The New York Times has a new cultural czar.
In his seventh day on the job, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller named Adam Moss, an associate managing editor who has edited The New York Times Magazine since 1998, to a new position: assistant managing editor for features.
In an interview, Mr. Keller said he made the move because he needed someone on the masthead who was “waking up thinking” about how to make the back sections of the paper better.
In his new role, Mr. Moss will not only oversee The Times Magazine , but the Book Review, Culture and Style sections, Travel, Circuits, Real Estate, Escapes and special sections of the magazine.
According to Times sources with knowledge of the situation, Mr. Moss had been offered a similar post by former executive editor Howell Raines, and told Mr. Raines that he was not interested, stressing a desire to stay at the magazine. This time around, he accepted.
“It took a little bit of persuading,” Mr. Keller said. “It was not one of those pop-the-question, ‘this is the job I’ve been waiting for all my life’ kind of moments. I had to convince him this would be a job with real authority and not a consulting role where you’re going around the paper making suggestions. Plus, the magazine was not flagging. It’s sometimes really hard to leave a job when things are going great and you love it.”
Mr. Moss declined to comment on any prior discussions he had with Mr. Raines, but he identified Mr. Keller himself-with whom he had worked since 2001 when Mr. Keller was working as an Op-Ed columnist and a columnist for the magazine-as a part of the attraction.
“The big reason I took this job was because of Bill,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know Bill the past couple of years as a writer for the magazine. I’ve gotten a chance to know him and to become very excited about the way he thinks about the world and the way he thinks about The Times . I’m excited to work with him and [new co-managing editors] Jill Abramson and John Geddes. It’s a great team and there’s an amazing sense of promise and, I think, of opportunity that everyone feels at this moment.”
Mr. Moss said the offer grew organically from conversations he’d had with Mr. Keller soliciting his advice about the paper, and that Mr. Keller wanted somebody who wasn’t “in the mad rush to get the paper out every day” to pay attention to the non-newsbreaking areas of the paper.
“It’s a hugely important part of The New York Times and probably even more important to the future of The New York Times ,” Mr. Moss said. “I think new readers and young readers can come to the paper in different ways. Obviously, they’re attracted to The Times for the exciting journalism that it does out of Washington and from our foreign correspondents. But, other sorts of readers are very interested in what we at the magazine call ‘the way we live now’ subjects: The way people live their daily lives, the culture they consume. The food they eat and the places they live. And I think strengthening what is already a strong report in these areas will inevitably bring greater readership.”
Mr. Moss said he sees himself in his new role as an “advocate” for the sections he will now oversee, someone who’ll “help them realize their full potential.”
And while a new position in name, Mr. Moss’ role mirrors that of Arthur Gelb, who acted as the paper’s first cultural czar for years as he rose from assistant to deputy to managing editor.
Reached the night of Aug. 5, Mr. Gelb called Mr. Moss a “very good choice,” adding: “It’s about time that post has been filled. It’s been vacant for too long a time.”
“You have to have someone close to the executive editor who is rallying for these areas of the paper,” Mr. Gelb said. “The up-front sections always have people who make those areas of the paper their primary interest. Most editors come up come from the ranks of national, foreign, Washington and city coverage. Very few come up from the cultural and feature areas of the paper.”
Mr. Keller’s first job will be picking his own replacement, for which Mr. Keller said he would be “inclined to defer a lot to Adam” but that any choice would have to have his blessing.
On the top of the internal short list, sources said, is Times Magazine editorial director Gerald Marzorati.
Asked what areas of The Times back sections needed improvement, Mr. Keller said, “I think they do amazing work. But in everything we do, we need people to ask themselves not only ‘How can we make this better next week,’ but to ask, ‘Does this make sense anymore? Would we do it this way if we were to start from scratch?’ So, we’ll do that …. Watch this space.”
Come spring 2004, New York Times movie critic Elvis Mitchell will lend his services to the recently revamped African and African-American Studies department headed by New Yorker scribe Henry Louis (Skip) Gates Jr. at Harvard University.
Mr. Mitchell said he first met Mr. Gates in London in the summer of 2001. That led to trips to Cambridge for the Alain Locke Lectures in fall 2002, after which Mr. Gates encouraged him to teach at the school and arranged for his visiting appointment.
As part of a new faculty that includes cultural scholar Marcyliena Morgan, African literature critic Francis Abiola Irele and race and history of science scholar Evelynn M. Hammonds, Mr. Mitchell will teach a course on “African-American Images in Film.” In addition, Mr. Mitchell will teach an introduction-to-film-theory course in the university’s visual and environmental studies department.
Mr. Mitchell, 44, joined The Times in January 2000 after stints at The Fort Worth Star-Telegram , Detroit Free Press and L.A. Weekly . A graduate of Wayne State in Detroit, Mr. Mitchell said he studied more literary criticism than film criticism in school.
“The one thing that came across is, writing is writing,” Mr. Mitchell said, looking back. “Good writing is good writing. There’s certainly a great tradition of [film criticism], but I want to show these people that you can have an interest in fine art and other kinds of culture. I’d like to make it a little bigger than just reading about film.”
Mr. Mitchell will be part of a department slowly emerging from a year of controversy and redefinition. Following Harvard president Lawrence Summers’ criticism of Harvard scholar and sometime rapper Cornel West, Mr. West fired back, bringing an inter-school skirmish front-and-center attention in The New York Times ‘ national report. Mr. West soon left for Princeton, as did African philosopher K. Anthony Appiah (for unrelated reasons), and it was reported that Mr. Gates himself questioned his future in Cambridge, Mass.
That was enough to make Mr. Mitchell a bit nervous about taking the job.
“I just wanted to get a commitment from Skip that he would be there, and he is,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I was definitely concerned about that. He’s planning on sticking it out at least the year I’m going to be there. Beyond that, I don’t know where he’s going to be or where I’m going to be. Not that [teaching is] any long-term thing.
“I really wanted to find out if Skip thought it would be a comfortable fit and that he was going to be a part of it, that he wasn’t going to ask me to be there and then leave,” Mr. Mitchell continued. “I know he had concerns, because those two guys were really close friends of his, and I guess he gave it a lot of thought. But he’s going to be sticking it out.”
Mr. Gates said he hoped it would be a “multi-year appointment.”
“The history of African-American film has had a crucial role to play in the development of African-American studies,” said Mr. Gates, who previously brought Spike Lee and film historian Thomas Cripps to the school. “We wanted a film critic, and there’s no better film critic than Elvis Mitchell.”
That said, Mr. Gates will have to view Mr. Mitchell’s efforts from afar. After declining an offer to take a post at Princeton for the 2003-4 school year, he will be on sabbatical at the nearby Institute for Advanced Study, returning for the fall of 2004.
“I’m very happy at Harvard,” said Mr. Gates.
Last month, the university announced that the African-American studies department would change its name, add new faculty and add a major in African studies as well as an African-language program.
Mr. Mitchell-who’s not leaving The Times -said he would commute weekly, holding office hours on Wednesdays and teaching courses on Thursday. And, he said, he would pay equal attention to both of his courses.
“The introductory film-criticism class is important too, because they don’t have anything like that there right now,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I’d like to be there on the ground floor to see what they’re reading, what they’re seeing, and how they think differently about criticism than I did back when me and Mencken were writing about this stuff in the first part of the century.
“That’s a joke,” Mr. Mitchell added.
But ironic bluster aside, how does he feel about facing down a room full of Harvard students?
“I’m a little nervous about it,” he said. “I’m actually a lot nervous about it.”
In the late 1980′s, as the co-founders and co-editors of Spy , Graydon Carter-then still E. Graydon Carter-and Kurt Andersen served as this city’s agent provocateurs, skewering the city’s power elites in a monthly format. They turned Laurence Tisch into a “churlish dwarf billionaire” and Shirley Lord into a “bosomy dirty book writer,” while sending a heavily mustachioed Walter Monheit into the night.
Like Lewis and Martin and Lucy and Desi before them, the duo’s official partnership eventually came to an end-in this case in 1991, when Mr. Carter left the magazine to become editor of The Observer , and then, in 1992, Vanity Fair . Mr. Andersen eventually left the magazine himself, to take the reins for a turbulent turn at running New York in 1994. In 1998, Spy published its last issue.
But now the estranged duo is readying a comeback special, most likely in the form of a Spy anthology.
“Both of us independently have been looking at old issues and have been talking about what would be the best way to bring some of that good stuff to the attention of people who were otherwise engaged or too young to be buying Spy in 1990,” Mr. Andersen said from his Brooklyn home on Monday, Aug. 4.
The exact vessel still has to be designed, Mr. Andersen said, though they will have a specific proposal by the fall. When asked if there was any way to do this that wasn’t in a book-anthology form, Mr. Andersen, the co-founder of the now-defunct Inside.com who currently hosts the public-radio show Studio 360 , consults for USA Television and is writing his second novel, said: “Yeah, but they’re probably too wacky to pursue and we’ll reject them.”
Wacky format or not, a look into the origins of Spy -which appears lately to have re-emerged as something of a fetish object for young aspirants-is likely to satisfy that subculture of assistant editors making time over Pabst Blue Ribbon in New York and fantasizing about re-creating its glory days on their own.
Born in 1986 from a few ideas Mr. Carter and Mr. Andersen had been brooding over as members of the Time Inc. mothership, Spy took offices at the Puck Building and quickly took precise, decisive aim at the likes of Ron Perelman, “short-fingered vulgarian” Donald Trump and The New York Times , the subject of a monthly column often written under the pseudonym of J.J. Hunsecker (the gossip columnist played by Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success ). Following the purchase of the magazine by Jean Pigozzi and current Nigella Lawson sweetie Charles Saatchi, Mr. Carter jumped ship, leaving Mr. Andersen to steer alone.
Since then, the magazine’s run has earned David Cone–cult deification status, going through periods of wistful revival. And there’s no doubt we’ve entered one now. This summer’s much-hyped launch of former Talk editorial director Maer Roshan’s Radar (which, to date, only has two issues, with another one, supposedly, for the fall), with its “Monster List” of awful, just awful, celebrities and B-list partygoers, has only strengthened the nostalgic pull. Writing recently for the Web site Mediabistro, Paul O’Donnell said that the “problem is, now that Roshan got around to it, it may well be too late-not because the Spy sensibility is out of date, but because we’re all Spy now.”
(“Are there certain elements of Spy in Radar ?” Mr. Roshan said. “Definitely. But we’re not basing Radar on Spy . Spy didn’t work out in the end. It’s not something for us to model.”)
Mr. Andersen said he’d have to be “lobotomized” not to see the similarities between the two, but sympathized with the plight of the post- Spy magazine-makers.
“It was really hard to do Spy in a million ways then,” Mr. Andersen said. “To try to be the analogue or equivalent of Spy today is harder than it was doing Spy then. It’s very interesting to think of how to do what we did in terms of saying things that hadn’t been said, in ways that hadn’t been said-all the things for which we got attention and were fairly original in doing. There’s been a decade and a half of the rest of the world either being influenced by, or putting up with, what we were doing at Spy , which for a couple of years we were alone in doing. The context into which any Spy -like thing comes today is inevitably a Spy -influenced context.”
Mr. Andersen said that his preliminary searches through the archives have been “relatively unsystematic.”
“It’s interesting to see pieces-the pieces I always liked most at the time nailed cultural trends smartly and early,” Mr. Andersen said. “It’s interesting, when one is surrounded by media full of funny charts and typologies, to see very early versions of funny charts and typologies.”
Asked if anything hadn’t stood the test of time, Mr. Andersen said, “Thus far, it’s been a couple of codgers looking back on our youth. It’s more like ‘Hey, wasn’t that great?’ and ‘Yeah, that was really great!’ You know, talk to me in a few months-I’ll tell you what seems dated.”
This just in from Off the Record L.A. bureau chief Alexandra Jacobs:
Speaking of young editors with visions of media domination dancing in their heads, one more team-this one in Los Angeles, not New York-is making a straight-faced play to be the next Spy , a mere five years after Buzz , the last regional attempt at Spy , went belly-up. Richard Rushfield, 34, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair , and Stacey Grenrock Woods, a correspondent for The Daily Show and sex columnist for Esquire who said she’s in her “early 30′s,” have started a free bimonthly publication called The L.A. Innuendo that appears to have a bit of the old rag’s thrust.
Mr. Rushfield dismissed comparisons to the glossy, high-profile Buzz , describing his own effort as “scrappy” (the first issue cost about $3,000 to produce) and low-stakes.
“It’s a little bit of Spy , a little bit of The Onion and a little bit of Robert Benchley,” he said, referring to the modernist humorist and grandfather of Jaws author Peter Benchley. One might also detect shades of the late, lamented Suck.com, not to mention New York’s beloved Gawker . The tone is satirical, exasperated and affectionate.
“We don’t hate L.A.,” said Ms. Grenrock Woods. “We love L.A. It’s our town.”
After a launch party at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills-the Innuendo team is sharing the time slot with a bar mitzvah celebration to defray costs-30,000 copies will be distributed to studios, agents, production companies and elite meeting places around the city (such as the Bourgeois Pig coffeehouse on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, popular with struggling screenwriters). “There are really only a few places in the end,” said Mr. Rushfield, also the author of On Spec , a novel of young Hollywood. “Have you noticed, when you go out to dinner, how you run into everybody you know?”
The Innuendo amplifies the caustic voice that the two friends-who met at a Fourth of July barbecue in Malibu some years ago-first developed in The Barricade , an online anti-media newsletter that reached about 1,000 people until AOL halted its circulation. Its a magazine for their alt-comedian friends from Hollywood clubs the Uncabaret and the Largo “to fool around in and play in,” Mr. Rushfield said-as of now, sans compensation. (Performer Margaret Cho is among those slated to contribute to future issues.) The “front-of-the-book” section is called “Rats’ Alley,” a reference to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and contains overheard conversations, a monthly media-whore award and a fake gossip column. Debut features include a profile of a group of pirate re-enactors at the Ojai Renaissance Faire north of Los Angeles.
“The most rejected magazine pitch in America,” Mr. Rushfield said. “Ironically, just as we start this, the Pirates of the Caribbean movie comes out, so here is a hook-we probably could’ve sold it now.”
He pointed with especial pride to a column called “Free Is Too Much,” a review of the town’s dominant giveaway, the L.A. Weekly , which he called a “disgrace-they have 52 cover stories a year, and I challenge you to name three. ‘Best of L.A.’ doesn’t count.” ( The Innuendo ‘s first cover story is called “Worst of L.A.”)
Mr. Rushfield, who is running the venture from his messy bougainvillea-bedecked one-bedroom on Hayworth Avenue in West Hollywood (issues of late-80′s, glory-years Spy on his coffee table), said it poses no conflict with his cushy Condé Nast contract. “I definitely know the space of what Vanity Fair is looking for, and Vanity Fair gets first shot at my ideas,” he said. “I think we’re pretty far away on their radar.”
Recently, when Sarah Gray Miller, editor in chief of Budget Living , married photographer Tony Stamolis, she took the cost-conscious, Carroll Gardens–chic mantra of her own magazine to heart. Wearing a dress her mother wore at her engagement party, Ms. Miller arrived at City Hall with a bouquet she’d made out of hydrangeas that she picked up at the Fairway in Harlem. Afterwards, along with the few friends who’d witnessed the ceremony, the couple headed up to Harlem for a makeshift reception of domestic beer (read: cheap) at St. Nick’s Pub and Showmans.
“I’m old enough where I don’t want to make my friends wear matching dresses,” explained Ms. Miller, 32, whose engagement ring was an enamel flower ring that Mr. Stamolis had picked up at a thrift shop. “I’m the kind of person that always wanted a big wedding until I met someone I wanted to marry. Then I wanted something more about the two of us. Plus, I’m from a small town in Mississippi, where inviting five people means inviting 500 and things can quickly get out of control.”
Asked if she meant her wedding as a kind of Budget Living –themed nuptial, Ms. Miller said the ceremony, like the magazine, merely reflected her day-to-day approach to life.
“I’ve always lived the lifestyle the magazine is about,” Ms. Miller said. “I’ve always shopped in thrift shops and always pulled furniture out of the trash.”
Ah, but Ms. Miller couldn’t get off that easy. While using her mom’s dress, Ms. Miller admitting to paying a small fortune to have the thing dry-cleaned at Madame Paulette’s. And there will be a hometown, parent-thrown post-wedding extravaganza in Natchez, Miss.
“But now I can show up and drink with everyone else and not feel stressed,” Ms. Miller said. “I’ve already had my wedding.
Follow Sridhar Pappu via RSS.