Magazine Jurors Find 9/11 Coverage Just Insufficient

Despite all the speculation that Sept. 11 would awaken today’s

magazine editors from their dreamy haze of celebrity puffery and smiley service

writing, when the industry convenes at the Waldorf-Astoria on May 1 to present

the National Magazine Awards, the winners will be drawn from a list of

finalists in which reporting on terrorism or war is conspicuously absent.

Excluding nominees for fiction and “leisure interests,” out of 81

finalists in 16 different N.M.A. categories, by our count, just 16 have any

relation to the Sept. 11 attacks or the war in Af-ghanistan. In some categories

where one would most expect to see such material-like public interest and

profile writing-there are no Sept. 11–related entries at all.

That paltry showing has some editors worried that the National

Magazine Awards will show an American magazine industry-and a sponsor

organization, the American Society of Magazine Editors-dangerously out of step

with the rest of the world.

“If the right things win, it’ll be O.K.,” said one top magazine

editor, who did not want to be named. But if not enough Sept. 11 material takes

home the N.M.A.’s Ellies, the editor said, “we will look like we’re out of

touch; the awards will look like they missed the boat.”

The absence of Sept. 11 coverage from the N.M.A. finalists is

striking. By contrast, this year’s Pulitzer Prizes-set to be awarded at

Columbia University on April 8-are apparently thick with nominated coverage of

terrorism and war dominating this year’s highest honors in newspaper

journalism. According to Off the Record’s unconfirmed list of Pulitzer

finalists, more than half are entries related to the war in Afghanistan or

Sept. 11.

But the N.M.A.’s finalists are another story. And to some, it

confirms the worst suspicions about the direction of the glossy industry: that

magazines had become so enraptured with celebrity hagiography, society-buffing

and catalog-style writing that they were vastly unprepared to react and

chronicle one of the most devastating stories of their time.

N.M.A.’s judging process has two stages. First, the nominated

entries are screened by a collection of people-mostly editors-who then pick

five finalists in each category. Then a second, separate set of judges in each

category picks winners from the finalists.

Sources involved in the initial rounds of N.M.A. screening told

Off the Record that the submitted Sept. 11 coverage was weak.

“Some of the coverage-which was doing the best they could with

whatever they had, on short notice and tight deadlines-was not that compelling

or particularly insightful or advancing the stories significantly,” said one

screener. The screener added: “The pieces had this wildly disappointing feeling

to them.”

Another screener said that in one N.M.A. category, a

guilty-feeling screening group actually went back and resuscitated eliminated

material in order to make a nod toward Sept. 11. The screener said that at the

start of judging, several submissions from newsweeklies detailing Sept. 11 were

eliminated from consideration, but at the end of the session-after one person

in the room asked if the group was comfortable with no Sept. 11–

related finalist-a move was made to add coverage from at least one newsweekly.

“It was a total afterthought,” the screener said. “If our group had dispersed

two minutes earlier, [the Sept. 11 coverage] would have never made it in.”

Cyndi Stivers, the editor in chief of Time Out New York and the current ASME president, agreed that Sept.

11 did not provoke, at least initially, much award-winning magazine work. The

terrorist attacks, Ms. Stivers said, “prompted magazines to do some of their

best work, but some of it doesn’t age that well.” She added: “Everybody did it

the same way everyone does a Thanksgiving-turkey story if you’re a food

magazine.”

As an example, Ms. Stivers pointed to her own magazine, Time Out , which was forced to skip one

issue after the attacks, mainly because her staff couldn’t get into its

downtown office. Time Out did a

special issue on eating and drinking. Ms. Stivers said her magazine had to

acknowledge the events in that issue, but said, “It wasn’t going to be

award-winning material.”

When the N.M.A. finalists

were announced, not everyone in magazines was surprised by the absence

of Sept. 11 material. Some pointed to

coverage in daily newspapers and round-the-clock cable television and said

that, at least initially,  there was

little room for magazines to further the story.

John Rasmus, the editor of National

Geographic Adventure , which received three nominations this year, said that

so far, Sept. 11 hasn’t proven to be a story where magazines have more to offer

than other media. “It has been hard for magazines to get any more depth on the

run than television or newspapers, quite frankly.”

Other editors said deadlines made it difficult to do

award-winning work immediately after Sept. 11. When the attacks came, most

monthly magazines were just closing their November issues. Many-whether they

were Esquire or Money or Martha Stewart

Living -tried to adjust, reworking their covers and changing as many pages

inside as they could, but it was a rush job.

“If you look at what I did in November,” said Esquire ‘s David Granger, referring to

his November 2001 issue, in which he

spiked a celebrity cover story to make room for Ground Zero reporting, “we didn’t get the opportunity to do

good work. I didn’t have four months to put in and then submit to the National

Magazine Awards.”

At the same time, some of the better magazine work related to the

war and Sept. 11 could not be submitted to the N.M.A. because of regulations.

Even though nearly every monthly’s January 2002 issue reached newsstands in

early December, only magazines with 2001 cover dates are eligible for this

year’s awards.

When it came to Sept. 11 coverage, weekly magazines like The New Yorker , Time and Newsweek did

well. Compared to last year, when Time

and Newsweek both received one

finalist nomination apiece- Time won

the award for public interest for a series on campaign-finance reform- Time has five finalists this year, all

for coverage of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan, and Newsweek has four.

“With some magazines like the newsweeklies, it was their moment

to shine,” said Mr. Granger.

Still, others said the N.M.A.’s judging has always seemed to be

tipped against news reporting, even before Sept. 11. “As a newsmagazine editor,

what’s always been exhilarating, but at the same time frustrating, about the

National Magazine Awards is they fully reflect the range of magazines out

there,” said Time managing editor Jim

Kelly. Mr. Kelly said that in years past, newsweeklies sometimes felt like “the

least-favorite child in the family.”

Other editors said it was not fair to criticize magazines whose

editorial missions simply weren’t designed to cover events like Sept. 11. David

Remnick, editor of The New Yorker

(which has nine finalists, including Sy Hersh’s investigative work in the

reporting category and its Sept. 11 issue for the single-topic issue) said: “A

lot of magazines that don’t do this, how can you fault them for that? I can’t

imagine InStyle or a design magazine

would be going through strange gyrations to do stories on Islam or White House

politics.”

-Gabriel Snyder

Bill Clinton’s mega-hyped handshake with prodigal aide

George Stephanopoulos at Michael’s on Wednesday, March 27, seemed like a

classic New York City chance encounter: two former heavyweights turned mortal

enemies, now leading separate lives in Manhattan, meeting by accident in the

lunching hive of the city’s power elite.  

But it looks like the fix was in.Turnsout

this”chance”encounter-at leastonMr. slos’

side-was about as choreographed as a Bob Fosse routine. Not only

didMr.Steph-anopoulosknow Mr. Clinton was going to be there, but some media

insiders got a heads-up that The BigHandshake was abouttohappen-and promptly

booked tables so they could be there to witness it.

Thestory beginswith Michael Wolff, NewYork col-umnistand Michael’s regular, who said he received a

call from the restaurant that morning at around 10, tipping him off that Mr.

Clinton would be there. The restaurant said they knew he was set to have lunch

with Mr. Stephanopoulos, and wanted him to know that the former President would

be lunching as well (Mr. Clinton was joining pals including Diane Sawyer, Liz

Smith, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal).

“We love George,” Michael’s general manager Steve Millington told

Off the Record. “He’s been a great guest. We wanted to save him any potential

embarrassment.” Mr. Millington said the restaurant did not alert Mr. Clinton

because “we did not have the means to do that. We were too busy preparing for

the mêlée surrounding the lunch.”

Mr. Wolff admitted that he considered not letting Mr.

Stephanopoulos in on the big surprise awaiting him.

“My first instinct was to not

tell him,” Mr. Wolff said. “Because I thought if I told him, he may not come.”

But Mr. Wolff did decide to tell Mr. Stephanopoulos, whom he

recalled saying: “You’re kidding, right? Oh my God, I’ve got to think about

this.”

“The whole tenor of the thing was out of junior high,” Mr. Wolff

said. “You know, ‘Is he going to be there? Is he not? What do I say if he

comes?'”

While waiting for Mr.

Stephan-opoulos to call back, Mr. Wolff said he called several people,

all of whom, he noted, proceeded to make reservations at Michael’s as if it

were Fight Night at Madison Square Garden.

Not much later, Mr. Stephanopoulos called back to say what the

heck-he’d go to Michael’s. But even when the former adviser got to the West

55th Street restaurant, he was uncertain how he’d handle the approach to his

old boss.

“Once we got there,” Mr. Wolff said, “George asked, ‘Well, do I

speak to him first?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ It was completely eighth-grade.”

Mr. Stephanopoulos settled for a handshake. One press report

stated that Mr. Stephanopoulos popped by Mr. Clinton’s table on his way to the

bathroom. Another version had it that Mr. Stephanpoulos went directly to the

table without a visit to the loo.

“He was going to the bathroom,” Mr. Wolff confirmed. “It was one

of those things where he was up and said, ‘On my way, I’m going to say my

piece.”

Reports were the exchange was amicable, though Mr. Clinton mildly

snubbed his former employee by only rising slightly out of his chair during the

brief chat.

Mr. Stephanopoulos did not comment for this story, but a

spokesperson for Mr. Stephanopoulos at ABC News verified Mr. Wolff’s account.

“As it turned out,” Mr. Millington said, “it wasn’t embarrassing,

but history-making. It was really cool. It was a great day for Michael’s.”

-Sridhar Pappu

TheNationalMagazine Awards ceremony has, in recent

years, dragged on to Oscars-length proportions. There’s a boozy 11:30 a.m.

reception that transforms into a three-hour luncheon, padded out with plenty of

introductory remarks, a keynote speech, a Hall of Fame award-think “lifetime

achievement”-plus windy descriptions of nominees read by professional

announcers.

This year, ASME president Cyndi Stivers has decided to cut these

descriptions from the ceremony. Instead, just a quick sentence will be read

aloud (the full citations will still appear in the program). “That’s my way of

getting you out of there a half-hour earlier,” she said, adding that it was her

goal to achieve “the all-time shortest show.”

That was what the Oscar 2002 folks said, but as Condé Nast

staffer said when told the news: “Thank God! It’s the most boring lunch.”

-G.S.

Nearly a year has passed since Brendan Lemon, editor in

chief of Out , disclosed his

relationship with an unnamed Major League Baseball player. Lemon’s May 2001

piece was a big deal in media circles and “The Show,” too-it was reportedly

tacked up in pro clubhouses, where players gleefully fingered each other as Mr.

Lemon’s lover.

Since then, the gay ballplayer’s name has remained a mystery. But

Mr. Lemon and Player X are still a couple, and in honor of the new season, Off

the Record asked Mr. Lemon if he’d like to finally reveal his boyfriend’s

identity.

“No, I don’t,” Mr. Lemon said. “It’s his decision. He has to

decide when he wants to himself.”

Mr. Lemon, also the American

theater critic for The Financial Times , maintained that his

revelatory editor’s note was done with the blessing of his boyfriend. The

details he did provide-that his boyfriend’s team was “a major-league East Coast

franchise” and the boyfriend himself “not his team’s biggest star but a very recognizable

media figure”- provoked plenty of speculation both inside and outside media and

baseball.

“It was meant to be provocative,” Mr. Lemon said of the piece.

“Provocation is a good thing. It got some discussion going.”

Mr. Lemon said that he received hundreds of e-mails in the wake

of the piece from people confessing their own furtive relationships. Baseball

players sent encouraging messages. He also received calls from “dozens of

hysterical women” worried that their diamond idol was gay.

“Whenthey stoppedcrying,” Mr.

Lemon said, “I told them I couldn’t give them that reassurance. And why was it

so important? If it was so-and-so, why couldn’t they keep up that poster up on

the wall? What makes him so different now?

“What struck me about all the guesses,” Mr. Lemon continued, “is

all the assumptions people made. People thought he’d be single, probably white.

I never said what his race or marital status is.”

Since the controversy’s heyday, Mr. Lemon has finished a novel, Last Night , now published by the books

division of Out parent company LPI,

Inc. He said he began his book-the story of an American man’s affair with a

Cuban boxer-after leaving his post as cultural editor of The New Yorker in 1997, but continued it after dating Player X.

“I read big parts of the book to him,” Mr. Lemon said. “He’s not

terribly literary, but he’s able to understand the story well. He was able to

help with baseball details and the psychology of an athlete in the story.”

Now, as Mr. Lemon tries to get people to buy Last Night , Player X begins another season with his secret intact.

However, he’s in therapy, Mr. Lemon said, and his coming out will happen …

eventually.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Mr. Lemon said. “There’s a lot of

preparation that has to be done within the ball club itself before he can do

it. It’s not easy. He has to deal with thousands of fans each night. That’s the

difference between him, say, and a Hollywood actor working on a closed set.

“This is all an issue of

trust,” Mr. Lemon said. “My boyfriend has enough trust in me to let me discuss

this.”

-S.P.