Navasky’s Advice to Indie Mags: Shake Down Paul Newman for $1M, Spend It on Writers

Professor of magazine journalism at Columbia and The Nation publisher emeritus Victor Navasky addressed independent magazine editors and publishers yesterday at the annual IMAG leadership conference, yet another Magazine Publishers of America event, held this year at the W Hotel in Union Square. And Navasky was packing the anecdotal heat.

Navasky recounted awkward fundraising moments for the 135-year-old magazine, like the one where he managed to finagle $1 million out of Paul Newman for The Nation during a business dinner where Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, became an unlikely ally. Usually when the wife shows up, “there goes your business conversation,” Navasky said. But when Newman said of Navasky’s proposal “I don’t know, that’s pretty rich,” Woodward responded, “But you’re pretty rich, dear.”

Navasky also urged publishers to “overpay your writers” despite the inherent contradiction of that advice coming from a magazine “notorious for underpaying” theirs. After agreeing to writer Calvin Trillin‘s “no diddling clause” — they couldn’t change a word, and he was “allowed to make fun of the editor” — when Trillin asked what he would be paid for the column, Navasky said he was thinking of something in the “high two-figures.”

He added that in publisher-editor conflicts, such as church-and-state business, magazines should let “the editors decide.”

Liberal, yet old-school — just what we expected.

UPDATE: Download the Navasky speech via MP3 podcast.