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Friday, January 02, 2004

What a Press Year: Howell, New York—And War to Cover

What a Press Year: Howell, New York—And War to Cover
by Sridhar Pappu

In 2003, the media clubhouse doors flew open. And the kids outside—the people who don’t rate Julian Niccolini’s lunchtime seating chart at the Four Seasons, who don’t spend their evenings at the Explorers Club—didn’t like what they found.

They saw the top editors of the most important news organization in the world undone by hubris and the lame fabrications of an ambitious young reporter. They saw magazine executives under oath in a celebrity trial copping to fraudulent circulation figures. And what’s this? A onetime "It" girl turned tabloid matron says nuthin’ while one of her publications runs the name and photo of a woman alleging rape.

But it was a moment—even if it was the moment that made 2003 one of the business’ only serious occasions for introspection in years. By December, those clubhouse doors were slammed shut again. While Jayson Blair made us question our integrity as news organizations in summer, by fall we barely blinked at a lengthy editor’s note about Los Angeles reporter Charlie LeDuff’s account of his Los Angeles River adventure—and its debt to a book by Blake Gumprecht published four years before.

Perhaps it’s all best summed up thusly: A year that began for newspapers with preparation for war in Iraq ended with a war over the soul of New York magazine—waged in true Trollopean fashion largely at cocktail parties and over lunch at Michael’s, but won in whispered weekend conferences at a frequency inaudible to Manhattan’s media-obsessed masses, who dropped their Merlot en masse over a recent Tuesday lunch hour when word spread of billionaire Bruce Wasserstein’s coup.

There were losses: former Atlantic Monthly editor Michael Kelly in Iraq. Paris Review editor George Plimpton in New York. Wall Street Journal Hollywood reporter Tom King and GQ editor Art Cooper. The weight of their absence can’t be measured by any instrument we here at Off the Record, in a year-end roundup, possess. It’s perhaps embarrassing in the shadow of their departures to find ourselves on the cusp of 2004, still watching while the media—or the people at the media’s center—continue to pry and claw at each other with the ferocity of unfed dogs.

But that’s the spirit of neurotic introspection laced with attention to absurd spectacle that keeps you coming back. And it’s in that spirit that we unapologetically bring you the 2003 Year in Media Awards, otherwise known as the "Pappu-litzers" (pace all you folks at Columbia University’s journalism school and Dean Nicholas Lemann).

A note to the winners: The $5,000 we asked from our big-cheese editor to give an awards luncheon at the Subway sandwich shop on Lexington Avenue and 57th Street got lost in the mailroom. In 2004, we’ll make up for it with some pear salad and sole and maybe a handful of those little cookies.

posted by Steve @ 9:17:00 PM

9:17:00 PM

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