Under the chandeliers of NBC's glittery Rainbow Room, a who's-that of New York society celebrated the newest iteration of the New York Times Magazine (now on better paper stock!) last night. The party appeared to be 1 percent celebrity (Lance Armstrong, Martha Stewart, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem), 8 percent miscellaneous media, and 91 percent advertisers. Maureen Dowd held court near the front of the room, wearing a lacy see-through dress.
The bevy of men in charge of the new new magazine gave speeches. Advertisers were thanked many times. Jake Silverstein, the magazine's editor, thanked the Times' executive editor "Dean Bock-ay." He described the magazine's design as "classic and modern all at once." But more so than his new publication the charmingly elfin Silverstein was excited to introduce the night's musical guest, Will Butler of the Arcade Fire, performing songs from a solo album. (Will Butler? some in the crowd wondered. Isn't the frontman's name Win Butler? No, Silverstein had it right: Will Butler, Billy to Win's Alec, was the entertainment.)
Unfortunately, by this point in his address, no one in the crowd was listening. Silverstein futilely tried to explain the significance of Butler's presence—Butler being from a swanky suburb of Houston, The Woodlands, and Silverstein having lived in Austin—to no avail. It was perhaps the saddest Bar Mitzvah speech I've witnessed.
The new magazine, as the people in charge of it have pointed out many times in many ways, is very long, thanks to the more than 100 pages of advertising it contains. Its editors seemed to be obsessed with the book's granular details—the fonts, the amount of space between each letter, the way the logo looks in winter's pale afternoon light. "We have used the hammer and the tongs but perhaps not the blowtorch; we sought to manufacture a magazine that would be unusual, surprising and original but not wholly unfamiliar," Silverstein wrote in his introductory editor's letter. Sure.
He also wrote this, of the magazine's brave leap into online media: "This isn't an obligatory exercise in multiplatform brand leveraging, as the marketing types might put it, or the beginning of our descent into soul-deadening content farming. (To be honest, we grimace a little even saying the word 'content.' When was the last time you said, 'I can't wait to read this Sunday's content'?)" Hey, you said it, guy!
What's odd is that in all this talk about the New New York Times Magazine there hasn't been much talk about its stories. Hugo Lindgren, Silverstein's predecessor about whom basically no one at the Times has a good word to say, gnawed the magazine apart with his incisors, but he was a story guy. His stories were manly, and for manly men, dripping desperately with bourgeois testosterone, but they were stories, at least.
I have read the new magazine's well, and it is something of a mashup between Foreign Policy (this is the global issue, after all), The Believer, and Newsweek: We have Gary Shteyngart, our generation's Yakov Smirnoff, watching Russian television; an unimpressive article on Hong Kong's umbrella revolution; the always-great Susan Dominus, but on France's National Front; a first-person piece about using Airbnb in Japan; and an article that I couldn't bring myself to read because it carried the subhed: "Can amateur journalism bring justice to Rio's favelas?"
It's always fun to join with industry colleagues and celebrate something they are contractually obligated to do but act as if they have done out of their own goodwill, such as rework a failing magazine. Such was the ethos of the party for the New New York Times Magazine, which has alternated between "crown jewel" of the Times and deep dark moneyhole. Last night it was clearly back to jewel status, as everyone swilled their champagne cocktails and tried to discuss the new fonts of the magazine over the blaring songs of 1/4 of the Arcade Fire (I can't confirm if that last part actually happened).
So Jake's party was more or less a success. No one got too drunk and everyone was in and out in two hours, with the door prize of a tote bag and a leather-bound journal. Silverstein has many issues to prove himself in the eyes of the magazine world, but he's already been ordained as the Next Thing. Last night he became a man. Lindgren's magazine was, ultimately, an exercise in onanism; at the end we all seemed to be laughing with him as he published insanely self-serving personal essays about that time he got in a fight at that Lower East Side Bar. Silverstein is on a much tighter leash. He is under the watch of two publishers, Arthur Sulzberger and Andy Wright, and, of course, Dean Bockay. But really, as long as the advertisers are pleased, who even cares what's in the magazine?
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