A little after 6 p.m. at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Condé Nast president Richard Beckman was sharing a drink—vodka, olives—with Condé Nast CEO Chuck Townsend. The two were discussing the same thing everyone in the lobby of Jazz at Lincoln Center at the Time Warner Center was talking about: What the National Magazine Awards can do, or not do, for a magazine.
"I can’t honestly say there is a direct link with being nominated and winning an award with doing better with ad sales," Mr. Townsend told Media Mob. He didn’t know if there was "any currency" to these awards in terms of better business. "This is a night for the editorial team."
Ann Moore, the Time Inc. CEO, grabbed Mr. Townsend so he could say hello to Wenda Millard, the president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
"Don’t you look swell? Don’t you look swell!" said Ms. Millard. Mr. Townsend, wearing a blue to this black-tie event, smiled.
"Are you still the commodore of the New York yacht club?" she asked.
"Oh, well because my son, he’s at N.Y.U., he’s very enthusiastic about sailing …"
After that brief nautical detour, Mr. Townsend said the Condé Nast business team would celebrate upstairs in the Time Warner Center at Porter House. They had a 10 p.m. reservation.
Across the room, New York magazine’s editor in chief, Adam Moss, was also talking about how a nomination, or should luck shine upon you, a win, impacts a magazine. "It has no impact whatsoever on ad sales," Mr. Moss said definitively. Then what, he was asked, was an Alexander Calder-designed ‘Ellie’ good for? "It makes a lot of people happy." Last year, Mr. Moss won five awards, which prompted Mark Whitaker, then of Newsweek, to quip that he was "the new David Remnick." So, who would be the new David Remnick this year, Mr. Moss?
"I think David Remnick will be the new David Remnick."
Is there a rivalry between your magazines, he was asked. "I don’t think it’s a real competition. We have many letters that are the same in our titles, but they have more letters than we do. We have more photos. We’re a very different magazine. They’re really a national magazine that has very little to do with New York. We are a magazine of New York."
Across the room, Wired‘s editor in chief, Chris Anderson, was speaking of his magazine’s three nominations. "It’s a great boost for the editorial staff. It values excellence above all else. That’s why we come to work."
That’s the thing about these awards. Pumped up into an evening awards show with monkeysuits and ball gowns from its origins as a lunch meeting of a professional affinity association, the whole evening itself is actually a little bit—embarrassing, as though nobody else would bother to notice the work that magazine writers and editors do except for themselves. Isn’t there someone else out there who wants to give us awards? And yet, who but other magazine editors and writers are capable of evaluating a magazine’s work—right?
And so the nominees, their colleagues, their publicists, and their chroniclers who make their living, such as it is, covering the magazine world in blogs and in print (hi!) squeezed themselves into their black-tie best tonight, then managed to squeeze themselves into the crowded, somewhat balmy Rose Hall where they could squeeze one another’s hands offering congratulations between squeezing in a few drinks and hors d’oeuvres before the end of the night.
"This is a big moment," said GQ editor in chief Jim Nelson. "This is the thing that we sort of lose sleep over and get psyched about." Mr. Nelson, whose magazine was up for five awards, for General Excellence (500,000-1,000,000 circulation), Feature Writing, Review and Criticism, Design, and Photography, didn’t look like he’d been losing any sleep. "I am worried about it," he insisted. "What I try to do is almost block it out."
Framed in one of the lobby’s dramatic picture windows facing Central Park, Dale Hrabi, editor at large of Radar, which was nominated for General Excellence in the 100,000-250,000 circulation range, joked about his scrappy magazine’s place among its peers: "We feel a little bit like Carrie," he said, referring to Stephen King’s telekinetic anti-heroine. "Like maybe someone will dump blood on us."
Maybe the Carrie metaphor didn’t work. "She dies at the end, doesn’t she?" Mr. Hrabi asked. When told that, in fact, Carrie reaches from the grave to get revenge on her tormentors, he laughed: "Well, there ya go."
Buzz Bissinger, who was nominated for his Vanity Fair feature about the thoroughbred Barbaro, was hoping to win. "It would actually mean a lot," he told Media Mob. "It would sort of certify me as a magazine writer. … I’d really just like to put that plaque up on the wall. It would be great for the magazine. I’d just like to win. If I don’t, I’ll be civil and nice."
Civil and nice may be the last words anyone would use in connection with Mr. Bissinger this week after video of him berating Deadspin.com editor Will Leitch on Costas Now hit the Internet. But Mr. Bissinger had a few thoughts now that his tirade had been splashed across many Web sites, including this one. "I don’t take back a word of what I said, but I do regret the personal attack on him. It was over the top. We’ve had a private communication that we’ve agreed to keep private. Not only was it wrong and disrespectful of him, it made me look silly and really subsumed the very valid points. Too much got lost in my anger."
So, would Mr. Bissinger be launching a blog of his own anytime soon? "Oh, god, no! I don’t have anything to say. That’s the problem with most blogs. A few of us do; most of us don’t."
Speaking of blogs, there was a strong online presence at the event. The Huffington Post’s media editor, Rachel Sklar, was snapping pictures (until she was told not to) while FishbowlNY’s team pioneered the next-next form of journalism by ‘Twittering’ updates from their phones. (Sample tweet: "will anna show? Official word is maybe.") Also in attendance, a certain ubiquitous blogger and weekly dating columnist whose floor-length white dress seemed more suited to a Toga Party, posing for photos with editors like Wired‘s Anderson and Men’s Health‘s Dave Zinczenko. Standing out among the black ties was Jossip.com’s David Hauslaib, who flouted the dress code by wearing a pink plaid button down without jacket and tie. Was Mr. Hauslaib happy to be here? "It’s another event," he told Media Mob. According to Mr. Hauslaib, he had 700 other things to attend that night as well.
Seven hundred other events? What were they? "Uh, they’re private things. Private events."
Mixing in among the editorial types was Bravo’s Padma Lakshmi, who offered New Yorker editor David Remnick a kiss and told him she was presenting the category for best fiction. "Her ex-husband writes for our magazine," Mr. Remnick offered helpfully.
Lonny Ross, Katrina Bowden and Judah Friedlander of NBC’s 30 Rock were also mingling. They were there to present the Ellie in Leisure Interests, which explained Mr. Friedlander’s trademark trucker cap’s slogan for the night: "Leisure Expert." The hat was custom made for the event, according to Mr. Friedlander, who likes to custom make hats for every event. "If you’re gonna wear a tux, it’s gotta be a black hat with white lettering."
Was Mr. Friedlander a fan of any of the nominated magazines? "I don’t really subscribe to any magazines. Sometimes I look at them at the store."
Were there a
ny in particular he liked to peruse? "I couldn’t even tell you, dude. Almost everything’s online now."
As the lights flickered and the attendees began filing into the auditorium, Media Mob cornered Rolling Stone political columnist Matt Taibbi, who was nominated for Columns and Commentary. Was he nervous sharing the nomination with magazine heavyweights like Kurt Andersen, Hendrick Hertzberg and Christopher Hitchens? "It’s just a real big surprise to be nominated at all. I didn’t really know a helluva lot about it before," he said. "I didn’t even know it existed." What’s the nomination mean for him? "I get to keep my job for another year."
Cut to the ceremony, which was grooved along by dulcet sounds of a jazz quintet and featured presenters like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Amber Lee Ettinger, better known as "Obama Girl," who reminded the crowd that her video was up for a Webby and voting closed at midnight tonight. (Yes, she sang a few bars of her song.) Magazine world vets like George Lois and Lewis Lapham were on hand to present awards, as was a slightly dazed-seeming Lenny Dykstra, who promised he’d be nominated for an award next year for his magazine, Players Club.
There were the requisite surprises: Mr. Moss only mounted the stage once, for a Leisure Interests package about street food, having been shut out from General Excellence (250,000-500,000 circulation) by Backpacker, whose editor, Jonathan Dorn, offered him an apology and said "at least you’ve been inhabiting my dreams for months." Radar lost in its category as well, to Mother Jones. The Nation also won an award for Public Interest, which prompting one attendee to quip, "It’s lefty night!" Clara Jeffery, co-editor in chief of Mother Jones, took to the stage in a red dress that showed off her very pregnant belly and joked that this was the second best thing to happen to her this year. Due July 22, she told the Media Mob she was so happy, she didn’t "even feel the back pain."
David Remnick picked up a General Excellence Ellie for the 1,000,000-2,000,000 circulation category and thanked his magazine’s owner, Si Newhouse, for his hands-off approach, saying that Mr. Newhouse’s "long silence" during an editorial call early on in his nearly 10-year tenure atop the magazine’s masthead "was music to my ears." GQ‘s Jim Nelson’s sleepless nights evidently paid off as he won for General Excellence as well, in the 500,000-1,000,000 circulation level.
First time winners included Atlanta, for Feature Writing by Paige Williams, Condé Nast Portfolio for Magazine Section, Runnersworld.com for General Excellence Online, Bicycling.com for Interactive Feature, and New Letters for Essay, by Thomas E. Kennedy. (The latter win occasioned a scream from the audience.)
Vanity Fair‘s Graydon Carter took two awards, one for Evan Wright’s profile of agent-turned-prowar filmmaker Pat Dollard and one for Annie Liebovitz’s photo portfolio "Killers Kill, Dead Men Die."
National Geographic won for General Excellence (over 2,000,000 circulation), Reporting (for a piece by Peter Hessler), and Photojournalism (for a story on Malaria.)
Matt Taibbi won for Columns and Commentary. "I’m very surprised," Mr. Taibbi told Media Mob at the post-awards cocktail reception. Asked later where his Ellie would live, his editor, Eric Bates, answered for him: "Jann Wenner’s office."
"Right next to my balls," Mr. Taibbi added.
Spotted near the photo op stage, David Remnick was asked how it feels for the staff to win one National Magazine Award. "Can I be honest?" he asked, semi-conspiratorially. "It’s lovely to win these things; disappointing to not. But it lasts for a few days and then you do your thing. Honest. I know it’s awards show bullshit but it’s true."
So, Ellie firmly in hand again, was Mr. Remnick this year’s David Remnick?
"I’m always David Remnick," he said.