By Isabella Vaccaro
Feb 27, 2019 | Posted in School of Communication
Marvin Shanken, B.B.A. '65, known to many as the founder of M. Shanken Communications and a round-up of prominent niche magazines like Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado, struggled and starved just like most journalists starting out. Shanken didn’t even know if he really wanted to be a journalist at first. But, he knew one thing – he loved wine.
This month, the Association of Magazine Media named Shanken the recipient of the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the highest honors in the magazine media industry. Jonathan Newhouse, chairman and chief executive at Condé Nast International, presented Shanken with this prestigious award on February 5 in downtown New York City.
But before Shanken stepped foot onto the harsh terrain of New York City journalism, he learned and flourished among the emerald palms at the University of Miami. Shanken said his undergraduate years at UM were “the best four years of my [his] life.”
“I really didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do until after I did it,” Shanken said. “But, when I was in high school, somebody said to me that the three most important careers you can have is either being a judge, a doctor, or a journalist. They all require a great deal of public trust, and you have to have a lot of integrity.”
Shanken’s career began when he published Impact – a once small wine and spirits newsletter, which, today, serves as the most trusted source of data and trends in the liquor industry. From the newsletter came a magazine – Wine Spectator – that would capture wine lovers, connoisseurs, and sommeliers with its annual wine reviews and lifestyle insights.
“I fell in love with wine, and I wanted to devote my life to it,” said Shanken. “I’ve been doing it 45 years, and over time it just all came together. I believed over time, the interest in wine or the enjoyment of wine, especially around meal time, would only grow.”
Today, Shanken looks back at the dawn of his career with an air of clarity that can only be earned through years of authentic journalistic work. Shanken added, “I really didn’t think about it other than I wanted to be a wine writer. I was really naïve.”
One thing, however, has not changed. Whether he’s talking with Alex Rodriguez for a Cigar Aficionado feature or publishing Wine Spectator’s eagerly-anticipated annual Top 100 List, Shanken, himself, is always captivated by the content he shares with the world. And his staff is, too. Each editor, reporter, and artist involved in the making of one of Shanken’s publications is passionate about his or her corner of that magazine – it is an environment Shanken has created since day one.
“He is the embodiment of the old adage, ‘Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” Steve Lacy, Meredith Corporation Executive Chairman and MPA Chairman, said of Shanken in a press release from the Association of Magazine Media.
Shanken admitted he isn’t usually comfortable accepting awards for his publications. However, this honor was a little different than the rest.
“I never expected I would ever get such an honor because I think it’s basically reserved for people who run major corporations in the publishing media world, and I have a niche publication,” Shanken admitted. “But, when the publishing world, the organization, reached out, I was so proud, and they said the board voted unanimously. I decided that this was something I had to accept.”
Yes, Shanken’s award has lauded Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, and his other magazines as some of the most seminal niche publications in the industry, but Shanken’s devotion to charity is, undoubtedly, the company’s most prized accolade.
“Through the years we’ve raised over 50 million dollars for charity,” said Shanken, who listed prostate cancer and autism as two of many important causes. “I don’t think many publishing companies have it as a priority, but we take great pride in doing whatever we can to help others less fortunate.”
Shanken’s charity even extends to his beloved orange and green alma mater. According to Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, “Marvin has been a great friend to the school for many years. His involvement began with scholarship support (the Wine Spectator Scholarship Award) and grew with his support of the New York Experience, where he hosts about ten students every year for an all-expenses paid two-day immersion in his publishing business in New York City.”
It is hard to pass a rack of magazines in the check-out line without spotting the stack of massive Wine Spectator issues, each cover looming a few inches above the other magazines. Maybe it’s Shanken’s true love for these age-old luxuries or the integrity with which he delivers his journalism, but there is no getting around it – Wine Spectator, as well as Shanken’s other magazines, literally stand out among the rest.