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
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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.”