Media industry connects during lean times

With the avalanche of lost jobs in media, publishing and fashion and the remaining players subsisting on newly tightened budgets, Gotham’s glitterati are relying on power lunches — and social networking sites — to stay in the game during these tight times.

In a town where you are where you eat, serious players aren’t willing to brown bag it during the recession because, says film and legit producer John Hart, “Now more than ever, people want to be around people they feel comfortable with.” Hart favors Michael’s for friendly lunches, saying, “It’s in an environment that feels comfortable and makes people feel good.”

While insiders say it’s easier to book a noontime reservation at Michael’s and the Four Seasons than it was a year ago, management at the eateries acknowledge they’re weathering the storm thanks largely to their loyal customers. The Four Seasons hasn’t lost boldfaced names like Barbara Walters, Liz Smith, Martha Stewart and Ronald Perelman. On a recent Wednesday at Michael’s, the dining room was filled to capacity with regulars Tom Brokaw, Evelyn Lauder, Pat Mitchell, Donnie Deutsch and Mika Brzezinski. “A true sign of the apocalypse will be when this place is empty,” one diner observes.

And people are still drinking — but spending less on their libations. Michael’s wine director Seth Liebman notes, “People may order bottles that are a touch less expensive — $120 to $140 is the sweet spot right now — or might not go for that second bottle.” But, he notes, “Glass sales have increased. People want a little more comfort.”

Media mavens also are embracing Facebook as a way of staying connected — particularly when they’re no longer heading to the office.

For magazine editor-turned-Internet entrepreneur Bonnie Fuller, the site offers a way of “building your brand.” Last year, Fuller formed her own media company and announced plans for a yet-to-be-launched website targeted to women. In the interim, she’s been averaging half a dozen posts a month for the Huffington Post on everything from Michelle Obama’s wardrobe to Sarah Palin’s family woes, which she also puts on her Facebook page and supports with a flurry of daily tweets on Twitter for her 2,500 “followers.”

“Any time you blog or tweet giving a clear point of view, you have an opportunity to connect and resonate with an audience,” writes Fuller via email. “It takes Facebook to the next, more instantaneous level. The Twitter audience is highly news-attuned, which makes it really fun to be involved with if you’re in the news business.”

But don’t look for tweets from Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko, who still prefers making contacts over lunch and dinner. “There are fewer events to go to today, so human interaction is actually harder to come by than it was just six months ago,” he notes.

Zinczenko says, however, that the advent of the Twitter age has managed to mute some cocktail party conversations. “You go to a party and a lot of the people you might otherwise talk to have their heads down over their BlackBerrys. The effect is like being in a crowded room with headphones on — are you really here or not?

“What really matters in the end is face-to-face communication. Too many of us are forgetting that.”

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