{ magazines }

Spy coverSpy coversI CREATED SPY in 1986 with Graydon Carter, who was my co-editor, and Tom Phillips, our publisher. It was a pretty remarkable adventure.  We covered culture and politics and the media and the rich and powerful and unaccountable in New York and Hollywood and Washington in a way no one else was doing at the time. Happily, Spy is now online, thanks to our Google overlords. And here is a slideshow of covers from the fall of 1986, when we launched, through the spring of 1993, when I left.

According to Jack Shafer, writing in 2009 in the New York Times Book Review, Spy was one of “a handful of 20th-century American magazines…whose glory days continue to influence editors,” and “not only grabbed the zeitgeist but shaped it.” Christopher Buckley wrote, also in the NYTBR, that “Spy didn’t capture the zeitgeist — it was the zeitgeist,” the we were “deliciously vicious” and “really were that good…beloved by the people who worked for them and despised by all the right people, primus inter pares, Donald Trump.” “It’s pretty safe to say,” according to Dave Eggers, “that Spy was the most influential magazine of the 1980s. It might have remade New York’s cultural landscape; it definitely changed the whole tone of magazine journalism. It was cruel, brilliant, beautifully written and perfectly designed, and feared by all. There’s no magazine I know of that’s so continually referenced, held up as a benchmark; and whose demise is so lamented.” Here’s a younger guy, writing a splendid appreciation in 2011, who thinks it was “the funniest magazine ever.” Spy‘s design was also influential; even famous British designers say so.

Among other things, we declared and deconstructed the Irony Epidemic of which we were a part; embarrassed George H.W. Bush’s horrid chief of staff; distributed a hoax-cum-parody issue of the New York Times on the floor of the Democratic convention; established important First Amendment law (Cliffs Notes, Inc. v. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals) with our parody of Cliff’s Notes; produced bestselling books (Separated At Birth?) and prime-time NBC shows (nine pieces from which you can read about and link to here); and started breaking even financially after three years. We were willing to be lucky, as E.B. White said that all New-Yorkers-by-choice needed to be. Although Graydon and Tom were my official co-founders, Spy simply wouldn’t have flourished the way it did (or,  quite possibly, survived its first year) without our remarkable founding team of colleagues, including Stephen Doyle, Joanne Gruber, Bruce Handy, Alex Isley, George Kalogerakis, Anne Kreamer, Jamie Malanowski, Susan Morrison and Steven Schragis. Here’s a Time piece and a goofy MTV show about us. We sold the magazine in 1991, I left in early 1993, and it continued publishing until 1998.  A few years later, when Lisa Simpson informed some new friends that Spy was no more, we glowed with pleasure. In 2016 Forbes called our motto — Smart. Fun. Funny. Fearless. — the fourth best marketing tagline ever.

In 2006, on Spy‘s 20th anniversary, Miramax Books published Spy: The Funny Years, a quite beautiful coffee table book containing a history of the magazine (by George) and an anthology of some of its best pieces (edited by Graydon and me). It got stupendously generous notices — from the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the New York Observer, Print magazine, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and pretty much everhwhere else it was reviewed.

At the beginning of 1994 I became editor of the weekly magazine New York. That also involved collaboration with very talented colleagues, and likewise proved to be a character-building adventure, but of a somewhat different kind than Spy: after presiding for two-and-a-half years over increases in circulation and advertising and profits and verve I was fired, evidently because the magazine had gotten too interesting, or at least too annoying in its coverage of the then-owner’s business and social and political associates.

In 1999, exactly a year after I called the “digital revolution” a “bubble” in The New Yorker, I teamed up with Michael Hirschorn (who had worked with me at New York) and Deanna Brown to create, which was an online news service and an associated biweekly magazine employing a couple of dozen extraordinary reporters and writers covering the entertainment and media businesses. Once again: excellent colleagues, good work, excessive attention from the press, new frontiers, delightful while it lasted, etcetera. We sold Inside to Brill Media Holdings in 2001, which in turn sold it to Primedia. Primedia, alas, does not maintain an archive of Inside articles on the web.

During 2004 and 2005 I was the editorial director of four issues of Colors magazine.