Torrey's vision brings a fresh look to 'New York'

New York Magazine is considered an amusing, well-polished, and somewhat genteel journal that embodies the interests of a certain set of leisurely professionals.

New York Magazine is considered an amusing, well-polished, and somewhat genteel journal that embodies the interests of a certain set of leisurely professionals.

It's not seen by most as a battleground of any sort. But that didn't stop it from hiring a communications director who honed her craft in the trenches of Democratic political campaigns, rather than the morning show-wooing confines of a typical glossy.

Serena Torrey, who recalls skipping school to attend Bill Clinton's first inauguration, spent six years in the political game after parlaying a White House internship into a position with Charles Schumer's (D-NY) successful Senate campaign. She went on to hold communications roles for Democratic heavyweights like Hillary Clinton, Bill Bradley, and New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.

"I kind of believed that communications was where the rubber met the road," she says. "In politics, the communications person isn't just a liaison to the media - it's somebody who helps shape political and policy decisions."

Tiring of the uncertainty of the political campaign world, Torrey joined New York in 2003 after an invitation from columnist Michael Wolff with a mandate to rebuild its communications function.

She was not one to simply spend time in a cubicle penning releases. Editors allowed her to sit in on editorial meetings. She methodically built up press contacts, media trained writers, and planned events. The effort to get the title's content out is evident in a two-inch thick stack of double-sided printouts she produces, which represents media and blog hits about the magazine for a single week.

Last year, Torrey took on the added role of director for business development and strategy, which lets her devise and implement new revenue streams for the business.

"The company started a search for someone who could approach decisions for the company from an analytical perspective," she says, "but also had the ability to navigate the company and the city, and seek out ideas and partners and bring them to our owners."

So far, two of her ideas have become reality: a book project based on the title's iconic "Look Book" fashion section (due out in September), and a biannual fashion-focused spin-off title, New York Look, set for a November launch.

At the same time, New York's own profile and prestige has been rising steadily during Torrey's tenure. This year, the magazine bagged a record five National Magazine Awards - on the same night that the New Yorker - its sort-of-rival - took home none.

Torrey is quick to demure when asked if she deserves credit for the magazine's ascension. But it is evident that her work has made an impression with those media writers who follow the industry closely.

"I think she's in the top echelon. She works harder than almost anybody," says Jon Friedman, media columnist for Marketwatch.com. "She takes everything personally [for] her magazine, but she does not hold a grudge."

Of course, not holding a grudge may be a vital survival tactic for her. New York is intermittently mocked by media watchers - Radar ran a long story recently calling it "frosty, astringent, and soulless" - and Torrey herself is criticized, along with many of her counterparts, on blogs like Gawker.com.

"It's not something you can pay too much attention to," she says. "[Will] it make or break the success of the magazine? Probably not."

Gawker managing editor Choire Sicha - one of Torrey's principal tormenters - says that the skills that made her effective in politics can rub folks the wrong way in lighter-hearted media circles.

"Her skill set, and the terror she can bring, seem sort of outsized to a magazine," he says. "She's sort of like bringing a nuclear bomb to a baseball game."

Serena Torrey

2006-present
Director of comms, strategy, and business development, New York Magazine

2003-2006
Comms director, New York

2001-2002
Communications director, New York State Democratic Committee

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