Smarty Pants Columbia J-Schoolers Review Magazine Industry

Each year, the approximately 15 students enrolled in the magazine department at Columbia Journalism School put out New York Review of Magazines. This past Wednesday, the recent grads celebrated the 2008 launch at the west Chelsea pub Half King Bar and Restaurant.

Victor Navasky, [shown above at left, with Gizmodo feature editor and former student Wilson Rothman, and 2008 graduate David Riedel] the former Nation editor and publisher, and faculty advisor to the Review considers his students’ contributions reflective of the magazine industry. “They get what’s happening in the magazine business indirectly through all of these direct stories. A big thing — that knows better than anyone else — is the relationship of the Web with the parent, hard-copy magazine, so there are a couple of stories here that deal directly with that.”

Articles run the gamut: A parody of the proposed Vogue cover of Hillary Clinton, reported on in “Politics in Vogue” by Mengly Taing, is splashed across the Review‘s cover. Adam Weinstein‘s profile on Christopher Hitchens looks at Hitchens’ literary life, but opens with Hitchens inviting Weinstein to the restroom. Provocative scenes aside, Weinstein imagines Hitchens will be pleased with the article.

Like any journalists, the event had recent grads watching their words as closely as they eyed the trays of complimentary apps coming from the kitchen. Contributor Michele Wilson worried about burnt bridges because her article explored the hypocrisy of women’s magazines that advocate being fit, yet advertise diet pills. Matt Miller critiques current fashion spreads that “don’t reflect our moment in history” with early layouts in Esquire, but while his fellow students are spending the summer freelancing or begging for a magazine job, he’s promoting the book, Lili Marlene: The Soldier’s Song of World War II, co-written with classmate Liel Leibovitz.

J-school graduate, Zainab Zakari, wrote an article disproving the notion that readers don’t absorb as much on the Web. (Yay for us, bummer for the beleaguered rag trade.) Zakari explained that findings from a Poynter Institute study showed, “people reading news on the Web were actually more loyal to the articles they read. They spent more time doing that and they completed the articles. They actually absorbed more on the web as opposed to reading the newspaper print or tabloid print.”

Despite Zakari’s findings and print journalism’s pessimistic prognosis, magazine writing has never been more popular within Columbia’s j-school program. While investigative journalism exploded after Woodward and Bernstein uncovered Watergate, broadcast journalism transformed television anchors into celebrities, and new media became a recent industry mantra, Navasky sees his department’s magazine craze as more than a fad.

“The last few years, we’ve had more graduate students sign up to concentrate in magazine than any other concentration. Why? Well, one reason is maybe they’ll have more space to write, will get better attention to their literary style, and improve their literary skill. I think they [magazines] are here to stay. They confer legitimacy on the prose that is out there, because there’s nothing like a magazine to give them authority.”


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