William Langewiesche, an award-winning correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, asked for unfettered, round-the-clock access to the recovery efforts at the World Trade Center. Familiar with his journalism efforts covering the ValuJet crash in Florida and U.S. military operations in the Balkans, New York City officials granted him full access to meetings, removal efforts, and the men and women who went to work each day at "the pile." "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center," the first installment of his three-part series, was published this summer and was immediately optioned for publication in book form later this year by North Point Press.
"American Ground" was the longest piece of original reporting ever published by The Atlantic Monthly, close to 30 pages of stunning prose, balanced by full-page, full-color photographs by Joel Meyerowitz. Langewiesche writes clearly and directly, without affect. He is in the story as a precise observer of detail and sentiment, as a simple witness. The tragedy of the scenes he describes is unforgettable. The second installment in The Atlantic Monthly, "The Rush to Recover," will be published next week.
Vanity Fair promotes "9/11--One Year Later" in their September masthead. The piece by Gail Sheehy is good, but in the same issue we're reading about John Belushi at the Playboy mansion and being told about Halle Berry's homage to Ursula Andress' bikini in the new James Bond film. It's a little off-putting.
Likewise, Esquire gives us a macho masthead screamer, "Remember September: A Story That Will Make You Angry All Over Again." Actually, the story has none of the focus of Langewiesche's epic. The photos are affecting, but two pages later we're looking at poseur portraits and "deep" interviews with Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes. Even they were probably embarrassed by the juxtaposition.
Covering the Sept. 11 anniversary is not proving to be an easy task for print journalists. The industry is experiencing double-digit percentage declines in pages of advertising, prompting New York Times reporter David Carr to note that the racks are full of travel and technology magazines that look more like brochures. He wrote recently that the September Vogue will be huge, however, coming in at four pounds, 750 pages. Several genre magazines--Details, Men's Health and Fitness--will have their biggest September issues ever. You can never look too good, I guess.
In reviewing the latest Springsteen album, one astute reviewer suggested that the best way to listen to it was by yourself in some quiet place. Not bad advice for reading a few magazines next month, either. My plan? Pick up The New York Times, the next The Atlantic Monthly and the Sept. 11 issue of The New Yorker, and turn off everything else.