GQ, Esquire Spar, But Zinczenko Says He’s a Rock Star

“Magazine editors are the new rock stars,” said David Zinczenko, the dreamy, hazel-eyed editor in chief of Men’s Health as he sat in a taxicab early on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 27. “It’s about time people start recognizing us as the smart, funny guys that we are. And we smell better, too.”

Mr. Zinczenko’s deadpan routine was performed on the way back to his modest, homely offices on Third Avenue from a five-minute spot at CBS’s Early Show , where he introduced models named Stephen and Mel and Chris and Chad and Tim sporting this fall’s entries from Tommy Hilfiger and Banana Republic and Armani and Nautica and Polo Ralph Lauren. Watching Mr. Zinczenko, himself wearing this season’s Prada suit with an open-collared lime green shirt, discuss an orange jacket and its role in, er, layering, it seemed not improbable that he too could stand up and do a half-pivot at the end of the makeshift catwalk.

That’s not because he’s handsome. (He is.) It’s because Mr. Zinczenko, perhaps more than any editor in this city, is a retro-fitted throwback to the New York editor of the 1950’s. Le magazine, c’est moi : He is the physical and mental realization of every diet tip, ab workout, heart-disease-prevention feature and fashion spread that Men’s Health serves up to its readers month after month. He’s muscular, but not super-buff. He calls young, hard-driving Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden his “inspiration.” He stays out late but shows up to work before anyone else. He’s straight, but damn if he doesn’t know his thread counts.

It was three years ago that Steve Murphy, president and chief executive of the Emmaus, Penn.–based Rodale (known for profitable, if not entirely sexy, titles like Backpacker and Scuba Diving Magazine ) tapped Mr. Zinczenko, all of 30 years old, to head the magazine. Today, he oversees a total circulation of 1.7 million. Last year, Men’s Health sold 445,000 copies on the newsstand-a 7 percent increase from 2001. In 2002, in the midst of an apocalyptic advertising market, Men’s Health increased its ad pages by 22 percent. This year, so far, they’re up by another 22 percent.

And why not? Mr. Zinczenko has emerged as a kind of bright avatar for the 34-year-old, midnight-blue-shirt-and-khaki-wearing office-park consultant. Emboldened by a less-than-swell childhood and memories of a father who died too young, Mr. Zinczenko has transcended his pudgy, unremarkable beginnings in Western Pennsylvania and remade himself into a fit and fashionable über -man who, by the way, dates Rose McGowan.

“I wasn’t always healthy,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “I was overweight as a teen and pre-teen, and I saw my father as he kind of experienced the effects of bad life choices. He was an example of somebody who had everything: diabetes and heart disease and high blood pressure. He was obese. I think this magazine is the only magazine that helps guys live their lives better.

“We’re not jerking off Johnny Depp for 6,000 words,” Mr. Zinczenko said, not so subtly referring to a recent issue of GQ . “We’re saving lives.”

In the dowdy, New-England-in-spring-colored offices of Rodale, between 45th and 46th streets, where Mr. Zinczenko spends half the week (he usually works the first half in Emmaus), it was clear that he had dumped his head in a large vat of the Men’s Health Kool-Aid. He said he usually begins his working day at 7:30 a.m., and will work until 7 or 8 at night. Still, he works out nearly every day. In Emmaus, Mr. Zinczenko said, he and members of the editorial staff have a daily meeting that occurs, um, while taking a group run. In New York, Mr. Zinczenko joked, he’s a strict adherent to the “zone diet,” with the zone in question being “the front room at Elaine’s.”

“If the magazine were a celebrity,” Mr. Zinczenko said, “I think it would be a young Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones era: a regular guy faced with extraordinary circumstances and relying on his wit and resources to master them. Harrison Ford is always slightly confused, but you know he’s going to figure it out anyway.”

It doesn’t take much to figure out Men’s Health . Looking at a wall of magazine covers that seems to form a giant, dizzying collage, grainy black-and-white photographs of shirtless men encircled by taglines like “Muscle Up” and “Foods That Fight Fat,” Mr. Zinczenko remarked: “Well, you can certainly see similarities.”

“I think the reason our magazine isn’t known for great writing is that we do many other things well,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “We don’t make a big deal of ourselves. We don’t put Sebastian Junger or Paul Theroux or David Halberstam on the cover when they write for us, because the readers are more interested in what they have to offer than the celebrity names of the writers.

“At newsstand, a magazine like Men’s Health really stands out,” Mr. Zinczenko continued. “You can identify it instantly. It’s often had the same elements. It’s a black-and-white photo of a guy-usually on his own, smiling and shirtless-with coverlines flush left and off the body. We’re selling these great promises that we’re actually delivering inside the magazine. When you’re doing that, when you’re addressing the things that matter most, is when you’re going to do very well.”

Mr. Murphy, the man who tapped Mr. Zinczenko for the job, said that while he was happy with his young star’s development of the editorial content, it didn’t hurt to have a handsome, relentless pitchman for the magazine’s brand.

“The quality of the editorial in the magazine is the primary goal,” Mr. Murphy said. “If, at the same time, someone has a talent for representing the brand and taking the message out to the public, that’s fantastic. He’s successful at that as well. But that success comes from the fact that he’s not kidding. He really believes what he’s talking about.”

By the time Mr. Zinczenko was 6, his mother and father had divorced, and he and his older brother Eric (now the publisher of Backpacker ) had moved with their mom from Allentown, Penn., to Bethlehem, one town over. While she was working two or three jobs at a time to make ends meet, the Zinczenko brothers became latchkey kids “that got locked out.” They spent a lot of time out of the house, “wrestling, roaming the neighborhood, causing trouble.” After high school, he stayed local-Moravian College-spending a semester working for Arlen Specter’s press office in Washington, D.C. He edited the school paper and became a correspondent for something called Campus Voice . He wrote op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times and USA Today and, in 1991, was named college journalist of the year by American Express.

That same year, the scholarship he thought he’d earned to attend journalism school at Columbia University turned out to be loan, and he went looking for work. He said Kurt Andersen told him he’d be happy to have him at Spy , but could only pay him $10,000; he couldn’t bear the thought of toiling at PC World for the rest of his life when an offer did come. Approaching John Rasmus, then putting together a new project, Men’s Journal , for Jann Wenner, he and Mr. Rasmus reached what Mr. Zinczenko now refers to as his “$6-an-hour deal,” with the understanding that when the magazine launched, he’d be given a fair shake.

“Because I couldn’t afford to live in New York, I was living in Pennsylvania and taking a transbridge bus in Bethlehem every morning,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “Every morning, I would take the 5:30 bus that would pull into Penn Station at 7:10, and I would get into the office at 7:30.” At night, Mr. Zinczenko said, he would take the 7 or 8 o’clock bus back and be home by 9 or 10 at night.

“It was a really tough time,” he remembered. “It sucks to be on buses constantly, and I wasn’t sleeping much. You’d end up falling asleep on the bus and you’re really cramped, and I developed some lower-back pains from constantly vibrating 95 miles in each direction every day.”

After Men’s Journal launched, Mr. Zinczenko became the editor for the back-of-the-book sections of the magazine and actually moved into the city. But by then, he’d fallen in love. With Men’s Health .

“There was an instant connection,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “I saw the future. This magazine was absolutely amazing. I loved the incredible relevance. It wasn’t hip. It wasn’t sexy and it wasn’t hip. But it was its very unhipness that made it hip. I just said, ‘This magazine’s fucking great-they’re really onto something!’ I had never seen a magazine like that.”

In March 1993, after Mr. Zinczenko said he’d turned down offers to work for the magazine five or six times, he went to Men’s Health as an associate editor, and came home to Allentown. He said he didn’t anticipate how much he would miss New York after returning home.

“I could sit there and look at my paycheck, and look at my title on the masthead and all the new responsibilities, and say otherwise,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “There was still this feeling, because this was my hometown, that I hadn’t really gone anywhere.”

But every time Mr. Zinczenko thought about going anywhere else, he was assuaged with another promotion, another set of responsibilities. Within a year, he moved from associate editor to senior editor. A year and half after that, he became the managing editor of Men’s Health International and eventually executive editor of the Men’s Health international editions. When Rodale decided to launch Men’s Health in France in 1999, they picked Mr. Zinczenko to start the project.

“I don’t know the language, and we have eight weeks to get out the first issue,” Mr. Zinczenko recalled. “I get over there, and we have eight weeks to launch this magazine. We have office space that we just got, and no furniture. So I’m like putting $4,000 computers on my Visa-on my personal Visa. I don’t know the language. I feel like I can’t cross the street without risking my life. I can’t order anything. I’m on the subway system and I’m totally lost because I’m like, ‘I don’t want to go to fucking Sortie .'”

After a brief return to the States, Rodale sent Mr. Zinczenko to Milan for nine months to help start the Italian edition. In August 2000, without warning and one change of clothes, Mr. Murphy called him back to the States for a meeting. Not only would he become the new editor in chief of Men’s Health , he would be in charge of “the brand”-becoming the über -boss directly in charge of the magazine’s book division and television ventures, as well as the Men’s Health editions across the world.

Mr. Zinczenko quickly went about reformatting the magazine, introducing more journalistically rigorous features on alcoholism and heart disease, and making the book a focused, almost point-and-click guidebook on how to be a man. He tripled the fashion coverage of the magazine because, he reckoned, men who “want to look great naked want to look great clothed.”

This has not escaped notice. In November 2002, American Media’s David Pecker acquired Men’s Fitness and announced that he would use his company’s vast distribution network to try and compete more fully with Men’s Health . When Charlie Rutman, president of Carat North America, the media buying firm, dropped by the office on August 27 as a “fan” (“This isn’t business,” Mr. Rutman said. “I just love the magazine and had to meet this guy”), Mr. Zinczenko called Mr. Pecker’s title a “dog that humps your leg-it’s distracting, but it doesn’t really hurt you.”

“It’s going to be a bloody battle,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “But it’s going to be all their blood.”

Speaking late in the evening on Friday, Aug. 29, Mr. Zinczenko was less kind talking about another men’s title.

” Esquire is a magazine without a mission, and that’s really the great disability that they have,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “They don’t have any idea of who’s supposed to be reading it and why. It’s a men’s magazine, but half its readership is female, and it’s only got about 700,000 readers-and to get those, they have to offer it at $7 a year. They essentially have to pay people to take the magazine into their homes. [ Esquire editor-in-chief ] David Granger gets a great story in his mind by asking his writers what they fear, and then he tells them to write about that. And I think it shows.”

Mr. Granger, for his part, said Mr. Zinczenko had “mischaracterized our business strategy and ignores the two to three years of tremendous growth of subscription and newsstand sales.

“It sounds to me like he’s envious of the freedom Esquire has and the narrowness he has to work in,” Mr. Granger said. “I’m amazed and flattered about that ‘fear’ thing. I told that at an [American Society of Magazine Editors] lunch like 10 years ago. How the fuck would he remember that?”

On Wednesday, Aug. 27, while sitting in a corner booth at Fresco, Mr. Zinczenko was approached by Bill Stanton, the burly, tanned security consultant and Elaine’s regular. Mr. Stanton, waiting for publisher Judith Regan, explained that Mr. Zinczenko had put him on a diet for a book due out in March 2004. The two were supposed to go out the night before with Brett Ratner and Venus Williams, Mr. Stanton said, but couldn’t because of Mr. Zinczenko’s early-morning TV appearance.

“Let me tell you something,” Mr. Stanton said. “Fresco is at the epicenter of people in media and publishing. And you’re at Table 1.”

Mr. Zinczenko, looking as if he was blushing slightly, brushed off Mr. Stanton’s boasts and, before he left, instructed: “Do me a favor and lose the weight. We can’t have a book where you’re 30 pounds heavier in the ‘after’ picture than the ‘before.'”

Somewhere during the time Mr. Zinczenko was reshaping his magazine, he also reshaped himself into a Page Six man-about-town and partygoer, the mysterious, dreamy man who emerges from the wilderness of Pennsylvania to hold court in the front room of Elaine’s. A celebrity editor baring lat-pull recommendations.

“I don’t know exactly when that happened,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “I knew that the visibility of the magazine had to change. I knew I needed to become a lot more visible. I knew there wasn’t any point to making a lot of changes to the magazine if people didn’t notice. I knew I need to be screaming from the rooftops. Now I think we can step away from that and let the magazine speak for itself on its own merits.”

Later, asked if the Men’s Health lifestyle could co-exist with the man-on-the-town life, he said: “I work really hard, and I take the information we publish to heart every day. I’m usually careful about what I eat; my social life is the reward for that. In terms of my business life, I think they’re well integrated. The sad fact is that there’s nothing I like more than talking about magazines. So when I’m out and about, I’m enjoying myself, but it usually feeds back into my working life. But the people I’m out with are publishers and authors and other magazine editors and writers and entertainers and sometimes celebrities. It all sort of feeds back into publishing. It’s one of the things that I love about working in magazines: You really cross over into all of these other worlds.

“I feel important or well-known in the media or publishing world,” Mr. Zinczenko continued. “But I’m not a celebrity, and I’m reminded of that every time I’m out with Rose. I’m the ‘unidentified partygoer’ when I’m with her.”

When it comes to Ms. McGowan, a regular on the WB series Charmed whom he’s been dating for a year, Mr. Zinczenko presents a relationship that’s less Gucci and more L.L. Bean. Since dating, he said, they’ve never spent a weekend apart-shuttling back and forth from Los Angeles to the West Village apartment where he spends weekends (and not, usually, at the Pennsylvania apartment he rents on the second floor of a Tudor-style house for $700 a month). They work out together. They watch old movies- The Thin Man was a recent viewing. Pete Bonventre, editorial director of Entertainment Weekly and Mr. Zinczenko’s friend, thinks it’s for keeps.

“I don’t know if this is a record for Dave,” Mr. Bonventre said, “to be with one woman for a year. Two, three years ago, there was always someone new and lovely-always some new deb with him. This one’s really lasted.”

Will it be the same with magazines?

“After a while, working on a magazine like that and trying to find new ways to sell how to build your abs and what foods to eat-you want to see what else you can do,” Mr. Bonventre said. “Like any man, he asks himself, ‘Can I do something else well? Can I be the editor of Time ? The editor of Esquire ? The editor of Sports Illustrated ?’ He thinks about that. I keep telling him not to be in a rush, just to sit back and do what you’re doing.”

An early favorite to replace Art Cooper at GQ (Mr. Zinczenko was eating lunch with Mr. Cooper when he suffered his fatal stroke at the Four Seasons in June), Mr. Zinczenko, according to friends like Mr. Bonventre, ultimately “just wants a bigger magazine.”

Mr. Zinczenko, who said he was “flattered” by Condé Nast’s interest in him for the GQ job, said the power afforded him in running Men’s Health was enough to make him want to stay at the magazine, for now and into the foreseeable future.

“Even my friends at other magazines sometimes fail to grasp the power and reach of the Men’s Health brand,” Mr. Zinczenko said. “Fact is, I’m not eager to step down from atop a massive global enterprise to take over an old-style magazine-be it Sports Illustrated , Esquire , Mad or Outlaw Biker -that runs on the same business model that it did in 1962.

“What we’re doing here today is so much more than simply running a magazine.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, new Times culture czar Adam Moss undertook his first personnel move-replacing himself-when he named his longtime deputy Gerald Marzorati to become editor of The Times Magazine .

Mr. Marzorati, the magazine’s editorial director since April 1998, said that Mr. Moss had let him know on the evening of Aug. 27.

“I think if you get a job after being there nine years, they’re not looking for a change agent,” Mr. Marzorati said, echoing (with a bit of sarcasm) the now-notorious sobriquet that former executive editor Howell Raines awarded himself on Charlie Rose after his departure in the wake of the Blair affair.

It’s back to basics for The New York Times these days, with “news value” and “reporting” the watchwords. That could complicate things for the magazine.

Asked about the importance of news for the magazine, Mr. Marzorati said: “I think it’s difficult-first, because of the early deadlines. Second, we come wrapped every Sunday in layers and layers of the most widely respected news report in the world. I think the way we can approach news is to look for narrative and essays that in some ways have news as their heart and their content.”

The man who helped bring us America’s Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story is prospecting a movie based on the life of infamous fabricator and former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair.

According to people familiar with the situation, the Showtime cable network is considering the project being pitched by Jon Maas, who wrote the screenplay for the TBS Kennedy movie that appeared earlier this year. The movie, according to sources, would focus on Mr. Blair’s life.

According to sources, Mr. Maas has talked to former Newsweek reporter Seth Mnookin about basing the movie on his cover story “Times Bomb,” which appeared in Newsweek ‘s May 26 issue.

No contracts have been signed, but according to a source, Mr. Maas reached out to Mr. Blair to talk to him for the project. Mr. Blair referred the matter to his agent, David Vigliano, who is representing him for as he pursues his own deal.

Mr. Mnookin, for his part, recently left Newsweek to write a book about The Times for Random House.

Messrs. Mnookin, Maas and Blair declined to comment on the situation. But it doesn’t look at the outset like Mr. Blair will profit from a movie-at least not the way things are going so far. Mr. Vigliano said he was unaware of any Showtime endeavor. A Showtime spokesman said he was unable to comment at deadline.