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AN APPRECIATION

Farewell to Clay Felker's brand of N.Y. cool

July 04, 2008|Hank Stuever | Washington Post

Now Clay Felker is a journalism school, or at least a name and an inspiration for part of a journalism school -- the Felker Magazine Center at UC Berkeley. He's a method, a way, described in the odd, passive language of course catalogs, on the school's website: "Narrative voice, point of view, extended dialogue, character development, story structure, scene construction, and personal style are some of the things that distinguish good, long-form magazine writing. What makes the J-School program so special is how we teach these building blocks of long-form magazine and newspaper feature writing and editing." (All this, at only $47,000 a year!)

Appreciate Clay Felker? It's all anyone ever did, who wanted anything to do with magazines. Was it emulation, was it envy, or was it a fantasy -- working for the perfect place, the perfect editor, at the perfect time?

"We knew who we were aiming at -- we were aiming at ourselves," Felker told TV host Rose in that same interview. "It was a group of young editors and writers and art directors in their 20s and 30s, and so we were putting out a magazine for what interested us. It sounds awfully selfish, but that really is the best way to do something."

Nowadays a focus group will tell you that's the worst way to put out a magazine and still expect people to buy it. Now it's about what the reader wants and only what the reader wants. (Shorter articles! More lists!) Felker understood that a magazine makes you feel cool. It validates you by being cool, which means you must also be cool just for reading it. Now that sort of attitude strikes many readers as condescending, or God forbid, snarky.

Now it seems like magazines try to teach you to be cool. And that's so uncool.

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