“We don’t consider ourselves an alumni magazine in the traditional sense,” said Bom Kim, Harvard class of ’00 and the founder and president of 02138 magazine.
Mr. Kim’s embryonic magazine—named for the Harvard Square ZIP code—has nonetheless mastered one of the traditional roles: putting the touch on alumni. His principal backer is Atlantic Media boss David Bradley (Harvard Business School, 1977), who put up $4 million last year in support of what the 27-year-old Mr. Kim habitually describes as the “Vanity Fair for Harvard.”
Not to be confused with the regular Vanity Fair, the Vanity Fair for the University of Ottawa!
“For the first time, at least as to any substantial sum, I am investing in someone else’s company and concept,” Mr. Bradley wrote in an e-mail. “Among my concerns is how little I bring to the 02138 editorial sensibility. The magazine’s market position is everything I am not: light, engaging, easy, original, sophisticated.”
So far, after two years of gestation, the Boston-based magazine consists of a barebones Web site, which appeared June 8. (“It’s a soft launch,” Mr. Kim said.) But with an actual issue still three months away, 02138 is already well into hobnobbing with the fabulous—at least, the Vanity Fair–for-Harvard fabulous.
On the model of Mr. Bradley’s public “listening tour” last year to round up a new Atlantic editor, Mr. Kim has been tapping into the Harvard-connected media class for advice and support.
“I’m as self-obsessed as any Harvard alumni,” said Kurt Andersen (class of ’76). Mr. Andersen met with Mr. Kim over coffee at Dean & Deluca earlier this year.
“I suppose I would be happy to look at and read a magazine about Harvard not put out by the alumni association,” Mr. Andersen said. “And the fact that Bradley is doing it made it seem that much more appealing.”
02138 would be the third magazine for Harvard College alumni. The university recently combined three newsletters into a glossy house organ, The Yard, which joins the existing Harvard Magazine, which gets half its budget from the university but is editorially independent.
Would a completely independent Harvard title be appealing enough that Mr. Andersen might consider contributing? “I have plenty on my plate without writing for them,” he said.
Mr. Kim also met with former Time managing editor Walter Isaacson (class of ’74) and Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows (class of ’70) the morning of the White House correspondents’ dinner, at a breakfast hosted by Mr. Bradley at Washington’s Hay-Adams hotel.
“These are people who are not only members of our community, but prominent members of the field,” Mr. Kim said. “They’ve been very supportive.”
Mr. Kim, a native of Korea, graduated with a degree in government. While at Harvard, he and classmate Daniel Loss started Current Magazine, a news title for college students that is now published by Newsweek. The two worked together as reporter-researchers at The New Republic in 1998; Mr. Kim had spent the previous summer at Brill’s Content and Mr. Loss was at George. Mr. Loss, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2004, is a co-founder of 02138 and currently works for it part time.
Outside the Crimson community, Mr. Kim counts Steven Brill (Yale ’72) as an unofficial advisor.
And Mr. Kim and Mr. Bradley have brought in former New York magazine editor Caroline Miller (Stanford ’70) as 02138’s editorial director. Ms. Miller has been spending two or three days a week in Boston, staying in an apartment rented by 02138.
“I have been working as a consultant,” Ms. Miller said. “The minute I heard the concept of the magazine, I thought it was a good idea to develop. My role has been a catalyst in developing the content and putting together the staff.”
The staff now numbers more than 10 editorial employees. Last month, the executive editor’s job went to Seth Bauer, the editor in chief of Body+Soul magazine, a lifestyle title acquired by Martha Stewart in August 2004. There has been turnover as well. Earlier this year, one of Mr. Kim’s editors departed for Body+Soul. And 02138’s managing editor resigned after a week.
Atlantic associate publisher Meredith Kopit moved from Mr. Bradley’s 150-year-old publication to his not-yet-born one, becoming 02138’s publisher.
Ms. Kopit said 02138 has drawn a “very positive” response from advertisers.
“I’m not in a position to share who we’re signing on,” Ms. Kopit said. “I will share categories. We brought on a single-malt scotch, a private wealth-management company. A European import-car company. High-end fashion advertising. Private banking.”
“It is a different mix than The Atlantic,” Ms. Kopit said. “We’re enjoying the occasion to draft off nice relations of advertisers we have with The Atlantic, but it’s a differentiated audience.”
The magazine’s other relations with The Atlantic have not been so cordial. Mr. Kim moved into an office in The Atlantic’s headquarters at 77 North Washington Street in December, just as The Atlantic itself was in the midst of being uprooted by Mr. Bradley and relocated to the Watergate, joining the rest of the Bradley media holdings in the capital.
At the time, Mr. Bradley told Alex Beam of The Boston Globe that he regarded Mr. Kim as “extreme talent,” saying he “might invest with him if he were starting a trade magazine on the cauliflower industry.”
Meanwhile, more than 30 staffers were leaving The Atlantic, a result Mr. Bradley had anticipated when he announced the move south. Atlantic deputy managing editor Toby Lester approached Mr. Kim and advised him that feelings were raw among some of the departing Atlantic people.
But 02138 failed to soothe things. “They were injected hypodermically into the office,” one Atlantic staffer said. “They were ramping up while there was a tourniquet applied to the Boston office.”
Another staffer referred to the newcomers as “the Bom Squad.”
When Mr. Kim and his growing staff moved into the offices being vacated by The Atlantic’s production department in January, a turf battle broke out, according to Atlantic sources. “There was confusion about things like supplies and printer paper,” one Atlantic staffer said. Mr. Kim further antagonized the Atlantic contingent by printing up stationary for 02138 bearing The Atlantic’s Boston fax number—a line that was supposed to be transferred, along with the accompanying machine, to D.C.
Later that month, Mr. Kim moved a gray couch that had been outside the office of The Atlantic’s then art director, Mary Parsons, into the office of his incoming managing editor.
“It was her personal couch,” a staffer said. “It wasn’t an Atlantic couch.”
The next morning, the couch was returned. (“It’s just confusion,” Mr. Kim said. “We wanted to be very sensitive.”) Following the incident, Atlantic office manager Robert Moeller affixed labels to Atlantic staffers’ items and boxes reading “You Touch, You Die.”
The Atlantic’s Boston outpost is now down to four employees. When the lease on the current office ends next year, both operations will move on to a space somewhere outside the North End. In the new offices, The Atlantic and 02138 will likely have separate entrances.
Meanwhile, according to one Atlantic source, 02138 has seized control of the in-house supply of coffee beans.
“The coffee inventory was put under lock and key,” the Atlantic staffer said. “We used to get periodic deliveries of bags of coffee. They were stored in the kitchen. They keep the coffee locked up in a cabinet in an office.”
That said, the Atlantic staffer added that 02138’s coffee custodian “makes sure there’s a steady supply of freshly brewed coffee.”
But are they brewing up some content? Mr. Kim said he was “not ready to unveil our media strategy,” but said in a follow-up interview that “the story lineup is not fixed. We have stories in motion.”
“We’re focused on the people, and their lives after Harvard,” Mr. Kim said. The Web site showcases thumbnail photos of Bill Gates, Tommy Lee Jones and Natalie Portman, among others, promoting a package of the 100 Most Influential Harvard Alumni for the debut issue.
The site also features a set of blogs, with titles such as “Expat,” “Cultured” and “Sex, Overthought.” That last one presents a dating essay titled “Nowhere to Go But Down,” which has nothing to do with sex, despite what one might over-think of the headline.
Mr. Loss said one of the front-of-the-book sections would be called “Vanitas.”
“It will deal primarily with stories about the Harvard tribe,” he said, “focusing on the people and on recent things they’ve been involved with.
“It’s Latin for ‘Vanities,’” Mr. Loss said.
Meanwhile, at the Vanity Fair of Princeton …. “I don’t think anything with our name on it should be a second-tier outlet,” New Yorker managing editor Pamela Maffei McCarthy said.
That’s why the Chrysler New Yorker was top of the line! But Ms. McCarthy was talking about the 81-year-old magazine’s online presence, which she has been in charge of developing. On June 19, Blake Eskin will become the magazine’s first-ever Web editor—that’s editor as in “content generator.”
So Mr. Eskin, whose hiring was first reported by Women’s Wear Daily, has to turn a site that’s been dedicated to partial reprints, archival material and mild author Q&A’s into a full arm of the old quality-first outlet.
Mr. Eskin, a graduate of the magazine’s vaunted fact-checking department and most recently of the online Jewish publication Nextbook, declined to discuss his plans, saying it was too soon. Ms. McCarthy described the venture as “a vague notion” at present.
“We want to give readers a reason to come to the site every day,” she said. “We haven’t figured out how to do that yet.”
Mr. Eskin’s arrival is part of a Condé Nast–wide effort to get up to speed on the Web. The company is filling vacant Web-editor posts at half of its 29 titles, including the hiring of Andrew Hearst, also reported by WWD, as Vanity Fair’s Web editor.
“For Condé Nast, 2006 was like 1999 for other people,” one New Yorker staffer said.
And at The New Yorker, the brisk pace and inclusive tone of the Web is more or less the dead opposite of what created the magazine’s mystique.
“There doesn’t seem to be enthusiasm for blogging,” one staff writer said. “What would you blog when you have The New Yorker? Why descend to that level? You spend your whole professional career getting here. You start as a police reporter, then you build up to writing features at a newspaper and then a magazine, and then The New Yorker. Here you get to spend a couple of months on a piece. Why would you go backward to the beginning?”
Another writer expressed trust in Mr. Eskin. “I guess I’m just optimistic until they completely lean on me,” the writer said.
Staff writer Jeffrey Toobin was more enthusiastic about the project. “Look, I love writing for the magazine,” Mr. Toobin said. “I think if you can do something that’s consistent with the quality and value of The New Yorker, the technology matters less.”
“I’m intrigued and excited about us stepping on the Web in a more formal way,” pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones said. “If there’s a role for me to play, even if it means staying up all night, I’ll do it.”
One option the magazine has discussed is bringing Mr. Frere-Jones’ personal blog under its banner.
Stephin Merritt, beware! And Mr. Frere-Jones’ fellow staffers, get with the spirit!
“There’s no thought of an A-team or B-team,” Ms. McCarthy said. “Who wants to have a B-team?”
On June 5, New York Times metro editor Joe Sexton put out a memo announcing the hiring of Serge Kovaleski (“a muckraker of the first order”) from The Washington Post and Cara Buckley (“thrilled to have her”) from The Miami Herald.
The effusive personnel news made no reference to an earlier Times memo: the Sept. 20, 2005, message in which executive editor Bill Keller announced staff cuts and declared that the paper was “closing the door immediately on new hiring. This freeze will last at least until the end of the year.”
So is Times hiring unfrozen?
Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty wrote in an e-mail that the freeze was long since over, and that it had only applied to the period during which The Times was offering voluntary buyouts. “[T]here really hasn’t been any freeze other than for that 45-day period,” Ms. McNulty wrote.
That could explain why the paper has hired Mark Leibovich, Manny Fernandez, Michael Barbaro and Farhana Hossain from The Post; Mark Mazzetti of the Los Angeles Times; and former Detroit-bureau contract writer Jeremy Peters. And why it has approached Franklin Foer and Ryan Lizza of The New Republic, and held talks with Post White House reporter Peter Baker, Style reporter Libby Copeland and China correspondent Peter Goodman. In all, the paper has hired three dozen newsroom staffers since September 2005, according to a spokesperson.
Except! According to Mr. Keller, the hiring freeze is still on.
“Technically, we’re still in that period,” Mr. Keller said by phone.
“I think we’re in a position of having to hire carefully,” Mr. Keller said. “We put a lot of thought and a lot of vetting into hires. We certainly do it a lot more now. Any potential hires get approved at a higher level, being the masthead. Mostly being me and [managing editor Jill Abramson]. There are some desks that have openings they wish they could fill, and they just can’t.”
“I don’t think anyone from those desks are dying of starvation,” Mr. Keller added.