Church Cuddles Up to State: Media’s Glossy New Reality

“I think editors are very important because obviously I couldn’t write the magazine without my editors,” said Seth Semilof, the publisher of Haute Living, a bimonthly luxury magazine for the jet set, on the phone. “Editors are great.”

Mr. Binn had high praise for Cristina Greeven Cuomo, the editor of Gotham and Hamptons. “Cristina lives the life she celebrates,” he said. “She is our reader. She’s very socially active, she’s very respected in her community, she knows many of the people who are leaders who are in the city and are very experienced.”

“They’re all ambassadors to your brand,” he remarked, of editors in general. “They know the consumers. They know the influencers of their market. They’re very involved in the community.”

The businesspeople scoffed at the idea that, as Mr. Essex put it, “there’s going to be an inevitable erosion of church and state as magazines become the marketing expense for their Web sites.”

“We have such a divided line between editor and advertising that we sign a code of conduct,” said Ms. Asmodeo-Giglio, the publisher of WSJ. “We take that very seriously here. If my advertisers get to dictate the topic, they might as well create their own magazine, and that’s the last thing we want to do.”

“As you grow you really need to get that line clearly defined,” said Stephen Kong, the publisher of Modern Luxury magazines. “And frankly, I can tell you it is really a relief when you can tell your clients when they want to pitch a story, ‘Listen, you know what, that’s not really what I do, but I’d be happy to set up a phone call with [Manhattan editor] Richard [Martin] so your PR person or your representative can pitch the story to Richard.”

It’s just that, you see, luxury publishers sometimes like to have a nice little chat with their editors.

“I’ll have a client and they’ll say, ‘Hey, by the way, do you know that there’s a new watch we’re launching in January of ’09 in Geneva,’” said Mr. Kong. “And I’ll say, ‘Oh, really? What’s the watch?’ That information I can bring back to Rich and say, ‘Hey, by the way, I heard about this really hot thing, you may want to check it out.’ But it’s really for the best when you do not have the pressure of being so tied to the editorial.”

But what if they commission a story about, say, a regular advertiser that turns out to be not so flattering?

“I would frankly rather write on what people could go get that’s really great rather than spend time on what not to get, because nobody really has the time,” said Mr. Kong. “Like, for example, if we’re gonna write on one restaurant per issue, that’s only six restaurants per year. I’d rather tell them where to go than where not to go, because I feel like where not to go has limited reader service. Because then there’s people going, ‘Well where do I go?’”

Mr. Semilof took it a step further. “I believe in training my editors,” he said. “I believe in getting them and adhering to them, and now we’re in a position where I train someone like Stephanie [Wilson, the editorial director], and she’s been with the company for a long time, and now she’s become very good at the job, and so forth, and she’s learned on the job, but like I believe editors are very, very important and they’re very great.”

In the early days of his publication, Mr. Semilof hired editors with “great résumés,” but they sometimes could be a pain, so he found a new method for recruiting. “Basically, we have a couple that come in as interns and they start working and then we see their writing, and then Stephanie works with them and then I review them, and then they start moving forward. We just brought a young lady on that was an intern, and now she’s working, and one worked at Teen Vogue, and another one worked for her school newspaper.”

He’s able to score some of the top interviews himself because of his own nocturnal adventures—running into Russell Simmons at Rose Bar, for example, and later inviting him to be on the cover. “At the end of the day, this is a results-oriented business,” Mr. Semilof said. Everyone’s saying, ‘We’re luxury, we’re luxury,’ but the reality is, if you don’t offer results for your advertisers, then pretty much the game’s gonna be over. For example, Rolls Royce is an advertiser of ours, and through our magazine and through events we’ve sold more Rolls Royces than any other publication in the world. … We’d rather talk about the success part of the business. Our job is not to be like The New York Times and talk about the doom part of the business.”

One way The New York Times is fighting doom is by selling every page of advertising in its glossy Aug. 3 sports supplement, Play, to the Nielsen Media Research company, which recalls the slightly queasy feeling one got in 2005 when The New Yorker teamed up with Target. But Mr. Essex, at least, is sanguine about such innovations. “If you accept the proposition that it’s luxurious to page through a magazine, something luxurious and slow about it, then magazines can lend themselves to that luxurious experience,” he said. “People who are smart enough to get that will invest in that and defend that. That’s what I’m trying to get at. Editors will defend magazines as the luxurious experience.”

jkoblin@observer.com