With Fashion Week in full swing last week, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal waged rival relaunch parties in their ongoing war for high-dollar luxury advertisers, seemingly far from the front-line trenches of hard news.
T: The New York Times Style Magazine celebrated its redone glossy at Grand Central’s Oyster Bar. The classic New York haunt evoked days gone by, when publishing and advertising types rarely ventured below 14th Street (unless they were visiting their libertine beatnik mistresses). Befitting the location, there were the inevitable oysters, martini shakers and flutes of champagne. Cigarette girls purveyed magazines, cookies emblazoned with the new T logo and gift cards for a one-month subscription to the paper of record. (Hey, this is Bloomberg’s New York now.) TVs around the bar area played Sofia Coppola’s interview with cover girl Lee Radziwill. Ms. Coppola was in attendance, as were Drew Barrymore and media heavies like Arianna Huffington and Chris Hughes (fresh from his own relaunch party), along with the Times’s top brass.
“What Deborah has done is, all in one go, she’s got a complete editorial and design vision from the logo to the cover,” Times CEO Mark Thompson said of new T editor Deborah Needleman. “One of the reasons that so many people are here tonight is that people are responding to her vision of T.”
Ms. Needleman, clad in black pants, a black silk shirt and a dark blazer, held court under the Oyster Bar’s vaulted ceiling. She, of course, crossed enemy lines last fall to come to the Times from WSJ., where she was the editor in chief until she replaced Sally Singer at T.
“Both places are really great. I know that’s a really boring answer, but it’s true,” Ms. Needleman told Off the Record. “I’m very happy where I am, and it feels really comfortable and very right.”
Even the cover story, a profile of Ms. Radziwill, Jackie O’s 79-year-old younger sister, had crossed over. Women’s Wear Daily reported that Ms. Needleman had brought the feature along with her to T, but she played down the significance of this when she spoke to OTR.
“When I left, Lee pulled the story and asked if I could do it at T, and I said, yes please,” Ms. Needleman said. “It wasn’t like I had to drag her by her chignon out of there.”
The WSJ. party, located at Wallsé—the West Village haute-Austrian joint—had a distinctly younger vibe. Not at all like a scene out of Mad Men, it was full of fashionable young party people who crowded the small, dimly lit rooms, jostling for drinks at the bar and grabbing dainty canapés and petits fours.
The distance between the two parties made it challenging to hit both, but some enterprising all-stars trekked from East 42nd Street to West 11th. Prabal Gurung, Hannah Bronfman and Emanuele Della Valle managed to make the rounds, as did Off the Record—so we weren’t the only ones hiding our copies of T upon arriving at the rival event, where we received a copy of WSJ. (no free digital access included) in its signature gray envelope.
New editor Kristina O’Neill, her blonde hair wavy and loose, wore a white lace dress and animatedly greeted her guests. “I’m really excited to put my stamp on the magazine,” said Ms. O’Neill, who arrived at WSJ. from Harper’s Bazaar, where she had been the executive editor.
The magazines, like their editors, looked like mirror images of each other, as though the latter had selected their wardrobes based on the former. The debut cover of the new WSJ. shows a straight shot of model Kati Nescher, staring wide-eyed at the camera. The top of her white Alexander Wang cutout dress blends into the white background, and the silver logo trails onto her unkempt brown hair. “Pure Elegance” reads the headline, the only cover text besides the logo.
T mag, meanwhile, unveiled a new, bolder font on its cover. Gone is the classic, gothic T, replaced by a pink sans-serif treatment designed by creative director Patrick Li. The new logo is the only hint of color on the black-and-white cover, which features Ms. Radziwill, clad in a classic black dress, one arm resting on her hip. “True Elegance,” reads the headline.
At least they can agree on elegance.
Another similarity? Introductory editors’ letters touting that great constant in media, as in life: change.
“Change is exciting—it’s inspiring to witness new ideas taking shape, whether it’s in the kitchen, on the runways or between the glossy covers of a magazine,” Ms. O’Neill writes in her letter, titled “The View Ahead.” “It’s the future in real time.”
“It goes without saying that we’ve updated the magazine to please you,” Ms. Needleman concludes in her letter, under the headline “Welcome to Change.” “We sincerely hope it will.”
While it may seem odd that the battle between the city’s two serious broadsheets is taking place in the glossy pages of high-end fashion magazines, that’s where the money is.
Although advertising is down for many magazines, it has actually increased in the luxury sector. Fashion magazines rely on visuals that are not as easily translated to the web, which may partially explain the uptick in ad sales.
“The magazines that will endure longer in print are magazines that rely on great photography,” explained Reed Phillips, a founding partner of DeSilva & Phillips, a New York-based media investment bank specializing in digital and traditional media. “The luxury sector is rebounding nicely; it seems like it may be impervious to the changes in the industry.”
WSJ., which launched as a quarterly in 2008, has since increased its frequency to 11 times a year. According to an insert for advertisers in the new issue, WSJ. is up 29 percent in ad pages, and it claims that its female readers, whom it calls “1.1 million of the most affluent, chic women in the world” spend 77 minutes reading the magazine. T, despite a decrease in frequency (Ms. Needleman announced 13 issues a year instead of 15, eliminating two design issues), claims 132.5 ad pages in the latest issue, up 23 percent over last year.
We asked Mr. Thompson, himself a relatively recent arrival to the Times, how the paper was doing overall.
“Others must judge. I had my first earnings call this morning,” Mr. Thompson said. “We have lots of issues to work through as we think about the future, but I’d say T, like “Snow Fall” back in December, is a really good example of what you can do when you really create the best journalism.”
And as for whether the naked rivalry is helping gain publicity for the glossies, well, it certainly doesn’t do any harm. A partygoer at Wallsé noted that, despite what the newspapers say to the contrary, the schedules of the print debuts and the corresponding parties can’t be an accident.
“They want it that way, don’t you think?” the partygoer noted. “It helps set up the comparison.”
But of course, when it comes to the war between T and WSJ., everyone has an opinion.
“I’m so excited to see one of my favorite magazines under the tutelage of one of my favorite editors,” actress and fledgling media critic Ms. Barrymore told OTR at the T party. “It’s so interesting when things change and evolve. Anything is possible.”