The New Criterion Editor: ‘Print Is Forever’; Linda Wells Says No Hard Feelings

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsMichael’s was turned out in its holiday best today for the Wednesday media mob chewing over the events of the week between bites of Cobb salad. I was glad I got there early because there was plenty to catch up on. I couldn’t wait to talk to Linda Wells and Joan Kron about the unexpected changes at Allure; plus David Zinczenko and ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong were back at their usual perch on table three after a long hiatus. But more on all that later.

James Panero, Diane Clehane and Lisa Linden
James Panero, Diane Clehane and Lisa Linden

I was joined today by James Panero, executive editor of The New Criterion. Our mutual friend, Lisa Linden, CEO of LAK PR, arranged our get-together. James and his wife, poet Dara Mandle  author of the new book, Tobacco Hour, live in the same storied building that Lisa calls home. When she suggested I meet James, she described him as “fabulous, fascinating … a quintessential New York star.” I wasn’t disappointed. We met at the stroke of noon. Lisa arrived first carrying another gorgeous handbag from her covetous collection. This time, the wearable work of art was a clutch (the ‘Jige’) from Hermès, in a sumptuous indigo leather. (Just in case you’ve haven’t made out your Christmas list). James, himself no slouch in the style department, came to the table bearing the latest issue of The New Criterion and I was immediately intrigued by the old-school look of both the editor and the publication.

“We haven’t changed the look of the magazine in 34 years and it’s helped us,” James told me. “We haven’t had to do a redesign, we got it right the first time. Our readers love print.” Each issue of the monthly (ten a year, not published during the summer) is color coded (December is a seasonal red) and is emblazoned with its TOC. The cover price is $7.75 and in addition to a circulation of the 6,000, 2000 copies are distributed each month on the Delta shuttle. The articles are lengthy and there’s a regular poetry section. If all that sounds a bit counterintuitive to everything you’ve heard about publishing, there’s this: “It’s actually a very good time for small print magazines.”

If you think The New Criterion (named after T.S. Eliot’s literary magazine) is stuck in the Preppy Handbook era, think again. When James explained the business model, it occurred to me that the magazine was very modern in its approach of taking the best aspects of other businesses to create something that is truly unique. “We’re a nonprofit and we’re not ad dependent,” he explained. The funding comes from 40 different foundations (The Olin Foundation, The Bradley Foundation and The Sarah Scaife Foundation were the first supporters) and (well-heeled) individuals. Kind of like PBS but without Downton Abbey.

Their support entitles The New Criterion’s “elite readership” (split fairly equally between men and women) access to the magazine’s editors. “The people who donate want to be engaged in what we write.” Readers have regular exchanges with the editors at dinners held at private clubs, think tank talks and piano recitals. At the annual Joint Anglosphere Symposium, attendees discuss various cultural issues, “general threats to liberty” and the EU. James started a ‘Young Friends Program’ for younger readers which include an annual ‘gallery crawl’ where James takes the culturally curious on a tour in Brooklyn. This year’s destination was Bushwick. I feel smarter just typing this.

With an editorial philosophy that’s “culturally conservative but high modernist,” EIC Roger Kimball has assembled an intriguing mix of writers ranging from Conrad Black, now a regular book reviewer,  to the New York Post’s Kyle Smith, who has been the magazine’s theater critic for a year. “We like writers with a voice,” said James. “Some magazines edit out a writer’s voice which is good for bad writers. Our writers are really good.”

James, a former editor of National Review who once worked as William F. Buckley Jr.’s writing assistant, frequently pens pieces on art and culture and serves as the magazine’s gallery critic. For the December issue, he wrote The Vengeance of Vandals, which examines the practice of the vandalism of cultural targets perpetuated by armies, which dates back to the Roman Empire and connects it to ISIS’ “cultural cleansing” in the Middle East and their effective use of social media. “I call it anti-social media,” said James. “They are better at it than the State Department.”

If you can’t tear yourself away from your iPad to check out the text heavy magazine, next month The New Criterion will unveil its redesigned website which — wait for it — was created to “capture the feeling of print.” The site is already attracting 100,000 monthly uniques. “We hope to attract new print readers online. But we will always be in print.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Penske Media’s Gerry Byrne and’s Bonnie Fuller hosting their monthly gathering. In attendance: Affordable Luxury Group’s Aimee Kestenberg Elan, Syfy press manager Maxine Shen, IFC TV’s Jennifer Caserta, makeup maven Natasha Cornstein, Jared Soble from Fiji Water, WSJ’s Jeffrey Trachtenberg, AdAge’s Jeremy Barr and authors Lisa Birnbach and Jim Meigs

2. Larry Kramer and Michael Wolff

3. Long time no see! ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and David Zinczenko. We really miss seeing the Mayor at his regular table on Wednesdays since he decamped to Texas at the end of the summer. He’s back in town for next week’s Robert F. Kennedy Awards and then after the holidays he’s off to Israel for two months to work at The Hole in the Wall Camp, which serves children in need. David, never one to waste a minute, has been busy juggling his schedule which includes cranking out best-sellers (three this year), doing stories for ABC News as the network’s Nutrition and Wellness correspondent and running his restaurant, White Street with business partner Dan Abrams.

4. Peter Brown and Hearst’s Deb Shriver

5. Charlie Rose with two folks we didn’t recognize

6. Susan Blond

7. Jesse Kornbluth and Paige Peterson

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia

9. Vicky Ward who is now writing for Town & County

11. Linda Wells and Joan Kron, both recently departed from Allure. Joan told me she declined an offer to continue to work as a freelancer for the magazine. (A little birdie chirped there’s no more writer’s contracts). She’s got a full plate working on her movie, Take My Nose… Please and starts editing it next week with Emmy winner Nancy Novack. She first talked about the movie during a ‘Lunch’ with me earlier this year. As for Linda, like everyone else in media, I was shocked when it was announced last month she was stepping down as Allure’s EIC after an incredible 25-year run. But there’s no hard feelings, said Linda who, I must say, never looked better. When I told her I was going to stop reading the magazine in protest of her exit she said, “Oh no, don’t do that. I want it to do well. I hope they have another 25 years of growth and innovation.” I asked her if she has some big plans in the works, she gave me a big smile and said, “I do, but I’m not ready to talk about it. When I am, we can have our own Michael’s lunch.” You’re a class act, Linda. It’s a date.

12. Harold Holzer

14. Gary Zarr

15. Michael DelGuidice

17. Peter Price

18. Lisa Linden, James Panero and yours truly

20. Joan Jakobson and Barbara Liberman

21. Eric Zinterhofer

22. William Von Mueffling

23. IAC’s Jason Rapp

25. Tommy Quick

26. Barry Frey with Thomas F. Teepell

27. Nicholas Varney

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.