Nancy Harris Rouemy: The NY Mag McCain Cover Challenge

I don't know what was more rousing last night--watching Bill O'Reilly challenge Barack Obama to explain his association with Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers, or watching Dirk Barnett, the skillful Creative Director of Blender, challenge Walter Bernard, Milton Glaser, Bob Newman, Adam Moss and Chris Dixon to a cover solution competition at the start of the panel discussion celebrating the 40th birthday for New York magazine, held at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York city.

''If McCain gets elected, New York's cover would be what?,'' Barnett asked provocatively. "You will get to answer at the end of our discussion.'' I couldn't stop scanning the panel from left to right, and right to left, wondering if these guys were internally crying to the heavens above for a clever solution or tucking the task in their subconscious so that they could focus on the questions at hand. I initially gave myself the same challenge; 30 problem-solving seconds later, I cut myself a break after reminding myself, this is my one night out -- enjoy! And so I did.

Bernard and Glaser, the esteemed originators of New York, started the evening talking about the deep-rooted, communal sense in the industry. In addition to drawing on their own talent from the Pushpin group, situated a floor below New York's humble quarters, they assembled an incredible pool of talent, even reaching out to finds in London, bringing renowned illustrator Julian Allen to America, for example. "Talent draws talent," Glaser remarked.

(Bob Newman got his share of laughs after revealing he was not permitted to see his work area before he was hired as Design Director after Walter Bernard, who held the post for nine years. (See correction below in the comments -- Ed.) However, he was permitted in the editor's office, equipped with a mahogany desk, luxurious leather couch, bath and shower!)

Bernard recalled the pivotal story that shaped New York into the quintessential service magazine that it still is today: New York's then-managing editor suffered from the labored and unsuccessful search of finding an apartment in New York city. Founding editor Clay Felker prompted him to write about it. The rest is history.

The overriding themes of the evening were teamwork, hard-work, dedication, fervency, frugal resourcefulness and olympic-speed decision making. "For all those people that suffered through those dreadful years, it was the best days of their lives," Glaser recalls. The editor-in-chief of New York magazine, Adam Moss, the wonder-boy (maybe he's not a boy anymore although he still looks like one), continues to carry the torch of passion for New York magazine which began in his youth during the vibrant '60's, the years that Bernard, Glaser and Felker changed the face of the regional magazine.

Moss's undying commitment to exploration has earned New York magazine heaps of national awards. He titled himself a mere ''cheerleader'', extending well-deserved accolades to his staff. But having personally worked with Adam at both Esquire in the '80's and The New York Times Magazine in the '90's and after, I attest, he is no cheerleader. Adam Moss is a ball-busting master-mind who creates an environment that begs drive, devotion and ingenuity.

"We make decisions in the hallway, in the bathroom," Moss admits. ''We make changes an hour after the final close.'' Moss and Dixon hailed the prevailing info-graphic form that former Design Director, Luke Hayman nurtured. Moss highlighted the refreshing pacing of the magazine, ranging from densely-filled pages to spreads that breathe an ''exuberant air''.  He stirs his readers with ''giant type to micro-type that no one can read.'' Concept covers created from photo illustration get Adam's thumbs-up, while classic illustration still stands in the backfield because of its perceived "slower read" according to Moss. As you heard the panel share their stories, one could feel the adrenaline that shot through forty years of an institution's making.

P.S. New York's McCain Cover Challenge results:  My vote -- Bob Newman places first, proposing a wide grinning portrait of Hilary Clinton, New York senator. No type.
A close second from Walter Bernard: McCain sitting pretty in Palin's lap!

-- Nancy Harris Rouemy, The New York Times Magazine

  • Robert Newman

    Thank you for all the nice words about the panel. One correction: the person who was design director before me was the great Robert Best, who held that position for almost 18 years, and as much as anyone defined the look of the magazine. Best had the distinction of being the design director of both New York and Premiere magazines at the same time! Apparently he would work on New York in the morning, then run over to the Premiere office at lunch time, return to the New York offices in the afternoon, and get done in time to catch a 5pm train. At least this is what I've been told. --Robert Newman

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