Conde Nast Editors Not 'Overreacting' to Web

Wintour, Carter, Remnick Still Believe in Print; Waiting for Recovery

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Conde Nast editors Anna Wintour, Graydon Carter and David Remnick insisted today that they're fully engaged with the challenges posed by the rise of the internet. If that's true, though, they sure didn't show it.

Conde Nast editors (from l.) David Remnick, Anna Wintour and Graydon Carter, with New Yorker media critic Ken Auletta, considered the future of print publications at a breakfast panel hosted by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Conde Nast editors (from l.) David Remnick, Anna Wintour and Graydon Carter, with New Yorker media critic Ken Auletta, considered the future of print publications at a breakfast panel hosted by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Credit: Alex Oliveira
They sounded like excellent magazine editors, for example, intent on delivering compelling and outstanding content. "It's very important not to overreact to what's going on and to remain true to the heart of your magazine," said Ms. Wintour, editor in chief at Vogue. (She also is secure in her post, despite chatter to the contrary.)

Eggs over easy
But the editors, speaking at a breakfast panel hosted by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, did not sound particularly troubled by the fundamental turn toward electronic media consumption -- and the inability of digital ad rates so far to match rates in print.

"We've been in difficult times before, and we've come out of them," Ms. Wintour said at another point. Maybe the new administration in Washington will help the broader economy recover, she suggested. "I think all of us are looking forward to a recovery next year."

Providers of short bits of content and common information will lose out to the net, said Mr. Carter, editor in chief at Vanity Fair. But the long-form storytelling and gorgeous photography that fill magazines like his? "It's going to be a while before the internet takes that away," he said.

And if young people aren't reading newspapers or magazines these days, they will soon enough, Mr. Carter asserted. "I say just wait eight years until they're 29," he said. "At a certain point, people just start reading newspapers."

No abandonment issues
Advertisers will stay true in the long run, too, said Mr. Remnick, editor in chief at The New Yorker. "Whatever advertising is there, they'll go to high ground at some point."

When Joe Nocera, a business columnist for The New York Times, stood up from the audience to suggest that the editors seemed oddly calm about the digital threat, Mr. Remnick protested. "We're not sanguine," he said. He attends meetings on the subject all the time, he said.

Radio didn't banish newspapers, either, and television didn't eradicate radio. "Magazines that mean something, that have carved out a space in the culture, will persist," Mr. Remnick said.

No one acknowledged, however, the huge loss of stature and relevance that each medium suffered as new media encroached on its essential turf: people's time. Yes, TV didn't kill radio, but it did replace it as a primary source of entertainment and news, and force it to change formats and experiment with new ways to stay relevant. Radio hasn't gone away, but it doesn't hold the place in American culture that it did in the days of FDR's fireside chats. Broadcast networks' nightly news shows once loomed large over the national conversation; now people find it increasingly hard to watch.

Left behind by Time Inc.
Magazine powers like Time Inc. are blaming their recent layoffs on the tanking economy, but it's very unlikely those jobs will come back even when the economy does. The New Yorker may always command the attention of many important readers, but it's only going to operate as long as its business satisfies its owner.

It isn't always obvious what steps editors-in-chief should take. But worrying a bit couldn't hurt.

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