Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

In which I get all caught up in Vanity Fair and New York articles …

with 2 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about magazine journalism. When it’s bad, it’s very, very bad—the soppy, anecdotal leads; the mid-article-bullet-point-lists-as-substitute-for-coherent-narrative; the weird agreement that so many publications seemed to have settled upon in recent years to cram as many short sidebars and lists and boxes in a feature story as possible, because heaven forbid people have to read anything longer than 500 words, ever. But when it’s good—oh!, when it’s good … Well, you get sentences like this:

Youth and beauty have their privileges, among them being the ability and agility to roll out into the hazy dawn following the squalors of the night before and still possess the throwaway glamour of a Bryan Ferry song. (Vanity Fair, “Hollywood’s Next Wave”)

I think maybe it’s just what could broadly be considered newsstand magazines that I hate. ‘Cause I’ve long been a fan of the Big Idea political magazines, and the snark-and-immediacy, the glorified-blogginess of online magazines like Salon and Slate. But lately I’ve also been kind of obsessed with literary magazine journalism as a form, and maybe that’s why I’ve been really appreciating articles like the one above and this Christopher Hitchens piece also from Vanity Fair (“Bohemia … should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them”).

Although neither of those articles are really what you’d call “literary” or “narrative” journalism in the 60s-New Journalism-sense, are they? So what would you call them? Journalism that employs very pretty prose?

They are, regardless, the kinds of pieces that make me all romantically-woozy-headed, make me want to be a better writer, make me pause–that pause that comes so sporadically–and think about journalism not as information-decimation, not as content production, not as punditry, not as a popularity contest, but as as a craft. And because I was in that place already last week when the latest issue of New York magazine arrived in my mailbox … well, I have found myself absolutely smitten with Tom Wolfe’s piece about New York founding editor Clay Felker. I didn’t know much (read, anything) about Felker before this, but the story of how he came to found New York magazine in the 60s and how he and Wolfe and the others trial-and-errored in this whole new type of news medium … it makes me all manic-excited about all the stories there are out there to tell. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. I think sometimes in this world of blogs and breaking news, we forget how very pretty and interesting journalism can be.

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Written by Elizabeth

July 15, 2008 at 12:37 am

2 Responses

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  1. You are kinder to both pieces than I would have been; both passages there strike me as a bit fey, the Wolcott in particular.

    Julian Sanchez

    July 15, 2008 at 5:37 am

  2. Well maybe that’s what I’m talking about then; I like ‘fey’ journalism.

    No, the Wolcott piece isn’t that amazing overall or anything, fairly typical, but I think it has some great one-liners.

    Elizabeth

    July 15, 2008 at 10:23 am


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In which I get all caught up in Vanity Fair and New York articles …

with 2 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about magazine journalism. When it’s bad, it’s very, very bad—the soppy, anecdotal leads; the mid-article-bullet-point-lists-as-substitute-for-coherent-narrative; the weird agreement that so many publications seemed to have settled upon in recent years to cram as many short sidebars and lists and boxes in a feature story as possible, because heaven forbid people have to read anything longer than 500 words, ever. But when it’s good—oh!, when it’s good … Well, you get sentences like this:

Youth and beauty have their privileges, among them being the ability and agility to roll out into the hazy dawn following the squalors of the night before and still possess the throwaway glamour of a Bryan Ferry song. (Vanity Fair, “Hollywood’s Next Wave”)

I think maybe it’s just what could broadly be considered newsstand magazines that I hate. ‘Cause I’ve long been a fan of the Big Idea political magazines, and the snark-and-immediacy, the glorified-blogginess of online magazines like Salon and Slate. But lately I’ve also been kind of obsessed with literary magazine journalism as a form, and maybe that’s why I’ve been really appreciating articles like the one above and this Christopher Hitchens piece also from Vanity Fair (“Bohemia … should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them”).

Although neither of those articles are really what you’d call “literary” or “narrative” journalism in the 60s-New Journalism-sense, are they? So what would you call them? Journalism that employs very pretty prose?

They are, regardless, the kinds of pieces that make me all romantically-woozy-headed, make me want to be a better writer, make me pause–that pause that comes so sporadically–and think about journalism not as information-decimation, not as content production, not as punditry, not as a popularity contest, but as as a craft. And because I was in that place already last week when the latest issue of New York magazine arrived in my mailbox … well, I have found myself absolutely smitten with Tom Wolfe’s piece about New York founding editor Clay Felker. I didn’t know much (read, anything) about Felker before this, but the story of how he came to found New York magazine in the 60s and how he and Wolfe and the others trial-and-errored in this whole new type of news medium … it makes me all manic-excited about all the stories there are out there to tell. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. I think sometimes in this world of blogs and breaking news, we forget how very pretty and interesting journalism can be.

Written by Elizabeth

July 15, 2008 at 12:37 am

Posted in The Best Things

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. You are kinder to both pieces than I would have been; both passages there strike me as a bit fey, the Wolcott in particular.

    Julian Sanchez

    July 15, 2008 at 5:37 am

  2. Well maybe that’s what I’m talking about then; I like ‘fey’ journalism.

    No, the Wolcott piece isn’t that amazing overall or anything, fairly typical, but I think it has some great one-liners.

    Elizabeth

    July 15, 2008 at 10:23 am


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