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National Magazine Awards Revamped to Pit Fashion Against Fashion, News Against News

Ceremony Also Reintroduces Sit-Down Meal, Which Once Provoked Conde Into Ordering Pizza to the Event

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The top prizes at next year's National Magazine Awards will pit magazines against rivals in their editorial categories instead of grouping contenders by circulation.

National Magazine Award trophy
National Magazine Award trophy
The awards will also reintroduce a sit-down meal, five years after abandoning the old luncheon presentations for an evening awards ceremony that organizers hoped would be more glamorous. The dinner now planned will let attendees once again watch everyone else react to winners and speeches -- fun that was lost when luncheons at the Waldorf Astoria were abandoned -- but also reopens the door to complaints about the food. A Conde Nast table once ordered pizza to be delivered during the awards luncheon.

Even under the new rules, some magazines will go up against titles with very different missions, audiences and advertisers. Magazines fighting for general excellence honors will compete in six categories:

  • News, sports and entertainment, for large-circulation weeklies, biweeklies and general-interest monthlies such as AARP The Magazine, Rolling Stone and Time
  • Fashion, service and lifestyle, for women's magazines including health, fitness and family titles such as All You, Elle and Vogue
  • Active lifestyle, for sports, men's lifestyle, business, finance and technology titles such as Backpacker, Consumer Reports, Esquire and Wired
  • Food, travel and design, for magazines aimed at men and women, including shelter titles such as Bon Appetit, Dwell and Martha Stewart Living
  • Special interest, for magazines aimed at narrower audiences, including city and regional titles, such as Los Angeles, National Geographic Kids and Out
  • Literary journals and opinion, for titles such as Foreign Policy, Harvard Business Review and Virginia Quarterly Review

The categories are an attempt to reflect the way readers view magazines without having 17 different categories, said Larry Hackett, managing editor of People and president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, which presents the National Magazine Awards in association with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

"Some of them are going to be more competitive, there's no question about it," Mr. Hackett said. "News and general interest I've been calling the 'group of death,' like the World Cup, because there's a lot of magazines in there."

There will be some very different magazines facing each other in the new categories, just as there were in the old circulation groups, but hopefully the categories will make more sense, Mr. Hackett said. Last year's entries for general excellence among magazines with circulations between 250,000 and 500,000 included titles as disparate as Backpacker, Bloomberg Markets, Details, Latina, Texas Monthly and W.

Presenting the awards during a dinner is an attempt to make the event more engaging than a straight presentation in a theater, said Sid Holt, CEO of the editors' society. "We think we lost some of that community effect," he said. "Instead of 'I'm part of something,' it became 'I'm here watching something.' It will be a better way to engage our members in a more fun way."

Attendees and organizers tend to worry about how long the awards will run. Mr. Holt said the dinner won't mean anyone gets out of the event any later than before. The first National Magazine Awards dinner presentation is scheduled for May 9, 2011. The event isn't returning to the Waldorf, however; the dinner will be held at 583 Park Avenue in Manhattan, a Christian Science church where Oscar de la Renta has held fashion shows.

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