Recently, New York Magazine has made me want to throw things --preferably the magazine itself-- against a wall.

I first noticed it with their article on Horace Mann and Facebook. Here was a story which could be, at its very basic level, a fantastic story about questions of free speech in a school--albeit a private school--that breeds New York's future politicians. It could have been a story about a school that censors its high school paper pretty heavily and about how free speech changes or should be changing in light of the Internet. But, instead, it was a gossip story. About a high school. And it was the cover story.

A while back a friend said that she realized that NYMag was not directed to her--that it was meant for white, rich New Yorkers. If the Horace Mann story wasn't enough, they followed up with a cover story on Gossip Girls. It was an article that did not live up to its subhead: "How a wunderkind producer, seven tabloid-ready stars, an army of bloggers, and a nation of texting tweenagers are changing the way we watch television."

It was essentially a gushing over a T.V. show for pages. It was insipid, in first person plural, and the authors referred to 16-year-olds as "tweens." We have a word for people whose ages end in "teen." They are called teenagers. Yeesh.

From the headline (which I found snarky), all the way down to the photos on line, (it can't be fair to show the girl, who might end up remaining a very-strict religious Jew in only her underwear to be saved forever on the Internet) this article was irresponsible. It was essentially a glorified one source profile, which may still end up hurting both the child and the woman involved. Sure, it looked like there were other interviews conducted, but none of them shed any new light on the subject. None of them offered any new angles. Only Gitty's grandparents -- who agree with her-- were quoted at length. No one in the Satmar community was allowed to defend their side. Right of response, anyone? Again, New York Magazine dropped the ball. What could have been a great story about one woman who joins an incredibly strict religious sect, her daughter who leaves it and her granddaughter who is literally the subject of a tug-of-war between the two words.

Instead it was a tribute to a woman who seems to have a mean streak and a snide commentary on a part of a religion that was so broad and unbalanced that it made me offended enough to blink back tears.

The example that stood out was one that, conveniently, was the pull quote:

"'Great, huh? Some old rabbi looking at your panties with a magnifying glass?' Gitty says. 'This was so embarrassing to me. I just wouldn’t do it anymore.'

The thing is, how many readers know that that is not representative of marital laws of purity and impurity that most Orthodox women commit to? How many know that while some find the practice terrible others hold up the law in places where privacy and modesty are respected, and no men -- let alone Rabbis-- are part of the process. How many readers fully grasp that there are people who uphold the Jewish laws but are not as extreme? That there is a middle ground? I'm not sure, but I am pretty sure the article didn't emphasize that enough.

I am never fully comfortable with magazine writing that reveals the author as a character, but this quote struck me as embodying the problem:

"In different circumstances, the two of us, Deborah and me, from the same generation of New York Jews, might have had things to talk about. ... Deborah, however, was not of a mind to discuss her life story."

In addition to trying to explain the absence of quotes from an important character in the story, The quote also seems to imply that the author could identify with one side of the story, but not the other, always a dangerous proposition.

Maybe it's because I myself am Jewish. Comment to let me know what your thoughts on the story are.

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1 Response to 'New York Magazine: Skimming The Surface One Cover Story At A Time'

  1.'> July 28, 2008 at 9:33 AM


    Yeah, it's rare that you'll find newswriting that's well rounded in it's arguments nowadays.

    And as far as the Gossip Girls thing goes, I guess magazines are always in that internal struggle between writing about substantial things that deserve the literary light, and whatever the majority of the nation is paying attention to. Some writers just give in to trying to cash in on popularity.


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