Why you should care
As we enter another IPO run, a cautionary tale from the ’60s is plenty relevant now. Are you listening, Twitter?
It’s hard to remember that magazines used to be a big deal: Life, Time, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated. But not only were they a big deal, they once were so valued that they had IPOs and traded on the NYSE. One of the hottest magazines of that era was New York magazine. Started as a supplement of the New York Herald Tribune newspaper in 1964, the magazine ultimately spun out on its own in 1968 and quickly became a sensation among the hip elite of the late ’60s.
Led by iconic editor Clay Felker and stocked with big name writers including Tom Wolfe, Ken Auletta and Nora Ephron, they went public and began expanding — giving birth to Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine, buying the Village Voice and opening up a California magazine called New West. With these writers and new mags came a “new journalism,” one we take for granted today in which the writer throws aside distance and objectivity and enters into a narrative flush with characters, experiences and stories.
But New York Magazine and its staff would also be the first to experience another type of “cutting edge” in print media, learning the hard way what Hollywood screenwriters had long known: money, not creativity is what matters most to the bottom line. And that lesson came suddenly when an Australian shark relatively unknown to American waters named Rupert Murdoch decided to enter New York Harbor and the East Coast media market.
Thirty years before the great white media tycoon acquired the Wall Street Journal and just a month after devouring the New York Post, Murdoch smelled blood at Clay Felker’s outfit and went in for the kill in late 1976. Felker reached out to Washington Post scion and friend Katherine Graham to combat Murdoch’s assault, and for a while she matched him blow for blow, but the Aussie prevailed. And when 40 or so writers and reporters went on strike to forestall the takeover, the response was a revelation to many. “You don’t understand,” Ken Auletta recalls being told at the time by Murdoch’s lawyer, Howard Squadron, “If you leave, Rupert will replace you like he replaces furniture.”
The writers that remained after the carnage were given two-year contracts, and everything changed after that. Probably for the better if you were a stockholder. Most definitely for the worse if you were a reader. Regardless, it was and is still a mighty, mighty read.