'New York' Magazine's Founding Editor Dies

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Clay Felker, the founding editor of New York magazine, has died. He was 82. His editing at New York fostered the careers of Ken Auletta and others. Auletta, who worked for him both at New York magazine and the Village Voice, remembers Felker.


Clay Felker, who created New York Magazine, died today at the age of 82. Felker fostered a stylish brand of journalism that mixed solid reporting with novelistic description, people spoke of the new journalism. He edited and published any number of first-rate magazine writers, among them Tom Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, Jimmy Breslin, Felker's wife, Gail Sheehy, Richard Reeves and Ken Auletta of The New Yorker who joins us now.

Ken Auletta, thoughts on Clay Felker as an editor and publisher, what was his contribution?

Mr. KEN AULETTA (Columnist, The New Yorker): Felker had this immense contribution in that he helped popularize what's called the new journalism. I mean, someone who said you have to tell a story. Don't tell me about the Holocaust. Tell me about Anne Frank. Don't tell me about IBM. Tell me, what is the story you want to share with readers about IBM?

He understood that news was becoming a commodity. And that it's much more so of today, you can get - all day long, you can get 24-hour news. You can go to the Internet and get all kinds of news. But when you needed was some context, some larger storytelling, the way people around a campfire tell stories, we could do the same in nonfiction, in fact-based reporting.

SIEGEL: New York Magazine, and many members of that stable of writers I mentioned earlier, came out of a old newspaper in New York, the New York Herald Tribune which have been read as the great writers' newspaper of New York City.

Mr. AULETTA: It was, and it was very much an innovation. If you remember, when the Herald Tribune folded, he took New York Magazine and got funding and started. It was the first city magazine in the United States and filled it with writers who tell stories. He was someone who knew how to woo talent. He could woo and charm the birds out of a tree and get them singing with him.

SIEGEL: Do you remember advice, editor's advice that Felker gave to you that changed the way you worked.

Mr. AULETTA: Yeah, I do. I wrote a piece in the time of the New York City fiscal crisis. The city - and with the support of the state and the support of labor union community and politicians - was hiding a deficit that amounted to about $5 billion in the end. I mean, claiming revenues they didn't have. And they were doing all these so they wouldn't have to raise taxes. Everyone was happy. And it was all fraud.

And Felker read my piece and he said, this is fine, Ken. But you need to crystallize it. You need to draw the readers' attention and let them understand where you might be going with this and why they should wade through the legalese and what is the payoff here. And he said, here's what I think. I think the headline of this piece should be, should these people go to jail?

And Milton Glaser, who is the genius art director and who created the look of New York Magazine, he sat in the office next to Felker at his elbow and drew a picture of a jail cell. And behind bars in this jail were the mayor of New York, the governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, some of the most prominent bankers and labor leaders. And when I saw that, in that room that moment, I said, wow. These people have taken a piece of work I did and show the reader a path to light.

SIEGEL: And, of course, to have said that these people should go to jail, that would be editorializing.

Mr. AULETTA: That would be - and he didn't, it was a question mark. It just said, these are the arguments why they should and these are the arguments why maybe they shouldn't. I remember thinking about one illuminating example of what a good editor can do.

SIEGEL: Well, Ken Auletta, thanks a lot for talking with us…

Mr. AULETTA: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: …about your former editor, the late Clay Felker. Clay Felker died today in New York City at the age of 82.

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