Big new story hit GQ's website today: "The Insane True Story of the Zanesville Zoo Escape." Big new story hit Esquire's website today: "The Most Dramatic Story of the Year: Inside the Massacre at the Zanesville Zoo." HEY, WAIT A SECOND. Did someone fuck up here?
The Zanesville zoo massacre is one of those big magazine stories. It's the kind of piece that Esquire and GQ see as one of their showcase stories, and that might even lead to some very important awards down the road. It's also the kind of story that you'd like to run as an exclusive feature. And yet somehow, both magazines scheduled Zanesville for their March issues.
Chris Jones wrote the Esquire piece. We emailed to ask him how the journalistic pileup happened. He told us that shortly after arriving in Zanesville to start his reporting, he found out that GQ's Chris Heath was also in town—staying in the same hotel, often interviewing the same people at different times. Jones says that "lots of sleepless mental gymnastics went down" as he plotted how to beat his rival.
In time, of course, they both wrote their cover stories. Esquire decided to promote Jones' work to an unusual degree, even producing dramatic video trailers for it. The trailer was a nice touch, but it's also what spurred GQ to go ahead and publish their story online this morning. The teasing trailer, in effect, helped scoop Jones' story. (He was happy to point this out himself.) Esquire, in response, posted its version shortly afterwards. From Jones' email:
Truthfully, I'm disappointed we didn't get to do the rest of the stuff we were planning to do. I think it could have been a cool experiment in magazine promotion. These stories don't come along very often, and you'd like to make the most of them. But it's also a competitive business, and today we have a pretty rare expression of that competition: two rival magazines putting up stories about the same event on the same day.
And I'll answer the obvious question: No, I haven't read the GQ story yet. I think you're well-versed enough in my insecurities and ugliness, Hamilton. [Ed.: such as] I've got the shakes pretty good right now.
[Update: GQ senior editor Devin Gordon tells us, "For what it's worth, we DID read the Esquire story, and it confirmed our suspicion that what happened in Zanesville is more than remarkable enough for two great - and completely different — magazine articles about it." ]
So: Two big magazines, one idea, two stories, same day. It almost sounds like a tagline for a trailer that no one will ever make.
It's a rare instance of a modern media clusterfuck; the consequence that comes with multiple Serious Magazines jumping on The Biggest Story Ever at the same time. But it's also just a hilarious reminder that there is no need to subscribe to both Esquire and GQ. Next time somebody just say "uncle," guys.