Reader’s Digest Wins Big at National Magazine Awards

Magazine journalism’s highest honors went to two virtually uncelebrated titles, Reader’s Digest and Field & Stream, while more familiar names were surprisingly shut out.
Reader’s Digest, which put a modern spin on its trademark uplifting content just as the country headed into a prolonged economic slump, took the General Excellence honor in the 2-million plus circulation category at the 2009 National Magazine Awards.
It was RD’s first nomination in 20 years and only its second win since 1981, when it won for public service. The judges heaped praise on RD’s redesign under editor Peggy Northrop, saying it gave the magazine “imaginative and timely feature stories and an engaging contemporary voice” and inspirational and service content that make the title “not only a good companion but also a great escape.”
Northrop called the redesign the “hardest fun” she’d ever had and thanked her friends who she said called her “out of my mind for taking this job.”
The Reader’s Digest Association flagship beat out other nominees Martha Stewart Living, National Geographic, Real Simple and Time.
First-time National Magazine Award winner Bonnier Corp.’s Field & Stream won for General Excellence in the 1 million to 2 million circ category. “From tips on becoming a total outdoorsman to profiles of veteran amputees,” the judges said, Field & Stream’s content is “savvy, witty and large-hearted.”
The American Society of Magazine Editors’ 44th annual National Magazine Awards were handed out April 30 at a gala event at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. The awards are referred to as the Ellies, for the Alexander Calder-designed “elephant” statuettes that winners receive.
Backpacker, Esquire, The New Yorker and Wired won three apiece. “This is usually the time when Adam Moss or David Remnick starts apologizing,” quipped Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, upon accepting his third Ellie. But no single magazine dominated the awards, and many that have been perennial winners over the years, like Time, Newsweek and Vanity Fair, lost out this year.
New York magazine, an ASME darling of recent years, won just one Ellie (General Excellence Online), despite getting six nominations.
Other first-time winners were AARP The Magazine, Automobile and The New York Times Magazine, which benefited from ASME’s decision last year to open up the awards to newspaper-delivered magazines.
Women’s magazines, historically given short shrift by the awards, were all but absent among the winners this year.
Befitting the sobering times, the awards tilted toward serious journalism, from The New York Times Magazine’s reporting on Pakistan to a profile in Rolling Stone of David Foster Wallace’s suicide.
The economic downturn also affected attendance to the event, which was down at least 25 percent this year. Submissions were off 13 percent this year, to 1,707.
The complete list of winners follows:
Reader’s Digest for General Excellence (over 2 million circulation)
Field & Stream for General Excellence (1 million to 2 million circulation)
Wired for General Excellence (500,000 to 1 million circulation)
Texas Monthly for General Excellence (250,000 to 500,000 circulation)
Foreign Policy for General Excellence (100,000 to 250,000 circulation)
Print for General Excellence (under 100,000 circulation)
Saveur for Single-topic Issue
Wired for Magazine Section
The New York Times Magazine for Reporting
Bicycling for Public Interest
Esquire for Feature Writing
Rolling Stone for Profile Writing
Backpacker for Essays
Automobile for Columns and Commentary
The New Yorker for Reviews and Criticism
The New Yorker for Fiction
Esquire for Personal Service
Esquire for Leisure Interests
Wired for Design
GQ for Photography
National Geographic for Photojournalism
The New Yorker for Photo Portfolio for General Excellence Online (less than 1 million uniques) for General Excellence Online (1 million uniques and above) for Personal Service Online
AARP The Magazine Online for Interactive Feature
Complete judges’ comments and the official announcement can be found at