How Did Mademoiselle Lose Girls? It Couldn’t Keep Up in a Sassy Age

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.

But Mademoiselle,

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

publication.

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

captors.

“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.”

-Sridhar Pappu

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

relief efforts.”

-Gabriel Snyder

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

publisher.

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

share.

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?

-Gabriel Snyder

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

space.” 

– Sridhar Pappu