On Monday, Sept. 10, New York magazine was prepping a cover story about the city’s cocktail culture. According to a source, the cover line read: “You thought Sex and the City was about sex? It’s about the drinking!” Elsewhere, the humor magazine The Onion was readying its big Sept. 27 debut in newsboxes around the city. And Talk magazine was about to go to bed with Michael Jackson on its cover.
But then hijackers slammed passenger planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and southwestern Pennsylvania. And as daily newspapers, wire services and news weeklies raced after the breaking news tragedy, the media’s softer side was in uncertain terrain. After all, these publications had relied upon attitude, snarky deconstructions of popular culture, high-end product placement and carefully brokered encounters with celebrities. What were they supposed to do now?
Early on, deadline pressures played havoc with a lot of publications, as the juxtaposition of attack news against fluffier choices made before the tragedy– US Weekly ‘s Best/Worst Dressed issue, or The New York Times ‘ Sept. 12 Dining In/Dining Out section, or Village Voice ‘s wrapping a “THOSE BASTARDS!” cover and a single-page story around an otherwise upbeat paper–emerged as eerie evidence of just how much the city and nation had changed in just a couple of hours. ( The Observer, too, faced a predicament at deadline, running a number of stories related to the W.T.C. catastrophe, but still publishing ample previously written material.)
And publications with fast-approaching deadlines were stressed for answers, too. “It is a seismic shift in what we will be doing in the foreseeable future,” said Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair . He added, “A new culture will emerge out of this, and it may not be apparent for a couple of years.”
It wouldn’t be the first time publications were forced to react to a cultural transition, of course. In their purest form, magazines exude a certain sensibility particular to their time, and as sensibilities change, so must titles. New York publishing history is made up of magazines that encapsulated particular moments–and when those moments passed, so did the magazines.
But those changes tend to be gradual. As the horror of Sept. 11 sank in, magazine editors across the city–especially of the general-interest magazines that rely so heavily on tone–said their magazines must change or become irrelevant relics of a bygone age.
“Obviously, one of the missions of New York is to cover the social comedy,” said New York editor Caroline Miller, “and there’s very little to laugh about at the moment. I can’t overstate how profound it is. We’re going to be, for a very long time, less cynical, less self-absorbed, less exuberant and more vulnerable, and the tone of the magazine will absolutely reflect that.”
To Mr. Carter, the priority for editors will be keeping up with the times and adjusting properly. “One of the problems with Vanity Fair in the 30′s–one of the things that led to its demise [in 1936]–was that it didn’t pay enough attention to the Depression and Hitler’s growing power in Europe, and at some point in the mid-30′s it felt very out of step with what was going on everywhere else in the world,” he said, adding: “I don’t plan to let that happen this time.” (Dormant for almost half a century, Vanity Fair was relaunched by Condé Nast in 1983.)
Mr. Carter said his magazine will be recast in some ways to deal with the implications of the terrorist attack and the looming U.S. military retaliation. “This will dominate 60 percent or more of the magazine for the foreseeable future,” he said. The November issue–the annual music issue–is largely unchanged, but it will be wrapped in a bag with a 48-page special issue featuring portraits taken at the disaster scene and an essay by David Halberstam. The December issue, which was largely planned, is currently being ripped apart to make room for coverage of the aftermath of the attacks; Mr. Carter said 75 percent of the issue will deal with the subject. Vanity Fair sent reporter Jason Burke to Islamabad on Sept. 17, and Mr. Carter said he is talking with Sebastian Junger about going to Afghanistan. ( Vanity Fair has also won the excerpt rights to Peter Bergen’s book on Osama bin Laden, Holy War, Inc.)
David Granger, the editor of Esquire, said that one of the first orders of business on Thursday was to reassure his staff that what they did still mattered.
“When I talked to my staff, I said, ‘You can’t just all of a sudden think that because of this, what you do in your life is silly. There is a purpose and there is something wonderful about doing good work,’” he said. Mr. Granger worked up eight pages on the attack for the November issue, which will get a new cover after the cover celebrity profile was taken out (he declined to say which celebrity was removed). Mr. Granger also told his staff that they will have to reconsider their upcoming issues. “We’re going to have to be a lot more nimble in terms of story lineups and willingness to make changes,” he said.
At Talk , editorial director Maer Roshan said the magazine ditched its planned cover feature on Michael Jackson and replaced it with a feature photo essay about real-life Manhattan cliques called “Gangs of New York”–also the name of an upcoming Miramax-Martin Scorsese blockbuster. Though the photos had been taken prior to the Sept. 11 tragedy, Talk managed to re-interview many of the story’s subjects about their reactions to the terrorist attacks. (The magazine’s cover was undetermined when Off the Record went to press.)
“We were closing this issue and everything had to be re-examined,” Mr. Roshan said, “and things that seemed so funny and cute no longer seemed funny and cute at all.”
The news weeklies, which in recent years have been dedicating more coverage to pop-culture subjects like Harry
Potter and similar trends, were much more comfortable covering a major breaking news event.
“We always prefer covering a big, important news event,” said Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker. “Obviously, we haven’t taken any particular pleasure in covering this news story; on the other hand, we feel this is what we do best.”
At Time , managing editor Jim Kelly said it was an easy decision to get rid of the magazine’s lighter features, such as the front-of-the-book Notebook and the regular service package Personal Time. “To the extent that any news magazine was trying to stretch the definition of news–or I’d rather say, explore what constitutes news today–that’s gone,” Mr. Kelly said. Joel Stein, a columnist used in recent years to boost Time ‘s young-and-edgy quotient, found himself writing about the grim science of recovering bodies from disaster sites.
Meanwhile, at The Onion –a satire publication that uses deadpan, A.P.-style accounts to chronicle the mundane and ridiculous–editor in chief Rob Siegel said he was willing to lay low for the week.
The paper will skip the issue for Sept. 19 and then resume Sept. 26. The Sept. 27 newsbox launch in the city will also be pushed back, he said.
But Mr. Siegel feels that his publication’s time will come again. “As horrible as this tragedy is, you know, life will go back to normal and people will want petty remarks about what J. Lo was wearing, etc,” he said.
When he first got the news on the morning of Sept. 11, New York Daily News editor in chief Ed Kosner had just finished shaving. He stepped out from the bathroom to his bedroom and heard a newscaster on 1010 WINS telling listeners about the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. He picked up the phone and had begun talking with one of his managing editors when the other plane plunged into the second tower.
Mr. Kosner arrived at the News newsroom to see metro editor Rick Pienciak handing out assignments and getting people organized. According to one Daily News source, a bulk of the staff had already planned on coming in for primary coverage and by mid-morning there were “maybe two dozen people, 35-40 if you count the guys from the Daily News Express .”
“We were just trying to respond to as many scenes as possible,” Mr. Kosner said. “Places just kept popping up.”
Columnist Mike Daly had spent the early morning with Republican Mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg before coming into the office just as the first attack occurred. Making his way down by a combination of subway-taxi-foot, he got to the scene and began to interview people just as the second tower collapsed.
“When the second one went down all I could do was think about running away and not getting killed,” Mr. Daly said. “I’m not very brave. I’m a coward. Writing seems like a pretty paltry thing in comparison….”
While Mr. Daly was spared from harm, one colleague wasn’t as lucky. Photographer David Handschuh, who provided the shot of the fireball following the second collision that appeared on Wednesday’s page two, wound up trapped beneath a fire engine. Found by a firefighter, he broke both his legs.
“This is the big one,” said News columnist Pete Hamill. “This is why you cover all those beats and write those stories every day.”
Mr. Hamill, who lives south of Canal Street, didn’t make it to the newsroom until the following night. “At 10:00 last night the city room looked like, well, like city rooms used to look … It was spectacular to watch.”
But while it’s tempting to try and liken the scene to an earlier time, one in which fedora-wearing newspaper reporters ran with cigarettes hanging from their lips, it became apparent on Wednesday night that this was a new, perhaps more dangerous era. According to one newsroom source, at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, the News evacuated its office in response to a bomb scare on the 44th floor of the Empire State Building five blocks away.
“Security came on the intercom,” the source said, “saying ‘We’ve been asked to evacuate the building.’ They asked us to walk to West Side Highway. I think we got as far as 11th Avenue.”
According to News sources, the building is still under police protection. And while the company provided grief counseling for its employees last week, there seems that there’s little time to attend. The story, in all likelihood, is going to get bigger, and probably fast.
The New York Post had much the same experience as the News . Because much of the staff was planning for a late night covering the primary, many of the Post ‘s reporters were planning on showing up late to work .
Political reporter Bob Hardt was on the train at Jamaica Bay with a clear view of the World Trade Center when he saw the second plane crash, and he soon realized that the primary was going to be an afterthought in Wednesday’s paper.
Metro editor Jesse Angelo, who was just appointed to the position in June, was primarily responsible for directing coverage, which impressed Post staff members who spoke to Off the Record. With everyone at the Post pitching in–senior editors were reporting from hospitals while young copy editors did rewrite, depending on who was available when–Mr. Angelo was worried about his staff burning out all at once, sources said, and ordered everyone on the city desk to take a day off starting Saturday.
Editor in chief Col Allan was understandably a presence in the newsroom, as was News Corp. deputy chief operating officer Lachlan Murdoch. On Wednesday, Post sources said, Mr. Allan gave a speech in the newsroom thanking his staff.
Howell Raines, who had formally taken over as executive editor of The New York Times on Sept. 6, made no newsroom speeches, but one reporter said that at 1 a.m. on Tuesday night–well after the last edition went to press–Mr. Raines was still in the newsroom, thanking the Metro desk for their work. Some on the staff were calling it, jokingly, “Howell’s first day on the job,” even though Mr. Raines had started the previous week.
–Sridhar Pappu and Gabriel Snyder
Of all the publications impacted by last week’s catastrophe, the ones that may have been hit the hardest were the magazines located south of 14th Street. For several days after Sept. 11, the staffs of Paper and Time Out New York found themselves at home, unable to do anything. And like many of their glossy partners uptown, they now face a city that may not want to hear about style just yet and can barely eat, much less ruminate over restaurants or fashion models.
At Paper , whose staff returned to work at their offices on Broadway and Franklin Street on Monday, Sept. 17, to finish the November nightlife issue, music editor Jonathan Durbin put it this way: “I’ve been racking my brain on what to do. If there’s a war, I have no idea where Paper would be in all of this. None.” Meanwhile, the magazine’s founder, co-editor and publisher, David Hershkovits, said the November edition of the magazine would “do our best to address the tragedy. We’ll talk about the community response to all of this.” Mr. Hershkovits’ business partner, Kim Hastreiter, said the magazine would overcome any money issues (i.e., slumping advertising) that the crisis situation could create.
“We’ve never been rich,” Ms. Hastreiter said. “We started this with $4,000 17 years ago. David and I don’t come from rich families. We’ve learned to do things with nothing. That’s where we excel the most.”
If anyone was shaken up from the blanket barricade of downtown, it was Time Out New York . The magazine halted publication of this week’s issue and was kept away from its building by their landlord until Friday. That day, when editor in chief Cyndi Stivers began to talk with her staff about the next three issues, she and the rest were forced to evacuate after a bomb threat.
“We’ll acknowledge it and we’ll try to help people cope,” Ms. Stivers said of TONY ‘s plans. “But we are not a news organization. We’d just get in the way of the people who are trained to do this. These guys are cultural reporters and critics. It’s just not what our readers need from us.”
And while Ms. Stivers said the forthcoming TONY had more ads than originally planned, she later added: “I don’t mean to mislead you. We lost an issue this week. We definitely took a hit.”
Two publications below 14th did manage to keep going, however: the Voice and Harper’s . For his part, Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham said: “It wasn’t much of a decision [to stay open]. Had people wanted to stay home, they could have. The magazine is coming down to the last two weeks of the cycle. People just came.”
Mr. Lapham told Off the Record that he’d devote his November column to the tragedy, though he wasn’t sure how. In his standard contrarian style, Mr. Lapham emphasized the need to carefully examine the American flags being posted at every corner and window and the suggestion that the C.I.A. and F.B.I. get new, more exhaustive powers.
“It’s important to question oneself,” Mr. Lapham said. “I don’t think this will happen to our magazine, but there’s always a tendency to move towards this all-for-one Band of Brothers business. But that’s the wrong tone, I think.”
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