Off the Record

The American skyline of the future will have to get along without any more chunks of quartz, children’s balloons or moon palaces: Herbert Muschamp, The New York Times ‘ fanciful architecture critic, has told his bosses that he’s getting tired of his current duties and intends to step down before long.

“He’s still the architecture critic,” said culture editor Jonathan Landman. But according to Mr. Landman, Mr. Muschamp said he feels that he’s “running out the string”-an unusually straightforward and familiar metaphor, given Mr. Muschamp’s record.

“So we’re starting to talk about some other things, both for him and for architecture,” Mr. Landman said.

There should be plenty of other beats that can occupy Mr. Muschamp’s attention. In recent months, his byline has appeared on pieces about restaurant d├ęcor (“Atmosphere is the state of disembeddedness”), the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit of 18th-century French fashion and furniture (“Voyeurism was therefore not a minor factor in the foment of revolution”), and sex (“Intense vertigo gives way to erotic stimulation”).

Oh, wait. That last one was about the new Seattle Central Library.

“He’s always written lots of stuff,” Mr. Landman said. “He wrote for the Week in Review when I was editor of the Week in Review.”

Mr. Landman said he has “enormous respect” for Mr. Muschamp and his work as a critic. But life goes on, the editor added.

“You don’t keep somebody past the point where they feel they’re doing their best work.”

Besides looking for a successor to Mr. Muschamp, Mr. Landman hopes to be able to add an architecture reporter to the culture staff. That, he said, will depend on what comes out of the continuing budget negotiations over the Times culture-reform plan, which should be wrapped up soon.

As for wrapping up Mr. Muschamp’s era as critic, Mr. Landman said, that’s entirely up to Mr. Muschamp: “He sets the timetable. He’s the architecture critic.”

Human affliction, as regular readers of The New York Times are well aware, knows no bounds. Not even the paper’s Escapes section can avoid that truth.

This past Friday, for instance, readers looking for The Times ‘ latest word on leisure and recreation encountered a serious trend piece about the stresses on the American family. The grave sociological news:

“The boom in youth sports in the United States has chained numerous families to the city or suburbs on weekends, preventing them from escaping to the beach, the mountains or the lake.”

The story and photos sketched a portrait of family life stretched near its very limits.

“HOLDING OFF,” one photo caption said. “Ann Berger of Cincinnati has no weekend home. Her three children’s swim schedules-including three hours on Saturdays and out-of-town meets-would make getting to one impossible.”

And the unfortunate Ms. Berger is not alone. Writer Stephen P. Williams introduces the reader to the Rudzin family of Connecticut: father Ron, mother Chiara and-the source of the strife-their daughter Paige, 13. The Rudzins own a second home on Fire Island, writer Stephen P. Williams explained, but they can scarcely use it.

“Since Paige was 5, her schedule of gymnastics and T-ball-and later, soccer, football and tennis-meant that many weekends that the Rudzins would have spent on Fire Island were spent instead standing on the sidelines of a playing field in Westport,” Mr. Williams wrote.

The Fire Island Chamber of Commerce didn’t return calls seeking information about the apparent dearth of youth athletic opportunity on the island. But clearly the vacation spot-billed online as a hotbed of the beach game of “trangleball”-doesn’t meet the needs of a football-playing 13-year-old girl.

“There’s not much space out there,” said Escapes editor Stuart Emmrich.

Though the piece spoke of a nation with 3.6 million vacation homes and 13 million sports-playing American children-numbers that “can clash like field-hockey sticks on a warm summer day”-Mr. Emmrich said he doesn’t want to overstate the conflict between vacation and recreation. “I don’t think it’s a huge crisis,” he said.

Mr. Williams’ account is less comforting, filled as it is with accounts of truncated beach time and owners forced to rent out their vacation homes to other, less athletically constrained holidayers. One would-be Fire Islander told of speeding down Ocean Parkway to catch a ferry.

“If you miss one ferry,” he told Mr. Williams, “you might have to wait a while for the next one.”

But for the suffering Rudzin family, there could be another getaway option: Westport, Conn. “Being stuck here isn’t the worst thing in the world,” Westport Chamber of Commerce president Lois Schine told Off the Record. The town of 26,000, on Long Island Sound, is “like a New England village,” Ms. Schine said.

“There are people from New York who have summer homes here,” Ms. Schine added.

Gail Bradley, manager of the Westport office of the Country Living Associates real-estate company, pointed out that summer residents of Westport are allowed to get a sticker for public-beach access and are eligible to join the town-owned country club. There is also a skateboard park, Ms. Bradley said.

But with the average Westport house costing more than $1.1 million, Ms. Bradley said, it’s not such a promising place to buy a simple weekend cabin. So some year-round residents may well feel the lure of offshore living.

“Maybe they do get away to Fire Island,” Ms. Bradley said, “and rent [out] their homes here.”

The death of Ronald Reagan led to a certain amount of wrangling among the press. Disagreements that had been put on hold for a decade out of deference to Mr. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease reared up again: Was Mr. Reagan really the most popular outgoing President ever, or was he less beloved than Ike or Bill Clinton in their respective days? Had he been the cause of the Soviet Union’s downfall, a lucky bystander or something in between? Did it really make sense to say he’d cut back on government, seeing as government had grown during his two terms?

Alone on the Sunday newsstand, however, The New York Times raised a different question: Was he news?

Amid the blazing six-column banners and full tabloid-cover portraits-at one stand, the New York Post ‘s flag-backed image of Mr. Reagan had been incorporated into a kind of framed shrine- The Times stood out. The paper announced Mr. Reagan’s death in a three-column headline over a one-column story, saving room at the top of the page for a story on prisoner abuse in Iraq and a photo of Smarty Jones losing the Belmont. Below its photo of Mr. Reagan, a two-column headline about John Kerry’s potential running mates peeped above the fold.

The Weekly Standard ‘s Web site described Mr. Reagan’s treatment in The Times as “clear hostility.” But executive editor Bill Keller, through a Times spokesperson, said it was a matter of plain news judgment, settled in about two minutes.

The Times is notably more cautious than other papers in rationing its front-page space, and an old man dying of natural causes doesn’t qualify for blowing out the rest of the news. In a statement released by a Times spokesperson, Mr. Keller said he hadn’t heard any reader complaints about the coverage.

“A megaton banner is what you’d want for a president who dies in office, but not for a figure who has been out of public life altogether for a decade, and whose death was long anticipated,” Mr. Keller said. “Admittedly, headline sizes are more an art than a science, but the play seems exactly right in hindsight.”

Like Reggie Jackson and Yogi Berra trooping into Legends Field in Florida each March, former staffers of New York magazine continue savoring editor Adam Moss’ open-door approach. The latest lifer to show up with a sack of fungo bats: former deputy editor Maer Roshan, now of the intermittent Radar .

Mr. Roshan, who’s already written freelance for Mr. Moss, is helping the magazine prepare for the arrival of the Republican Party in August.

“Maer is consulting with us on our convention special issue, which will come out the weekend before the convention,” New York spokeswoman Serena Torrey said.

That edition, Ms. Torrey said, is planned to come out on a Friday instead of the usual Monday.

Virulent rumors aside, New York has not yet decided whether to follow it up with some form of daily convention coverage, Ms. Torrey said.