It was Friday the 13th when New York Times executive editor Bill Keller addressed his staff in three meetings-in part to apologize that efforts to find an editor for the paper’s Science section and Sunday Book Review were taking so long.
It was two days after Adam Moss, the paper’s culture czar, announced his plans to leave The Times to become the editor in chief of New York magazine, and only four days after Mr. Keller knew Mr. Moss was leaving.
The Science slot is now filled-Rick Flaste, of The Los Angeles Times will serve as Science editor for at least the next six months-and now Mr. Keller must find someone to take on The Book Review. But in the wake of Mr. Moss’ departure, Times sources told The Observer, Mr. Keller and co-managing editor Jill Abramson have scrapped the short list that Mr. Moss had assembled to fill the Book Review position. They are now interviewing a new slate of candidates for the top spot at the weekly section. It appears that after the shock of Mr. Moss’ bombshell wore off, amid the tears, the fond farewells and the worried whispers that any glamour the paper had accrued in the last few years may have followed him right out the door, Mr. Keller and Ms. Abramson have dusted themselves off and are marching right into a Moss-free future.
The Book Review position has been open since Charles McGrath announced he was leaving the editor’s job in November to become a writer at the paper. The move came shortly after Mr. Moss left his position as editor of The New York Times Magazine to spruce up the newspaper’s cultural and style reporting in a managing-editor role. As of late November, Mr. Moss said he had interviewed no one for the Book Review opening. But more recently the field had been winnowed down, and interviews were in the late stages when Mr. Moss announced his new gig on Feb. 11.
According to sources familiar with the Book Review editor search, Ms. Abramson and Mr. Keller have circled back to the beginning, inviting at least one new candidate to interview for the job as recently as yesterday.
Through a spokesperson, Mr. Keller and Ms. Abramson declined to comment.
When Mr. Moss was in charge of the search, he had emphasized that the paper was looking for continuity in its next Book Review editor. “We’re big fans of The Book Review we publish now,” Mr. Moss told The Observer in late November. The Times, he said, was looking for someone who had “his or her own ideas,” but said: “The important thing is, we’re not looking for radical change.” According to Times sources, however, Mr. Keller and Ms. Abramson are now looking for just that-radical change, in the form of someone who is ready to overhaul the book review, streamlining and changing its editorial process and its staff. They don’t have long to find that person: In the Friday the 13th meetings, Mr. Keller promised that a new editor would be named by the end of this month.
They have their work cut out for them. One source wondered whether potential candidates weren’t turned off by recent speculation that Mr. Keller wanted to take the review “down-market.”
After telling Poynter Institute bloggers “The Book Babes” that he wanted to reduce coverage of fiction in the review and pay more attention to mass-market and genre fiction, Mr. Keller has had to reassure the publishing industry and the book-loving public that the Review will remain focused on high-quality books.
But fixing The Book Review-which, since Mr. McGrath announced his departure, has been subjected to a barrage of criticism-has been a high priority under Mr. Keller’s watch. For some time, Mr. Moss and Ms. Abramson had been conducting a “listening tour” of the culture world, soliciting advice about The Book Review from U.S. News and World Report senior writer Jay Tolson, a former editor of The Wilson Quarterly and a friend of Ms. Abramson; Henry Finder, an editor at The New Yorker who, sources said, had already taken himself out of the running to take the job himself; and Sam Tanenhaus, a contributing writer for Vanity Fair and the author of an important biography of Whittaker Chambers and a forthcoming biography of William F. Buckley Jr.
It was unclear whether the suggestions they received there-which ranged from ripping up the editorial format all the way to changing The Review into a glossy magazine-were incorporated by Mr. Moss into the report he filed before his departure about overhauling The Times’ coverage of style and culture. That report is now being reviewed by the business side of the paper.
It was also unclear whether the restarted search meant that previous contenders, including Sarah Crichton, a former publisher of Little, Brown and a former editor at Newsweek, and Judith Shulevitz, the former New York editor of Slate-who, until a year ago, wrote the Close Reader column in The Book Review-are still under consideration.
On March 3, Condé Nast will throw its dubiously anticipated men’s shopping magazine Cargo an Avi Adler–organized launch party at Splashlight Studios. The space will be decorated with fake versions of all the stuff featured in the magazine: cell phones, a car, an armoire. Here’s hoping editor Ariel Foxman recovers from his laryngitis in time to give a nice speech! Did he burn out his pipes barking last-minute orders at the staff? “It’s wintertime. It’s New York. These things happen,” said Bruce Pask, Cargo’s style director, in a phone interview chaperoned by the magazine’s publicist.
Cargo will sell for a cover price of $3.50, has a rate base of 300,000 and is being positioned as more democratic than the Details spawn Vitals, which will cost 45 cents more and is striving for a third of Cargo’s circulation. “The point of our magazine is inclusion,” said Mr. Pask. “We want to address all kinds of men. We want to democratize, and we’re extrapolating from that.” Covers and inside stories will feature neither beefcake nor celebrities, but quote-unquote “real” guys. “There are casting agencies that specialize in this,” the publicist said, “and our editors do scouting as well.” Unlike Lucky, she said, Cargo editors will not be putting photos of themselves in the layouts.
They are seeking the sweet spot in that 24-to-45 male demographic.
Mr. Foxman fils is a mere pup of 29. The son of Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in English and American literature (“He’s astute,” Mr. Pask said), and worked as an editorial assistant for The New Yorker and a senior editor in charge of the shopping and home divisions of InStyle before Condé Nast plucked him for the top spot at Cargo. And according to the magazine’s style guy, who worked for a decade at GQ, his new boss is a super-natty dresser. “He wears a lot of sportswear, but incorporates a lot of color,” Mr. Pask said. “Brightly colored shirts and sweaters. He definitely loves blue.”
Mr. Pask shared a bit more dirt about the marvelous Mr. Foxman: He’s a big Blackberry user, à la Al Gore; is very close to his niece and nephew, who live in New York; and is quite a ham around the office. “We laugh more than we don’t,” he said. “It’s intelligence married to a sense of humor.” Together they form a merry trio with design director David Robertson, formerly of Glamour.
Do they socialize with the sister camp over there at Lucky? Mr. Pask said no, though he’s been friends with the latter’s creative director, Andrea Linett, since she worked at Sassy (which used to share a building with GQ). “Fashion Week is kind of a nice, fun catch-up session,” he said. Nor do the boys of Cargo have their own regular watering hole. “It’s a lot more spontaneous and organic than that. At Cargo, it’s in our nature to experiment and try new places and different things.”
Off the Record couldn’t get its paws on an advance copy, but Mr. Pask promised a magazine that is “incredibly clear, direct and accessible-easy. We didn’t want to make this a chore,” he said. “It should be fun. I haven’t heard one naysayer at all! People are clamoring for it. People are dying for it. They’re telling us, ‘We want it now!’”
It sounds like Cargo will be everyman, and yet no man. Lucky’s brother. Or boyfriend. Or maybe best gay friend. Who can say? We can tell you one thing: There was no Super Bowl office pool this year. “I’m sure we’ll have an Oscar one, though!” Mr. Pask piped.
New York Times Sports writer Rafael Hermoso is leaving the paper, making his the fourth prominent byline to disappear from the Sports section in less than a year.
“I’m going to go pursue other opportunities,” he told Off the Record, explaining that he wasn’t leaving to take a full-time position at another paper. His last day is Feb. 28.
“I think it’s obvious that I wasn’t happy there; if I was, I wouldn’t be leaving,” the 34-year-old, who covered college basketball and was the beat reporter on the New York Mets, said. “I don’t think I’m shedding any new light on that. I hope to be happy, and that’s the reason I’m doing this.”
If Mr. Hermoso is loath to elaborate on his unhappiness at the Times sports desk, except to say that his and his colleagues’ reasons for leaving were all “individual,” it’s nevertheless something The Times will have to contemplate, as the sports cohort brought in under the ambitious plans of former section editor Neil Amdur continues to dwindle.
At the beginning of the year, Mike Wise, 40, left to become a sports columnist at The Washington Post.
Buster Olney had already left for ESPN: The Magazine; and Mike Freeman to write a column for The Indianapolis Star. (His offer of a position was revoked after it was revealed that he’d lied on the résumé he submitted for the job, saying he’d graduated from the University of Delaware; he had taken four years of courses but never got the degree, a fact about which he had been honest in his application to The Times.)
Before Mr. Hermoso came to The Times, he had written sports for the Daily News and The Record of Hackensack. He admits that it can be tough being the reporter assigned to the Mets when the management follies and championship bids of the team’s cross-town rivals eat up so much ink.
“Last year was an unusual year,” he said of the Mets. “The year before, they were bad and controversial, and they had a lot of interesting things happen to them. Last year they were bad, and at a point they kind of became bland. But in terms of the difficulty of covering a team in New York other than the Yankees … I mean, I covered the Mets in 1989, when they were a more intriguing team than the Yankees!”
Contacted on his vacation, Times sports editor Tom Jolly e-mailed: “I’m sorry to see Rafael go. He’s a likable guy who worked hard for us. We certainly wish him well.”
The New York Post editorial page-and its Page Six gossip column-love to tear apart celebrities who use their platform to make “social statements.” And the hawkish paper certainly hasn’t been leading the charge in criticizing the Bush administration’s war to oust Saddam Hussein from power.
That may explain why some cineastes who looked up the Post’s Movie Capsule review for The Battle of Algiers on Feb. 23 were mystified to see film editor V.A. Musetto use the unlikely space for an unorthodox-if tiny-political statement.
“Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 classic,” he wrote of the mock-documentary film about Algerian guerrilla activity against French occupiers in the 1950′s, “is so relevant today that the Pentagon screened it as part of its preparations for the ill-advised occupation of Iraq.”
Mr. Musetto gave the film four stars-and according to a spokesman, while the paper may not give Mr. Musetto a gold star, editors there don’t screen film critics’ pieces for political content.
“They let their columnists say what they want to say,” said New York Post spokesman Steven Rubenstein.
Follow Tom McGeveran via RSS.