Our Night at the ASMEs: Sportier Than Anticipated

Chris Johns
editor Chris Johns, whose magazine took home three awards. Photo: AP

At last night's American Society of Magazine Editors' awards ceremony, it actually felt fitting when the editor of Backpacker magazine got more laughs than the three actors from 30 Rock — Katrina Bowden, Lonny Ross, and Judah Friedlander — who'd been dragged into service as presenters. ("This is a night celebrating magazine writers," someone commented after the ceremony. "Can't they find anyone decent to, you know, write the material?") Indeed, the other celebrity presenters, including Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper (who sped through his lines like a man rushing to make his date with a tropical storm), and Padma Lakshmi (who may be the slowest speaker on earth), hardly seemed necessary. As the night progressed, it became exceedingly clear that magazine editors can handle their cynical barbs quite well without the help of fancy-pants television personalities.

The self-deprecation had begun almost immediately. As we walked into the room, one editor after another gloomily predicted that he would bring home no Ellies that night. "I know we're not going to win. We're a year-old magazine," said Radar 's Maer Roshan. "I know I will not have to go up there," chimed in Time's Rick Stengel. "I guarantee you that." For the record, they were both right.

The New Yorker's David Remnick went even darker: "I’ll tell you, it’s not enough that we must win," he said before the show. "It’s that others must lose." His magazine took the general-excellence award in its category.

Vanity Fair won two awards, for profile-writing and photo portfolio. Ellie stalwarts like The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, GQ, and, yes, New York won only one award each (ours was for our "Cartography" package, in the leisure-interests category), as did an exciting range of lesser-known titles, several winning their first-ever awards. (Field & Stream won for its annual Rut issue, whatever that might be.) On accepting VF's first award, Graydon Carter warned the crowd that he'd had an emergency root canal that afternoon, "so if I start drooling, just ignore it." (He didn't, disappointingly.)

The highlight of the evening was probably another celebrity presenter: former New York Met Lenny Dykstra. He's launching a magazine of his own! Dykstra appeared slightly out of sorts and was reluctant to relinquish the microphone, despite having already presented two awards, for personal service and online personal service. In a Babe Ruth–calling-his-famous-home-run moment, Dykstra promised his mag, The Players Club, would pick up the personal-service award next year.

As people were filing out, we caught Remnick and asked him about his earlier pessimism.

Remnick: Stick around, and you’ll realize that’s how I always am. Pessimism is what gets me up in the morning. That gnawing feeling of not being good enough.
New York: Isn’t that how all editors are?
Remnick: No, that’s how I am as a person. I don’t think I changed as an editor. Before I edited The New Yorker, the only thing I’d edited was my high-school newspaper.
New York: Did Graydon Carter drool on you?
Remnick: He always drools on me. He’s disgusting that way.
New York: Did he really have a root canal, or was that just Graydon being Graydon?
Remnick: Well, he looked a bit swollen in the jaw. His best line ever, though, was when his hair was a little longer and he said, “I look exactly like Barbara Bush, without the pearls."
New York: Did he?
Remnick: Yeah. A little.
New York: Do you consider Lenny Dykstra a threat?
Remnick: We did a profile of Lenny Dykstra. He’s a nut job. In a nice way. We’d just have to take his knees out.

Now that's what we call editing. —Jada Yuan and Jesse Oxfeld

National Magazine Award Winners [Magazine.org]