Rolling Stone, Outside, Preservation and DoubleTake won the 1998 National Magazine Awards for general excellence yesterday in New York. Rolling Stone -- winner in the category of magazines with a circulation of over 1 million -- also picked up an award for reporting and praise from the judges, who said it "combined powerful investigative journalism, superb interviews and authoritative entertainment reportage -- all in a brilliantly designed package."

Preservation, the only Washington-based magazine to win an award this year, is the bimonthly publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was honored as the best magazine with a circulation between 100,000 and 400,000. "Preservation's jumping off point is architecture, but it's also about politics, art, history, places and people," said the judges. "Beautiful and full of surprises, it makes us care about what we have, what we've lost, and what we should fight to save."

The National Magazine Awards, presented since 1966 by the American Society of Magazine Editors, are frequently touted as the Oscars of the business, usually by the mags that win them. This year, lifetime achievement awards went to an odd pairing -- Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Ms. founder Gloria Steinem -- as well as Byron Dobell, the Esquire editor who encouraged writers Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese to experiment with novelistic forms of "new journalism" in the 1960s.

The New Yorker, the most honored magazine in the contest's history with 21 previous National Magazine Awards, picked up two more this year -- for best fiction (short stories by Lorrie Moore, Steven Millhauser and Annie Proulx) and for the best essay, Cynthia Ozick's "Who Owns Anne Frank?"

Entertainment Weekly also won two awards -- one for design and one in the special-interest category, in this case referring to the magazine's special interest in "Seinfeld," which included an exhaustive retrospective of each 148 of the sitcom's episodes. "If ever there was proof that Seinfeld' is about much more than nothing, it's Entertainment Weekly's obsessive-compulsive report on America's number-one sitcom," the judges said. "And yada, yada, yada."

The Atlantic Monthly won the public-interest prize for Todd Oppenheimer's article "The Computer Delusion," which argued that the rush to put computers in every classroom is leading schools to neglect other aspects of education. Men's Journal won the award for personal service for comic but informative articles on hernias, heart disease and impotence. Harper's won the honors for feature writing for "Driving Mr. Albert," Michael Paterniti's account of traveling across country with Einstein's brain. Rolling Stone's reporting award was won by John Colapinto's investigative article "The True Story of John/Joan," an account of the life of a child who was changed from a boy to a girl after a botched circumcision at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

At a luncheon gala at New York's Waldorf-Astoria, each winner received an "Ellie" -- a reproduction of Alexander Calder's "Elephant" sculpture -- and a bronze plaque. By contrast, the winner of last week's Magazine Publishers of America award for best magazine advertising -- the ads for Altoids mints -- received $100,000.

Which may or may not say something about the magazine business in particular and the state of American culture in general.