As 20 members of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute Class of 2013 stepped off the elevator to the offices of New York magazine, they were presented with a giant red wall and the New York logo inscribed in white. Oohs and aahs filled the air, and the tour had yet to begin. This was just one of six magazine and digital publishing company visits taking place at this year’s program and a highlight of our summer.
Lauren Starke, the company’s director of public relations, led us on our tour. We learned that New York, which publishes 42 issues a year, has won 24 National Magazine Awards under the leadership of editor-in-chief Adam Moss (high honors also known as the Ellies, presented to the magazine industry by ASME, The American Society of Magazine Editors), including the coveted 2013 ASME “Magazine of The Year” top honor. New York was also recognized by ASME’s Best Cover Contest with the 2013 “Cover of the Year” award. Explaining the magic of the magazine’s formula, Starke said: “One of the hallmarks we pioneered is this mix of really strong feature journalism combined with fun service about subjects like cheap restaurants and undiscovered shops… as well as a cultural guide to the city.”
As we passed by the office of publisher Lawrence (“Larry”) C. Burstein, we were promptly invited to join him for a chat in a nearby conference room. The publisher was happy to talk to us about how the magazine has transformed itself into multiple platforms. His smiling face and easy-going demeanor made us all sense the passion he has for this publication. Burstein talked to us about the advertising process and how New York Magazine has fared with digital technologies: “We saw certain pockets of strength in the world of entertainment and created Vulture.com; in fashion through TheCut.com; and in the world of food through GrubStreet.com. These all used to be channels on nymag.com, and we spun them off and made them their own channels with their own audience and their own advertising bases,” he explained. “The challenge was to get people to understand that these had become big national websites and not just small New York products. The strategy has turned out to be a really smart thing and has changed the whole profile of the company.”
Later, we had the opportunity to meet members of New York Media’s top editorial and digital team. Robert Kolker, contributing editor, Raha Naddaf, senior editor, Leonor Mamanna, photo editor, Dan Amira, senior website editor, and Stella Bugbee, editorial director of The Cut, talked to us about their work at the magazine. Mamanna gave the background on the famous ASME-winning cover shot on sale the week after Hurricane Sandy. “We decided that the shot to be made was New York from above because the city had kind of been split in half,” she explained. “Once we all looked at the photo, there was a moment where we just knew that was going to be the cover.”
Kolker then discussed the integration of print and web at New York Media. “Whether a story runs for print or web, it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure if this was the plan to synthesize everything, but it’s happening anyway,” he said. Bugbee agreed, saying, “Yes, we are able to develop content on our own and pursue the kind of things that run in the magazine without worry. If I find something I think is good for Vulture and for us [The Cut], I’ll share it with them. There’s no sense of hierarchy.”
As far as print is concerned, Naddaf commented: “Every moment when I’m reading the news, I’m figuring out where something can go and how we would put our stamp on the idea. I’m never forgetting the website. It’s very active on all fronts at this magazine.”
Each member of the team was adamant about how they love to work with digital and print to get the story out in multiple ways. “My goal is to get things to go viral,” Amira said. “Those times are the highlights of my career.” To keep the content fresh on their annual special-interest issues, such as “Best Doctors” or “Eat Cheap,” the magazine assigns different editors to these franchises from one season to the next. “It’s very much the job of the editor to make it exciting and new,” explained Naddaf. “The goal is to make it different from last year, but still keep the spirit of the franchise.”
And, in so many ways, New York itself has done just that so well, shaking up the mold while maintaining an allegiance to the features and sensibility its readers love.
by Joanna Brathwaite