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Jewish World Review May 13, 2002 / 2 Sivan, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

The magazine industry's annual exercise in self-puffery | Did anyone else catch the National Magazine Awards ceremony last week on CSPAN 5? Didn't think so.

Talk about your dull and predictable. After 37 years, you'd think someone from Maxim or Guns & Ammo would have found a way to snazz up the magazine industry's annual exercise in self-puffery.

Would it be too exciting to include a few rousing old-time union songs from the staff of the Nation? Some candle-making tips from Martha Stewart? Some funny cartoons from the New Yorker or Hustler?

All we got last week from New York City was the usual string of boring acceptance speeches from the usual winners.

How about New Yorker editor David Remnick? His speeches were as interminable as one of those overrated 30-page treatises on winter wheat his magazine used to foist on us before he and Tina Brown came along to wise it up and tighten up the word counts.

Just because his snooty rag took its perennial prizes in the essays, profile writing and fiction categories, Remnick apparently thought he could hog the stage. Typical New Yorker. When he started thanking his fact checkers, you could hear everyone west of the Hudson clicking over to CSPAN 2.

And what was with the other three-time winner, Atlantic Monthly editor Michael Kelly? The ingrate.

His 147-year-old relic from Boston, a think magazine so serious it ought to come with a teacher's study guide, won for reporting, public interest and feature writing.

Two of the three winning articles - William Langewiesche's reconstruction of the doomed flight of EgyptAir 990 in December and Samantha Power's September look at America's cowardly inaction prior to the genocide in Rwanda - were touted heavily in this very column when they appeared last year.

Did Kelly find time to mention that during his long-winded thank-fest? No. But he must have said "We're delighted" 20 times.

OK. Enough fooling around. The National Magazine Awards ceremony wasn't televised on CSPAN 5, which doesn't exist.

But Remnick and Kelly presumably were gracious winners at the real thing.

The magazine awards ceremony, though real, bears only scant resemblance to shows like the Academy Awards, our new religious holiday that wastes a whole night giving out Oscars to people and things that rarely deserve them.

"Ellies" are handed out at a luncheon each year at the Waldorf-Astoria by the American Society of Magazine Editors and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism - invariably to the same five East Coast magazines.

The Usual Big Five - The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Time (for its special Sept. 13 edition), Newsweek and Harper's (for reviews and criticism) - all won in 2002.

Print, National Geographic Adventure, Vibe, Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek won general excellence awards in their circulation categories. Also recognized were Vogue (leisure interests), New York (columns and commentary) and Vanity Fair (photography).

As always, it's hard to fault these choices. You have to factor in the standard biases that skew the judgment of the mainstream media - a disturbing socio-cultural tilt toward the Eastern Standard Time Zone and an uncrackable faith in fuzzy liberal politics.

But, unlike most industry-produced awards shows, at the Ellies you can generally count on the winners getting what they deserve.

JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald