And the Winner Is…

The National Magazine Awards are tonight, and two of my favorite publications, The Atlantic and New York, are up for the top prize – Magazine of the Year – along with Esquire, Fast Company, and Bon Appétit.

I do not read those three often enough to wager much of an opinion, other than that both Fast Company and Bon Appétit have beautiful, clear designs that fit their respective topics and aesthetics and interesting stories. They are good magazines and ones I would recommend. Esquire is Esquire, but I get it confused with GQ too often for it to really stand out.

Now, because the top category isn’t just for the printed magazine itself, but for the whole brand, encompassing the website, digital initiatives, events and other extensions in addition to the actual content, this makes it a much bigger entity.

Fast Company has many different offshoots and a very recognizable style. They cover their territory well, even if some of their (web) stories don’t have much meat to them. Bon Appétit, too, is growing, and covers food beautifully, even though their brand isn’t as far-reaching as the others on this list.

The Atlantic’s rise over the past several years has been documented before, and their web presence – of their reporters, their stories – is very strong. Many of their writers are becoming names in their own right, and their opinions are commented upon and picked up in other media. They have a list of events, many of which feature their own reporters. How The Wire – The Atlantic’s revamped summation web-style news site – fits into this is unclear, partly because it both looks and feels so different from its parent site.

I have subscribed to very few magazines in my life, and The Atlantic has been one of them. However, I find the magazine itself – just the monthly glossy – to be, well, staid. I’m most excited when I see one of my web favorites in there. I read the cover stories when they interest me, but they tend to be overly long. The design of the magazine hasn’t changed, or hasn’t changed much; again, it’s staid. Increasingly, I feel there’s a schism between the printed magazine, and The Atlantic website. The website has a similar look to the magazine, but the writing is far livelier, and they’ve begun to dress up their cover stories online.

The audience between The Atlantic the website and The Atlantic the print magazine is obviously different – online, definitely going for a strong Millennial reader base, whereas the magazine is definitely older. I totally understand this thinking; after all, the website built off the magazine, and it’s likely that Millennial readers are less likely to subscribe to the print publication whereas older readers (boomers here) probably aren’t checking the web incessantly.

New York’s experience, by contrast, is very consistent no matter what platform. Although New York has many online offshoots – Vulture, Daily Intelligencer, The Cut, Grub Street – they all feel part of the New York brand. Their layouts are the same. The typefaces are the same. With the exception of The Cut, which has a black banner, all the properties have a white background with accents, and all of them look like they belong to New York.

New York is an interesting hybrid of a magazine in that while it’s generally about the city, it’s more than a regional publication. It does dip into state politics, but more often than not it deals with national issues – whether cultural or political. In fact, one of the reasons I have always loved New York is because its mix of high and low is done so well – quality is always top-notch. I can’t even remember an article or piece that made me roll my eyes or get bored or complain about poor execution. What New York does is hard, and they make it look easy. They have silly pieces (like ones about the weather or a tweet), but they don’t come off as silly as they would on other sites. Maybe it’s New York’s cache, maybe it’s just they’re good at what they’re doing.

I’m always amazed, in particular, Vulture’s speed and breadth and depth of a subject. They are incredibly fast, even for a website, in covering live events like award shows. I’m in awe at the quality they produce at the speed they do it in. And they’ve taken covering television to new levels. As someone who’s been reading Vulture regularly for years, I can clearly see the editorial decision-making that went into these choices, and the creativity of the staff in coming up with additional articles to extend the life of one (micro) topic. Take recaps: Every week, staffers write a recap, or more like a critical analysis, of an episode of a show like Game of Thrones or Mad Men. But then there are about four or five additional articles connected to that one – usually an interview with an actor featured prominently in that episode, some sort of funny tie-in or type of fan art, a “recap of the recaps,” which highlights other critics’ viewpoints, a historical backgrounder, ratings piece, or commentary on fan response, storyline, or speculation related to plots and themes. This should be TV Guide or Entertainment Weekly’s domain, but it’s not.  They’re not even part of the conversation, the conversation Vulture’s defined.

Now, New York has won a ton of awards, and rightly so. If any of the finalists wins, I’ll be happy – unlike in 2010, when I last wrote about the National Magazine Awards – because I think they’re all good properties, in one form or another. Either way, what I’d really love to do is be able to spend a day immersed in all the magazines, soaking up their deliciousness.

UPDATE: Fast Company won.

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