Los Angeles Gets on the Cover
By John Gabree
(Los Angeles; Jun 30, 1988) Is it just our imagination, or have the East Coast-based national magazines suddenly discovered the West Coast?
From the sobering "L.A. Comes of Age" section in the January issue of Atlantic Monthly to Spy's eagerly awaited assault on Los Angeles in its coming September issue, Southern California seems to be on the cover of everything from serious monthlies to newsweeklies and fashion journals.
Whether it's by design is a matter of dispute. To some professional magazine watchers, the interest in things Californian is just a natural result of the region's rise as a cultural and financial center. They also point to Southern California's importance as a market for advertisers and as a circulation base for the magazines themselves.
`Still Filled With Misconceptions'
While there may not be more reporting on Southern California, says Noreen O'Leary, who covers the print media for Adweek, it does appear to be more serious. "There is," she notes, "an almost grudging respect for California theater and the arts by East Coast publications." Patrick Reilly, her counterpart at Ad Age, reports he hears "more and more from publishers and advertisers who are making more frequent trips to Los Angeles and the Pacific. In the same way that New York is the port of entry for European companies, Los Angeles is attracting more money and more business from Japan and other Asian countries."
But Reilly doesn't perceive a great wave of coverage about the West, and "what there is is still filled with misconceptions-crowded freeways, nobody reads, you all live on the beach." The perception that Los Angeles is facing many of the same problems as Eastern cities, however, is affecting the way the region is covered, he says.
To Dan Capell, whose Capell's Circulation Report digests the raw data distributed by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, if there is a growing focus on California, it has nothing to do with circulation. "I have not seen any significant growth in the West Coast circulation of the consumer magazines," he concludes.
A surfeit of familiar faces, of course, is one reason California gets attention.
As a monthly journal reporting on the film business, Premiere naturally pays a lot of attention to what's happening in Hollywood. But editor Susan Lyne says general-interest magazines are writing more about Tinsel Town as well.
"There is a growing recognition that movie making is interesting to cover as an industry," she says. "People are finding there is more to discuss than just the lives of the stars."
Gay Bryant, editor of Murdoch's IN Fashion and an experienced hand at magazine start-ups, attributes the current interest in Southern California to the region's fashion and art scenes. "Los Angeles is the right place for editors to look for the most exciting young fashions," she says, expressing surprise that there isn't more coverage of what's happening here.
Harper's Bazaar editor Anthony Mazzola, on the other hand, sees no trend toward more reporting on California people and events. His magazine, he notes, has always tried to address issues of interest to the magazine's large West Coast readership.
Curt Geiger of Architectural Digest, a Los Angeles-based Knapp Communications Corp. publication, points to its annual issues on country houses and international design as evidence of the magazine's determination not to be parochial.
However, competing HG has shown an aggressive interest in the Los Angeles area. In the spring, when she introduced the stylish makeover of House & Garden, editor Anna Wintour promised HG would pay "special attention" to Southern California. Wintour declined this week to comment on the magazine's coverage since the changeover, but as Geiger points out, HG has appeared to be more interested in L.A.-based celebrities than in Southern California design.
Esquire's Lee Eisenberg sees no trend toward more coverage of California, either at his magazine or in the industry as a whole. The monthly's newsstand sales are up 20% since January, but the editor is reluctant to attribute the gain to any one factor. He notes, however, that the periodical is benefiting from its new berth at the Hearst Corporation and a new national distributor.
When Esquire does feature Southern Californians-such as actor/comedian Robin Williams, Laker coach Pat Riley and painter Ed Ruscha-they are nationally known figures who happen to be from California, he says. There is no attempt, "deliberate or unconscious," to court Southland readers.
Arthur Cooper at GQ takes a contrary view. "Hollywood," he says, "is the one place in the United States everyone is interested in."
But California is more than a source of hot celebrity covers, he notes. The magazine's California readership is "substantial," the West Coast ("Seattle as well as L.A.") is an important source of new fashions, and the layouts are often inspired by movies, especially classics like "The Maltese Falcon."
Cooper notes that the March, 1988, issue of GQ, which focused on California life style, restaurants and personalities, was the third annual California issue. Beginning in September, the magazine will add a monthly page devoted to happenings on "The Coast" to its "Off the Cuff" section.
Premiere, another recent success story, has far exceeded the projections of joint owners Murdoch Magazines and Hachette Publications. Although the magazine's circulation patterns closely match the distribution patterns of movies, it is also performing strongly in smaller cities where it is the only source of industry news. Still less than a year old, it has grown "well beyond" its advertising rate base guarantee of 250,000.
Editor Lyne says Premiere is located in Manhattan because, "although L.A. is the film capital, New York is the magazine capital." After "weighing the issue carefully," the publisher decided that "the concentration of top editorial, writing, art direction, business and advertising talent" made location in New York the sensible choice.
"We also felt the distance gave us more perspective," Lynn adds. Citing a long feature the magazine ran on the "Twilight Zone" trial here that drew a heavy mail response from throughout the country, she contends that Los Angeles writers and editors often think a story is old news before it has been covered nationally. Premiere's L.A. bureau of two editors and three staff writers, she points out, is larger than that of most New York-based periodicals.
Spy, the irreverent New York satirical monthly, is another new periodical that has grown more rapidly than predicted. And Los Angeles readers (about 15% of its 80,000 circulation is distributed in California) are now waiting for Spy to train its guns on Hollywood.
The September issue "will have all sorts of things" about L.A., promises editor Kurt Anderson, including speculations about the Reagans' post-presidential life hereabouts, an expose of our supposed hysteria for art collecting and a collection of apologies made by stars who have lived the high life in Malibu.
"From the beginning," Anderson says, "we thought if we had much circulation outside of New York it would be in L.A. We've always tried to finesse the issue of being a New York magazine. We've never been completely parochial nor avowedly national. Since we've become profitable we can send a reporter to Washington or Dallas or wherever, but we know we'll always be a New York-centered magazine."
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