In September 2007, when I was making $30,000 a year as a reporter at the New York Post, I found myself doing 90 mph in a $412,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. I didn't want to go too fast — I'm not the gutsiest driver — but the PR rep in the passenger seat goaded me on. As I slowed to cruise through Times Square, pedestrians started taking pictures. “They think you’re an heiress,” the car rep said.
A month later the Dow hit its high, 14,164.53. Wealth was a news event. It seemed important not only to cover the lives of the rich and famous, but to get as close as possible to living that lifestyle. Over the past four years, a class of New York City reporters embedded at the front lines of excess has written about the “most expensive” in just about every product line, from omelettes to prom nights. But today, our frivolous lives of pretend luxury have seemingly come to an end.
Take Alex Kuczynski, the New York Times reporter who shares a 740 Park Avenue co-op with her multi-millionaire husband. She’s gone from jet-set coverage of six-figure watches, $20,000 philanthropy schools, and Botox galore to writing about selling off her Hermès bangles and scarfing hamburgers.
PocketChangeNYC.com, an online newsletter that offered a “First Class cabin journey into the depths of decadence” by profiling the “Most Expensive” you-name-its each week, has tweaked its language to focus on top ten lists. “Covering the most expensive has always come off as an endorsement of the most expensive,” said the site’s founder, Jeremy Abelson. “That just doesn't work anymore.”
What about the Web and print titles targeted at the rich that are slated to launch next year? Farrah Weinstein, a former Post reporter who is the fashion and lifestyle editor for Bob Guccione Jr.’s Prestige New York, one of those new luxury magazines, admits that writing about the rich may now be “less fun in a superficial way.” But she’s content knowing that her stories about the American Dream and charity work “have more soul.”
Standing on the balcony of a suite at the Mandarin in Miami, Sarah Maslin Nir — a self-described “five-star luxury travel” writer for the Times of London — recalls riding horses in Udaipur, India, and getting a “wine body wrap” in Santorini, Greece. “I'm actually getting paid to be queen of the world for a few days,” she remembers thinking during those assignments.
But even Maslin Nir has a new aspiration: “This fall I went back to J-school at Columbia. I'm trying to take this journalism thing more seriously.”