If I’m in a pugnacious mood, I write,” Martin Peretz said. “If I’m not, I don’t.”
Mr. Peretz, the editor in chief and part owner of The New Republic, was on the phone Aug. 8 from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He had turned off the television to take the call. Mr. Peretz said he’s “embarrassed” to admit how much TV he is watching. Rockets are flying into and out of Israel; the ceaseless disputes about the Middle East have erupted into open warfare.
“Last night, I fell asleep with Cooper Anderson,” Mr. Peretz said, “and the television was on all through the night, so I woke up with Cooper Anderson.” Or Anderson Cooper. The point gets across.
“Like everybody, I have lots of responses to the news,” Mr. Peretz said, “and I’m particularly and easily inspired—or agitated, as the case may be—by news from the Middle East.”
Not long ago, Mr. Peretz would have had to store up his agitation for an essay in the pages of his weekly magazine. The New Republic’s day-to-day operations are in the hands of bright, policy-minded D.C. journalists, with a bright, youngish editor between them and Mr. Peretz. Amid the judicious earnestness, Mr. Peretz’s opinions—bellicose and deeply personal, marked by a Manichean perspective on Israel and baroque, contemptuous diction—have been like cannonballs fired through a debating tournament.
“I tended to write long, and infrequently,” Mr. Peretz recalled.
Then, in October 2005, after several earlier forays into blogging, the staff down in Washington launched The Plank, a central political blog. The primary authors were to be writers Michael Crowley and Jason Zengerle.
But before long, Mr. Peretz had found a congenial medium—one that would be there for him whenever he felt the urge to express himself. “In the beginning, I just dipped my toe,” he said. “I would do one thing and then not go to The Plank for another week or a week and a half.”
Mr. Peretz is now in it up to his scalp. As of lunchtime on Aug. 8, the editor in chief had written more than 20 percent of the Plank’s posts since the month began. In the previous 48 hours alone, he had four posts: lamenting misleading casualty reports, sharing a hypothesis that Muslims have a weaker sense of humor than Jews, denouncing Reuters and Human Rights Watch for “falsehoods,” and relaying news of a fatal rocket barrage.
The elements of the Peretz style are on full display. There is the historical recall: A rocket strike in the “small but exquisite town” of Ma’alot brings a recounting of the Ma’alot massacre of May 15, 1974. There are the lavish, personalized praises of his allies: “Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King’s College, London … a very wise man”; Ha’aretz’s “reliable and seasoned military analyst, Ze’ev Schiff”; “C. Lowell Harris, the distinguished economist and professor emeritus at Columbia University”; “Margo Howard, who has succeeded her mother (the late Ann Landers) as the most respected advice columnist in the United States” (“We’ve known each other since college,” Mr. Peretz notes in the post, “and we had something of a fling years ago”).
And there is the intemperate tone toward Muslims: Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is a “forked-tongue” speaker; deployment of Malaysian peacekeeping troops would “increase Hezbollah’s numbers by 10 percent.” And the intemperate tone in general: “I want the U.N. to go to Lagos, where no one would go. Fini! The end of the bullshit, and no more Kofi Annan.”
Mr. Peretz, in other words, writes like a blogger.
And the readers react to him as such. After Mr. Peretz equated Malaysian troops with Hezbollah reinforcements, a reader commented, “Yesterday someone wondered why the posts Mr. Peretz contributes to The Plank are heaped with scorn. This little piece of ordure should serve as a perfect example of why that is.” Two posts later, another reader was defending Mr. Peretz from charges of bigotry, citing anti-Jewish rhetoric from a former Malaysian prime minister.
The original post, including headline, was 37 words long. The debate over it eventually stretched out to 31 comments, making it the second-most-hotly-discussed blog post in the month thus far. No. 1, with 57 comments, was Mr. Peretz’s attack on Human Rights Watch.
The greatest number of responses drawn by any of Mr. Peretz’s employees, by comparison, was 22.
Mr. Peretz said the whole custom of comment-posting was new to him. When he began writing Plank entries, he said, “I think the only blog I’d read was Andrew Sullivan, and I don’t think I’d read any responses to blogs.
“So I was, in the beginning, a little bit stunned. But then, gauging the response, and particularly the hostile response—the hostile responses—I realized that I was making my point.”
Mr. Peretz noted that on Aug. 7, he had published a piece in The Wall Street Journal. In it, he praised Senator Joseph Lieberman as a “muscular” Democrat, saying, “Ned Lamont is Karl Rove’s dream come true.”
“The only feedback I got immediately was calls from friends,” Mr. Peretz said. “Well, there’s a certain kind of gratification in that, but it’s limited. My friends are my friends, and you want to know how people responded who aren’t my friends.”
On the Web, Mr. Peretz’s non-friends come out and fight. And Mr. Peretz is unafraid to dive back into the combat, posting comments in response to the comments in response to the comments on his original posts. “[T]he government of Malaysia which offered its soldiers to the international force is perfervidly anti-Israel and, yes, perfervidly anti-Jewish,” he wrote, following up on his Malaysia-Hezbollah post. “Maybe these categories are abstractions to some like my self-righteous critics. But they are vivid and real to me.”
“Some of the response is splenetic, and I think the response is instantaneous,” Mr. Peretz said, with relish. “It’s interesting reading people attacking me and then defending me.
“Not the same person,” he added.
Mr. Peretz is also drawn to the battle in the comments section because he knows how to post there. “I don’t know how to post a Plank,” he said. When he writes an item, he sends it to the office, where someone else puts it up.
“So I’m likely to type a talkback if I’m up at 1:30 in the morning and I can’t fall asleep yet,” Mr. Peretz said.
Despite the techie middleman, The Plank is unedited, Mr. Peretz said. “And it shows,” he said.
“Sometimes I look back and I wished someone had fixed this sentence,” Mr. Peretz said. “But the graceless sentence is still there.”
And the sentiments? “I’ve regretted every so often saying something too sharp or putting down another talk-backer,” Mr. Peretz said.
But regret is a short-lived emotion online. And there’s a war on!
“Hezbollah sends a rocket, you punch out a reader,” Mr. Peretz said. “Or a writer.”
Mr. Peretz said he may set up a battlefield all by himself. “I’m actually thinking—just thinking—of taking myself out of The Plank and just doing my own occasional blog,” he said. “I even have a title for it.”
“I think I have a certain set of core beliefs and core commitments, intellectual and moral commitments, and it really is the spine of my writing,” Mr. Peretz said. “So there—you’ve got a tiny scoop.”
When Ruth Reichl took over the editorship of Gourmet magazine in 1999, she had made her name as a critic and a memoirist. Her debut issue featured pieces by Spalding Gray and Pat Conroy, part of a push toward a more literary-minded Gourmet.
“The response from readers was ‘Don’t forget the recipes,’” Ms. Reichl said.
But Ms. Reichl has carved out a place for high-end food writing in Gourmet—or rather, not necessarily in Gourmet. The August 2006 issue is bagged with a separate publication: a 100-page, perfect-bound, 6 3¼4-by-9 literary supplement.
The main issue’s cover features a close-up photo of a raspberry crumble tart, with cover lines promoting “Frozen Strawberry Margarita Pie” and “Spicy Pork Chops,” among other things. The bonus issue presents the Gourmet banner in white, against a white wall, overlooking a table with a bare white rumpled tablecloth and three little glasses of water. One glass has a tiny sprig of white flowers in it.
The contents include a storybook-style meditation on breakfast by Maira Kalman, a piece about Tuscan farro grain by Calvin Trillin, a personal history of bread-baking by Jane Smiley and an essay on Jews and pork-eating by David Rakoff.
Mr. Rakoff’s piece cites a rabbi, Rabbi X, who eats pepperoni pizza for Purim: “Rabbi X has a colleague, also a prominent and respected cleric, who explains himself with, ‘I’ll eat shrimp. No Jew ever died refusing to eat shrimp. But pork, never. Shrimp is trayf, but pork is anti-Semitic.”
“Many of these are not the kinds of stories that you would normally see in an epicurean magazine,” Ms. Reichl said.
Adding to the supplement’s high-lit atmosphere is a near-total absence of display ads. The issue is sponsored by Philips electronics, which is engaged in an anti-advertising advertising campaign—promoting its “simplicity” motto by sponsoring uninterrupted content. Previously, the company bought ad time for an entire 60 Minutes program and eliminated the commercial breaks; in the Gourmet supplement, the only ads are on the back page, one interior full page and a tear-out sheet of Philips-branded bookmarks.
And the supplement omits recipes. Readers who might like to follow up on reading about farro by cooking with it are directed to the magazine’s Web site.
“What you find as an editor is, your readers give you permission to make changes and do things in more interesting and challenging ways,” Ms. Reichl said.
In this case, Ms. Reichl said, the readership’s interests are part of a broader public embrace of kitchen nonfiction. When she published her first food memoir, in 1998, she recalled, “there was no place in bookstores for just writing about food.”
Now, the once-wary Gourmet audience is willing to take its food in the abstract. “We’ve never gotten mail like this on anything we’ve ever done” Ms. Reichl said.
Ms. Reichl said she had expected all along that the audience would come around to her point of view. “I am going to push very hard to make this an annual event,” Ms. Reichl said.
When James Truman decided to move the London-based Modern Painters to New York, it wasn’t just a decision about offices.
Only one editorial staffer would cross the Atlantic with the magazine.
Mr. Truman, the former editorial director of Condé Nast, and now the C.E.O. and managing editor of wealthy bombshell Louise T. Blouin MacBain’s art publications, now has his titles all tucked together in New York. So, on behalf of LTB Media Publications, he has begun to raid for a fresh staff.
“Everything you’ve heard about the James Truman myth is true,” said Domenick Ammirati. “He’s a very intelligent, charismatic guy.”
Mr. Ammirati, a critic and former copy editor for Artforum, was on leave from that magazine for a fellowship in Houston, but was expected to return. Instead, he found himself seduced by Mr. Truman in an Eighth Avenue diner. Over a lunch, they discussed art and “how art can be covered.”
Mr. Ammirati also had phone conversations with Roger Tatley, the magazine’s new editor. He succumbed, and has joined the staff at Modern Painters as a senior editor.
And Claire Barliant, an associate editor at Artforum, began an identically titled position at Modern Painters last week.
“We think we’re smart and have good staff,” said Knight Landesman, a publisher of Artforum, of the little assault. “It’s a big pond. There’s room for a lot of boats.”
The one man to come to America was Mr. Tatley, who formerly held the title of senior editor. The former editor in chief, Karen Wright, will be an editor-at-large, based in London.
Once upon a time, in his Condé Nast days, Mr. Truman created the prototype for a never-realized art magazine. Mr. Truman looked closely then at Modern Painters. He found it “closer to what I was interested in doing than many of the other art magazines,” he said yesterday.
Still, he will give Modern Painters a redesign.
Mr. Truman expected his Condé Nast art magazine to have a six-figure circulation, around 300,000 to 400,000. Modern Painters hovers around 50,000. Some of that gap is understandable in terms of audience. “It was never going to be as insider as Modern Painters,” he said.
Condé Nast, Mr. Truman may have found, isn’t the only supplier of cash and thrills. The launch party for Culture & Travel—the newest title in Ms. MacBain’s stable, which debuts in late September—will be held in her $20 million penthouse at 165 Charles Street, the third of Richard Meier’s glass-sheathed condominiums in the West Village.
In May 2006, Mastheads.org began providing ambitious freelancers with information vital to their profession, like the name of the senior accessories editor at Vogue. Last month, the company began charging for access to the 238 (and counting) mastheads on its site.
Subscriptions to Mastheads.org cost $4 a week, $7 a month or $24 a year—still cheaper than an AvantGuild membership at Mediabistro.
“We got some flak for charging for membership,” Christi Thomas, a freelance editor who works part time for Mastheads.org, wrote via e-mail, “but it was minimal and we got a lot of committed contributors.” (The company avoids phone interviews because employees “don’t want to be misquoted,” Ms. Thomas wrote.)
The site now has more than 5–00 paid members, according to Ms. Thomas. And the content is available for free to the contributors who scan and type out masthead information to add to the site.
“Most of our contributors are youngster editors, interns, freelance writers, or PR people,” wrote Ms. Thomas, via e-mail. “It’s a wide array of people in publishing.”
Mastheads.org was launched by writers and editors who worked primarily at women’s titles. Since then, the Web site has broadened its reach to cover a variety of publications.
And since the Web site rarely rejects masthead contributions, according to Ms. Thomas, the sky’s the limit!
Currently, the company seeks contributors to track a variety of titles that any self-respecting freelancer needs, including Boating, Diabetic Cooking and Playgirl.
“The more mastheads, the merrier,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “It’s sorta like file-sharing for publishing geeks.”