Tuesday, June 27

Who Says People Don't Care About Print? Magazine Covers Dominate the News Cycle

Magazines still matter. If not, then why did three separate stories about magazine covers dominate today's news cycle? Vanity Fair kicked off things early this morning when it tweeted this simply amazing cover of a pregnant Serena Williams, photographed by Annie Leibovitz:


Vanity Fair has a way of making headlines with its covers. Remember two years ago when its Caitlyn Jenner unveiling became not just the year's most talked about magazine but the most buzzed-about media event period? That bombshell image was also announced quietly, with just a simple tweet, meaning that the most arresting and impactful images don't require a press conference or a lot of fanfare to get attention or to become iconic. Speaking of icons (to me anyway), here's another, much-chatted-about cover of the day — weirdly, belonging to Delta's in-flight magazine:


Bustle noted that social media just couldn't quit talking about the manspreading of Canada's ridiculously appealing leader. My personal favorite among the reactions:


Finally, even though we're breaking with our daily ritual of ignoring him in the hopes he will actually vanish into thin air like a particularly potent fart, our Liar In Chief strikes again, with the self-obsessed one apparently placing framed, fake covers of himself throughout his golf clubs. Here's one of them:


It's a story The Washington Post broke that got picked up by AOL, Business Insider, The Telegraph and everyone else, including The Hill, which had the headline of the day:


One has to kind of feel sorry for him at this point. But, a question: If this guy thinks the media suck so bad, then why is he fixated on magazine covers — including fake ones? A Time spokeswoman confirmed to the Post that the above is not, in fact, an actual cover, despite the fact that Trump has appeared on real covers of Time that he could just as easily display at his properties, send to his friends for Christmas, or make sweet love to. On top of all the other lawsuits he faces, wouldn't a copyright infringement case brought by Time Inc. against a man who likes to call out respectable news orgs for fake news but who, as it turns out, is its biggest purveyor of all be especially delicious?

Serena Williams Covers the New Vanity Fair


Sunday, June 25

Sweet Home Alabama? Food & Wine's Southern Move Another Loss for NYC


So, Friday Time Inc. announced it is moving Food & Wine's operations from New York to Birmingham, Alabama. The magazine's leadership stressed in media reports that this is really no big deal, since foodie culture exists everywhere — including, coincidentally, in places where it costs a fraction to run a media company (or any business) versus Manhattan. Hunter Lewis — the editor of Cooking Light who now takes over Food & Wine since its awesome and highly respected editor, Nilou Motamed, refused to relocate — told the Times: "You can create and do business in food anywhere now." Meanwhile, Forbes proclaimed that the move is "more proof that the South now rules American dining," noting that Birmingham has joined the likes of New Orleans, Atlanta and Nashville as one of the South's "food cities." I do not argue those points, nor do I fault the financially struggling Time Inc. with doing whatever it can to salvage its business. Still, this development is further, somewhat sad evidence of the end of New York as the media and cultural capital of the country. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if Time Inc. eventually moves virtually all its operations to Alabama — or if other publishers follow suit bolting the city. It simply costs too much to run a legacy media business out of New York, even with whatever generous tax breaks the state and city are giving these companies to stick around — which is why places like Birmingham, Charleston, Knoxville and Jersey City have become mini media capitals. In a way, this trend is a reassuring thing — in a modern world, we can do virtually any kind of business from anywhere, of course, notably from places where the cost of living is not nearly as crushing as it is in New York, and where the overall quality of life is arguably better as well. Not to mention where the tax burden is less onerous. Alabama collects only a nominal income tax on its residents, while other places — including Texas, Florida, Washington and Tennessee — have no state income tax at all. Meanwhile, if you live and work in New York, you have to pay income tax not only to New York State but also to the city — hardly a formula for attracting and retaining people who don't happen to be millionaires. Of course, if you happen to live outside New York in this digital era, you get the same Netflix and HBO shows as people who live in the city, you can get the same stuff shipped to you overnight from Amazon, you can watch Pornhub, you can take an Uber home, you can stay in a boutique hotel, you can shop at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, you can eat awesome, locally sourced food at cool restaurants, and you can produce a kick-ass magazine or website — all without going bankrupt. Still, there is, again, something quite unfortunate about it all, at least for those of us who cling to nostalgia. (Some of us still are not over Time Inc. moving out of the iconic Time-Life Building on Sixth Avenue in midtown.) I mean, sure, Birmingham might have a lot going for it, or L.A. or Atlanta or Miami or Jersey City — but that doesn't mean I want to see the Metropolitan Opera or the Whitney Museum move there. OK, so one magazine is moving out of the city — big deal. But with every institution that does that — and there's an alarming number of them — the city loses a little chunk of its soul. And that is not a good thing for New York. Then again, sometimes media people leaving the city can be a good and welcome thing — take Rush Limbaugh, who years ago forsook New York for Florida, with its ample sunshine, favorable tax climate, and virtually endless supply of cheap, trailer-park pharmaceuticals. That, my friends, was a very good thing for New York and the people who love it.

Monday, June 12

Forbes Magazine Ranks the Highest-Paid Entertainers — aka, "An Enemies List"


I've done my share of magazine profiles on celebrities and otherwise brushed up against a few boldface names in my time, and Forbes's list of the highest-paid entertainers features a handful of "personalities" who bring back memories — some fond, some bad, and one in particular I am about as wistful for as that unfortunate bout of Montezuma's Revenge in a Cartagena airport toilet. So let's play a little game of "Friend or Enemy?," shall we?

Which seemingly nice but actually quite awful, very rich and popular celeb says "no" to absolutely everything — every magazine cover, every magazine profile, every top-10 list, every event, everything — invited to be part of, even if promised everything short of being called god in print?

Which leading man did I so idolize that he once graced my wall in his underwear but who in person turned out to look like a homeless person, and a short one?

Which pop star came by my house for Thanksgiving, pre-fame, and was so seemingly stoned that the rest of my guests and I were forced to listen very hard to understand anything the person was saying over the course of an entire evening?

Which overexposed beauty seems like she'd be a diva but is actually one of the nicest and most professional people you'd ever hope to work with?

Which dubious "celebrity" turned out to be an absolute nightmare, ultimately walking off a photo shoot because of not "feeling it," resulting in weeks of negotiations and ultimately the whole thing getting scrapped and costing my employer a small fortune?

Which movie star's publicist lobbied hard for a cover for her client — then proceeded to be so difficult negotiating the simplest of terms that we pulled the plug, sending said publicist first into fits, then leading her to launch a full-blown, humiliating, and ultimately unsuccessful campaign of begging and pleading?

Which sexy star, despite our most earnest appeals, would not consent to a photo shoot (even though she'd be lucky to be the subject of any magazine profile) — so we ended up getting her back by writing about her anyway and Photoshopping her head onto a model's body?

Which queen of an empire/idol of mine confessed to me that she is an insomniac who gets almost no sleep and begins each day by 4 a.m.?

Which singer did I always hate but got to see perform during a small, invitation-only show at last year's Cannes festival — and ended up so wowing me that I became a fan that instant?

It's More Like Watergate Than You Think


In his column today, the Times's Jim Rutenberg makes some excellent points about how Russiagate is different from Watergate—its central point being that the rise of the right-wing media has made it all that more difficult for actual facts to rise to the top. He won't get any argument from me on that. But it bears remembering that back in the 70s, despite the creation of Fox News still being decades into the future, there was a very real effort afoot, especially early on, to discredit The Washington Post as it peeled back the layers of Nixon's stinky onion, a fact that is underscored in the late Kay Graham's excellent, Pulitzer-winning autobiography, Personal History. The book is 20 years old now, but this Trump mess and its echoing of Watergate inspired me to revisit as an early-summer read what remains one of the best-written memoirs of a public figure I ever read—and its passages on the paper's takedown of Nixon are especially riveting, timely, and often prescient. Compare the current, unrelenting attacks on the press in the wake of FBI chief James Comey's firing with Graham's recounting of the daily shit that was being hurled at the Post—even following the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre"—and her increasing annoyance of it:

Yet the Post remained under attack—and the attack was becoming much more public. By this time I had warmed up to a degree of toughness of which I probably wouldn't have been capable the year before. ... For example, whereas earlier I might have been somewhat sympathetic with readers who wrote about the sharpness of Herblock's pen, in the later stages of Watergate I had no patience with those who complained he was being unfair to the president. To one scathing letter, I responded, "We have been heavily attacked for biased reporting by many individuals who, when confronted with the facts, have since resigned from the government." I wrote to a man in Florida on October 1973, facetiously thanking him for sending me a copy of an ad from the Miami paper suggesting that we belonged in jail and asking him, "If we are exaggerating minor peccadillos, why has the majority of the White House staff had to be unloaded?"

The Post was routinely accused of making a mountain out of a molehill throughout its Watergate coverage, much as the mainstream media is now being trashed by the conservative political machine over its reporting on Russiagate. (Newt Gingrich this weekend called for GOP leaders to "abolish" the Russia probe, suggesting that the heretofore universally respected Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now somehow biased and his investigation suddenly tainted. When Newt Gingrich starts trying to interfere, you know you're onto something.) Donald Trump and his fans, as we all saw, took to Twitter after Comey's testimony last week to declare the whole thing a "witch hunt" and the president himself vindicated. Seems like a good moment to consider Kay Graham's summation of Watergate:

Even today, some people think the whole thing was a minor peccadillo, the sort of thing engaged in by lots of politicians. I believe Watergate was an unprecedented effort to subvert the political process. It was a pervasive, indiscriminate use of power and authority from an administration with a passion for secrecy and deception and an astounding lack of regard for the normal constraints of democratic politics. To my mind, the whole thing was a very real perversion of the democratic system.

Let's see now, who does that remind us of?

Saturday, May 20

Make Up Your Own Caption For This Bizarre Pic From Trump's Traveling Circus Overseas

Something about Saudi men whispering about contrasting cultures and putting women in veils and abayas versus large, constricting gold belts.

Thursday, May 18

Trump Insists This Kremlin Takeover of the White House Would Absolutely Never Be Allowed to Happen—Not Tacky Enough


'Hey, It's Not As Hot Down Here As I Had Expected!' Ailes, In Memoriam (Sort Of)


How to honor a man who built a television empire—even if he did it by exploiting the worst instincts and aggressively proud ignorance of everyday Americans? How to report straightforwardly on his impressive career achievements, without pointing out that his greatest creation paved the way for the current, awful inhabitant of the White House and the national disaster we now wake up to every morning? How does one take a moment, upon the news of his death, to pay homage to the man and his accomplishments—without writing about the fact that, despite his vision and ambition, he was privately a horrible monster who preyed on and abused the women he supervised and ended up being driven from his lofty perch? Back there somewhere, I was a magazine editor and once signed off on the choice of Ailes (they were always a group decision of the staff, these choices—I was but one voice) as "TV Executive of the Year"—about six months before details of his disgusting behavior were revealed. (Happily, an angel on my shoulder told me to stop short of putting him on the cover—something that was seriously discussed and considered.) Still, once the bombshell news of his horribleness broke, I argued for rescinding the award after the fact, which did not happen. (The reasoning was that it was his professional accomplishments that had been celebrated, not his personal life, a distinction I certainly appreciate. After all, if everyone in the media or ad business or any business—especially the people who run those businesses—who got a trophy had to give it back once details of their personal lives were exposed, there would be no awards. Yet, in the case of Ailes, my thinking was that what the guy was accused of and eventually lost his job over amounted to much more than an extramarital affair or borrowing the Girl Scout Cookie money from his kid's Hello Kitty purse.) So, how are media outlets treating the delicate balance this morning of singing Ailes' praises while reminding the public of his indiscretions and crimes? The Times' obit, unsurprisingly, has "ousted" as the fourth word, only to be followed in the same sentence by "pushed out." USA Today, likewise, mentions the dark side of Ailes in its lede. CNN makes no mention of Ailes' troubles till the sixth paragraph in. Predictably, the Fox News homepage sports a giant portrait of Ailes at the top, followed by a story that, just as predictably (since the network got publicly shamed and ended up many millions poorer for Ailes' behavior), makes no mention of the details of its godfather's troubled history, limited to the vague line, buried deep, that he'd left Fox in "a cloud of controversy" over allegations he "strongly denied." As usual, the pithiest, most searing commentary is offered via Twitter, where not only is #RogerAiles a trending topic but so is #RogerAilesIsDeadParty. Marc Lamont Hill, Temple University professor and BET and CNN personality, wrote: "Roger Ailes has died. Wow. Sending deep and heartfelt condolences to everyone who was abused, harassed, exploited, and unjustly fired by him." Jeet Heer, senior editor of The New Republic, offered that "Death demands a humane response. Our thoughts & prayers should be with the countless women Roger Ailes sexually assaulted and humiliated." But it is the tweet by "Diane N. Sevenay," the fictional Funny or Die character, that is most on the nose:


Wednesday, May 17

Welcome to Hudson Yards, a Dark, Hulking Icon of a Dystopian, Suburban Manhattan


If this week's issue of New York seems a little thicker than usual, it's because it boasts that truly unusual thing nowadays, for any magazine but especially a weekly or biweekly—a big, fat gatefold cover followed by a multipage advertising promotion for the forthcoming atrocity that is Hudson Yards, the pointless, soulless development on the far, far west side that has made traversing Tenth Avenue a nightmare for drivers, automobile passengers, pedestrians and winos for the better part of the last five years and that promises, when completed, to have Manhattanites who don't live or work in far, far west midtown or far, far west Chelsea making the far, far schlepp over to shop at, eat at and otherwise experience what is basically an overblown, depressing suburban shopping mall—one that will also, as it happens, house the headquarters of corporations like Time Warner, L'Oréal and Coach, thus making it equally a depressing suburban office park. The insert features pithy quotes from the likes of David Chang ("We need to have bigger, bolder visions") and Thomas Keller ("Higher expectation is standard for us"), both among the restaurateurs and shop-keeps banking on the multigazillion-dollar reimagining of the Hudson riverfront. We've all known for some time now about well-heeled department store Neiman Marcus making its New York City debut there, but as the ad details, we can look forward to outposts from other exciting retailers as well. There's Banana Republic, The Body Shop, Kiehl's, Sephora and Zara, just to name a few—in other words, no brands so exotic as to be unknown to your garden-variety, mid-range American mini-mall. And speaking of things that are iconic-slash-suicide-inspiring, what would this new real estate destination be without an overwrought, miserable-looking architectural centerpiece? Here's a sneak peek, from the advertisement, of the multilevel balcony/staircase thingy that will dominate the main courtyard of Hudson Yards:


I'm thinking the inspiration was a honeycomb, mated with an alien ship, mashed up with a sort of DNA double helix and a dash of wig from Pricilla, Queen of the Desert. In other words, a hopeless mess that is not only yet another in the long, long line of exhibits supporting my sincere belief that all architects should be hanged but also a fitting focal point for such a monstrous pile of industrial awful.

Wednesday, May 10

You Were Wrong, Colbert: Fox Reasserts Its Position as the REAL Trump Cockholster


Note the link to the very important related story about Anderson Cooper rolling his eyes during an interview with Kellyanne Conway—the subject of a four-minute panel discussion among an assemblage of outraged Fox News airheads who concurred that Cooper was being "disrespectful." Yes, because some TV newsman reacting to the White House's chief bullshit peddler by rolling his eyes is the real scandal here. #DistractDistractDistract

Tuesday, May 9

Oh Dear, I Believe I Have the Wrong Number!


You may have heard of the award-winning British ad agency called Adam & Eve—but as a Google search reveals, that's not the only type of business to appropriate the names of the original sinners. Now excuse me while I go and look up Balzac. (Thank you, New York—I'll be here all week!)

Saturday, May 6

Paul Ryan Joins List of Most Punchable Faces


For those who don't read or who get their information only from media properties run by Rupert Murdoch, here's why. 

Tuesday, May 2

Never Wear Your Husband: The Times Demonstrates Why Punctuation Matters


I felt somewhat bewildered going through the Times's Met Gala slideshow this morning. Who are these people? I kept asking myself. (The question What the fuck are they wearing? is, meanwhile, a given.) Except for Catherine Deneuve, Madonna, the hostess Anna Wintour herself and a couple of others, I caught myself wondering whether I was looking at A-listers from a fashion event or a bunch of juvenile delinquents who'd gotten into their mothers' makeup. The theme of the so-called Oscars of the East Coast this year was "edgy and asymmetrical." Which to me just seems to be an excuse to wear your pants without having them tailored. While the hottest runway models, actresses and musicians were natural choices for Anna's invitation list, others were a little more curious. Katie Holmes, really? Are we actually still pretending she's famous? Just check out her imperious, austere pose—I think she's played Jackie O so many times now that she thinks she is her. Then there are those obviously invited not so much for their pop culture or fashion cred but rather for their genetic provenance. Like Frances Cobain. The Southern expression "Bless her heart" springs to mind. Luckily, Nick Jonas showed up, which always makes everything, no matter how awful, somehow better, regardless of what he's wearing. Or even if he isn't wearing anything at all. Ever see photos of some big, fancy party and wish you'd been a part of it? In this case, it was more like thanking God you were nowhere near it. And as someone whose own sartorial choices run the gamut from J. Crew (high) to Fruit of the Loom (low), there was no shot of that happening anyway. 

Thursday, April 27

Ivanka Joins SCOTUS, Marge Runs Out of Xanax: The Simpsons on Trump's First 100


OK, so we're all pretty sick of being reminded several times a day that Trump is closing in on his first 100 days in office, but The Simpsons, as usual, nails it. Favorite line, via Homer: "Marge, give the President of the United States some time. He's only 70 years old!" Depressingly, the bit reminds us that we're only 6.8 percent of the way through this shit. Remember when life was simple and we didn't have to wake up every morning terrified of what was going to happen at the White House that day?

Friday, April 21

'Bait-dance': News Orgs Remember Dead Prince With Purple Flood of Cheap Clicks

CNN gives whole new meaning to stealing the pennies off the eyes of a dead man
Call it, "Bait-dance." Or maybe, "Controversy"? "Thieves in the Temple"? How about "Sign o' the Times"? Is there any more suitable way these days to honor a beloved, deceased icon on the one-year anniversary of his death than with a load of cheap content concocted for the sole purpose of making you click? Or if you're Morris Day, is there any more obvious opportunity to make people remember you your dear friend? Prince died a year ago today and every "news" organization is swooping in to take advantage commemorate his life and career—CNN, NBC, Fox, The New York Times, NPR, Variety, Billboard, People, the AP, The Guardian, TMZ, and on ... and on ... and on. No actual news, mind you. It all pretty much boils down to: Prince Is Still Dead, But We All Remember How Great He Was, So Here's to Driving Web Traffic and Pushing a Shit-Ton of Ads. Something tells me that somewhere, Prince is laughing his ass off over all this. Some of the best/worst piss-on-your-grave headlines today:

















Thursday, April 20

A Cover Shot on an iPhone Is Not Clever—It's What's Helping Kill the Magazine Business


So, the cover of the new Bon Appétit was shot on an iPhone. Yeah, that was completely new and different—when Billboard and Condé Nast Traveler did it. It's not that it's a bad picture, and I realize publishers need to do all they can to generate buzz and make magazines cool, but not only is this idea not novel or creative, it also happens to be terrible for the business of magazines. Why would you embrace something that's anathema to your very being? As Bon App's creative director explained: "We wanted to create something our readers could relate to. This is technology completely changing how the publishing and design industries are moving forward." Well, that's a depressing thought for those of us whose life's work is creating content that strives to be more special than what you'd find on a 14-year-old's Instagram feed. Really, this idea that something great can be done not just by talented, experienced professionals with the right training and equipment but by any random person with a phone and a social media account? (The current occupant of the White House comes to mind.) Yes, I understand this was just a "gimmick" and that the picture, while taken with an iPhone, was also done by professionals. But it's the principle. One of the things that print (or at least those magazines that still understand what their strengths are and execute on them) has going for it are the highest quality photographs, produced by phenomenally talented photographers, wardrobe and prop stylists, set decorators, lighting people, makeup artists, retouchers, photo editors, art directors and creative directors, many of whom I have been fortunate to work with over the years. Working with them and watching them do what they do so well has given me tremendous respect for them—and made me appreciate how exceptional their talents are, and how indispensable those talents are to the media ecosystem. It takes a small village and a lot of coin to make a great (and sometimes, a really terrible) photo. Maybe it's not such a surprise that magazines are using pictures taken with a phone when one considers how generally awful looking so many of them have become. Anybody who's read or advertised in a magazine lately can see that certain publishers are aggressively shaving expenses by way of cheaper paper stock, trim sizes that give them all the stature of a pamphlet, and dramatically scaled back photo shoots, which, admittedly, are not an inconsequential investment. It's just that, as a lover of print, I think they need to continue to be an investment. If you're going to do something, do it right, as the old line goes, and if you're going to publish a magazine, then do whatever you must to produce a good magazine or just give it up and start trading Bitcoin or go into pharmaceutical marketing or something. With some exceptions—like Time Inc.'s People, which slashed its cover price by a buck last fall to stop gushing newsstand sales—publishers have discovered that readers will actually pay more if you keep putting out a product that makes it worth the money (note that Condé now charges a steep $8.99 for a copy of The New Yorker—a magazine that, incidentally, has virtually no photos), while nothing will keep the public and advertisers away like gutting yourself in some vain quest for profitability. One more thing: What may be even worse than cheap visuals are the magazines that still pay for ambitious shoots—like a recent issue of Time Inc.'s Entertainment Weekly that featured Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in fun set-ups on the cover and inside spread—but then slap those pictures on paper so appallingly thin and cheap that they needn't have even bothered. (They're called "glossies" for a reason, Mr. Battista.) I realize publishers are running a business that is in decline—but giving consumers and advertisers a substandard product can only hasten the descent. To paraphrase a certain someone near and dear to us all: MAKE MAGAZINES GREAT AGAIN!!

Wednesday, April 19

Gladiators, Crucifixions, the Ice Capades and Tyler Oakley: Why LIVE Is Still Where It's At


It's hardly a stretch to imagine that YouTubers like Tyler Oakley and Lilly Singh, with their multimillions of devoted groupies online, would also be a massive draw live.

But Mike Mills thought of it and you didn't. 

And now, the 40-year-old guy from upstate New York who once ran a magic store and whose big break came when he bet that the sketch comedy series Who's Line Is It Anyway? would translate to the stage—ultimately generating more than 500 shows and $30 million in revenue—has become the king of cross-media programming, working with social media stars and TV celebs like Dog Whisperer's Cesar Milan and Cake Boss's Buddy Valastro to transform their acts into live theater, as Forbes reports in a new profile of Mills.

We all know live is where it's at. Madonna's latest album was a notorious bomb, failing to produce even one charting single—a first in the 30-year-plus career of the pop tartare—and yet Billboard named her Woman of the Year for 2016. Why? Because even though her music sucks and her music sales suck harder, her Rebel Heart tour sold more than 1 million tickets worldwide, generating $170 million and cementing her standing as rock's most profitable live performer and her partner Live Nation's own personal ATM. As PricewaterhouseCoopers noted in its annual report on entertainment and media industry trends, "Touring and festivals are now the lifeblood of the music industry."

It's not just music, as Mike Mills understands so well. Comedian Kathy Griffin could make a perfectly comfortable living doing her top-rated TV specials and writing best-selling books—but she's hitting 50 cities this year, and selling out damn near every one of them. Meanwhile, traditional and digital media companies from Pandora to Vanity Fair, Fast Company to CNBC are expanding their events footprint. 

Some were way ahead of the curve—like Food & Wine magazine, whose Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (which I reported on while gorging myself about town last summer) has been bringing foodies together for three decades. And brand marketers like Kitchen-Aid, Lexus, Patron Spirits and Celebrity Cruises are now lining up to get out in front of all those fans. 

Ain't it fascinating that with all our eyeballs glued to mobile screens and society's generally antisocial leanings, getting thousands of people together in one space for shared joy—an experience as old as the gladiators, crucifixions and the Ice Capades—has become so trendy, and enormously bankable. 

As Mills told Forbes: "What you see on a screen will never compete with seeing someone perform live. When kids see someone onstage, it's like magic."