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Just Rewards

” I’d like to thank my producer, my crew, the cast, the studio, my wife…”
February 1, 1997

At this time of year, vivid images begin to dominate my daydreams: a glamorous couple-elegant woman in an evening gown, handsome guy in a tux-comes to the dais and begins to address an audience full of similarly beautiful people (among them yours truly-well coiffed and clad, and so deftly enhanced I’m practically a Mel Gibson look-alike). The pair exchange some light-hearted banter and quickly get down to business. “The envelope, please. The nominees are: magazine A, magazine B, … , and Technology Review.”

In synch with each publication’s name, cameras pan on the corresponding editors. When Technology Review is mentioned, I show up on your television screen pensive but detached; my face flashes a hopeful but not desperate, confident but not cocky grin to the millions of viewers in TV land. As the audience awaits the verdict, time seems suspended like the hands on Salvador Dali’s melted watches. “And the winner is: Technology Review!” Stunned and grateful, I explode with joy. My chic wife gives me a big kiss, my sartorially splendid TR colleagues exchange delirious hugs. I proceed to the stage to deliver a stirring acceptance speech.

In the days, weeks, and months after the ceremony, I am a guest on the Tonight Show, profiled on 60 Minutes, and interviewed by David Brinkley. Geraldo begs for some time, too, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Technology Review as a media phenomenon-a “hot book,” as we say in the trade-is a page-one story in the New York Times. Every reporter worth his or her salt scrutinizes each new issue for a possible wire-service scoop or a feature on the evening news about the latest and greatest in our now-sexy beat of “technology and its implications.”

My colleagues at Technology Review and our institutional parent-MIT-revel in household name recognition, good vibrations, and carte blanche from all our constituencies and would-be patrons. Our editors vie with the Henry Kissingers for lecture-circuit status, and MIT soon acquires, even surpasses, the durable mystique of our ivy-covered academic neighbor down the street. Faculty and students at the Institute, and everyone associated with it, however tenuously, attain instant celebrity status as smart, cool, and enlightened.

Decades later, as an emeritus editor in the winter of his years, I receive the journalist’s equivalent of the Irving G. Thalberg Award for lifetime achievement among film producers. At this sumptuous primetime-TV affair, I avuncularly puff on my cigar and tell amusing anecdotes about the magazine business. The nation likes me. It really, really likes me.

And not just me. Technology Review, by this time, has been repeatedly chronicled in all the best books and anointed by all the high priests of culture. We are the cat’s meow, de rigeur reading for the world’s movers and shakers. And eager subscribers and advertisers, trying to tap some of the magic, are breaking down the door.

This series of escalating, obviously out-of-control fantasies is triggered by the prospect of a National Magazine Award-the Oscar of the magazine business-applications for which are due right about now. The awards ceremony itself takes place in April. But even though it’s held at New York’s posh Waldorf-Astoria, I can’t be sure if the actual event resembles the celebrated Hollywood pageant because I’ve never attended. Though Technology Review has twice been nominated, it hasn’t yet been so honored on my watch. Clearly an oversight, don’t you think? And in those two earlier shots at immortality (sharing that finalists’ circle with only four or five among all the nation’s magazines), it didn’t win. Thus TR has yet to experience the award’s aftermath (with or without my fanciful projections).

But I grew up in Brooklyn when the Dodgers, the renowned Boys of Summer, were holding sway. They, too, had been “nominated” a few times (with a National League Pennant) but had not yet won a World Series. (I have a baseball-oriented fantasy, too, for TR’s ultimate recognition and glory. Briefly, we are the 1950s Yankees, who won five World Series in a row. I, of course, am manager Casey Stengel.) The Dodgers eventually did win the top prize, and after dem bums moved to Los Angeles they went on to win it five more times. Yet while they were perennially failing to bring the greatest of baseball honors back to Brooklyn, the fans were aghast and heartbroken but ever hopeful, repeating the refrain “Wait till next year.”

Those are essentially our sentiments at Technology Review as well. Despite our studio/stadium full of star performers-the colleagues with whom I’m privileged to work are, I believe, the Meryl Streeps and Jackie Robinsons of the business; and we like to think we regularly produce the equivalents of Sophie’s Choice and crowd-thrilling plays-the big prize of our field, that ultimate recognition by our peers and then the world, still lies before us. So each year we choose what we expect will rank well among other magazines’ finest efforts, and then hope for the best.

And though you might see it first when the American Society of Magazine Editors-the rough equivalent of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-advertises its slate of magazine “academy award” winners in newspapers next April, I hope to tell you shortly thereafter that this is our year. Of course, I don’t really expect the earth to reverse its spin when that happens, but such an honor might at least confirm two things: that the coverage of science-and technology-related affairs is of critical importance; and that reading about it, in our pages and elsewhere, is accepted and enjoyed by not only the cognoscenti but the general public.

But whether we receive a National Magazine Award this year or some other year or maybe never ever, I promise that we will always endeavor to present award-worthy material to our readers in every article of every issue. Our main reward is that you continue to like and find useful, year in and year out, what you see in these pages. That’s “winner” enough.

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