The Land Time Forgot

At the massive gathering of the National Magazine Awards on Tuesday, May 9, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Jennifer Lopez was a popular topic of conversation, even more popular than usual. Mrs. Marc Anthony had been at Time’s celebration of the Time 100, a special issue of Time magazine devoted to “the world’s most influential people.” It was held in the same venue with many of the same guests in the same tuxedos.

It wasn’t exactly a recycled party—the artist formerly known as J. Lo didn’t return—but it bore certain resemblances.

Jazz at Lincoln Center chief Winton Marsalis invoked Hurricane Katrina at the those awards, presented by the American Society of Magazine Editors, just as he had the night before.

The audience was in the business of telling stories, Mr. Marsalis said. “This is a classic American story, and it needs to be told and retold.”

One of Time magazine’s award nominations came from reporting—“An American Tragedy,” its Hurricane Katrina issue, made it in the single-topic issue category. I didn’t read it when it came, but when I cleared last year’s magazines off the office shelf, I hung on to it.

Time won that award. “We began planning for this storm the Sunday before it hit,” said Time managing editor Jim Kelly in his acceptance speech. He rattled off a long list of editors, writers, reporters, photographers and designers who had put together a 52-page report within a week of the storm. The announcer hailed it as a triumph of the newsmagazine’s craft.

The night before, Time had been celebrating a very different issue.

As magazines go, the Time 100 was a good party. (As parties go, it was a tough act to follow.) This year, many of the Time 100 profiles of celebrities were written by other celebrities, giving the magazine a sort of Interview magazine feel, only without the downtown frame of reference. Or without a particular frame of reference at all.

“It’s not a power list or a popularity contest,” said Jim Kelly as he introduced that evening’s events. Mr. Kelly arrived on the red carpet radiating his usual good cheer, escorting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (“formidable presence and steely persistence”—Leslie Gelb). He is in the process of being promoted out of his job, or something else; it is shrouded in the mysteries of Time corporate protocol. Time editor in chief John Huey is meeting with various usual-suspect candidates to replace him.

The issue was a hit—the fattest edition of Time since it rang in the millennium early in 1999. And the names of Time magazine and of Mr. Kelly appeared three times among the National Magazine Award finalists, including in the category of general excellence for magazines with circulations over two million.

The connection between the Ellies—the media-world pet name for the magazine awards—and job security is tenuous at best. The leading nominee this year was The Atlantic, as run by Cullen Murphy—who left the magazine at the end of 2005, as owner David Bradley decided to relocate its operations from Boston to Washington, rebuilding the masthead along the way.

Time, unlike The Atlantic, is a lifeless magazine, but switching out the managing editor for that is like dispatching a man for having a serious illness.

This is, by consensus, the time to be violently shaking up magazines. The Web has arrived; the readers are leaving; the industry’s grip on the pinnacle of the words-and-pictures trade is getting sweatier and slipperier. Many Condé Nast magazines are about to skip excitedly into the Web business. All around, it’s a time for youth and change, or something like them: The not-long-ago redone New York magazine, under the recently youthful Adam Moss, got five nominations. Mr. Moss even won the Ellie for general excellence in his circulation category.

And what did Mr. Moss’ juiced-up, future-minded magazine put out this week? A special issue with its own list of the 200 or so most influential New Yorkers.

In December, The Atlantic plans to run its own special list of influencers: the 100 most influential Americans of all time. “I think the majority of our people are deceased,” said Atlantic publisher Elizabeth Baker Keffer.

THE TIME 100 ISSUE IS AN ESPECIALLY characteristic issue of Time—that is, an especially lifeless magazine to read—and, at the Time 100 party, Mr. Kelly’s bosses gave every sign of being delighted with it. Dick Parsons, the C.E.O. of Time Warner, was delighted. So was Jeffrey Bewkes, the president and C.O.O. of Time Warner. So was Ann Moore, the chairman and C.E.O. of Time Inc. So was Ed McCarrick, the president and worldwide publisher of Time magazine.

Henry Luce, Mr. McCarrick announced, “liked a party. And this is one he wouldn’t have missed.”

It’s also a magazine he might not have recognized.

The red carpet, on Monday, began on the first floor of the Time Warner Center, with roped-off civilians watching the flashbulbs from in front of the Hugo Boss store. There was more red carpet on the sixth floor, with more cameras but no more civilians. That led to the fifth floor, where there were two long, open bars and canapés, and where there would be dinner featuring lamb chops and live music by famous people.

Famous people! Paul Simon was there (“Bringing Depth and a Global Touch To Pop Music,” according to the Time 100), and he would sing. The Dixie Chicks (“Country’s Defiant Darlings”) would sing. Sean (Diddy) Combs (“Marketing the Realities of Urban Life”) would not sing, but he would sit and listen, earring glinting, close enough to throw a lamb chop at. Jay-Z (“a savvy businessman”) was not there, but he had arranged a present for Diddy: three cigars, a glass of vodka and a note in an envelope, all on a silver platter at a hairpin turn in the upstairs red carpet.

What Time once had—and still could have, despite Time Warner’s budget cuts—is a giant apparatus for reporting and writing news. And reported fact is what keeps the blog world spinning. Even bloggers agree. “Obviously, they have enormous investigative resources that bloggers don’t have,” Arianna Huffington said, on her way into dinner.

If the newsweeklies seem musty and pointless, it’s because they’ve retreated from their jobs. Most of the reporting in the Time 100 issue—and in New York’s knock-off issue—rehashes what everyone already knows about the subjects. Aren’t cheap clip-jobs the province of blogs? There are better, faster ways to get a painless consensus overview on a topic now—you can read about one of them, Wikipedia, on the first page of the “Scientists & Thinkers” section in Time.

THE REPORTING CATEGORY AT THE ELLIES was won by Rolling Stone; the public interest award went to The New Yorker. The reporting category was prefaced by a news-style video-documentary presentation about the importance of reporting. It was nearly a rebuke.

On the other hand, Monday night was, Mr. Parsons told the crowd, a “night for just enjoying your own celebrity.”

It was also a night for savoring the power of editing by corporate committee. Mr. McCarrick told the crowd that the Time 100 had been created at the urging of Ms. Moore—who “challenged us to go beyond our highly recognized franchise” of Person of the Year.

That was three Time 100’s ago—or two, in Mr. Parsons’ telling of the story. But what are numbers? If it works once a year, with one subject, why not twice a year, and with 100 more subjects? Or more? Time is not above a little purposeful editorial accounting; the 2005 Person of the Year issue fudged its way to three Persons of the Year, putting Bono, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates together as “The Good Samaritans.”

So, introducing the Dixie Chicks, Mr. Huey noted that the singing trio had been counted as a single entry. “Should this have been the Time 102?” he asked.

In fact, the current Time 100 features 136 people—up from 104 each in 2005 and 2004. Most of this year’s surplus came from a gatefold spread on “Power Couples.” That gatefold, Mr. McCarrick said, was made possible by the generosity of Cartier, which purchased the ads needed to create the space.

Fine. Now bring on the celebrities! George Lucas’ beard talked to the beard of Dr. Andrew Weil. Steve Wynn and Martha Stewart stood back to back. The celebrity recombination made for serial observation: Jennifer Lopez is a good-looking woman. Jennifer Lopez, talking to Queen Rania of Jordan, looks like the third-cutest cheerleader from your high school. Jennifer Lopez and her ex-boyfriend/ex-co-defendant Sean Combs are in the same room, for maybe the first time in whenever. Jennifer Lopez and her husband Marc Anthony are bobbing their heads in unison—-mostly sweet, slightly eerie unison—to the music of the Dixie Chicks.

The scene left the gossip reporters hovering on the edge of the room, uneasily. There were so many targets—an all-you-can-eat buffet of celebrity—it was hard to summon the will to strike. There was no reason to talk to anyone in particular. And given the vagueness of the Time 100’s mission, there was no particular reason to talk to anyone.

“Me and the Pope, basically equal,” Stephen Colbert said, leafing through the magazine during his dinnertime comedy routine. “Equal footing there.”

Occasionally, throughout the evening, Time staffers approached the reporters, asking if they had any idea who the next managing editor would be.

MORE TO THE POINT, WHAT WILL the next managing editor do? Step 1 would be to buy a lock for the office door, to keep the over-editors and presidents at bay. Then it would be time to start assigning news.

The crisis of Time magazine—the crisis of the institutional press in general—is the crisis of authority. That’s why Ms. Huffington, before coming to the Time 100 party, went to talk to ASME, to explain new media to them.

What the industry seems to need more, though, is a refresher in old media. Time—“the Time brand,” as the executives kept referring to it—is a news magazine that comes out once a week. It owes its position to 83 years of that.

Dan Brown—the Da Vinci Code author and a member of the 2005 Time 100—said at the party that he grew up reading the magazine. “I used to write letters to the editor,” he said. He wrote in to respond to stories about a subject that interested the 9-year-old Dan Brown, he said, mainly the space program. “ Time never published me,” he said. Still, he could recall its historical permanence.

There are other magazines that still cover the news. David Remnick’s New Yorker is, viewed from a certain angle, readable as a newsweekly—a quirky and digressive one, but one that keeps a grip on the events of the previous seven days.

The New Yorker, Mr. Remnick said in the hallway at the ASME’s, can afford to be off the news in a given week. “A newsweekly doesn’t have quite that luxury,” he added. His magazine’s “Comments” section provides a current-news peg for each issue. “By having that as the starting point, it gives the magazine a certain currency in the week,” Mr. Remnick said.

That section won the Ellie, for writings by Hendrik Hertzberg.

This year, The New Yorker was joined by The Atlantic—not Time or Newsweek or U.S. News—in the reporting and public-interest categories of the ASME nominations.

The new Atlantic, with new managing editor James Bennett on the masthead, arrived May 8. The cover is a sharp, full-body photograph of the dark-suited pair, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, walking down a vast flight of white marble steps. A subhead announces “what could be the biggest political upheaval since the Sixties.”

The same day brought a new week’s Time, with a sidelit child posed against a generic sky-and-clouds background. “New Insights Into the Hidden World of AUTISM,” the headline promised.

Time had been nominated in the general-excellence category among magazines with a circulation of more than two million, and it won that award.

Before the crowd at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Jim Kelly read essentially all the names on the magazine’s masthead. The three issues the magazine sent in to ASME for consideration were fronted by stories about Guantánamo, Hurricane Katrina, and gay teens and the American culture wars. “Working on a magazine—any magazine—is an exuberant calling,” said Mr. Kelly.