There’s always been a bit of friction between The New York Times Magazine and the legions of ink-stained wretches who fill that paper every day. But a lunchtime meeting between magazine editor Adam Moss and the business desk staff last month seems to have bruised more egos than usual. According to sources familiar with the situation, the offending remark came in Mr. Moss’ explanation for why he didn’t rely more on Times reporters. He listed several reasons, including the fact that freelance writers don’t have daily deadlines interfering with their in-depth reporting time and how there are certain types of pieces–i.e., first-person stories–that are more obvious for other types of writers. But what really got the business reporters mad was his expressed concern that Times beat writers may be too close to their sources to write the truly “ruthless” and definitive pieces the magazine is looking for.
“Though he was kind of on the defensive, he might have put it more tactfully,” said one Times man of the meeting, which had originally been set up to cultivate the relationship between the business section and the magazine.
“We’re running more stories by Times staffers now than this magazine has in years,” said Mr. Moss. “The meeting’s purpose was to help the biz-day staff understand what we we’re looking for and to explain some of the very different reasons we go outside of the paper when we do. I’m sorry if anything that I said was misinterpreted.”
For a reporter who has fought his or her way into the ranks of The Times , writing a piece for The Times Magazine would seem to be a matter of course. Daily people also get paid extra for writing for the magazine–though less than a freelance writer, so there’s the added incentive for the editor to control his budget by commissioning in-house. But for Mr. Moss there’s the problem, as a source familiar with the magazine put it, that “some of [the daily reporters] are great writers and some of them are not.”
“It’s a trial-and-error thing,” said the source. “There may be bad blood if a daily [writer’s] story gets killed … they say, ‘I hate the magazine. I got burned by them.'” Occasionally a Times Magazine editor is confronted with an angry daily mandarin who demands, “Do you know who you’re dealing with?”
In short, Mr. Moss, who made his name at non-news-driven magazines like Esquire and his own start-up, the short-lived New York weekly 7 Days , has run up against The Times ‘ narcissistic intractability once again. As one Times writer put it, he was not an “esteemed Times bureaucrat,” like previous editors Jack Rosenthal, Warren Hoge or James Greenfield, when he ascended to the post in 1998. And while Mr. Moss has been given more flexibility to create his own magazine, hiring editors from places like Money , New York and Lingua Franca , some daily people still think of the magazine the same way former executive editor Abe Rosenthal was said to, as the “Sunday supplement,” and they mistrust the direction he is taking it in.
Which gets back to the writing. For Mr. Moss, it’s a sticky situation: He has to be conscious of what he does and how it fits into the broader journalistic mandate of the paper and he has to alert his boss, executive editor Joe Lelyveld, to his plans. “The relationship between the magazine and the newspaper has always been tricky, and we’ve worked very hard on it,” said Mr. Moss. “I think to pretty positive effect.”
The New York Times ‘ Los Angeles-based cultural correspondent Neil Strauss is all about breaking through that fourth wall. While reporting on the music industry for the paper, he has co-written Marilyn Manson’s autobiography, jumped into bed with Jewel for one of those impish profiles he pens for Rolling Stone , breakdanced with Beck for a profile in Spin and dabbled in stand-up comedy.
Now, with his friend Howie Statland from the New York band Thin Lizard Dawn, he’s got a little music-performance art side project going. In fact, you might have seen the two performing their untitled piece on May 8 at P.S. 1, the alternative art museum in Long Island City. Mr. Strauss, playing anonymously as DJ Stress, spun records while Mr. Statland played what one audience member described as “soft-rock guitar.” Meanwhile, there was a silent film playing and the whole space was surrounded by, as P.S. 1 described it, “chemical toilets that contain timeclocks, uniforms, pornography … and silent film projected onto Mylar screens.”
The idea, apparently, was to tell the story of an unhappy guy who spends his time “collecting trash to build a family replacing the one he lost as a child.” P.S. 1 described it as “reminiscent of [Andy Warhol’s] ‘Exploding Plastic Inevitable’ performances in the late 60’s,” and said it was a collaboration between Anna Gabriel (daughter of pop star Peter Gabriel), Adria Petty (daughter of pop star Tom Petty) and Mr. Statland, who go collectively by the name “Low Flame.” Mr. Strauss helped write some of the music, but one witness suggested he should stick to journalism.
“What can I say?” wrote Mr. Strauss, responding via e-mail. “Being a stand-up comedian helped me understand what comics go through when they’re on stage trying to make a crowd laugh, and my experience last weekend definitely helped me sympathize with the musicians I review … For the record, though, my love is writing. Last weekend’s shows were a one-time thing just for fun. That’s why I did them anonymously. Thanks for blowing my cover.”
Putative Zeitgeistmeister Jann Wenner has woken up and decided that the Internet is going to be big–big enough, anyway, to build an “old media”-style magazine around.
Mr. Wenner has made a career out of championing the things that have been important to him: rock music with Rolling Stone ; celebrity with Us ; family life with Family Life (which he later sold); and the rugged outdoors, first with Outside (which he also sold) and then with Men’s Journal . For his Web magazine project, he has hired New York magazine features editor Simon Dumenco, who is also the editorial director of that weekly’s Web site. Before that, Mr. Dumenco was Caroline Miller’s executive editor at Seventeen , and then acting editor in chief after she jumped to New York .
Appropriately enough, Mr. Dumenco answered Off the Record’s messages via e-mail: “I’ll be helping to develop Internet-related products and strategies,” he wrote. As for what the magazine would hold, he was coy: “We’re looking at all sorts of possibilities; a magazine is one of those possibilities.” A Wenner Media spokesman would only confirm Mr. Dumenco’s imminent arrival. “He will be working with Mr. Wenner on a variety of Internet-related projects,” she said. But what about the magazine? “That’s one of the many projects we’re looking at.”
Sources familiar with Mr. Wenner’s media company confirm that a consumer Web magazine is central to what Mr. Dumenco will be working on, though right now it’s very early in the planning stages.
The news came as a bit of a surprise to some at Wenner Media, who until recently had e-mail but not much in the way of Web access. (The office scuttlebutt was always that Mr. Wenner didn’t want them to goof off.) But since Mr. Wenner passed up investing in Netscape early and dismissed Louis Rossetto’s idea for Wired as too service-unfriendly, according to a recent article in Salon , he has apparently decided that it’s high time to jack into the Net. However, Mr. Dumenco is not expected to oversee the already-established Rolling Stone Network Web site, with its review and photo archive, and its ‘N Sync and Jennifer Aniston discussion areas.
The idea for a magazine about the Web has been tried before, with mixed success–from The Web Magazine and Net Guide , which are both defunct, to Yahoo Internet Life and the Time Inc. spinoff Time Digital , which soldiers on. And this October, Mademoiselle is jumping on the bandwagon, polybagging a special issue about the Web and technology with their regular issue.
Joseph Bottum, the books and arts editor for The Weekly Standard , has finally been, in his words, “pushed over the edge.” In an a memo he sent around to The Standard ‘s staff on May 3, he was set off by “my nickname [being] given for my first name and my last name misspelled, again–in the program for the White House Correspondents Dinner” on May 1. The program had it spelled “Jody Bottom.” He was not pleased.
“We don’t send out lists for formal occasions that use the nicknames of ‘Bill’ Kristol or ‘Andy’ Ferguson,” he wrote, referring to two other editors. “So I want to stop The Standard doing it to me.”
Mr. Bottum demanded that the magazine “enact a strict rule from now on … On everything that leaves this office, my last name must always be double-checked to make sure it is spelled with a ‘u’ instead of an ‘o’ and has no ‘s’ on the end of it … On our masthead or as a byline for something I’ve written, it should be ‘J. Bottum.’ On all other occasions when my name is written down, it should be ‘Joseph Bottum.’ When we set up radio or TV programs, or think-tank debates, it should be ‘Joseph’ for lowbrow stuff and ‘Dr. Bottum’ for pretentious highbrow stuff. Strangers calling in should not be invited by our phone receptionists to call me ‘Jody.'”
When reached at The Standard , Mr. Bottum, who has a Ph.D. in medieval philosophy, got to the root of the problem: “I think it happens more often now because people use spell-checkers.”