The Biz: Women's titles seek more Ellies

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On May 7, the glitterati of the magazine world will once again gather in the ballroom of New York's grand old Waldorf Astoria to witness this year's National Magazine Awards ceremony.

Yet beneath the backslapping a buzz of discontent may be heard. The magazines nominated for an "Ellie," the Alexander Calder-designed elephant-shaped object presented to winners, skew far from what's arguably still the backbone of the magazine world-the big-circulation women's service titles like Hearst Magazines' Good Housekeeping and Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Family Circle, and most women-aimed titles in general.

Trying to classify all magazines under the headings "Men's" and "Women's" is an inexact science. But an Ad Age survey of last year's winners found just two out of 19 went to female-skewing titles. A glance at the 102 nominations this year finds 18 at such titles. Almost all of the magazines with the most nominations this year tilt either male or toward more rarefied intellectual altitudes: Conde Nast's The New Yorker (nine), The Atlantic Monthly (seven), Harper's and Conde Nast's Vanity Fair (five) and Conde Nast's GQ, Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek and Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated (four each).

"Some magazines have higher journalistic ambitions than others," said David Granger, editor in chief of Hearst's Esquire (three nominations in `03), "and those are the ones that tend to get honored."

Thus, some editors voice some frustration. "Women's magazines do service for their audience as well as anyone does. But because it's done the way it's done, it's not taken seriously, by men and women, it seems," says Betsy Carter, the former editor of AARP's My Generation, which is nominated in the Personal Service category this year. Privately, several editors of both genders who've judged entries agree, citing an unwillingness for some to even consider nominating the likes of women's service or teen magazines.

"It's like saying there's only one type of television that works: hour-long dramas or news shows," says Wenner Media's Us Weekly Editor in Chief Bonnie Fuller.

"We've tried to adjust" judging procedures to address these concerns, says Marlene Kahan, executive director of American Society of Magazine Editors, which oversees the awards. "Why it turns out like this is a little curious to me-I'm a woman."

For 2002, ASME added a General Excellence category for magazines with circulation over 2 million, and this year changed the wording in the guidelines of two categories to allay concerns raised by advocates of the service model. In guidelines to the personal-service and leisure-interest categories-added, said some, over these concerns-this phrase was included: "Pieces that include practical instruction are preferable to straight narrative." But this year's personal-service nominees are McGraw Hill's Business Week, Time Inc.'s Money, My Generation, Newsweek and Mariah Media's Outside; in leisure interests, the nominees are Esquire, National Geographic Society's National Geographic Adventure, Sports Illustrated, Time Out New York and Conde Nast's Vogue.

The award for General Excellence in the 2 million-plus category went to Newsweek last year. This year's nominees are National Geographic, Newsweek, Hearst's O, The Oprah Magazine; and Time Inc.'s Parenting and Sports Illustrated.


It's impossible to view this matter without considering current times. War and terrorism are top-line subjects in the public mind, and make meaty subject matter on which certain titles feast at length. Also making the slighted-service argument somewhat awkward is that Michael Kelly, who played a key role in transforming Atlantic Monthly into an Ellie-winning powerhouse, was killed while reporting in Iraq.

Even one proponent relented on this point. "We like to acknowledge those risks and be very laudatory about that kind of reporting, which is most often not found in women's magazines," conceded Lucy Danziger, editor in chief of Conde Nast's Self, which was nominated for Essays this year.

But still others insist industry self-importance inevitably work against certain titles. "There's a natural journalistic bias against service and women's magazines," said Gary Hoenig, editor at Walt Disney Co. and Hearst's ESPN The Magazine.

Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham, when asked whether women's titles are slighted, dismissed the entire matter. Contacted while on a golfing trip in Scotland, Mr. Lapham said through his spokeswoman: "Whattayamean? The New Yorker and Vanity Fair are women's magazines!"

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