The other September issue

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Stuart Elliott
It’s that time of the month again — the mad dash to the finish. I’m writing this on Aug. 30, one day until the deadline for our September issue, when it will wrap up and get shipped off to the printer. If you are holding the issue in your hands, I guess we made it.

You may have seen “The September Issue,” the excellent documentary that details how Vogue magazine’s biggest issue of the year goes from a twinkle in its editors’ eyes to the finished glossy page.

The Real Deal might not have 840 pages in its September issue like Vogue, and our editors don’t have to attend runway shows like Anna Wintour, but it’s still a big undertaking for our staff. Rather than an hour-and-a-half chronicle of the process, here is a brief recap of how the deadline works here, for readers who might be curious.

First of all, we don’t wear green visors with pencils behind our ear, or those hats with “press” cards in them, or have flasks of whiskey hidden in our desk drawers. An outburst in our mostly mild-mannered newsroom seems to consist of the pounding of a keyboard when a story isn’t up to snuff (at least, that’s what I do).

Still, there is the constant and palpable pressure of deadline. The mad rush to the finish begins as a trickle 30 days earlier, when story assignments go out. Both reporters and editors come up with ideas based on conversations we’ve had with sources, pitches we’ve received, and general background research and reading.

Some of these stories will die on the vine, if the “angle,” or focus, of the story doesn’t pan out when reporters hit the pavement, make phone calls or scour city documents, or if they get rebuffed by gatekeepers of all sorts, including that adversary of the newspaperman, the public relations, or PR, person.

Those hurdles overcome, stories arrive in the editors’ e-mail in-boxes in the middle of the month (or often later, as writers have been known to ask for extensions). Then it’s time for the editors to dive into the story.

Editing can include (more lingo ahead) tweaking the “lede,” or the beginning of the story; reworking the “nut graf,” that weirdly nicknamed paragraph that spells out the significance of the story; altering the “kicker,” the last line of the story; or retooling the story from top to bottom with requests for more reporting.

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Once we determine who is actually going to be mentioned in a story, photos and illustration assignments go out. The downturn has had an interesting side effect when it comes to assigning photos: It’s a little bit harder to get people to pose for them, especially for the cover. The rebounding market has meant more subjects eager to have their picture taken.

About a week before the end of the month, things move into high gear and remain that way until the end of deadline.

Hazards at this stage can include sources who are unreachable for last-minute questions, all the more challenging in August when everyone is away, and breaking news that requires overhauling finished stories. (Note to those of you who plan to read our piece on auctions, “Auctioning off the kitchen sink”: The cash-strapped Cipriani restaurant empire is holding an auction, too. We didn’t find out until after that page was finalized, so we are telling you here instead.)

Finally, the cover — the most intricate piece of the puzzle — is the last thing to be finished and the climax of our monthly production process. It gets wrapped up on the last day of the month by 5 p.m., and the whole issue is then zapped via the web to our printer in Pennsylvania.

The reward comes a few days later when the issue actually arrives. It’s great to see the finished product and flip through it — briefly. But by that time, I and the other editors have looked at each of the pages so many times that we can’t bear to look at them again in any detail. Plus, we’re already on to the next issue.

Still, you haven’t seen the issue at all. And there are some great stories this month that you should definitely check out.

From pieces that explore the increasing likelihood of a double dip in the residential market ahead, to a package that looks at which of the giant investment banks have fared the worst in their real estate investments over the past several years, to a survey of the biggest rivalries in New York City real estate, there’s a lot to chew on.

Enjoy the issue.


 Stuart Elliott