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May 3, 2009 6:11 PM

Media

Needing a Drink

To call the National Magazine Awards sober would be a pun, but it would be accurate. Brought down to earth by a crashing economy and a changing media landscape, the industry's annual prom Thursday was scaled back, shrunk down...

To call the National Magazine Awards sober would be a pun, but it would be accurate. Brought down to earth by a crashing economy and a changing media landscape, the industry's annual prom Thursday was scaled back, shrunk down and subject to an early closing bar that resulted first in a frenzy and then in some very disappointed magazine editors.

One, Allure editor in chief Linda Wells, managed to procure a drink after the bar closed just before 7, mostly through prolonged begging. She later offered to share the bounty, a vodka soda, with Reader's Digest's Tom Prince and Departures editor in chief Richard David Story. "I don't have swine flu," she added helpfully. (They declined.) Nearby, New York magazine film critic David Edelstein, a finalist for columns and commentary, bickered with event staff over his rebellious refilling of his Diet Coke.

It was no wonder, then, that Backpacker's Jonathan Dorn exulted on his third trip to the stage, "We're going to have money for booze tonight! I'm going to buy a bottle and sit in the park." The actual plan reportedly involved Dorn teaming up with his former Rodale co-workers, along with the victorious Reader's Digest crew, and heading to the House of Brews for a long-standing tradition of balancing sliders on the points of the awards. Dorn was one of the many winners who counteracted a general gloom and jadedness with pure delight. "Holy wha, as we say in the upper peninsula of Michigan," exclaimed Jean Jennings, editor of Automobile magazine when her magazine won for columns and commentary. Honorees from magazines like Bicycling, Saveur, Foreign Policy and Print echoed the sentiment.

But it was hard to dispel the feeling that the party, generally speaking, was over, despite the undeniably meritorious journalism being honored. The digital awards -- which went to Backpacker (twice), New York magazine, and AARP The Magazine -- were given pride of place at the beginning of the ceremony. ("I do most of my reading online, just to keep track of the nice things people say about me on Gawker," said presenter Jimmy Fallon.) The prominent nod to the Nineties-era supereditor and lavish, high-cost photo shoots felt wholly nostalgic, as Anna Wintour, Tina Brown, Jann Wenner and Graydon Carter took to the stage, rather awkwardly, to pay tribute to Annie Leibovitz.

"Anna's so happy to see me in a dress," the photographer cracked when she took the stage. She added, "You can imagine the stories behind getting these four together." Indeed, there were decades of rivalry and/or friendship among the editors, and one Leibovitz-related anecdote in particular was recalled over Champagne after the ceremony. That famous Leibovitz cover of Demi Moore pregnant in Brown's Vanity Fair was later mocked by Carter's Spy magazine, this time with a photo composite of a "pregnant" Bruce Willis -- with Carter himself providing the body.
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