Recently, American Business Media named the winners of the 2008 Jesse H. Neal Awards while the American Society of Magazine Editors announced the finalists for its annual National Magazine Awards. The two awards programs single out the best of b-to-b and consumer magazine editorial.

So how come “the best” always seems to be the same handful of large publishers? IDG and ALM dominated the field at the 54th annual Neal Awards, with IDG’s CSO winning the Grand Neal for an article titled “Red Gold Rush.” Counting its CXO unit, IDG was nominated for 15 awards and won seven. ALM was nominated for 12 Neals and won five. Other finalists included perennial Neal mainstays Advanstar Communications (six nods, down from a whopping 13 last year), McGraw-Hill and of course, Crain Communications. (Two of the usual Neal winners—Ziff’s Baseline and Advanstar’s Medical Economics—weren’t on the list of finalists this year.)

None of this is really new. During the 2005 Neal Awards, an attendee told Folio:, “I’m not saying they’re not deserving but it’s getting to be like the Academy Awards. It would be nice to see some new blood up there.”

New York As Center of the Universe

On the consumer side, ASME is acting as though New York City really is the center of the media universe. Last month, Folio: senior editor Dylan Stableford wrote a blog post asking whether the National Magazine Awards have become too New York-centric. Of the 128 Ellies finalists, 78 are based in New York City (with The New Yorker and New York combining for 21 nominations alone). “It’s always been a criticism of the media at-large,” Stableford wrote. “It locks its viewfinder on New York—and to a lesser extent, L.A.—and nothing else. And the media that covers media—particularly the journalists that cover the magazine and advertising industries—are especially prone to overstating the importance of New York, or, perhaps more accurately, not expanding the scope beyond Manhattan enough.”

One respondent to Stableford’s post wrote, “I couldn’t agree more that ASME is a NYC club of the first water. In the past the media world really WAS centered in NYC. For some intervening years, there has been some terrific work and inspiring innovation elsewhere—even in Gasp!, the Midwest and Northwest. But now we’re seeing a retrenching of media in NYC because it’s the marquee brands that are monopolizing the attention economy.”

Meanwhile, MarketWatch’s Jon Friedman also took a swipe at the National Magazine Awards (in a March 21st column titled, “Why the National Magazine Awards Are a Crock”). “Two words neatly sum up the selection of the nominees and winners: popularity contest,” wrote Friedman. “I’m not disparaging the quality of the nominees. The publishing world would, however, be much better served if these coveted Ellies, as the awards are known, were determined by something more relevant, such as a magazine’s primary subject.”

Token Awards?

Even the smaller titles that are recognized by the Neals and National Magazine Awards tend to be the same old faces. The Neals should be given credit for giving the occasional nod to smaller publishers, including nominations for Phoenix Media Network and Marketing & Technology Group (which won this year for Best Single Issue with its magazine Plate). However, both of these smaller publishers have been recognized in the past by the Neals.

Smaller publishers are recognized by the Ellies typically in the under 100,000 circulation category (naturally), but not that often in other categories. In 2006, Virginia Quarterly Review was a surprise finalist and winner of two National Magazine Awards: general excellence among publications with circulations under 100,000 and fiction. After two more nominations in 2007, Virginia Quarterly Review has been named a finalist again for the 2008 awards. Denver city magazine 5280 (which has made a committed push to attract national editorial talent) is nominated as a finalist in the Public Interest category and two Emmis titles, Atlanta and Los Angeles, are also nominated while Emmis’ Texas Monthly saw its nearly decade-long streak of National Magazine Award nominations end this year.