. That's dedication. It was also very smart.

Our group shares the parks with other groups of runners that I'd assumed from their gear to be elite training units. Turns out they were just fellow amateur runners, color-coordinated thanks to the well-targeted largesse of other brands like Reebok, Fila and Adidas. We quickly defined ourselves and one another as the outfits ("Hey, Reebok, we've got the overpass today"). These running groups work out along the parks that line the main road out of the city. To the onlooker in traffic, they're a brand in action.

>> Oh la Ala
Ala is Unilever's second-tier washing powder in Argentina, but, much like a sudsy Gordon Gekko, it uses a "Dirt is Good" platform in its campaign. In 2007 Ala hosted a conference on the importance of play in a healthy childhood. It was part of a global study commissioned by Unilever, but the delivery of the conference seemed far from brand-motivated. Interested mothers crowded the auditorium, and the take-home packs included not sachets of Ala (they saved those for women in areas who really need it), but information on independent programs dedicated to healthy, educational activities for kids. Ala is by far the leader in detergent sales in Argentina.

>> Mimo Graph
After decades of bad government, it's not surprising that people are ready to trust brands over institutions. Mimo & Co is an upmarket children's clothing chain. It has built it's image from it's humble foundations 40 years ago through constant dialogue with parents. In recent years it has appeared at the annual Argentine Polo Open where it provides an outdoor children's nursery, complete with activities. Child care is not taken lightly in Argentina, yet stylish couples happily leave their little ones to the care of minders vetted only by the fashion label. What greater symbol of trust in a brand could you need?

Written by Tiffany Kenyon, curated by Paul Woolmington, of Naked Communications. ( and

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Relationship between Editors and Freelance Writers

The Relationship between Editors and Freelance Writers
Post by Joe Pulizzi

I received an email from a freelance writer last week who wanted a little more detail on how custom publishers/custom publishing editors work with freelance writers (and any specific advice). Although it's a little off our focus here, it's still a great topic. So, I asked my friend and colleague Tom Peric', who has been chief editor of a number of custom publications, to respond. Tom's information is below.

I decided NOT to split this article up, even though it is rather long. As you'll see from Tom's article, freelance writer between traditional assignments are custom assignments are pretty much the same. Personally, the major difference with custom over traditional is that sometimes to need to follow Tom's advice with multiple contacts - the editorial director or chief editor, the account director and the account manager. Each deserves their own treatment. There is no question that there is tons of opportunity for freelancers in custom publishing/media . . . but you definitely have to WANT it.

Thanks Tom for the submission. . . . I hope you all enjoy! - JP

The Writing Life: Editors and Writers

Writing types often ask me about the relationship between editors and freelance writers. Having been on both sides of the fence, I can sympathize with both groups when they gripe about the other party. In particular, freelance writers want to know how to get the attention of editors for an article and to keep that interest for future assignments. Editors don't share the same mold. Editors' approaches to how they deal with freelancers are as varied as the choices of apples at the supermarket. Here are some tips that might help you close the gap with your less successful editors.

Remain The Same. If an editor is accepting your work and seems keen to keep giving you assignments, then you probably have the "right" kind of approach. After all, they keep feeding you work. Here, the cliché is apt: "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." You have apparently developed a system that works for you, so keep doing what you have been doing with this batch.

Background and Relationships. Cracking into the pack of writers used by a reliable editor can be very difficult even when you've shown, via clips or references, that you're a pro. Editors don't like taking chances, probably because they have been disappointed in the past. Hence a reluctance. Yes, ironically, they must always be on the lookout for new talent. Yes, your clips are good, but how do they know that a superb editor didn't slave over your effort to make it good? Suggest to the editor that you might want to take an article, not for the next issue but several issues down the road. This way, you're offering the editor a way to deal with your work (kill the story) if he or she doesn't feel your work doesn't pass the test.

Know The Game. There's nothing more compelling to an editor than when you clearly demonstrate you are familiar with the publication. Unfortunately, this is a time-consuming process, and it's why most PR people fail miserably when they pitch editors. I would hope that you check out the edit calendar BEFORE you pitch the editor. I am stunned at the number of PR people and writers who never bother to look at this. Knowing what an editor is looking for and when he or she needs it is winning half of the assignment game.

What's The Value? Unfortunately, the law of supply and demand dictates the market for freelancers. There are tons of freelancers out there. (I didn't say they were good, just that they're out there.) Everyone wants to write and thinks they can write. So, how valuable are freelancers? Valuable if they deliver. That means they meet deadlines, the copy is tight and bright, they follow the assignment sheet, they keep you abreast of developments, especially problems, and they contact you early - not the day before - when a sticky point develops. One of my freelancers should probably get more money from me. I don't want to lose him, but there's something called a budget. So I pay him within one week (or less) when he turns in the assignment. And I have only sent one assignment back for a minor touch-up in about five years. Any follow-up, I do. What I'm doing is keeping his workload to a minimum and paying faster than anyone in the freelance universe. He loves working with me, and I enjoy working with him. I'm also appalled that the freelance market doesn't pay any better today (per word) than it did 25 years ago. Supply and demand. There will always be more supply than demand - and the wages reflect that reality.

Problem Editors. What should you do with problem editors who don't you use you or, if they do, make it hard getting new assignments? Use the direct, polite approach. Ask them what is the best way to get more assignments. Try this: "Janice, I enjoyed the article I did for you and would like to a few more on a regular basis. Is there anything I can do that would increase this likelihood? Do I need to pitch you differently or approach my stories from a special perspective?" Again, I'm always amazed when people don't ask the person to whom they're selling (and you ARE selling them your writing and reporting skills) how to do it. I would be sure to ask the editor how they want to be pitched and even WHEN they want pitches. While I own my own PR firm in Cherry Hill, N.J., I also serve as the editor of two national trade publications. Sometimes I have people genuflecting to me so that I accept their article or expert as a source. Other times, I'm on bended knee to an editor saying, "please please," accept my client's article or idea. It's a very unusual situation but one that gives me an inside view of BOTH worlds that very few people have. When pitching me, I say the same thing over and over again: Write a working headline and two to three short graphs on the ideas. You MUST answer the two most basic questions on EVERY pitch. Why should I (and the reader) care? Why should I care now? If you can't answer that, you're going to fall short. If you ask each editor how they want pitches and you do it precisely as they requested, you will increase your acceptance rate. When the handful of people who really follow my guidelines send me a pitch, it's amazing how many get an assignment. ASK!

Make It Personal. Whenever possible, try to meet the editor for lunch and a face-to-face. I understand you can't fly across the country for a $500 assignment. But if the editor is within striking distance, up to three hours, I say go for it. How do you decide? Simple. How important is the editor and publication to you? If it's only $1,000 per year, it might not be worth it. But if it's worth $5,000 and you think it's possible to boost that figure to $15,000, make that luncheon appointment today. Meet with EVERY editor at least once a year, and twice is better. In this Internet age, becoming a real person as opposed to a disembodied spirit via e-mail can make all the difference in the world. When you see a particularly relevant idea for an editor, even if it is not something you want to write about, pass it on to the editor with a brief note. Stay in front of the editor in a low-key, but regular way.

Beyond E-Mail. E-mail is great. But most of us forget about e-mails almost immediately, NO MATTER how valuable. Unless we tag it or pull it into an appropriate folder, WE FORGET ABOUT IT. Follow up EVERY e-mail intro to an editor with a hard copy by snail mail. The snail mail will presumably include your background, plus an article or two. Be sure to use a good color printer for what you send. Mention in the e-mail that you'll send hard copy. Why? Try this: "Janice, because e-mail getting through is always suspect, I'm also sending along a copy of this e-mail in a snail mail packet." Now it might sit on the desk for months, but the editor will almost surely have to "touch" it again. And they just might say, "Oh, yeah, I meant to . . ." Old e-mails? Don't we almost always forget about them? Snail mail is still real mail.

What Am I Doing Wrong? What are you doing wrong with the editors who don't use or call upon you with regularity? Again, just ask. The problem is most editors will never level with you. Whether it's political correctness, politeness or avoiding a decidedly uncomfortable conversation, I've never known an editor to say, "I just don't like your writing style." However, I once had an editor compare me to another top gun freelancer and, frankly, he favored the other guy. He was also honest about why. That conversation had a profound effect on me. I had another editor who had issues about one aspect of how I handled the language. The results of the conversation also had a dramatic effect on how I wrote subsequently. In short, when you obtain the information that warrants change, do so. But there will always be some things (editors) that you can't control, change or receive information from that permits you to take a different direction. "Forget about it," as Al Pacino said. You'll sleep better at night. Just go on to the next editor.

The Best Time. Keep abreast of changes in the marketplace. There is NEVER a better time to approach an editor than when he or she starts on the job. They often start with a partially clean slate. What better time than now to approach them before they create their own stable of writers and become reluctant to add more? One source I use, among many, is Partyline. It is a weekly report on staff and editorial changes at many media outlets. Tell Betty I sent you. A bit expensive for some freelancers (about $167 for an online version) but worth it. Visit

Tom Peric' is a leading speaker on getting publicity and president of Galileo Communications Inc. He is the author of Wacky Days: How to Get Millions of $$$ in Free Publicity.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gains and Pains for Journalism

BoSacks Speaks Out; This is not a magazine article, but there are so many excellent random thoughts about information distribution, adjusting to the new age of journalism, and other assorted notions that I had to send it out to you.

Including this observation;
. . . we are not at the end of the process.
What has happened so far can be compared to the mild tremors felt before an earthquake.

I concur. What our industry, the magazine industry has gone through, and is still going through, is just the tail end of the very beginning. Technology is advancing faster than anyone can keep pace. Our jobs are being redefined on an annual basis. There is no one who reads this newsletter who is doing the same thing they did 5 years ago.

Net gains and pains for journalism

Most journalists now need more than just fast shorthand
The writing is on the wall for journalism and journalists says regular columnist Bill Thompson.
I've just finished marking the essays my students at City University have to do as part of the course in online journalism that I teach.
They've done some good work, especially the assignment where I get them to argue that the BBC should be forced to close down its online service because the licence fee is really only there to pay for television.

They also seem to have realised that anyone who wants to break into professional journalism needs to have some sort of online presence beyond a Facebook profile, as it's the first thing an editor will look for when they apply for a job, so there are a few new blogs and online publications out there that might not otherwise have appeared.

While City, like every other British journalism department, has realised that you have to teach people how to build websites, write copy that works online and use network resources for your research, I get to do the interesting bit about how the internet is changing the world in which journalists operate.
So we talk about citizen journalism, the way readers have become the "former audience", how the commercial model which made newspapers possible is being challenged by Google and Craigslist, and the need for any professional journalist to have multimedia skills.

It's been a stimulating class, not least because the different perspectives brought by Ahmet from Turkey, Mahmoud from Saudi Arabia and Lian from China challenge the western viewpoint I inevitably bring to these discussions, and partly because Anouk, Hazel and Lisa are always willing to dive in and disagree loudly with whatever I've just said.

The scale of the changes in the practice of journalism and the economic models of the companies that support and sustain journalism is starting to become apparent
Bill Thompson
I've been teaching the course for ten years now, but I've never actually managed to teach the same class twice because things change so rapidly that the revolutionary insights I bring to the one class became standard practice by the time a new academic year rolls around.

We've seen blogging turn from a curious habit of the self-obsessed into a defining use of the internet for all forms of communication, watched citizen journalism rise and become partly absorbed into the mainstream, and seen news feeds, aggregators and personal recommendations on social network sites replace the front pages of major news providers as the way people find out about breaking news.

The Guardian has gone from a newspaper with a nice website to an online information source that also publishes a dead tree edition, while the BBC's Royal Charter now puts the internet on an equal level with TV and radio -whatever my students may argue about the matter.

Radio is undergoing its own reinvention as downloads and podcasts overcome old geographical and time-based constraints to allow any one of the net's billion or so users to get any show from any station whenever and wherever they like.
The reinvention of television proceeds apace as services like the iPlayer and 4OD hasten the end of the broadcast model and move us to an "any screen, any time, any place" model of programme distribution.

And new services like Twitter have started to offer alternative ways of getting the news, in the form of short updates about breaking news or links to longer pieces.

Radio reporting has come a long way since its early days
As I write this I'm also keeping an eye on the British Press Awards because they are being fed live to Twitter by the organisers. I'm also debating them with my Twitter friends, the online equivalent of watching the match in the pub, with the subtle distinction that I'm in Florida at the moment.

But we are not at the end of the process.
What has happened so far can be compared to the mild tremors felt before an earthquake.

Most of the news we read, watch and listen to is still produced by people employed to do so; most online news comes from companies that have a presence in the offline media world; and while user contributions are solicited and broadcast, they are still complementary to the material provided by the professionals.

The scale of the changes in the practice of journalism and the economic models of the companies that support and sustain journalism is starting to become apparent in the predictions made by some of the key observers, and some of them surprise even me.
For example, at Media Re:public, a major conference on the future of what they call "participatory media" in Los Angeles organised by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Solana Larsen surprised the audience by predicting that one result of the internet revolution is that there will be no foreign correspondents in five years time.

Solana is one of the managing editors of Global Voices, a site that offers easy access to many of the world's bloggers and tries to "aggregate, curate, and amplify the global conversation online". She is also, I have to point out, a former student of mine and a dear friend.

Twitter has become a fast feed of news and events for many
And she is right. The idea of the "foreign correspondent", sent off to a strange land to report on the activities of the "natives" for the benefit of those who require their strange customs to be interpreted and sanitised is a relic of a pre-network age.

As the internet spreads there are more and more places where we can simply ask those who are living through the events what they think of them and seek insights and analysis from those who know the people and the places involved.

It's an argument that Sameer Padania makes in "Reflecting the Real World 2", a report commissioned by the One World Trust to look at how the media portray the developing world, but of course it applies to every part of the world and not just countries outside the West.

This change will ripple through the newsgathering departments of every major media company, and it may not be welcomed everywhere, but it is one of those big changes that is obvious once it is pointed out to you.

And there are many more to come in the next few years, as the network works its magic on the business of journalism.

Bill Thompson is an independent journalist and regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Magazines face curbs to photo airbrushing

Magazines face curbs to photo airbrushing
By Amanda Andrews

Madonna's bulging biceps have gone missing from her portrait in the latest edition of Vanity Fair, and Keira Knightley's bust is decidedly bigger in a poster promoting the film King Arthur than in earlier publicity pictures.

However, magazines are now facing curbs on the extent they can airbrush pictures of celebrities amid concern that it encourages young girls to ignore the health risks of trying to attain a waif-like figure.

Magazine editors have agreed to meet with their trade association to agree a code of practice for the use of airbrushed photographs. Among those expected to attend are Alexandra Shulman of Vogue, Lorraine Candy of Elle, and Kay Goddard of Hello! Representatives of leading publishing houses and the fashion council will also attend.

The summit, for which a date has yet to be agreed, is in response to an inquiry by Baroness Kingsmill last year, which concluded that airbrushing could "perpetuate an unachievable aesthetic".

The introduction of a code of practice was a key recommendation of Baroness Kingsmill's Model Health Inquiry.

Kerry Neilson, the PPA's director of legal and public affairs, said: "Using digital technology to adjust images is a technique widely used across all media from promotional material to films to the web."

Ms Neilsen added: "The BFC said that digital adjustment was outside of their remit, but believed it formed part of 'the wider issue of model health'. As this is a complex issue and there is no pre-determined consensus across the industry, we are currently canvassing views."

Young women are being bombarded with images of perfection across mediums, from magazines to television to the internet. It emerged last week that a website called Miss Bimbo was encouraging girls as young as nine to embrace plastic surgery and extreme dieting in the quest for the perfect figure. The website was quickly condemned by healthcare professionals and parents.

Susan Ringwood, the chief executive of eating disorders charity, Beat, said: "I think a message should be placed by an airbrushed picture saying that it has been digitally enhanced. However, it would make a big difference if airbrushing to make supermodels look slimmer was just not allowed at all."

The first real criticisms of airbrushing came in 2003 when Kate Winslet, famous for defending the appearance of fuller-figured women, appeared waif-like on the cover of GQ in 2003. The magazine's editor was forced to admit that the images had been "digitally altered."

Ms Winslet's enhanced picture in GQ came as a particular surprise, as the image accompanied an article where she questioned the attitudes of woman who equate beauty and sex appeal with being thin.

"So why is it that women think in order to be adored they have to be thin? I just don't understand that way of thinking... I'm certainly not a sex symbol who doesn't eat," Ms Winslet said.

According to sources at the time, Ms Winslet approved the original photos, but was not consulted about the digital changes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Best- and Worst-Sellers (1) At "Esquire" And "GQ," It's Where The Girls Are--And The Men Aren't.

Best- and Worst-Sellers (1) At "Esquire" And "GQ," It's Where The Girls Are--And The Men Aren't.
MIN - Media Industry News
We would doubt that Esquire editor-in-chief (since June 1997) David Granger and his Gentlemen's Quarterly counterpart (since June 2003) Jim Nelson were surprised by last year's newsstand results, where attraction to beautiful women continued a male homo sapien tradition dating back to the Garden of Eden. Angelina Jolie (July 2007) was the "woman Esquire loved" and Esquire readers love, as proven by her being the Hearst monthly's best-seller. (November 2007 Sexiest Woman Alive Charlize Theron doubtlessly sold very well, too.) And, at GQ, readers "took a close look" at best-seller Jessica Biel (July), who was Esquire's 2005 Sexiest..., and runner-up Jessica Alba (June).
Showcasing beauteous and smart women is great p.r. for both magazines. That sexagenarian Robert DeNiro sold worst for GQ (January) and unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was Esquire's poorest (August) is not bad p.r. As respected and honored as DeNiro is, he is old for GQ's circa 30-year-old audience, and Edwards not getting the "votes" of Esquire buyers was subsequently reflected in the early-2008 primaries, which resulted in his dropping out.
"W's" Beckham/Posh "Corner Kick," But Ugly Betty Gets Low Ratings.
That David Beckham and wife Victoria ("Posh Spice") wowed W newsstand buyers last August was the result of perfect timing by editorial director Patrick McCarthy, because the cover broke just as "Becks" was making his U.S. soccer debut with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Five years ago, Posh was the better known of the two--as proved by Beckham being Men's Journal's worst-selling cover in 2003--because the British "music invasion" was and is far more successful than that of soccer.
America Ferrara is, per the May W cover line, Hot because of the success of Ugly Betty. But the series name is a newsstand turnoff, as shown here and in Entertainment Weekly's March 16, 2007 worst-seller (min, March 10, 2008). There, Ferrara was in character, and though beautiful (her real character) in W, perhaps it will be difficult for her to shake the UB typecast. Her new bilingual movie, Under the Same Moon, may shake things up for the better.
"National Geographic's" Maya And Its Not-So-Thundering Herd.
All of the globalization notwithstanding, Americans have looked more inward sincethe end of the Cold War. We may not know that the president of Mexico is Felipe Calderon, but thanks to NG, we know that now there is a fascination with the Maya, the civilization in Mexico/Central America that was enlightened as the Ancient Greeks until it was nearly eradicated by Spanish conquest and disease (mainly smallpox) in the 1500s. August issue is part of the Chris Johns-edited NG's 2008 National Magazine Award large-circulation (2 million-plus) General Excellence nomination (go to MINONLINE.COM) in advance of the May 1 presentation. If so, NG, would repeat from 2007.
Elephants are popular, as the Horton Hears a Who success can attest, so it was a mild surprise that the March NG's Defending a Forgotten Herd sold worst. Perhaps Forgotten was the turnoff, because most of us have an affinity for elephants, be it Horton or seeing pachyderms in the circus or the zoo.
"Vanity Fair's" Africa Is King, But Dreamgirls Got A Newsstand Thumbs Down.
When and if Graydon Carter pens an autobiography about his spectacular career, the VF editor-in-chief (since August 1992) could justifiably call the Bono-guest-edited July 2007 Africa issue his finest moment at the magazine. Yes, being the first to showcase the newborn Suri Cruise (October 2006), the post-Brad Pitt Jennifer Aniston (October 2005), Watergate Deep Throat Mark Felt (July 2005), and all of the Hollywood issue covers were great triumphs, but they were expected to sell well. Africa, on the other hand, with the AIDS epidemic and the Darfur massacre dominating the news, is far from sexy. But Carter and his staff made it so by commissioning Annie Leibovitz to shoot 20 covers (including Barack Obama and Muhammad Ali shown here) and showing all aspects of what used to the "dark continent." Result was that Africa outsold Hollywood (March 2007) to be VF's best-seller.
That Dreamgirls was VF's 2007 worst-seller could be blamed on J-A-N-U-A-R-Y, because the movie musical was a hit and Jennifer Hudson (not on the Beyoncé/Eddie Murphy/Jamie Foxx cover) won the 2006 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. The holiday season typically depresses VF sales: January 2006's Naomi Watts (King Kong) was worst, and we shall see how the more formidable Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy/Knocked Up, etc.) fares this year.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Excerpts of pieces up for National Magazine Awards

A poet's hope: to be,
like some valley cheese,
local, but prized elsewhere.
W. H. Auden (1907 - 1973), Collected Poems

Thoughts from the pages of New York
Excerpts of pieces up for National Magazine Awards

By Diego Vasquez

New York magazine last year took home five National Magazine Awards from seven nominations, winning for design, general excellence among titles with circulations between 250,000 and 500,000, interactive feature, magazine section and profile writing. The title this year was nominated for nine awards, second behind only The New Yorker's 12 nominations and a record for New York. Besides once again being nominated for general excellence, which it has won the past two years, New York is up for design, photography, photo portfolio, feature writing, leisure interests, columns and commentary, reviews and criticism and personal service online. Today begins Media Life's yearly series on the year's NMA nominees with excerpts of passages from a few of the New York pieces that earned nominations.

Feature Writing
One of New York's nods this year was for feature writing for Vanessa Grigoriadis' story titled "Everybody Sucks," about the popular media-themed web site Gawker. The story was originally published on Oct. 15, 2007. Here's an excerpt:

Nearly five years ago, in December 2002, Gawker made its debut under the leadership of Nick Denton, the complicated owner of the blog network Gawker Media, and Elizabeth Spiers, a 25-year-old banker turned blogger who was fragile in person but displayed a streak of dark cunning on the page. They didn't exactly invent the blog, but the tone they used for Gawker became the most important stylistic influence on the emerging field of blogging and has turned into the de facto voice of blogs today. Under Spiers's aegis, Gawker was a fun inside look at the media fishbowl by a woman who was, indeed, "snarky" but also seemed to genuinely enjoy both journalism and journalists-Spiers was a gawker at them-and took delight in putting out a sort of industry fanzine or yearbook, for which she was rewarded with fawning newspaper articles casting her as the new Dorothy Parker. Ironically enough, Spiers craved a job at a magazine. She soon left for a position here, at New York Magazine; two subsequent Gawker editors, Jesse Oxfeld and Jessica Coen, have followed in the past year.

To be enticed, as these writers were, by the credentials extended by an old-media publication is a source of hilarity at the Gawker offices, where, beneath a veneer of self-deprecation, the core belief is that bloggers are cutting-edge journalists-the new "anti-media." No other form has lent itself so perfectly to capturing the current ethos of young New York, which is overwhelmingly tipped toward anger, envy, and resentment at those who control the culture and apartments.

Leisure Interests
Another of New York's nominations for writing was in the Leisure Interests category, for "Cartography," which is described as a complete road map to New York street food. Here's an excerpt from a piece titled "The Kebab Man of 42nd and Eighth":

Today, Elnagar, an Egyptian-American who emigrated to New York eleven years ago, is at the garage by 10:10, exchanging salaam aleikums with other vendors. The garage, the gutted ground floor of a brownstone that's home to a half-dozen carts, is run by a fellow Egyptian named Abdullah. Abdullah charges $200 a month per cart, and Hakim owns two (he operates one; a partner mans the other). The garage is more than a place to keep carts safe. In back, there's a makeshift wholesale shop where cart men can stock up on their wares before heading out to the streets. A freezer chest is filled with hot dogs, and shelves are piled high with Admiration mustard and Trappey's Louisiana hot sauce. There's also a giant shower booth where carts get hosed down. Abdullah's cousin, Mohammed, lounges at the shop's entrance with a prehistoric calculator and handwritten ledger in which he records the vendors' tabs.

Elnagar operates a stretch version of the basic hot-dog cart, with the dogs de-emphasized in favor of the kebabs. It's eight-and-a-half feet long, close to the maximum allowable size, and includes a hot-water tank for hot dogs, a cooler for ice and soda, a dry shelf for pretzels, and a twelve-by-twelve-inch charcoal grill. It takes two Sabrett umbrellas (WE'RE ON A ROLL!) to cover it. Its front and sides advertise, in peeling letters, SHISH KEBAB-HOT SAUSAGE-BOILED HOT DOG-GRILLED HOT DOG-PRETZEL-KNISH-COLD SODA-WATER-SNAPPLE. Mounted over the grill and facing inward, where only Elnagar can see it, is a price list: "Hot Dog $2," "Hot Sasg $2," and so on. Elnagar wrote it, but he doesn't abide by it. Sometimes he charges $1.25 for a hot dog, sometimes $1.50. "Some people are regulars," he explains.

Elnagar stocks the hot-dog tank with a dozen or so Sabrett franks, enough to get started. The rest he stores in the cooler. Then he glops mustard from a gallon jar into a squeeze bottle, refills his salt and pepper shakers, and drains vinegar from a sauerkraut bag into the hot-dog water. Does that improve the flavor? Prolong shelf life? Elnagar shrugs. He's never thought about it. "Everyone does that," he says.

Columns and Commentary
New York was also nominated in the Columns and Commentary category for Kurt Andersen's column "The Imperial City." Here's an excerpt from his Jan. 1, 2007, entry titled "American Roulette":

A month ago, I was ragging on CNN for presenting Lou Dobbs's hour of pissed-off populism as if it were a traditional nightly news show, and I still think it has a serious truth-in-packaging problem. But (like Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind, with his epiphany about the poor in "Hard Times") I now get Dobbs's and his followers' anger and disgust about the ongoing breaches of the social contract, an American economic system that seems more and more rigged in favor of the extremely fortunate.

I know capitalism is all about creative destruction, that the pain of globalization must be endured and flexible labor markets are good; inequality is endemic; life is uncertain and unfair, sure, yeah, of course. We're all Reaganites now-or at least no longer socialists by instinct. But during the past two decades we've not only let economic uncertainty and unfairness grow to grotesque extremes, we've also inured ourselves to the spectacle. As America has become a lot more like Pottersville than Bedford Falls, those of us closer to the top of the heap have shrugged and moved on.

The asymmetry between the Goldman boss's compensation and that of his average employee-85 times as big-is virtually Ben-and-Jerry's-like these days: An average CEO now gets paid several hundred times the salary of his average worker, a gap that's an order of magnitude larger than it was in the seventies. In Japan, the ratio is just 11-to-1, and in Britain 22-to-1.

This is not the America in which we grew up.

Diego Vasquez is a staff writer for Media Life.