New York began life in 1963 as the Sunday-magazine supplement of the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. Edited first by Sheldon Zalaznick and then by Clay Felker, the magazine showcased the work of several talented Tribune contributors, including Tom Wolfe, Barbara Goldsmith, and Jimmy Breslin. Soon after the Tribune went out of business in 1966–67, Felker and his partner, Milton Glaser, purchased the rights with money loaned to them by C. Gerald Goldsmith (Barbara Goldsmith's husband at the time), and reincarnated the magazine as a stand-alone glossy. Joining them was managing editor Jack Nessel, Felker's number-two at the Herald Tribune. New York's first issue was dated April 8, 1968. Among the by-lines were many familiar names from the magazine's earlier incarnation, including Breslin, Wolfe (who wrote "You and Your Big Mouth: How the Honks and Wonks Reveal the Phonetic Truth about Status" in the inaugural issue), and George Goodman, a financial writer who wrote as "Adam Smith".
Within a year, Felker had assembled a team of contributors who would come to define the magazine's voice. Breslin became a regular, as did Gloria Steinem, who wrote the city-politics column, and Gail Sheehy. (Sheehy would eventually marry Felker, in 1984.) Harold Clurman was hired as the theater critic. Judith Crist wrote movie reviews. Alan Rich covered the classical-music scene. Barbara Goldsmith was a Founding Editor of New York magazine and the author of the widely imitated series, "The Creative Environment", in which she interviewed such subjects as Marcel Breuer, I. M. Pei, George Balanchine, and Pablo Picasso about their creative process. Gael Greene, writing under the rubric "The Insatiable Critic", reviewed restaurants, cultivating a baroque writing style that leaned heavily on sexual metaphor. Woody Allen contributed a few stories for the magazine in its early years. The magazine's regional focus and innovative illustrations inspired numerous imitators across the country. The office for the magazine was on the top floor of the old Tammany Hall clubhouse at 207 East 32nd Street, which Glaser owned.
Wolfe, a regular contributor to the magazine, wrote a story in 1970 that captured the spirit of the magazine (if not the age): "Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's". The article described a benefit party for the Black Panthers, held in Leonard Bernstein's apartment, in a collision of high culture and low that paralleled New York magazine's ethos. In 1972, New York, after a lot of convincing by Gloria Steinem, also launched Ms. magazine, which began as a special issue.
New West, a sister magazine on New York's model that covered California life, was also published for a few years in the 1970s.
As the 1970s progressed, Felker continued to broaden the magazine's editorial vision beyond Manhattan, covering Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal closely. In 1976, journalist Nik Cohn contributed a story called "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," about a young man in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood who, once a week, went to a local disco called Odyssey 2001; the story was a sensation and served as the basis for the film Saturday Night Fever. Twenty years later, Cohn admitted that he'd done no more than drive by Odyssey's door, and that he'd made the rest up. It was a recurring problem of what Wolfe, in 1972, had labeled "The New Journalism."
In 1976, the Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch bought the magazine in a hostile takeover, forcing Felker and Glaser out. A succession of editors followed, including Joe Armstrong and John Berendt.
In 1980, Murdoch hired Edward Kosner, who had worked at Newsweek. Murdoch also bought Cue, a listings magazine founded by Mort Glankoff that had covered the city since 1932, and folded it into New York, simultaneously creating a useful going-out guide and eliminating a competitor. Kosner's magazine tended toward a mix of newsmagazine-style stories, trend pieces, and pure "service" features—long articles on shopping and other consumer subjects—as well as close coverage of the glitzy 1980s New York City scene epitomized by financiers Donald Trump and Saul Steinberg. The magazine was profitable for most of the 1980s. The term "the Brat Pack" was coined for a 1985 story in the magazine.
Murdoch got out of the magazine business in 1991 by selling his holdings to K-III Communications, a partnership controlled by financier Henry Kravis.
In 1993, budget pressure from K-III frustrated Kosner, and he left for Esquire magazine. After several months' search, during which the magazine was run by managing editor Peter Herbst, K-III hired Kurt Andersen, the co-creator of Spy, a humor monthly of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Andersen quickly replaced several staff members, bringing in many emerging and established writers (including Jim Cramer, Walter Kirn, Michael Tomasky, and Jacob Weisberg) and editors (including Michael Hirschorn, Kim France,
Dany Levy, and Maer Roshan), and generally making the magazine faster-paced, younger in outlook, and more knowing in tone.
In August 1996, Bill Reilly fired Andersen from his editorship, citing the publication's financial results. According to Andersen, he was fired for refusing to kill a story about a rivalry between investment bankers Felix Rohatyn and Steven Rattner that had upset Henry Kravis, a member of the firm's ownership group. His replacement was Caroline Miller, who came from Seventeen, another K-III title.
In 2002 and 2003, Michael Wolff, the media critic hired by Miller in 1998, won two National Magazine Awards for his column. At the end of 2003, New York was sold again, to financier Bruce Wasserstein, for $55 million.
Wasserstein replaced Miller with Adam Moss, known for editing the short-lived New York weekly of the late 1980s 7 Days and The New York Times Magazine.
In late 2004 the magazine was relaunched, most notably with two new sections: "The Strategist", devoted mostly to utility, and "The Culture Pages", covering the city's arts scene. Moss also rehired Kurt Andersen as a columnist. In early 2006, the company began an aggressive digital expansion with the relaunch of the magazine's website, previously nymetro.com, as nymag.com.
Since 2004, the magazine has won twenty four National Magazine Awards, more than any other magazine over this time period, including Magazine of the Year in 2013, General Excellence in Print four times, and General Excellence Online three times. During this same period it has been a finalist an additional 48 times in categories that included Profile Writing, Reviews and Criticism, Commentary, Public Service, Magazine Section, Leisure Interests, Personal Service, Single-Topic Issue, Photography, Photojournalism, Photo Portfolio, and Design. In 2007, when the magazine for the first time dominated the awards, much of the coverage the next day noted that The New Yorker took home no awards that night, despite receiving nine nominations, and also noted that New York was the first magazine to win for both its print and Internet editions in the same year.
The February 25, 2008 issue featured a series of nude photographs of Lindsay Lohan. Shot by Bert Stern, the series replicated several poses from Stern's widely reproduced final photos of Marilyn Monroe, shot shortly before the actress's fatal drug overdose. That week, the magazine's website received over 60 million hits and with traffic 2000 percent higher than usual.
The magazine is especially known for its food writing (its restaurant critic Adam Platt won a James Beard Award in 2009, and its Underground Gourmet critics Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld have won two National Magazine Awards); and also for its political coverage, especially John Heilemann's reporting on the 2008 presidential election, which led to his (and Mark Halperin's) best-selling book Game Change, and for coverage of the first two years of the Obama administration; The New Republic praised its "hugely impressive political coverage" during this period.
The magazine's current stable of writers includes national political columnist and correspondent John Heilemann, Steve Fishman, Jesse Green, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Joe Hagan,
Mark Jacobson, Jennifer Senior, Gabriel Sherman, Christopher Smith, and Jonathan Van Meter. Its culture critics include David Edelstein (movies), Matt Zoller Seitz(TV), Jerry Saltz (art), Justin Davidson (classical music and architecture), and Kathryn Schulz (books), who won the National Book Critics Circle's Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing in 2012.
New York has been widely recognized for its design during this period, with back-to-back design wins at the National Magazine Awards and Magazine of the Year wins from the Society of Publication Designers (SPD) in 2006 and 2007. The 2008 Eliot Spitzer "Brain" cover was named Cover of the Year by the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and Advertising Age and 2009's "Bernie Madoff, Monster" was named Best News & Business Cover by ASME. New York won back-to-back ASME Cover of the Year awards in 2012 and 2013, for "Is She Just Too Old for This?" and "The City and the Storm" respectively. Design director Chris Dixon and photography director Jody Quon were named "Design Team of the Year" by Adweek in 2008.
In 2009, after Bruce Wasserstein's death, the magazine's ownership passed to his family. Many obituaries noted Wasserstein's revival of the magazine. "While previous owners had required constant features in the magazine about the best place to get a croissant or a beret," wrote David Carr of The New York Times, "it was clear that Wasserstein wanted a publication that was the best place to learn about the complicated apparatus that is modern New York. In enabling as much, Mr. Wasserstein recaptured the original intent of the magazine's founder, Clay Felker."
On March 1, 2011, it was announced that Frank Rich would leave The New York Times to become an essayist and editor-at-large for New York. Rich began his relationship with the magazine starting in June 2011.
New York's "Encyclopedia of 9/11", published on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, was widely praised, with Gizmodo calling it "heartbreaking, locked in the past, and entirely current"; the issue won a National Magazine Award for Single-Topic Issue.
New York's offices in lower Manhattan were without electricity in the week following Hurricane Sandy, so the editorial staff published an issue from the midtown office of Wasserstein & Company, the firm that owns New York Media. The issue's cover, shot by photographer Iwan Baan from a helicopter and showing Manhattan half in darkness, almost immediately became an iconic image of the storm, and was named the magazine cover of the year by Time. The photograph on the cover was published as a poster by the Museum of Modern Art, with proceeds benefiting Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
In 2013, New York magazine took the top honor at the National Magazine Awards again receiving magazine of the year for its print and digital coverage.
In December 2013, the magazine announced plans to move to a biweekly format in March 2014, reducing from 42 annual issues to 29.