Nat Geo, Vanity Fair Big Ellie Winners

From the overall mood to the roster of winning titles, the National Magazine Awards had a decidedly somber feel this year, reflecting the mood, perhaps, of a beleaguered industry and nation focused on the economy, a prolonged presidential campaign and a drawn-out war.

National Geographic, the big winner with three awards, was cited for tackling, among other subjects, our threatened planet and the destructive scourge of malaria. Serious themes also marked the winning entries of other titles–including Backpacker, Mother Jones and Popular Mechanics–which focused on the environment and other hard-hitting topics. Meanwhile, lighter fare and women’s magazines, big winners in recent years, were largely passed over this time. “I think serious journalism’s the winner,” Chris Johns, editor in chief of Nat Geo, said offstage.

With appearances by celebrity presenters including Obama Girl (aka Amber Lee Ettinger) and New York Mets vet Lenny Dykstra, the American Society of Magazine Editors’ black-tie gala lacked the levity of last year, which featured rocker K.T. Tunstall, Ellen DeGeneres and Ugly Betty’s America Ferrara.

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter was a man of few words as he accepted Ellies for General Excellence and Profile Writing, explaining that he’d had an emergency root canal that day. Jann Wenner, who gave an infamously long speech last year when he won General Excellence for Rolling Stone, was a no-show; his managing editor, Will Dana, took the stage to collect the Columns and Commentary award for Matt Taibbi’s political profiles.

Despite multiple wins by Nat Geo and VF, no one magazine dominated the Ellies, so named for the Alexander Calder-designed stabiles the winners take back to the office. That wasn’t the case last year, when New York editor Adam Moss walked off with five statuettes. New York and The New Yorker got multiple noms this year but each snagged just one trophy, New York for Leisure Interests and The New Yorker for General Excellence.

Still, it was a comeback of sorts for The New Yorker’s David Remnick, who left empty-handed in 2007 for the first time in years. “I kind of forgot what you’re supposed to do,” Remnick deadpanned as he picked up his prize.

In other surprises, Cond

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