Ruthie in Wonderland! Ruth Reichl Reflects on Conde Nast

On a very chilly, rainy Thursday night, Ruth Reichl was hugging Dianne Weist on the third floor of the Time Warner Center, at the back of the restaurant A Voce. While embracing, Ms. Weist was removing a bulky winter jacket and a big red scarf. A handler asked Ms. Weist if she was interested in the coat-check.

“You can do what I did and hide it under the table!” said Ms. Reichl.

Perhaps aided by the rain, it was an intimate affair last night, the final Gourmet party ever. Condé Nast editorial director Tom Wallace was there, as was former Gourmet publisher Nancy Berger Cardone. A couple dozen former Gourmet staffers were present as well. The party was celebrating the new TV series, Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth, which will air despite the magazine’s closure. It’ll be on Channel 13, starting this Sunday, at 3:30pm. Ms. Weist will appear in two episodes.

Ms. Reichl, who has given only two interviews since her magazine folded last week, took a few minutes to talk about Condé Nast with the Observer. She said she would write a book about Condé Nast, and we asked for a small preview.

“It’s a very rarefied world,” she said. “It was a world that most people—I had no idea that this particular world existed. I sort of think of it as ‘Ruthie in Wonderland.’ People are fascinated by the world. It’s a life that is probably coming to an end.”

What would change, we wondered?

“That kind of luxury that we all had is probably a thing of the past. The new business realities have changed the life at Condé Nast. I think print magazines as we know them will cease to exist.”

She said that Si Newhouse broke the news of Gourmet‘s closing to her, and that he was really quite sad about it.

“The business picture was not good for Gourmet,” she said. “It was a magazine that depended on luxury advertising, unlike many of the epicureans. Most of our competition gets a lot of different kinds of advertising. Our main categories were travel, automotive, financial, jewelry—that all went away. That was just the way that it was. I guess at a certain point the company decided that advertising wasn’t coming back. I wasn’t privy to those discussions.”

“I did not anticipate this, I have to say,” she continued. “I did know that this was bad, but on the other hand our circulation had never been better. The editorial product was a big hit with the readers, and I did not anticipate this.”

Though she has doubts about the future of print magazines, she said that they’ll exist in some other form.

“I do think that there is going to be something that will be very exciting and that will incorporate video, instant shopping,” she said. “I think that the rich experience that is in magazines will likely move to another platform. It won’t be online. It will be what magazines are now, tools for living and inspirational and intellectually rich. I think magazines in that sense won’t be going away.”

When reflecting about her relationship with Si Newhouse and her magazine’s demise, she said, “I think he was very sad about this; I don’t think it was a reflection of me or our relationship. They hired McKinsey to come in and they decided to take McKinsey’s advice.”

Ruthie in Wonderland! Ruth Reichl Reflects on Conde Nast