Off the Record

Some magazines-like some people-you don’t especially want to talk sex with. Adam Moss’ New York magazine, for instance. Nice magazine so far. Interesting conversationalist, if a little wonky. Take last week’s cover package on noise in the city: engaging, esoteric and assiduously nut-grafed (“[W]hen Mayor Bloomberg declared war on noise last month, he turned it into a political issue”).

There’s a good reason, however, that the superego is at the wheel: Last week’s edition also betrayed a creepily underdeveloped id.

In a fashion spread titled “Après Swim,” New York presented the “latest swimwear inspired by the sultry feel of the seventies.” The swimsuits, the magazine explained, “hark back to those long Montauk summers when Cheryl Tiegs and Peter Beard ruled the waves.”

But the shoot harked back more like nine years, not 30. Instead of evoking the sunny adult sexuality of Ms. Tiegs, shot by Mr. Beard, the photos echoed the creepy mid-90’s basement images of teenagers shot by Steven Meisel for Calvin Klein.

Things opened legally, if seamily, with a 20-year-old woman in a Tomas Maier swimsuit. In front of her, on a bed, lay a young man of unspecified age wearing “towel, Vintage.”

Not all the models who followed were over the age of consent, though. A later shot presented a 15-year-old girl in a tiny black bikini, her developing body stretched out in an easy chair-and one arm slung behind her head, pinup-wise.

Any resemblance to underripe cheesecake was strictly accidental, the magazine insisted. “Come on,” New York spokesperson Serena Torrey wrote in an e-mail, “this was hardly an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. These were tasteful, arty fashion pictures.”

Another of the shots featured a half-dozen boys, ranging in age from the mid-teens on down, sprawled around a living room playing cards. The scene suggested a late-stage game of strip poker: The two oldest-looking boys wore a shirt and a pair of chinos, respectively; the younger four sported $877 worth of bottom-hugging short-short swim trunks among them and nothing else, save one wide-brimmed hat ($58).

The display of hairless skin so readily recalled Mr. Meisel’s old headline-grabbing work for Mr. Klein that its skeeziness registered as meta-skeeziness. Like Halle Berry flashing her boobs in Swordfish -or like New York magazine putting a buck-naked model on the home-delivery cover of its summer edition-it was too pleased with being provocative to provoke anything.

Did the spread draw any reader response at all? “[N]one whatsoever,” Ms. Torrey wrote.

Joyce Rutter Kaye, editor in chief of Print magazine, could have told New York magazine that porn-inspired imagery is old hat. The pornographic aesthetic, Ms. Kaye said, “has seeped rapidly into mainstream culture without people questioning the impact that this has on society.”

So for its July/August edition, Ms. Kaye’s magazine-a 42,000-circulation bimonthly aimed at the design profession-came out with its own “Sex Issue.” The title, in bulbous and veiny pink letters, was concealed by a brown-paper belly band labeled “Graphic Content.”

Get it? “Graphic Content”?

Alas, Ms. Kaye said, the readership didn’t necessarily appreciate the joke. Within a week of the magazine’s arrival in mailboxes, she said, her office had gotten dozens of phone calls and 60 letters-“extraordinary for a magazine our size.” Usually, Ms. Kaye added, an issue of Print draws 8 to ten letters over a span of two or three months.

Unlike most scandal-managing editors, Ms. Kaye would not claim the reader feedback had been mixed. It was, she said, overwhelmingly negative.

“It’s been a bit disheartening,” she said.

Many outraged subscribers, Ms. Kaye reported, have told her they threw the magazine away unread. “If they’re not going to consider the reporting or read it at all, I can’t respond to that,” Ms. Kaye said. “It becomes a moot point.”

If the images seem smutty, well, they’re other people’s images. That’s what Ms. Kaye is trying to get across. The issue recaps images that put the tit in titillation: fashion shoots by Guy Bourdin of topless, battered-looking models; Steven Meisel’s Opium ad of a nude Sophie Dahl on her back, fondling her own pale and upthrust left breast.

“No previous society has possessed the technological means or the social and moral willingness to broadcast and explore its sexual desires on this scale and to this extent,” Rick Poynor wrote in the lead essay, “Designing Pornotopia.”

And design professionals, Ms. Kaye said, “don’t acknowledge their impact and responsibility” in the spread of sexual imagery.

What does sex look like through the lens of the design industry? Not especially raw. There’s a self-referential collage of other publications’ sex issues: The Advocate , ARTnews , Legal Affairs , Bust , Boston Magazine . The ubiquitous Ted Allen, of Esquire and Queer Eye , offers his critique of Playboy ‘s latest redesign, noting that “the type was actually more powerful in the 1970’s.”

In other typeface news, there’s a short front-of-the-book review of smutty fonts (“Koksure is a dull sans serif formed of penises”). Other articles survey HIV-prevention campaigns and the history of sex-manual illustrations.

The most appalling glimpse of pink in the whole thing comes from a parody of pornography, a glistening composite of nonspecific private-looking parts.

Still, the issue was spicier than Print ‘s usual fare. What had been on the cover of the previous issue?

“I’m drawing a complete blank right now,” Ms. Kaye confessed. Her memory stirred: For its European Design Annual, the magazine had run an illustration of a heart-the organ, not the valentine-with arteries representing participating countries. “The cover was pretty low-key,” she said.

Readers expect trade magazines to be anodyne, Ms. Kaye said. That may have been the real broken taboo this time around; the reader response, she said, “shows sort of a misunderstanding of what journalism is about.”

The sex edition, she said, is “waking them up to the function of a trade magazine, and I think that’s really important.”

So some of the readers have woken up grumpy. Most of those, Ms. Kaye said, live between the coasts.

“We’re not hearing from people in major metropolitan areas,” she said.

Big-city readers, wearied by the sassy likes of New York magazine, no longer react to the escalating skin. “Where do you go?” Ms. Kaye asked. “Do you actually show people in the act? That’s really all that’s left.”

Where do you go, indeed? Confidential to Adam Moss: try penetration, or try Peoria!

Fourteen months of negotiations, one tentative agreement and a two-day byline strike couldn’t make Dow Jones and Company and its union, IAPE 1096, come together on a new contract. Neither could two rounds of mediation.

So mediator Martin Scheinman, halfway through his third go-round with the battling parties on June 28, gave up on soliciting more counter-proposals and counter-counter-proposals. Instead, Mr. Scheinman called both sides in and suggested his own series of compromises: split the difference on wage increases and pad it with lump-sum bonuses. Modify the health-care plan. And shorten the whole contract.

That last step, which moves the contract-renewal date from May 1 to Feb. 1, was crucial. Dow Jones had insisted on a company-wide pay freeze for 2003. Under the old contract calendar, that freeze would have made IAPE members’ 2.5 percent pay raises retroactive only to May 1, 2004. The compromise gives union members three more months back pay.

Not all members are happy with the deal, however. Dow Jones has a specified minimum-pay scale for entry-level workers; every year for their first few years, employees automatically move up the scale, with scheduled pay raises that can exceed 10 percent.

After all previous contract disputes, the company gave scale workers full credit for their service time. But under the current offer, in the name of the pay freeze, scale raises only go back to February 2004-effectively cutting workers out of nine months’ seniority.

“It’s a bad deal for them,” said Theo Francis, a Wall Street Journal reporter and a New York location director for IAPE. “It is not what I wanted to see. I can’t make it sound like that part of it is a good deal.”

New “Vote No” signs have already appeared around the World Financial Center, where signs last year successfully urged members to reject union leadership’s last tentative deal with management. If Dow Jones’ second-quarter financial report, which comes out this Thursday, shows swelling coffers, resentment over the cutbacks could grow even more entrenched.

IAPE organizer Tim Martell said that reaction to the contract offer so far has been thoroughly mixed: In a series of three meetings he had with groups of workers, he said, one group was pleased with the deal, one group was “very upset” and the third was undecided.

“We’re going to have to really begin selling this,” Mr. Martell said. “The strongest selling point is that this is the best negotiated deal we can get at this time.” Off the Record