Staid old gent reels at Tina's glitz blitz

EVEN BY New York society standards, it was quite a do. Six hundred of America's brightest and most beautiful squashed into a midtown Manhattan theatre to wish a happy birthday, not to a fellow star, but to a magazine. It was a paradoxical affair: both reverential of a history marked by sobriety and quiet intelligence and unashamedly glamorous and glitzy.

Perhaps it was deliberately so. The publication being celebrated was the New Yorker, which this month turns 70. For decades it was famous as the place that accommodated some of the best but also some of the least obviously accessible of American writing. Capote, Cheever, E B White, Nabokov and Thurber were all contributors. Patrician, urbane, even elitist, but essential reading for the literary-minded from SoHo to Hampstead.

That is its heritage and at least a part of the magazine's character still today. Something new has happened to the New Yorker, however, and all of the publishing world is agog over it. It has taken to running stories about O J Simpson and taking advertisements for men's fragrances that spurt noxious fumes at you if you unfold them. In short, it has become more like the other magazines, more colourful and more concerned with current events.

Is it heresy, or a pragmatic, even brilliant, response to commercial realities? The debate rages and may not be resolved for a long while yet. Whatever the answer, the responsibility for the change lies with the host of the Manhattan party and the editor of the magazine since September 1992, Tina Brown.

Ms Brown, who is British and married to the other British icon of New York, former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans, is underestimated by nobody. As editor of Vanity Fair - owned, like the New Yorker, by publishing magnate S I Newhouse - she was credited with making that magazine the most exciting around, outscoring Vogue and Esquire. Some argue that without dramatic changes at the New Yorker, it would have faded away or folded.

"For good or ill, she remains the definitive magazine character of the moment", says Eric Etheridge, executive editor of the New York Observer, a weekly broadsheet that holds the pulse of sophisticated New York while simultaneously lampooning it. "She has the heat that no one else has."

The main impact of the Brown reign has been to bring the New Yorker into the mainstream fold, he says. "She has wrenched it out of the special place it had lived in for more than 65 years and torn down the wall that always existed between the New Yorker and everything else. She has yoked the magazine more closely to the stories of the moment."

Where nerves have been touched, if not shredded, has been in Ms Brown's perceived fascination not just with current affairs but with showbiz andHollywood. Says William Greider, National Editor of Rolling Stone and former New Yorker contributor: "She has brilliantly enlivened the magazine, but I feel she is in danger of being swallowed up by her own celebrity obsessions. There is a sort of post-modern urbanity about it now, which I find decadent."

Symbolising that change for many were the stories that ranlast summer about the O J Simpson case. If the New Yorker could not resist the O J obsession - generated almost wholly by television and the popular papers - what American magazine could?

The giant birthday issue now on sale contains a feature by a top-class writer - Martin Amis - but the subject of his treatise is the Hollywood resurrection of John Travolta.

The revolution has caused departures from the magazine, many discreet, others less so. Among the noisier exits were those of Garrison Keillor, creator of Lake Wobegone Days, and George Trow, who is one of few to have dared publicly to voice doubts about Ms Brown's suitability for the position. He said in a recent interview: "My formula for here is that she's a great girl wearing the wrong skirt. I mean this is not a job for her."

Also leaving shortly is Charles McGrath, who more than anyone represents the old school and for years was considered the heir-apparent to long- time editor William Shawn. The current issue contains his swan-song, a tribute to the co-founder and first editor the late Harold Ross. (There have only been four editors in 70 years, including Ms Brown.)

Also in this issue is what seems almost an apologia for what has been wrought by Ms Brown, penned by another veteran contributor, Brendan Gill. "The magazine has grown older, as all things must, but it seeks to remain invincibly young in its response to life and, like Lewis Carroll's Father William, is willing to stand on its head, and even to carry off from time to time, perhaps to the alarm of some readers, an unexpected somersault."

Ultimately, no publication can perform gymnastics without commercial health. Since Ms Brown took over, circulation is up 26 per cent and revenue is said to have risen, too. Yet it is rumoured that all that loud (and smelly) advertising is being sold at a heavy discount. Despite Ms Brown's best efforts, the magazine is estimated to be losing at least $1m a month. The patient's prognosis seems improved, then, but far from brilliant.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electrical Engineer

£26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral