MEDIA BRANDS:Wins by quality publications at the National Magazine Awards offer new hope for industry

So the salmon was a little cold and the crowd was packed in a little too tight at this year's National Magazine Awards, but, overall, the event, which took place May 5, was more than a little cheering.

So the salmon was a little cold and the crowd was packed in a little too tight at this year's National Magazine Awards, but, overall, the event, which took place May 5, was more than a little cheering.

At times, watching the changes wracking the magazine industry can be a bit depressing. With the blurring of the lines between editorial and advertising - no more apparent than in the growing popularity of magalogs like Lucky and Cargo - the predominance of celebrity journalism, and the slow withering of long-form non-fiction, it's often hard to be optimistic about the medium. This year's Ellies, though, offered some reason for hope. Truly quality publications and strong writing, design, and photography carried the day, making it easy, at least for the length of the two-hour ceremony, to forget the bleaker trends. To be sure, magazines like Esquire and The New Yorker, this year's big winners, are usually recognized at the annual event. In fact, over its history, those two titles are the most recognized, which is unsurprising given that awards are handed out by a bunch of editors, art directors, and other industry types - not ad sales people, circulation directors, or readers. But with the preponderance of industry news about the swerve away from long articles and toward product-heavy layouts seeming especially heavy this year, the sight of David Remnick and David Granger marching to the podium a few times each was a reassuring sight: At least the industry is still smart about how it judges itself. The next step is getting those titles that offer something different into the public eye - and keeping them there. The cost of not doing this is pretty clear. In fact, you have to look no further than one of this year's winners to see it. When The Oxford American was called out as the winner of the best special issue for its music issue, it seemed a cruel joke. The Southern literary magazine, whose high editorial standards didn't translate into financial success, has been extinct for several months. Upon accepting the Ellie, its editor, Marc Smirnoff, was a glum, good sport when he expressed relief that "there isn't a footnote in the rule book that a magazine has to be in existence to win one of these." Jokes aside, that is a good thing. Smirnoff's appearance was a reminder that all is not well in the publishing industry when a good, universally praised and universally elegized read can't keep its head above water. The presence of Popular Science, Aperture, and City on the list of winners was a different kind of reminder - that a publication doesn't have to have a famous name to offer something truly different and useful in a business where slavish imitation often leads to success. Moreover, a title doesn't have to aspire to affect the national dialogue or net millions of readers to get some recognition in its own industry. With Ellies in hand, it's now time for the honored to get wider recognition.

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