Thursday, July 31, 2008

Little Nadia's not in peril


Pleasure literacy, academic literacy, cultural literacy and informational literacy are all different genres, and we should welcome new sources with delight.
The Times has a nice letters-to-the-editor section upon online reading, in response to Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?

My thoughts, in case you were interested, are as follows: Yes. Yes, you're really reading.

Differently, maybe; in less depth, sure. Should we be worried about the moral decline in America? Somehow I'm not convinced.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Online Publishing, part II

Last night we met three editors from Slate.com, Julia Turner, John Swansburg, and Dan Engber.

Julia Turner began with a brief history of Slate. It was founded by Michael Kinsley in the '90s. Originally there was a print edition distributed in Starbucks on the West Coast. The paper edition was stapled sheets of 8 1/2 by 11 paper, mostly put out for Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, (and Frank Rich's office, added John Swansburg, who revealed that he used to read it when he worked there).

The big question was where, when, and how people would read online journalism. When Slate was first online, it had page numbers - the editors expected people to print it out and read it on paper. It came out on Friday afternoons, and followed traditions of print journalism.

For example, the editors took a skip week in the summer. In 1997, that skip week happened to be the week Diana was killed. Julia Turner reported this as a repulsive mistake that they could never make now, but at the time everyone figured they'd already made vacation plans.

The editors also expected Slate to be read during its readers' leisure hours. Instead they discovered their readers read it at work. Therefore it had to be able to be minimized quickly when a coworker walked by, and the writers couldn't be casual about people's time. The tone had to be fun and sprightly, even if the piece was dark.

Even today, most people don't read Slate on weekend mornings.
In many ways, the editors pointed out, it's more like book publishing than magazine publishing. You have to attract the readers' attention with the homepage, and your archive works as your backlist. Turner gave the example of a piece on Girls Gone Wild by Ariel Levy, which still gets an enormous amount of traffic thanks to Google. That traffic requires no work by editors and writers presently, but it does a great job of drawing hits.

John Swansburg, the Culture editor, came to Slate from The Boston Globe. When he worked in print journalism, his publication came out six times a year, which meant they had to guess the news two months in advance. "That was fun when we got it right, but embarrassing when we got it wrong."

His first day at Slate was the day of the Virginia Tech shootings. He said it really "felt like being at a newspaper," because it was an "all-hands-on-deck situation."

However, online there is a constant debate about whether it is more important to be the first to report a story, or the best to report that story.

The benefit is that you don't have to worry about raw material; with the Boston Globe, they only had four pages of newsprint, and Slate is not limited by page space. You also don't run short if you cut a piece to keep your quality high - you never need to fill the end of a page on the internet. On the other hand, pieces are usually 1200 words online, so in a sense you have less space than you would on paper just because you have to keep the reader's attention.

Swansburg talked about how to parcel your words out, and the benefits of using images and moving images to tell stories in a new way.

We saw a bit of the slide show of fight scenes featured on Slate's homepage. (It includes that bad-ass scene from David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. You know the one.) This was an example of how the internet has an advantage over print - that is, it's easy to embed the video and easy for the reader to understand what the writer is talking about without requiring too much description. "You could say, 'Matt Damon beats some guy with a book,' but it's cooler to see it," explained Swansburg, referring to the scene featured from The Bourne Ultimatum.Dan Engber talked about his experiences with reader interactions. He has worked with readers through the Thought Experiment, Green Lantern, and the Explainer.

The first advice he received was, Do not look at the message boards. No, really. Don't.

Of course, he looked and regretted it. Every online panelist has stories about their negative experiences with commenters, but his was the most frank: "People are really, really, really, really, really, really mean." When he wrote a piece about obesity, he said, there was a debate online about how fat he was, taking pictures of him from Google image search and ripping them apart. On the other hand, he said, those people keep clicking and they're making ad money for Slate.

The people who comment are a tiny percentage of your readers, and it's hard to gauge what demographics they represent. How are they self-selecting?

Commenters also manage to generate an enormous amount of content. Engber published an article positing the simple question, Why do you have to take your laptop out of your bag at the airport? He called the heads of security at various airports and everyone gave a different answer. You could hide bomb materials in the CD drive, one suggested. Engber opened the question up to his readers. Do you have to do this in other countries? he asked. His readers responded. And he learned things from them. Apparently in Israel, you don't have to open your laptop.

Sometimes the readers' comments are less constructive. He published a section called The Questions that We Never Answered, including, "Why are some cats softer than others? Is it possible that I have the softest cat in the world?"

Julia Turner admitted that she still wanted to know whether flies on the ceiling do a barrel roll or a loop-de-loop, and Engber referred her to the answer through The Straight Dope.

In our question-answer session, Turner expressed her gratitude for Slate's partnership with Maxim for photography. She also said Microsoft was good to them - Microsoft owned Slate when it was just starting out. Slate charges advertisers for displays rather than charging them a certain rate per click (smart). The Root is their sister magazine, in case you wondered why it's linked on their home page.

The editors were asked how they felt about Salon.com. They said it felt like proof that their concept was valuable when someone was trying to do something similar. Generally Salon articles tend to be a little longer, a little more reporting than commentary, a little more leftist, but the editors emphasized that Slate is doing a lot of reporting just as Salon is doing a lot of commentary, so those differences are hard to measure.

We found out that about 75 people work for Slate. Dan Engber responded to the final question saying that they discovered a new Explainer writer by publishing at the end of a column, "Think you can be the Explainer? Prove it." This was better than posting the job on Journalismjobs.com, he said, because the people who applied were already reading the column and were familiar with Slate's voice. In this way, he said, they found somebody fantastic to take the position.

Online Publishing, part I


Quick catch-up. These notes will be fragmented, since we're about to start another lecture. The online publishers have been extraordinarily good at speaking quickly and articulately; they never take long to get straight to the point, so I promise I'm not omitting many flourishes in what follows:

Yesterday morning, we had a panel with John Tryangiel of Time.com, Peter Frank of Concierge.com, Brandon Holley of Yahoo.com (more specifically Shine), and Gail Horwood of Instyle.com.

In sum, here's what they said about online publishing:
People are after the same kind of content, they're just changing the format of it.
People want smart information quickly.
The best journalists in magazines are the best journalists online. John Tryangiel pointed out that a writer can't wait for someone in the system to tell him what to do next; in this way, the web weeds out the most efficient and intelligent writers.

"There's never been more demand for content, and content packers, and content producers," said Gail Horwood.

"Clear is the new cute," according to Peter Frank. Headlines on the internet need to be search-friendly. The more expertise Google recognizes in your content, the higher you will be ranked in searches.

Gail Horwood also points out, "Every page is your home page." Most readers come in through the so-called "side door," entering your site through an article they found on a blog. Magazine websites especially seem to expect more linear browsing; internet browsing by definition is nonlinear.

Though sites can charge nearly three times the standard ad price for video ads, John Tryangiel recommended that sites save video for something that's experiential. Brandon Holley recommended having a distinct voice, especially for a women's website, so that readers will keep coming back to you. Shine has 500 blog posts a day, and about 5,000 comments.

An example of excellent visualization and a clear website, according to the panel, is Etsy.com.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Odds and Ends

Tabs I couldn't bear to exit tonight without passing them on to someone:

A little song by The Apparitions made into an animated video:

Orwell's diaries are being posted online. (via Maud Newton)

An article from The New Yorker on the woman who made children's publishing a library institution.

An itty-bitty photo of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, via an old post by Eve's Alexandria:The cost of small publishers for Amazon. (They're worth it.)

MetroCards gone wild.

And, of course, RIP LA Times Book Review. You may be missed.

Where is human nature so weak

...as in a bookstore?
-Henry Ward BeecherI sneaked another of Sloane Crosley's essays in Barnes & Noble during our lunch break.

This is a terrible thing, you know. I fell in love with her story about plastic ponies during my last visit, and tried to track her down in an independent bookstore. They couldn't find her for me. The man behind the counter took down my phone number and never called. C'est la vie.

I want you to go to Barnes & Noble this week and read the opening paragraph of her first essay. Tell me honestly that you can walk away from that book without wanting more.

Here is a video she made about the opening story. (via The Stranger)

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley from Book Videos on Vimeo.

The essays feel more exciting and fresh when I court the book in many visits. I never read more than one essay at a time. I laugh and then feel guilty for laughing because I know (a) I feel indebted to this author and immediately want to financially support her, so she continue her writing career, and (b) that I bought dental floss and soap yesterday, which adds up to almost as much as this book. Though I can justify an occasional book purchase with investing in material for future interviews, I have a feeling basic hygiene is more intrinsically valuable to an interview than nonfiction.

I will inevitably buy her six times for friends' birthdays. That is how much I love this book. But I can't bring myself to buy it for myself.

I did, however, make a purchase. I spent my final graduation gift certificate at B & N. Are you ready?I found a paperback copy of The Maytrees by Annie Dillard.

I don't know how you approach books in bookstores, but this is what I do. I stand in front of the front tables like a picky eater at a bountiful feast. I study each cover carefully, and pick up the book that caught my eye first. The design on the cover is simple and Chip Kidd-esque. I read the back cover. If it's a well-known author, the back is filled with quotations. I have no use for quotations. I can understand in a grasp if it's notable. (There is an exception here: if a critic I respect, James Wood for example, I will read the quotation and feel impressed, then debate how that person knew the author, agent, or editor.)

I will turn the book on its side if the production manager has chosen a notable binding style or interesting pages. I will carefully open the inside cover and read the publisher's name. I will read acknowledgments. I will read the first sentence of the first page.

I always skip introductions. They tell me nothing about how I will connect with the author.

And then I will judge, all the while reminding myself that I wouldn't buy my OWN book if I shopped for it in this way, because it's nearly impossible to write a sentence that one connects with and respects and loves and feels invested in immediately. You have to reach down to a reader's core and pull out something from there she didn't know was inside her. It's very much like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. You have to reach like this:
And the reader has to revel in the joy of finding whatever you dig up.

Of course, you have about six seconds to do this. Blame the internet all you like. But I often set books down after reading only the back cover and judging the cover. As I mentioned, it's like standing in front of a buffet table. You only have a little time to try a taste of everything.

Annie Dillard didn't call to me by page two. But she did mention Provincetown, and I liked the tone she'd chosen for Cape Cod. I stuck with her for the first chapter.

And she struck me once. Here is the sentence: "They acted essentially in two events - one ordinary, one spectacular."

I thought, Well, that's nice. You can almost hear the hems of her skirt brush against parallel structure as she side-steps. But I still didn't feel indebted enough to buy her work.

My eyes traced beyond the line break. And at the bottom of the next page, they grasped this:

"Between them they read about three hundred books a year. He read for facts, she for transport. Nothing about them was rich except their days swollen with time."

She's a literature student's dream. No one expects less from Dillard. But did you catch how delicately she handled those sentences? The final one is almost saturated with description, but it took that to catch my attention. The sentence I love most is, "He read for facts, she for transport." She took so few words to nail these people. And I instantly felt I could understand them. Each of them. It was triumphant.
But more than that, I walked to the counter feeling helpless. I have no resistance against deckled pages. I think they're phenomenal. When the publisher puts that kind of time and money into a book, I am inclined to believe it's worth it. Divisidero rather upset that theory (though Ondaatje will always have my affection, thanks to every other book he's published).

This is a paperback with an embossed cover and deckled pages. Honestly, did I stand any chance against it?

[Please leave me a comment with the way you tend to browse in Barnes & Noble. I want to hear about you.]

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gawker contributes to the greater good?

Bergdorf blondes are out of fashion? Perhaps all that Gawker brand counting has contributed to the slow fall of chick lit.

Just goes to show: if you ridicule something long enough, it may or may not eventually get better.

(The image above is from Radar's chick lit makeover. It never gets old.)

Trouble in Paradise

All of my favorite bloggers seem to be having technical difficulties.

We are in "the digital dark ages right now," according to InsideHigherEd. Maybe it's okay if the future isn't present.

Book: 1. eBook: 0.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Three questions:

Do soldiers have a right to blog?

Have we lost interest in going green?

Westside Market Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love?

All right, the third one's not really a question.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What I Want From My eReader: (A Wishlist)

The Kindle is about to be born again, and plenty of people have thoughts for it. I can't blame them. Newspapers are falling apart, book reviews are scarcely published in print, and magazines are investigating the future of eInk, debuting sex columns, and jabbing on another with their covers.

All right, Sony, Amazon, and whoever else is working. Here is what I, your future consumer, desire from the product you are trying to create:

1) Access to the OED, Wikipedia, Google, JStor, and YouTube.

I want to be able to touch a word and bring up articles related to it. But this feature has to be turn-off-able. Sometimes you want to read to connect to people - that's when you read on the internet - and sometimes you want to read to disconnect from everything else - that's when you open a book on the subway. The eReader will have to make both a possibility.

2) Pages you can "turn."

I want to be able to click a corner at the top or bottom of the page to flip forward or flip back.

3) Color, but still those lovely "paper" screens.

Your eyes shouldn't hurt as you read; Amazon got this right. But if you're making a device that allows us on the internet, we have to be able to view the internet for real. Think iPhone.

4) Marginalia.

We should be able to write in the margins of our books, and save the notes. We should also be able to dog-ear pages. I'd love to have a Wikipedia-ish setting where I could access a dialogue within AND outside the text (debating the alternate endings of Great Expectations with other readers). Or view some YouTube interpretations of great books as created by high school students. When I got sick of my honors reading list senior year, I would Google it for a while just to laugh about it. Nothing lights up Beloved like a silent reenactment by some kid's Sims. And nothing makes Benito Cereno quite like Legos. Again, I don't want this feature on ALL the time, but it would be fun to turn on during an all-nighter.



4) Annotated margin notes for an academic setting.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to "log in" to a textbook and read my professor and classmates' notes in the margins. This way professors can assign postings in the margins or on a message board, so students will be able to fully engage with their class as they read.

5) Waterproof pages and an elastic band.

I'm thinking Moleskin 2.0. What if it were pocket-sized, waterproof, and stayed closed with that black elastic band? It would appeal to literate people everywhere, and would gain respect from an older audience. People would see it and get huge technology crushes instantly. It's an aesthetically perfect volume, and connects to a literary history. And when it's closed, it's sealed and safe.

There could be a second one available in the large, slim size for textbooks.

6) Audio technology. Who wouldn't want to hear David Sedaris read his book?

7) Adjustable font size.

8) Paper color that's adjustable. In the mood for papyrus? Water-marked granite? Whatever suits your fancy.

9) Please break away from the prefix "e." Be yourself. Don't be defined by this Appleish internety techno-jargon.

10) This is why I love the idea of eBooks: What if you could purchase short stories for $.99? Literary journals would become more relevant than they have ever been. Just link to short stories by authors next to the authors' names in each search. That way before you buy a book, you can read a short piece to get a sense of tone. When you buy an album on iTunes, you usually buy a single track first. This would be the perfect opportunity to make short stories marketable and relevant.

Okay, Amazon. Please create this device, and maybe by the time you do, I will have a salary to purchase such a device. Thank you! Xoxo, Your Future Consumer

Monday, July 21, 2008

Print Is Dead?


Esquire is ostensibly going digital for their September cover.

From a Times article on Si Newhouse and Condé Nast: “What we’re not doing is trying to turn those companion sites into large Web destinations,” Steve Newhouse says. “They’re there to support the magazines.”

Our magazine workshop is in full swing. Websites not included.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On our walk home from the movies:

Me: That was the most dystopian and apocalyptic film I've seen in a long time.
My roommate: I know! And I've seen every movie David Lynch has ever done!

Were we talking about the Dark Knight? No.
Other than one joke about growing pizza from the ground, Wall-E is not a children's movie. All the kids in the matinée showing with us will watch this movie in college and discuss the political and environmentalist implications of it. They will know then how it shadowed their childhoods. I certainly hope they tell us about it.

The adults in the audience bawled at the end. All of them. I don't think you can absorb the ending until you're of the age where you understand memory loss. This movie is devastating.

(However, the credits are perfectly adorable. And Wall-E's eyes are so darn cute. And the children in the audience seemed relatively unscathed. Kids are pretty resilient, after all.)

I didn't harvest any of these links, but you'll like them.

The new Batman movie is intensely dark and totally awesome. (Thanks, Liz.)

Batman's my favorite superhero: he just really likes dressing as a bat, and people respect him for it. (He was also The Superhero for Wired readers before Wired was around.) His costume in the new movie is pretty good, and Iron Man's costume certainly worked for Robert Downey Jr. The ultimate material for a superhero costume, though, is graphene. (Thanks, Kaelin.)

Speaking of reimagined looks, here's what people think of the new Rolling Stone. (Thanks, Shea.)

It's no longer a Dark Night here - it's 5:35 AM - so you'll have to forgive that corny pun. Have a good time waiting in line for Batman! It's worth it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Singularly barren of exciting events."

Here are my notes from this afternoon's lecture by Victor Navasky, Publisher Emeritus of The Nation. The Nation is America’s oldest weekly, founded in 1865. This is perhaps my favorite lecture to date [and I have fixed the italics and added a few pictures to make your reading easier].

Navasky began, “In the magazine world, survival is the ultimate test of success.”Here are the 10 Secrets of The Nation’s success:

1) [Can’t tell. We promised.]

2) The Nation has, from the outset, broken all the rules.

1st sentence it ever published: “The week has been singularly barren of exciting events.”

This sentence violates every rule of journalism as it is known and taught. It lacks a peg (it is anti-peg), and it’s a sweeping generality. It has no balance, no backup, it’s judgmental, and it’s not objective. Navasky believes it says three things: “The magazine is not going to play the game of false hype. We have a sense of humor – we take the world seriously but not ourselves. And it says, you can trust us. We’re not going to say something is happening when it’s not happening.”

The Nation is often criticized for "its ideology." It’s part of the ideology of the mainstream media, according to Navasky, to deny that they have an ideology – they have the ideology of the center. Navasky gave the example of The New York Times corrections, published daily on page two. About once a month, there’s an editor’s note, which Navasky points out is much more interesting than typical corrections. These say things such as, we shouldn’t have published this sentence because “it’s against New York Times policy to print anonymous pejoratives.”

As an exercise, Navasky has the interns copy out every editor’s note they can find – maybe 25 – to determine what the office considers right or wrong. What are the assumed values of the mainstream press, using the Times as an example?

Hypothesis #1: “These rules don’t apply to children.” The Nation got a manuscript from a twelve-year-old girl saying kids should have the right to vote. Navasky called the girl to ask her to add in the age she would like children to vote – he thought it was a great article, and very funny, but this information would make it more serious. The girl wouldn’t give the age when kids should be allowed to vote – her case was, you can vote until you’re over 100, there’s no cut-off on that end. Why shouldn’t you be able to vote whenever you want to vote?

Hypothesis #2: “These rules don’t apply to prisoners.” #3: “These rules don’t apply to Communists.” “To foreigners.” “To poor people of color.” “Equally to Israelis and Palestinians.” As you determine whether these rules apply to certain groups, you begin to get a sense of what the assumed values of this newspaper are. That is the ideology of the paper.
3) “The difference is not that we’re ideological and the mainstream press isn’t, but that we admit it.”

4) It’s independent.

E.L. Godkin, the first editor of The Nation, got heat from his publisher for printing “trivial” stuff like “a day at the races of Saratoga.” In the mainstream, an editor would get called into the office of the owner and read the Riot Act and told to shape up. Here the editor called in his shareholders, said they didn’t fit his vision, and he fired the shareholders. He found better ones and published what he pleased. “A Day at the Races” writer turned out to be Henry James, who wrote more than 250 articles for the magazine. “There’s a lesson there,” said Navasky. “I’m not sure what it is, but it’s in there.”

5) William F. Buckley bought National Review with his family’s money. Though he didn’t make a profit, he famously said, “You don’t expect the church to make a profit, do you?” Marty Peretz bought The New Republic with wife’s money. The Nation set their investment up like a Broadway show. They protected the magazine’s investors from being responsible for the content. This suited the magazine well, Navasky explained. Nobody, ultimately, is in it for the money, and you don’t want your shareholders to be in it because they expect to make a killing. As their ad campaign goes, “Nobody owns The Nation. That’s why so many somebodies read it.”

Once on the Tonight Show, [one of the writers, whose name I’ve missed in my notes] was asked how much he’d been paid for an article. He used a line Navasky had told him – the number was “in the high two figures.” Navasky explained that he ended up making in the low three figures. This writer had the nerve to turn in a two-word poem, or a four-word poem, depending on how you count it. Because he was paid their standard for a poetry submission, Navasky joked, this piece made him the best-paid poet in the Western world. It was about the O.J. Simpson case: “O.J., oy vey.”

6) When Navasky arrived, they had 20,000 subscribers, but 8,000 were libraries. His friend Jack Newson said, “Oh, and the other 12,000 are nursing homes!” Their joke became: “When our subscribers expire, they really expire.”

Though The Nation was told the internet would eat their publication alive, it did just the opposite. The internet created a new subsidiary right. The Nation obtained 40,000 paying subscribers last year just from the website. And 15,000 – more now – are “nation associates” who send extra money for the magazine because they like the magazine.

The Nation took their joke about readers’ expiration to heart: “We started a legacy group, asking people to remember us in their will, which they started doing! As they dropped off, we would be the beneficiaries of their demise!” A NY Times reporter called them, astonished. The Nation is technically for profit, so that they can endorse candidates for president, Navasky explained. Why couldn’t they behave like schools and other places that asked for legacies? Navasky told an anecdote where he was asked if he would donate a copy of The Nation for the White House library. The staff talked it over and decided to give the White House library the student rate for a subscription.

Writers like Doctorow and Lionel Trilling are not only the ones who like the magazine, they’re the only ones who can afford to write for publications like this.

“The truth about these quirky journals is that their insolence is way disproportionate to their numbers,” Navasky explained. Participating in the national dialogue is more important to the magazine than getting credit or making a profit.

He quoted an editor who said, “When I had the idea to work for a socialist magazine, I thought I’d be an editor and I ended up being a beggar!” The publisher left in 1935, and founded The New York Observer. He offered to sell The Nation to Navasky for a million dollars, no money down.
Here’s one fundraising story that happened to be a success (“most fundraising stories tend to be failures”): Paul Newman. Doctorow managed to make an appointment to call him, but it took three months to sit down with Newman. They went to restaurant of his choice (one might call it Newman’s choice, ho, ho, ho!) on the Upper East Side. Navasky found out there would be four of them at the restaurant – he loves Joanne Woodward, but expected that if Newman was bringing a spouse, it meant bad news. After Newman and Woodward arrived, they all chatted for a while. Doctorow and Newman reminisced about Kenyon College. Navasky talked with Woodward about book he’d written, Naming Names. Newman eventually asked what they were here for, and Navasky explained why it was important for The Nation to exist, why its influence was disproportionate to its numbers, and so on. He said he had two people who had expressed some interest in contributing funds who wouldn’t exert influence over content.

Newman said, “How much are you asking for?”
Navasky responded, “A million dollars.”
Newman said, “Well, that’s very rich.”
And Joanne Woodward piped up, “So are you, dear.”

Newman asked if the magazine was nonprofit. Navasky explained that they couldn’t influence legislation or endorse candidates if it was nonprofit. Newman said he’d take home the prospectus. Navasky told this part of the story proudly. He said to Newman, “Look, if you take it home and study it, and decide to give at the end of the year, we’d be grateful. If you decide to give to the institute, generations of interns will thank you. But if you’re going to go home and call your financial advisor, I can save you what your financial advisor will tell you now, because it’s not a good financial investment. On the other hand, if you agree with the political analysis of the situation and that these journals as a class are important to the democratic culture and you tell me now that you’re interested, you’ll save us.”

Newman set down his beer and said, “What about fifty-fifty?” He meant half for the magazine and half for the institute. He turned out to be the ideal shareholder. Because Newman got involved, they could raise the rest of the money. Navasky and his staff called shareholders and asked for $5000 each year for three years. Subscribers made this commitment. “It was a good lesson for us… Every magazine has to find its own investment. Happily, we found ours,” Navasky reported.

He also suggested anyone starting his own magazine should get a great artist. Ed Corin (who I cannot find online to confirm the spelling) designed stock certificate for them. When you have a great artist, Navasky says, people feel good when they invest in your magazine. He used to tell shareholders, “The value of your shares may go down, but the value of your stock certificate, which is signed by Ed Corin, may go up.”

7) You have to do all the things that other magazines do, but you have to do it better. Do everything more professionally.

When Navasky was at Yale, he started Monocle, a “leisurely quarterly” (it came out twice a year). Yale had a graphics school, and he and his staff persuaded dean to give the artists from the graphics school credit for working on their magazine. Then they went to all restaurants in neighborhood and had the artists do ads for these places before the restaurants had even bought the ads. (He had a genius ad salesman, too, who wouldn’t leave the Laundromat until the Cleaners took the ad.)

Website turned out to be an unexpected source of revenue for The Nation. He has put in for a MacArthur grant to research the relationship between magazines and their websites. Nobody knows the best way to mediate between these yet – as the Vanity Fair editor said earlier this week, it’s “like the wild west.” Who has the final say: the website editor or the magazine editor? How much is free and how much do you charge for? There is no business model for the website except selling ads. The more traffic, the more ads you can sell. More posts mean more traffic, which means more ads. People who run the website want to post, post, post. People who run the magazine have standards: fact checking, copy editing. But if you abide by this standard, Navasky says, the website “across the street” comes out within ten minutes about the Obama-Hilary debate. Nobody knows what anyone’s doing. So The Nation as a research forum, and conducts survey online.
Navasky recommends doing special issues. They’re great for selling advertising, because you can go to advertisers whose subjects relate to the title. They’re good for magazine awards. (There are fewer magazines to compete against.) But they’re not a good thing to do for three-quarters of your readers, because they’re interested in variety. Here editorial ingenuity comes into play. Someone leaked to The Nation a year’s worth of minutes from White House Cabinet meetings. This sounded great! Until they read them: the minutes were boring, boring, boring. “We gave it to four people to review as though it were a document, a book. One was the novelist Kurt Vonnegut… who had a clear vision of what was right and what was wrong… The second was Marcel Ophuls, director of The Sorrow and the Pity, the third was a guy who was a radical activist Marcus [whose last name I neglected to spell in my notes]… and Bob Cheryl, who was banned from the White House because he once socked somebody.”

Here Navasky launched into another story: I.F. Stone would never go to off-the-record meetings in Washington, but he would talk to journalists as they came out and he would report from that. This way, Navasky explained, “He had the benefit of the information and not the detriment of the obligation.” This special issue was similar, in Navasky’s mind.

One special issue that was Navasky’s favorite: Russian artists who had come to New York, who specialized in satirical realism – really imaginative guys living in SoHo named Alexl Melamid and Vitaly Komar. In Russia, you could only paint what the czar would let you paint. They believed there was a new kind of censorship in US: You could only paint what collectors wanted to collect. Their goal was to paint art for the people. Felt collectors knew nothing about art, especially not art for the people. Great discovery: America had already created something to tell you what the people wanted – the public opinion poll. They sent a letter to a half-dozen pollsters asking what it would cost to take a poll and analyze it to find out what kind of art people want. Gallop said they would do it for $80,000. Then these artists wanted to paint the most desirable exhibition. The Nation didn’t have the money to sponsor the Gallop poll, but it had a friend who was a pollster and an art collector. This friend agreed to do the poll for half of the price, and wanted a painting. First meeting to determine questions – potential investors were there, all promised pictures – every investor was baffled by what questions they would put on the poll.

Komar said, “Is simple. You like big art or you like little art? You like yellow art or red art?” Nudes? Circles or angles? Thick paint like oil or no thick paint like watercolor? Then they painted the most wanted picture in America: it was the size of a dishwasher, and featured George Washington with blue sky above him and grass below him. Then they painted the least wanted: a tiny painting of small shapes bumping into each other. The show sold out. It was called “By the Numbers.” The New York Times covered it. Farrar Straus & Giroux made this into a book.
8) Go to ancillary businesses. Essence used to use a music festival in New Orleans. The Nation runs line of books – it’s partnered with Perseus. The Nation has its own book program on the radio. And it’s in the cruise business! Every year it brings culture heroes and writers on a cruise with Nation lovers who are in the mood for boating. Navasky said they worried the guests would throw Ralph Nader overboard – he was a guest right after Kerry lost the election – but he charmed everyone with his own analysis of the two parties. (He attacked The Nation later when they wrote a letter urging him not to run again, but he was well-behaved on board the ship.) Mark-ups are so great, the magazine can make as much as $750 a passenger. This helps subsidize the magazine. And they give special guests a free vacation.

9) There’s the minor business of magazine itself, its energy and contents. The Nation has a monopoly on weekly progressive journalism. “If it’s bad for the country, it’s good for The Nation.” When government is bad, circulation goes up. Disapproved of Iraq War from day one, and many people are reading now because they don’t want to feel alone in their opinions.

10) Navasky was at a democratic convention 4 years ago in Boston, at the Kennedy School. Jim Lear of Nightly News Hour was there, and other news anchors, and during the question period a Harvard professor asked, “Why is it that so many students get their news from Jon Stewart?” The answer everyone gave was that students were too stupid to get that the news was different from Stewart’s jokes. Navasky disagrees. Part of the formula of the television world is to pretend that you have no politics yourself, that you have no ideology, that you’re an honest broker of opinion. Stewart is in the business of exposing hypocrisy, and you can identify with someone like that. Reader can have a different trust relationship with that.

[May I insert here that our generation has more interesting in stories with opinion than objective reporting. Hence Jon Stewart, hence blogging, hence The Nation.]

During the question and answer period, Navasky was asked to share his thoughts on the New Yorker cover: he said the reaction is “a way overreaction” to it. But it was not a fully successful cartoon because message was not fully apparent.

Next he told a related story about a cartoon at The Nation. This cartoon was by David Levine, who “used to do the world’s best caricatures.” Levine called and asked if The Nation would be interested in a cartoon he’d done accompanying report Henry Kissinger had just done [I believe it was on America’s Pacific basin]. This picture featured Kissinger screwing the world under a blanket of the American flag. It was a “brilliant and exquisite caricature of Kissinger… he had a look of evil and ecstasy. And there’s no way to not publish that.”

But shortly after Navasky accepted the submission, a petition landed on his desk requesting that the cartoon not be published – three-quarters of the office had signed it. Never before had there been “a storm on the office” before an image had gone to print. Navasky called a meeting and set down some ground rules: They would have no vote at the end of the meeting, because it was wrong to have a majority vote on aesthetic questions (luckily, Navasky laughed, no one asked why). He was offered this cartoon on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, so they couldn’t go back and ask Levine to draw a third-world man instead of a woman beneath Kissinger’s body. Lastly, Navasky said, “We’re free to change our mind as a magazine, but if we do, we’ll be accused of censorship [since they had already accepted the picture] …but we can live with that if it’s the wrong thing to do.” He brought Levine in. Levine said all the wrong things for the staff in the meeting.

But Hitchens was there in a white suit. A very articulate woman on the staff felt the sex scene was too stereotypical. Hitchens turned to her and said, “You know, this is not an act of sex, as with a man and a woman, it’s an act of rape… It’s a statement about imperialism.” She pointed at the hand of the woman on the mattress and says, “I don’t think so – it looks like the grip of passion.” Hitchens leaned over and grabbed her hand, saying, “Trust me, my dear, it’s not the grip of passion.”

They ran the cartoon.
The Nation is full of word people, Navasky said. “So what is it that’s so threatening about art in these controversies?” He has been mulling it over, and concludes, “if you don’t like an article, you can write a letter to the editor… if you don’t like a cartoon, you can’t write a cartoon to the editor.” He ended with, “The New Yorker controversy is only the latest controversy in a series [to cartoons].”

Navasky answered a few questions about a book he wrote with Christopher Cerf titled Mission Accomplished: How we won the war in Iraq. It’s about “a collection of experts who are wrong.”

He has been asked, Who are you to say experts are wrong? “Our response was that we weren’t experts. We like to think of ourselves as meta-experts – but we were expertologists. We have a sign we move from place to place.” Navasky promised to ask Christopher Cerf to put it up at his house at our goodbye party.

When asked about the conservative magazines similar to his publication, Navasky cited a Buckley review article he’d written after Buckley had died. Buckley “did things that were unseemly and unforgivable” on one hand, “and on the other hand, he started a magazine modeled on The Nation and The New Republic… [in an effort to] put forward that he wanted his magazine to do for conservativism what these had done for liberalism. And he did.”

Buckley, like The Nation, set out to nourish ideas. He rallied the troops around a time of trouble. It was “not just letting you know you’re not alone, they can literally rally, which National Review would do on occasion.” And National Review discovered new writers: Garry Wills, Renata Adler, Joan Didion, George Will. The publication may be his opposite, but Navasky says, “I read ’em. And you should, too.”

Bottomless Bellybutton trailer



Here is a silent trailer for Dash Shaw's book. (Thanks, GalleyCat.)

You can read about my love for this book here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Republic of York


We began the day with Jan Bruce, Publisher and Managing Director of Body+Soul. She is clearly very happy with her job. She exudes the sort of happiness that makes you feel she has done yoga that very morning, before she put on a suit and returned to running her company. I like that "wholesome" energy - it's part of why I love Park Slope.

Anyway, the most notable things she shared with us were the ASME guidelines for magazines and life lessons she'd shared with her kids.

ASME's website advertises a contest for the best magazine cover of the year. Let me guess: it's not this week's New Yorker.

Her advice for us was:
Follow through
Ask for advice, but don’t necessarily take it
Don’t be shy about money
Ask a lot – take only what you need
People care that you know, when they know that you care
Do what you like
You need to have the work to have work/life balance
Be platform agnostic – the skills you use will be easily translatable
Speed kills, if you do not have it
Jump in - the water's warm

I'm not an especially good candidate for working in advertising, but she hit on something I really liked during her lecture: her son told her the word "pioneer" came from Roman times, referring to the people who dug trenches in front of soldiers during wartime. Latin derivatives are the greatest.

In the afternoon, we met three women from the PR department at Hearst magazines. I learned that Cosmopolitan magazine is the most internationally published magazine around, with 59 versions published worldwide. Jessica Kleiman, VP Public Relations, told us that the difference between advertising and PR is this: “Advertising you pay for, PR you pray for.”

She showed a few recent PR successes, among them the Ray/Ban promotion where 100 actors literally stopped traffic in the middle of downtown New York at 1 PM on a workday.

She also showed video clips from the Conan O'Brien debacle (Good Housekeeping had run a recipe they thought was his, and he announced twice on his show that it wasn't). Because Conan reported that he didn't know how to cook, the editor of Good Housekeeping came on the show with a batch of "his" Irish stew, and later the magazine brought him to their test kitchens to teach him how to cook this stew. That is unbelievably good PR.

Sara Crabbe, the Senior Manager of PR, gave examples of times national news aligned with articles the magazine had been planning to run, and made them particularly relevant. O Magazine was running a review of vegetarian burgers, and was about to go to press when the meat crisis popped up. CosmoGirl ended up running a story both on teenage girls' pregnancy pact and Jamie Lynn Spears's new tummy, titling the article "Pregnant on Purpose." Marie Claire's coverage of the Texas polygamy trial became “The Cult that Wants My Kids,” and made it on Nightline, Oprah, and Larry King Live. The summer that lawsuits arose over kids getting their crocs stuck in escalators, Good Housekeeping ran “Summertime Shoe Danger,” and made it into Inside edition and CBS. Even Popular Mechanics was hot - its article on gas prices, “The Truth About Oil” made Fox business news, and Glenn Beck (twice)!

(Again the New Yorker cover reared its head. She mentioned that it had sparked 10,700,000 news stories on Google.)

She talked about the Country Living Fair that was held in Mora, Ohio last year. I get a kick out of hearing New Yorkers talk about Ohio. They expected a turnout of 6,000, and received 20,000 instead. Yes, that's good PR. But it's also underestimating how much we Ohioans love leaving our farmland to drive to a gathering. You know I wait all year for the Fredrickstown Tomato Festival!

Anyway, they got the right idea and are setting this year's fair in Columbus. It's a pretty central space, and we always get plenty of turn-out for the Ohio State Fair and ComFest. I imagine they'll do well.

Tonight we heard from Luke Hayman of Pentagram. This is some of the best design we've seen in the program. He has worked and many recognizable magazine titles, and he showed us about 185 slides in under an hour and a half. I wish I had them to show you, but I'll just brief some of his (and his company's) experience.

For Time, they created a new cut of Franklin Gothic, went back to classic page layout, “stripped down” cartoony realism, added a lot of black and white. The focus changed to analyzing news instead of breaking it; it is, after all, a weekly. The internet is far better at breaking news than highlighting it. He helped redesign The Advocate, reworked the typography of Foreign Affairs, redesigned Radar (which has launched and folded three times in five years). Currently he is relaunching 02138, Vibe, Atlantic, Consumer Reports, and the Khaleej Times.

He focused much of the lecture on the three years he worked on New York Magazine. He showed a title page with a single image in the center, a dozen baguettes forming a circle. "If you have good imagery," he said, "black typography is the best frame for it."

He encouraged us all to read this article by Tom Wolfe on the man who invented New York Magazine, Clay Felker.

[Edit: Here's another article on Felker's contributions to journalism, via GalleyCat.]

Amidst all the New Yorker covers in my Google image search, I've found two of the visuals he shared with us. Here they are:

These are all examples of smart Jews, from an article on "the Jewish brain." I'm pleased Gilda Radner made it. What's incredible about this is that it's an amalgamation of black-and-white and color photographs, and the designers had to put it all together and go back and tint it! It comes together beautifully, and we could hear the pride in Hayman's voice as he described it.

He also showed a picture of New York City seceding from the Union, drawn forward by a single boat. It was for an article he says they do every few years, where the magazine talks about how different the city is from the rest of the country and how it should just become independent. This time they had a passport with an icon on the front for New York, gilded lettering on leather. And of course, they had currency:

Great, isn't it? Well, that's all for tonight. Let me know when you make it to the foreign land of the Big Apple.

Magazines: Welcome to the Internet


All right. If I were a corporation, or a magazine within a corporation, and I wanted to "capitalize" on the "internet," or "enter" the "blogosphere," here is where I would start.

1. Get a separate blog name. A blog with your magazine name all over it makes the viewer skeptical, and magazine covers are crowded with text - that's not what blog readers are attracted to, even if you want to be recognizable. I would have a separate blog name and write "in affiliation with _____ Magazine" beneath the title. This way there's subtle advertising in the banner. You can also link in the sidebar.

2. Recruit snarky writers. You can have some disclaimer at the foot of the blog so that your magazine doesn't have to take responsibility for their opinions. That's fine. You'll take a little heat anyway. But everybody likes blogs they can hate once in a while. It's boring if you always agree with what the authors have to say. Where's the debate in that?

3. Have your snarky writers cover what catches their attention in your most recent issues. Duh. It's advertising, you can link left and right, and if the post is interesting enough, you'll up the site traffic (or even magazine sales).

4. Assign each of your writers a certain hour of the day to blog. Someone can do lunch hour, someone can take early evening - as long as it's steady, and as long as it's interesting, you'll generate a readership that comes back more than once a day.

5. You could even have days when your bloggers hit on certain subjects that relate to your magazine. I visit certain art blogs every day of the week, regardless of whether they cover architecture on Mondays or photography on Fridays, but I start to look forward to the photo Fridays because I like those days best. Little treats like that help some of us get through the week.

6. Use the resources of your magazine to your advantage. I don't know about photography rights, but I have a feeling you could use the archives of your photo department to get some eye-catching stuff. Certain magazines post extended interviews with celebrities on their websites - sure, that's great. But why can't you expand that? What else can you get out of them in an interview that would appeal to an internet audience? Start some virtual columns on celebrities' dogs' names, you know? That stuff gets passed around.

7. Create a dialogue with other magazines and blogs to enhance the interviews you've done. The Huffington Post adds updates with links to related stories all day long. The magazine world would benefit from posting links to other magazine articles - even from their biggest competitors - so that they could tell a better-rounded story.

8. Post a ton of pictures. Your audience uses Facebook daily. I click through pictures of strangers on Facebook just because seeing new faces online is appealing. And strangely addictive. You can make plenty of money in advertising if you change the sidebar ads with each photo. Unless it takes five minutes for each photo to load, you've got your reader's attention for ages.

9. Don't do 14 pages of text. I hate clicking "next" when I'm reading a news story. I understand this screws up your ad sale potential. But there's got to be another way to make these available without testing your reader's patience. Oh, and don't delete comments that aren't spam. Let your negative comments get rebuked by comments left by your fans. You can't get sore when you get beaten around a little - remember Keith Gessen. It's not you they hate, it's your online personality that day, and you change your online personality every day. Your subscription rate isn't in jeopardy if some thirteen-year-old boy tells you you suck.

10. Edit. Edit, edit, edit. Not for censorship, just to strengthen your content. If your content's good and you get out there, you'll be fine. You can always advertise in your own pages. You have resources most blogs never will. I used to blog for minimum wage, and now I'm doing it for free, but I don't make ad revenue. And I can't put my blog address next to a picture of a model and put it in the newsstand of every Barnes & Noble in America even if I wanted to.

Look at how long that sentence was. Everybody needs an editor. C'mon, magazines. Step it up. Now's your chance.

Update: Bookworms Are Your Friends

I'm finally abandoning the photo I took of a tennis court in February for a light summer salad I made a few weeks ago. It is summer, after all. Hope it brightens the page a little.

(I've also enabled all comments. If you've visited before and haven't yet said hello, hello!)

Typed my notes instead of hand-writing them today, in hopes of saving a few hours summarizing. But before any of that, here are some updates from Life Beyond Columbia:

GalleyCat has a nice little entry on publishing according to Funky Winkerbean, Judge Parker, and For Better or For Worse. Glad to know determining an advance can be comical.

The Syntax of Things has two fabulous pieces of news: there's a Pandora for books! Also fiction readers have more empathy, according to a research group in Toronto.

I'm missing Brooklyn quite a bit this week. Slate.com has a great slide show of the Brooklyn Museum's "Changing Faces of Brooklyn." And even our bathroom reading, edited by Chris Knutson of Vogue, has made news. This weekend will be a perfect break from the program, with free concerts in Coney Island all through Saturday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I have to admit...



...I miss folding things into thirds. Nothing soothes work stress like an evenly-folded batch of mailings.

Magazine lectures galore


Last night we met Danyel Smith, Editor-In-Chief of Vibe Magazine and Will Dana, Managing Editor of Rolling Stone.

Here are a few quips from their panel:

Will Dana said upon his career's start at 7 Days, "You're not only thrown in the deep end, but in a start-up, there are piranhas in the deep end." He also said, "Right now, the one thing you can't do as a magazine is suck." The second you let up, he said, advertisers will go somewhere with more energy. It's the duty of a good magazine to be first, and to be "smarter, sharper, and funnier" than its competitors.

Both editors agreed going to shows is the best part of the job, and that their first bylines were thrilling. Danyel Smith said the most important question she learned to ask in music reporting was, "Does the record have artistic merit?" She told us that she hadn't discovered new artists exactly, but there was a feeling in the room the night she first saw Tupac (he was seventeen) that he was "a guy worth listening to."

Moments after she was hired at Vibe - where she has been working on and off for fourteen years now - she was told they had to get out three issues or it would be shut down. "The magazine business?" she said. "Everybody's always talking about how bad it is now, but I feel like it's always been bad." Regardless, she is optimistic. She competed with her husband (the Ed-In-Chief at XXL) for a year and a half, and though the business is suffering, she said she has confidence he'll be all right, and that she'll be all right.

"What am I gonna do?" she asked. "Like, cry because of the internet?"

(If you can't guess from my notes so far, we adored her sense of humor.)

Though both editors admitted they were "bitter" about music blogs, they said there is a major demand for edited writing. "I don't care what anybody says," Danyel declared. "Everybody, everybody - Hunter S. Thompson - everybody needs an editor."

Will Dana added, "One media doesn't replace another. It pushes the other to get bigger... To me, it's not yet a matter of survival, it's a matter of quality."

Let's change to another lecture so I can catch up on converting my notes from paper. This afternoon we broke into groups to meet magazine editors. I was in the O Magazine group with Mamie Healey.

She had us go around in a circle and list all the things we thought editorial assistants would do, and why we thought the job was attractive, which was a brilliant move because it suddenly made that abstract goal feel tangible.

We had each written a one-page letter to the writer of the article with suggestions for a piece that had appeared in the February issue of O. In thirty minutes, she'd come up with ways to alter the piece that I hadn't even considered, and she singled out each member of the group to talk about their comments regarding different aspects of the texts (one person for structure, three for changing the lead, etc.). The fact that she'd taken notes on our notes and led a meeting so efficiently really blew us away, I think.

She described the editorial process as like being at the North Pole, and directing your writers to a country below. They'll go to some country that's great, even better than the one you'd aimed for, if you can give them the right directions. You have to ask yourself as editor, is this comment pointing them in a direction that will be better?

She encouraged us as assistants to think two steps ahead of our bosses' needs, and to feel free to say, "I'm sorry, I can't answer your question, can I get back to you in five minutes?" She highly recommended working for a magazine that's just launching; she started at Time Out New York.

The late afternoon yielded a panel of the editors who had met with us in small groups. My favorite quip was from the beginning of the panel. Our dear and fearless leader, Lindy Hess, asked the panel, "Are magazines dead?"

Corby Kummer of The Atlantic Monthly replied, "Wait, wait, wait! Stop the presses - if they haven't already been stopped!"

The majority of the panel centered upon the internet and its relationship to magazines. Far from last night's panel, many of them seemed to think the internet would be the downfall of editors. Lea Goldman of Marie Claire brought up a point I find fascinating: she thinks corporate blogs can't work because blogs are by nature anarchic. Blogs are about single voices, not about company identities.

[I can give you my opinion on this subject for days. Maybe I'll make my two pages of notes into a separate entry.]

Corby Kummer shook his head and laughed, "I'm really angry at blogs, not because of their pure, anarchic form, but because I want to understand what they're saying."

Doug Stumpf of Vanity Fair said, "I'm telling you, [the internet is] the Wild West, but they're going to figure it out."

Tonight we had a lecture by Mr. Mickey Boardman, Editorial Director for Paper Magazine. It's hard to summarize his lecture because it was so based upon the covers he shared with us and his firsthand experience with celebrity photo shoots. He said he always wanted to put a man on the cover of the swimsuit issue, and that their magazine "likes to treat stars like nobodies and nobodies like stars." He used the phrase "hostage crisis" to describe waiting for celebrities who arrived hours late for photo shoots.

If there's one theme in all these lectures, it's a single phrase. "I drank the Kool-Aid." I don't know why this idiom permeated the colloquial speech of magazine AND book people, but it seems to pop up in every lecture. Maybe we should try throwing it into an interview and chart its effects.

Good night, my dears.

Urban Boy Scout Badge #1


Our blood pressure is rising as the first of us are beginning to have serious job interviews, and the rest of us watch with envy as they come and go from the lecture hall.

I'm beginning to get nervous about making rent. This is the infamous anxiety of Our Twenties: feeling too inadequate to make a decent salary (if any at all!) and too broke to live. Yesterday I doted on my bank account all day because I'd bought a tube of toothpaste.

Given, I splurged for the CondeNast party. After the frantic transportation mess in Pittsfield on Sunday night, I arrived back in the city only forty minutes before Columbia students were scheduled to meet the editors of all CondeNast publications (read: Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour, GQ, W, and so on).

I hate to sound shallow, but I like to research before entering foreign environments, and I spent two weeks researching back issues of Vogue and scouring the website before the affair. I selected a vintage runway dress I'd scored in Delaware, Ohio, from our beloved Captain Betty. I wasn't confident in the Asian-inspired ties in the front of the dress, but the color scheme was right, it was flattering, and it screamed summer.

Of course, Columbia is up in Harlem and I was in Port Authority. Those two weeks of research do nothing when you haven't got time to get changed. Realizing I might be near my destination, I called six friends from the publishing course and obtained the address for the party. Then I sprinted out of the bus station wearing jeans I'd now worn twice in a row (I'm not much of a jeans wearer, but public transportation requires comfort) carrying an overnight bag on my shoulder and running around in Croc flats. Not exactly the outfit for Anna Wintour's taste.

[Anyway, I'll be abstaining from any and all luxuries for the next few weeks (or months). A dress and a pair of shoes - even if they're each under $50 - equal my budget for more than a week.]

Within five blocks, I found an Ann Taylor Loft, snatched up two dresses and bought the (cheaper) one that matched the handbag I'd brought to Massachusetts. The woman who helped me told me in a low voice that I should look for shoes across the street - I couldn't find that store, but I found a Gap that sold precisely two colors of shoes in one style, and the gold ones worked. I befriended the saleswoman behind the counter and managed to talk my way into a dressing room - even the dressing room woman helped me snap the tags off. I threw a brush through my hair and sprinted another block and a half to a Sephora. There I tried three gold eyeshadows before finding one that was subtle enough to look professional, but would match the embellishments in the dress. I took a swab of lip color, applied it, and wrapped the rest in a tissue for touch-ups during the event. I grabbed the latest designer perfume from the shelf and spritzed it on. I walked two blocks to the CondeNast headquarters and made it there precisely on time.

...I thought. The doorman kindly informed me the party didn't start for another hour.

I had a cup of tea at a counter in one of those Midtown pizza places that really wouldn't succeed if they didn't feed tourists. The men behind the counter had Brooklyn manners, so I liked it enough to settle down and take a breath. I returned to the party - where I was the first to arrive - and checked my bag so I didn't look like a nomad.

Fashion is, after all, trying to capture the look of the minute. In this, I suppose, I succeeded.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A tiny tribute

Rest in peace, dear Katie Reider. A lovely folk artist, and an even lovelier person. I will think of you whenever I am at a bar and obnoxious people keep requesting that the artist play her earliest song, the one she's really sick of singing and will do anything to avoid playing for the crowd. Also whenever I hear the words "Vanilla Latte."