What caused Mademoiselle ,
the Jan Brady of Condé Nast, to finally crumple?
Blame Jane Pratt. When it was closed on Oct. 1, the once
comparatively thoughtful Mademoiselle ,
edited by British import Mandi Norwood,
was still trying to mimic the informal, breaking-the-fourth-wall voice that Ms.
Pratt minted over a decade ago at Sassy -a
voice that Ms. Pratt successfully mellowed intothepagesof Fairchild’s Jane , now flourishing under
AdvancePublications, Condé Nast’s parent.
founded in 1935 and acquired from Street & Smith by Sam Newhouse in 1959,
could never really make the transition from white-gloved authority to “sister
girlfriend.” In the post-post-feminist era of product shots, shameless
frivolity and frank sexual patter, there was no need for the smart magazine it
once was, and no need for another airheaded one.
“The secret is that nobody
really knew what to do with Mademoiselle ,”
said Elizabeth Crow, Ms. Norwood’s predecessor, who usheredthemagazine through
a brief period of profitability in the late 1990′s and now is
editorialdirectorofthe women’s-health division at Rodale Press. “I really ran
out of concepts, and I don’t think [Condé Nast editorial director] James
[Truman] had one, either. And I think they’re really excited about Lucky .”
Indeed, as Mademoiselle faltered in recent years , losing advertising and revenue , Lucky , Condé Nast’s start-up shopping
manual, seemed to emerge as Mr. Truman’s pet project, with shiny hype,
including a television advertisingcampaign. Lucky, it
was clear, was to define what women’s magazines were becoming, what was
coveted, what made money. And Lucky ‘s
editor? Ms. Pratt’s old employee, Sassy
alumna Kim France.
One needed only to glance at Mr. Truman’s schedule to see how
priorities had shifted. On the evening of Sept. 10, Mr. Truman appeared
alongside Ms. France at Housing Works Thrift Shop on 23rd Street for a Lucky -sponsored charity event. Three
weeks later, on Monday, Oct. 1, he was next to a teary-eyed Ms. Norwood in Mademoiselle ‘s 17th-floor office to help
deliver the bad news to her staff about the fate of the 1.1 million–circulation
Mr. Truman said he was “grateful” for all the hard work that they
had done and that it “was a difficult decision that had to be made,” said Condé
Nast spokeswoman Maurie Perl, who insisted that the Mademoiselle decision had nothing to do with Lucky . (Calls to Mr. Truman, Ms. France, Ms. Norwood and Condé Nast
chairman S.I. Newhouse were referred to Ms. Perl.)
Adding to the threats from Jane and Lucky , Mademoiselle was
consistently being out- Mademoiselle ‘d
by Hearst’s peppier, more innovative Marie
Claire . Glenda Bailey, now the editor of Harper’s Bazaar , showed that a coarser and self-consciously wacky
women’s magazine could be turned into a profitable business. Launched in the
U.S. in 1994 and taken over by Ms. Bailey in 1996, Marie Claire evolved into a start-up
wonder, reaching a circulation of 950,000 and ad revenue of $89 million by the
end of 2000.
Mademoiselle’ s legacy
is mostly obfuscated by the magazine’s irredeemably flighty dying days. It had
long since ceased to publish fiction, but the title leaves behind quite a
literary legacy of troubled feminine souls trying to find their voice in this
world. Most famously there was Sylvia Plath, who mined her guest editorship
there for The Bell Jar , but let’s not
forget Joyce Carol Oates (featured with Ms. Plath in a 1976 anthology of Mademoiselle prize fiction), Susan
Minot, Anne Lamott (did book criticism when they still ran it), Caroline Knapp
and Elizabeth Wurtzel. In 1993, David Sedaris’ byline appeared under a piece
about housecleaning. Plumb the archives a bit further, back to 1991, and you’ve
got Maureen Dowd on “Everything But Sex: The New Office Affair.” (“It not only
makes you want to work longer, it also stirs the creative juices because you
want to show off for the other person and let them see what you can really do.”)
Positioned for a while as the smart college girl’s magazine, Mademoiselle had a kind of winsome,
career-girl energy in the 1980′s-more approachable than Vogue , less practical than Glamour -under
Amy Levin Cooper (wife of GQ ‘s Art).
Then came the lethal wave of Sassy -fication.
Gabé Doppelt put hollow-eyed gamines on the cover with lines like “Cool Clothes
from Kmart.” At one point, Mademoiselle
teamed up with its doomed compadre, Details ,
for a sex survey. (Closed by Condé Nast, Details
relaunched under Fairchild.) When Ms. Crow took over in 1994, her mandate was
to steer things back to mass marketability. She put Claudia Schiffer on the
cover along with “Love Now!” in a flowery script.
Mademoiselle was no
longer a bible for the independent woman, perhaps because it seemed women no
longer needed to be enjoined to be independent.
“Glamour at that point
was the man-hater’s bible,” said Ms. Crow. “The quintessential old-time Glamour cover line was ‘How to Fight Off
the Rapist You Know.’ We were cleaned-up but sexy; then Cosmo sort of scrubbed herself down and Glamour got sort of sexy, at which point there was nowhere for Millie to really go.” Ms. Crow was using
the retro nickname that the magazine was somewhat desperately begging for
toward the end, like a teenager trying to be popular.
Ms. Crow said that she thought
the smart thing for S.I. Newhouse to do would be to shelve Mademoiselle for a couple of years, then
reintroduce it under “someone really strong and charismatic.” Someone in the
mold of … Jane Pratt.
“Jane Pratt was the
first-ever celebrity editor,” she said. “We all thought we were celebs-we
really weren’t. Jane is idiosyncratic
and eccentric, and you can be that if you’re not too big . Mademoiselle was too big to be edgy or sexy, so it really was
squeezed. It was like shuffling a deck of cards.”
Before there was Rick Bragg and David Rohde on the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border, there were people like Sydney H. Schanberg-the man
who defined an era of war reporting as a correspondent for The New York Times in 1970′s Cambodia, and who was portrayed by the
actor Sam Waterston in the Academy Award–winning film The Killing Fields .
These days, however, Mr. Schanberg isn’t in a war zone, but
working for Manhattan Media, the publisher of such weeklies as The West Side Spirit and Our Town .
“A big piece of me would love to be there,” Mr. Schanberg said in
an interview the other day. “But another piece says, ‘It’s time for someone
else to cover these wars.’”
In 1970, and then again from 1972-1975, Mr. Schanberg bore
witness to one of the worst conflicts in human history, between the United
States–supported Lon Nol government and the Communist forces of Pol Pot. When
the latter took control of Phnom Penh in the spring of 1975 and the Americans
withdrew, Mr. Schanberg was the last American reporter left. He was captured
along with two other journalists, then
saved by his Cambodian assistant, Dith Pran. For his efforts, Mr. Schanberg
would win a 1976 Pulitzer Prize, while his subsequent New York Times Magazine piece “The Death and Life of Dith Pran”
would become the basis for The Killing
Fields , Roland Jaffé’s 1984 film.
“I’ve seen death,” Mr.
Schanberg said. “Lots of it. And you never get used to it. Not really. You tell
yourself things in order to function, but you’re going to break down. It just
gets to be too much. Eventually, you need to find a room where you can sit
alone and cry.”
Afghanistan presents its own reporting problems, Mr. Schanberg
said, far different than Cambodia-and maybe worse. As The Times ‘ New Delhi
bureau chief from 1969 to 1972, he visited the rocky country, then ruled by
King Mohammad Zahir Shah. He remembers markets where people sold handmade
rifles, though they had already begun to copy AK-47′s. Forty- and 50-year-old
American cars would move through the countryside carrying 25 people, he said.
Families would war with one another in the vein of the Hatfields and McCoys,
firing through slits in their compounds. On the Khyber Pass, he saw plaques of
British units that once held forts there-ominous reminders, he said, of the
country’s ability to handle those from foreign lands.
And yet, Mr. Schanberg still feels a desire to get into the
action again, to get that particular jolt one feels having escaped gunfire or
“The adrenaline you feel afterwards makes you high,” Mr.
Schanberg said. “It really does. Of course, there are times you’re scared and
sick. But the intensity of feelings is so much, it’s almost like you’re drunk.
It’s something no one likes to talk about.”
Since resigning from The
Times in 1985 after his twice-weekly “New York” column was canceled, Mr.
Schanberg hasn’t had the greatest luck with new projects. In 1986, he signed up
with New York Newsday , only to see
the paper closed by its new owners, Times-Mirror, in 1995. He joined up with
the crime-reporting Web site APBNews.com, then watched it fold in June 2000.
When the then publisher of Our
Town , The Westsider, The Chelsea
Clinton News, and the West Side
Spirit , Tom Allon, led an internal buyout of the papers from James
Finkelstein’s oft-troubled News Communications Inc. in August, he quickly
brought Mr. Schanberg on board to develop a new weekly project-an investigative
weekly focusing on state and city politics. Once there, Mr. Schanberg began
writing weekly columns. The two said they’ve begun interviewing reporters for
the new paper and hope to launch by the end of this year.
“It’s not a comedown,” Mr. Schanberg said. “It’s all what you
make it. Reporting is my thing, and I don’t care where I do it. I have an ego,
but my ego’s been fed enough. I don’t need any more applause.”
Marty Tolchin, Mr. Schanberg’s onetime Times colleague and current publisher and editor in chief of the
Washington weekly The Hill , said this
of Mr. Schanberg’s new gig: “If Syd’s doing it, it’ll be great. He’s courageous
and smart as hell. He won’t take bullshit from anybody.”
As New York
rebuilds, even Condé Nast can find a way to help. On Sept. 27, Glamour magazine cleaned out its fashion
closet and held a yard sale featuring all the freebie beauty products and
assorted swag that passes through a women’s-magazine office, along with gift
certificates for things like manicures and massages. The business side of the
magazine also convinced advertisers to donate dinners and makeovers to raise
money for the American Red Cross’ disaster relief. All in all, the Condé Nast
shoppers took in $22,000.
“It felt really U.S.O.,” said one Glamour staffer. “Shopping for the cause, I suppose.”
When reached for comment, a Glamour
spokeswoman was reluctant to talk about the sale. “We didn’t want to
publicize what we were doing because we didn’t feel that it would be
appropriate,” she said. “So many people wanted to do something, and this was
something to do.”
Fellow Condé Nast title Brides
also sponsored a shop-for-the-cause sale of stuff they’d found in the
office and stuff they’d convinced others to donate. Proceeds went to the Sept.
11th Fund, but a spokeswoman wouldn’t say how much it raised. “The point of it
is not to make a big deal about it. We don’t want to make it seem like we’re
trying to get P.R. out of it.”
A publicist at Bon Appétit ,
however, did want us to let you know that Bon
Appétit “started from day one galvanizing over 30 restaurants to help in
Primedia Inc., publisher of New York, Chevy Truckin’ and
Teddy Bear magazines, has been
buffeted by plenty of bad news in recent weeks.There was a warning to Wall
Street that its earnings would be lower than expected, and Scott Kurnit, the
Internet visionary they snagged when the company acquired About.com, said he
was leaving on Sept. 18. And there was a report that Primedia may be selling New York -which the company denied-in
order to come up with the cash to pay for its acquisition of EMAP, a British
But perhaps most importantly to C.E.O. Tom Rogers, Primedia stock
has found itself in Salon.com territory, trading as low as just below $2 a
So, on Oct. 1, Mr. Rogers sought to buck up his troops with the
announcement that all full-time employees would be getting 50 stock options.
“I hope this helps everyone to more closely identify with the
Company and take pride in our work,” Mr. Rogers wrote in the announcement.
Don’t expect any Primedia employees to retire on their stock
options anytime soon. For the options to be worth anything at all, Primedia
stock has to get above the $2.35 strike price. So, if Primedia hit $4,
employees would be raking in $82.50. Or, as Mr. Rogers told his employees, “if
we can get the stock back to where it was 18 months ago,” which would require a
1,500% gain to reach Primedia’s all-time high of $33.50 a share, “those stock
options would be worth more than $1,500.”
Mr. Rogers, who recently bought $1 million worth of stock, also
tried to reassure his employees that the stock plunge does not reflect any big
problems at the company. “You are probably saying to yourself, ‘What is going
on with the stock? How can the stock be below $2.50 and there not be a
fundamental problem?’” he wrote. “The answer is-there is nothing wrong with the
Company and nothing for you to worry about. We as a Company are fine. I hate
seeing the stock at this level-really hate it. But I also know we are able to
cover all our obligations… Again, let me allay any fears you have on this
front-it is just not something you should be worried about.”
Everyone feeling better?
While many of the Wall
Street Journal reporters displaced from the World Financial Center make
themselves comfy inside the Dow Jones quarters at 100 Sixth Avenue, some
staffers will be traveling back in time
all the way to the year 2000, when dot-coms still roamed the earth.
Right now, staffers from the Journal’s editorial page – as well as
some from the Weekend Journal section-are preparing to occupy the former
headquarters of Work.com, over on 7th Avenue. Work.com, of course, was a
much-hyped joint venture between Dow Jones and Excite@Home that plowed through
$30 million in little more than a year before it was sold last March to
Business.com for $500,000 and eventually shuttered.
Still, Dow Jones had lease to the Work.com space, and it has come
in handy. One staffer told Off the Record that the dot-com burial ground is a much better space than the old
one at 1 World Financial Center, which the source described as “an insurance office,
but with mice.”
In the new office, however, there are Adirondack chairs with
white cushions, and plexi-glass dividers between desks and steel lamps. All the
desks are on wheels. A Guinness, beer-shaped blackboard still has scrawled in
chalk: “Happy Hour: 3?”
“It’s funny,” said the WSJ
source. “People actually like it here.”
Paul Gigot, the WSJ ‘s
new editorial page editor, who surveyed the Work.com office on Friday isn’t
sure when his group will officially move in.
“It’ll be a bit tight,” Mr. Gigot said, “but I don’t think there
will be any problems.”
And when asked about the
co-mingling his politically conservative editorial page staff working in closer
quarters with the WSJ ‘s traditionally
more liberal reporters, Mr. Gigot said, “I’m just delighted to have the
– Sridhar Pappu
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