R.I.P., Clay Felker

Felker, 82, the founder of New York magazine, was one of the great magazine editors.

Kurt Anderson has an appreciation:

The main reason that most city magazines suck, and have always sucked, is that their founders misapprehended Clay Felker’s biggest Big Idea. The brilliant germ of this magazine, when Felker launched it in 1968, wasn’t the duh geographical idea, covering a particular set of Zip Codes stylishly and colorfully on glossy paper. Rather, New York’s central subject has always been our local pageant of ambition, the yearning and hustling and jostling for power and—even more—status. The magazine was conceived as a kind of gleeful, fervid, useful weekly chronicle of social and cultural anthropology, descriptive (such as Tom Wolfe’s premiere-issue taxonomy of local accents, “Honks” versus “Wonks”) but also prescriptive (the grooviest merchandise and experience and art to ogle or buy).

Smart, knowing, slightly acid depictions of New York swells were not an entirely new periodical-journalism form. Around 1850, John Jacob Astor’s grandson published a magazine series on his fellow members of “The Upper Ten Thousand,” and The New Yorker in the twenties and thirties was up to something similar—but no one had ever done it quite so brazenly or consistently as Felker.

When I learned that his father ran The Sporting News, and that young Clay’s first magazine jobs were covering sports for Life and working with the team that created Sports Illustrated, I had an aha moment: His founding inspiration was to cover the scrum and spectacle of urban life as if it were sport of the most interesting possible kind, the city (or anyway the lower two-thirds of Manhattan) as postmodern gladiatorial coliseum, complete with colorful play-by-play and the latest stats and rankings.

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