Saturday, September 13, 2003

Online Pearls from Esquire & NYU

When it comes to leveraging the web, you'd be hard-pressed to think of two outfits with more radically opposite approaches than New York University and Esquire Magazine. NYU, situated in the heart of the world's media center, has nicely capitalized on that proximity in recent decades with a rich offering of media-centric courses and majors. Its journalism department has a reputation for being among the first to explore the rich possibilities of new media. Esquire, on the other hand, which was founded during the early days of the Great Depression as the first real men's magazine, has chosen to let the web mostly go by. In recent years, it's been too distracted by a series of new owners and a losing fight against the beers & babes "laddy" mags to give the web much thought. Its franchise as the leader in the men's category collapsed in especially embarrassing fashion: GQ, begun as a spin-off of Esquire, is now in the lead. Unfortunately, it too has recently succumbed to the dumbing-down spiral which has been nibbling at the periphery for years, but which is now in full flowering with the forced retirement (and subsequent quick death) of its long time editor Art Cooper. But Esquire and GQ share one thing: neither generally uses the web as anything other than a mere subscription sign-up service, which is roughly magazine strategy '96.

But all bets are off when venerable magazines hit an anniversary. I mentioned recently that Cleveland Mag. decided to stick large chunks of its rich archives on the web on the occasion of its 30th anniversary last year. The concept was simple and appealing: each week for 52 weeks, the editors chose one of their favorite stories from the 30 years and published it to the website, where it still resides. I'd have liked the idea even if they weren't so kind as to include my '94 cover story on then-PD political columnist Mary Anne Sharkey, who later became Gov. Taft's communications director.

Sure enough, Esquire, now celebrating its 70th anniversary, decided to do something similar, though on a far more limited basis. It has deposited on its site five spendid stories from its rich past. I recommend them all, especially Mailer's take on JFK and Tom Wolfe's high-octane look at the new south (in 1965). I hope they do more of this culling from the archives, which for Esquire are impossibly rich in splendid history-making journalism. They could take a page from the magazine masters of archive-culling, The Atlantic, which this week has a nice "flashback" on piracy, which includes a piece it first published in print in 1862!

As for NYU, its new-media laboratory hot-house environment has included an especially interesting innovation: a student-produced webzine called Read Me, which has been excellent. The new issue is devoted exclusively to blogging. Add it to the growing list of quality blog coverage I've been documenting in recent days.


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