Longtime New York columnist Michael Wolff described it this way in his 35th anniversary ode to the magazine:
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.
Clay, on the contrary, created a magazine that offered a precise map for becoming what the magazine was about...he created the "city" magazine--and after New York, hundreds would pop up in locales across the country. But they largely missed the point. Felker's magazine wasn't so much a guide to the city as it was a guide to being cleverer, hipper, more in-the-know (in time, all magazines would seek to fulfill this mission).
It's a mission that present New York editor Adam Moss still keeps to.
"New York gives you an opportunity to talk about pretty much anything, all funneled through a single topic that its readers are passionate about, which is New York," he told Crain's NY last year after winning an impressive five National Magazine Awards. "That's the formula Clay Felker invented, and it's a great one." After winning the General Excellence award in 2006, Moss made a point of crediting Felker for the magazine's success.
I can't help but notice that Felker founded New York in 1968 — a year that keeps popping during this historic election as a watershed on so many fronts. That seems appropriate somehow, given the reach and influence of the magazine, in a city of such reach and influence.For Andersen that reach and influence comes back to Felker, and what he put in motion 40 years ago:
Clay Felker's own rock stardom as a media pioneer, however, endures. It doesn't matter that he did his great, seminal work way back when. So did Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. During the seventies and eighties, the Times (and much of the rest of mainstream media) thoroughly Felkerized itself. Practically every species of insidery, smart-ass Web journalism carries bits of his DNA. He permanently transformed his white-hot corner of the world. And on these very pages, fresh chapters of his novel about the city are still being published every week.
That's a pretty fitting tribute.
Clay Felker, New York Founding Editor, Passes Away [FishbowlNY]
Clay Felker Remembered [Radar]
New York Magazine Founder Felker Dies at 82 [WaPo]
Mimi Sheraton: Remembering The Years With Felker [NYT City Room]
Clay Felker, R.I.P. [The Plank] (with classic covers and links to vintage stories)
Slightly Churlish Village Voice Obit:
R.I.P. Clay Felker 1925 - 2008 [VV]
Photo courtesy of nymag.com