Intrigue at The Times Magazine: Marzorati’s Departure Followed Soured Morale and a Controversial Deputy

Mr. Marzorati takes issue with the distracted-editor theory. “As to my energy level, I think there are people who feel I’ve been distracted by masthead stuff and by my interest in the Web and stuff like that,” he said. “But, my God, I’m sure we’ve had more National Magazine (Award) nominations than some magazine companies had, so it’s hard for me to believe that when I walk in, there’s a bunch of really unhappy people who I’m working with. I just don’t sense that, and I’m pretty sensitive to that kind of thing.”

He explained that there is a “very large and sophisticated machinery for evaluation” at The Times, and if there were any problems with his management, “I think I would have known about that.”

We asked Ms. Hirschberg why she left the magazine. 

“The whole thing makes me very sad,” she said. “This isn’t an easy topic. It makes me sad. I don’t dislike or hate Gerry at all. I feel things went wrong somehow. I valued his influence and his editorial role in my life enormously and to have that erode was unfortunate for the magazine and the writers who worked for him. I loved The New York Times Magazine. I did. I think a lot of people felt that way. There’s a lot of emotion attached to this situation. You give 15 years of your life to something and you try really hard to make it great, and you felt other people tried to engage in the same way. It’s an endeavor we all felt passionately about.”

 

MANY TIMES SOURCES said a big factor in some of the staff’s lost enthusiasm stemmed from Mr. Marzorati’s appointment of Megan Liberman as his deputy. A former editor at Us, she edited the front-of-the-book section at The Times Magazine under Mr. Moss and eventually became a story editor under Mr. Marzorati. In 2007, Mr. Marzorati named her the Web editor, and by 2008, she became (along with Alex Star) his deputy. She also became an extremely close confidante. The two of them were often seen together, and she was a very close ally, staffers said. (Ms. Liberman did not respond to a request for comment.) 

The magazine, as sources described, is a bookish place that doesn’t feel much like the newspaper. There are lots of meetings about ideas, and editors tend to do lots of listening. The story editors are people who are usually in mid-career, are pretty well established within the industry and have plenty of side projects, whether writing books or raising a family. They are secure.

Several staffers described Ms. Liberman as a different type entirely, someone who is outspoken and ambitious. While her personality could easily have thrived at any number of magazines, it cut the wrong way at The Times Magazine. Several people familiar with Ms. Liberman who spoke to The Observer said she “cuts people off” in conversation (not the culture of the place!). The word “abrasive” was used to describe her several times. She clearly is not a resoundingly popular colleague.

“You have a smart group of editors, and when you treat them like idiots, it can read as a loss in morale,” said one frustrated current staffer of Ms. Liberman.

Mr. Marzorati strongly defended his deputy. “Megan is a phenomenal, phenomenal editor,” he said. “She has done everything I have asked of her and the magazine has asked of her in an exemplary way.”

He said any problems with her can be traced to the fact that she is a woman and that there is “professional jealousy.”

“I promoted a young woman, a really smart woman and an ambitious woman, and ambitious women make people uncomfortable,” he said.

He recommended that we reach out to Mark Leibovich and Peter Baker, both Washington-based Times reporters who have been writing for the magazine for the past few years. Both gave Ms. Liberman credit for smoothing that transition. 

“I’m a career newspaper writer, with long-form experience but no real magazine background until I arrived at the NYT in 2006,” said Mr. Leibovich, in an email. “Megan — more than anyone — taught me the mag craft.”

“My point is there isn’t a thing that she has done that hasn’t been extraordinary,” said Mr. Marzorati. “As for her being difficult, I don’t see it. I’m a person who is very sensitive to the office culture, and I think I’ve built and helped maintain an office culture that is incredibly friendly and horizontal and not hierarchal.

“In the end, it’s not a participatory democracy,” he said. “I’m the editor. I don’t really give a damn what people think about whether they didn’t like Megan or not. I would hope they would. I promoted her to do a job and she did extremely well.”

 

GERRY MARZORATI DOES not feel he was pushed out of his job. He felt that Mr. Keller was nothing but sincere.

“I don’t think he has any complaints about the magazine, and he said, ‘I could read a magazine you’re editing as long as you wanted to edit it,’” he said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not, or that’s something you say to somebody when you want them to do something else, but I didn’t feel shoved out, to be honest.”

Mr. Keller said in an email that “Gerry’s edited the magazine for about seven years — and before that was Adam’s sidekick. He’ll tell you that’s longer than any other job he’s held, and quite a long tenure for a newspaper magazine. It’s a good time to push the refresh button.”

When we asked about the staff morale, Mr. Keller only wrote, sarcastically, “Of course I’m shocked, shocked to learn that any sector of the newsroom is not governed by pure, blissful harmony.”

But Mr. Marzorati is proud of his legacy at the magazine. We asked him what he thought that was, and he took a day to reflect before emailing back.

“I can look at this magazine, where I have worked since 1994, and see that, for better or for worse, a lot of it came out of my head: from front (getting D Solomon to do the Questions For) to back (extending the length of our cover stories),” he wrote in an email after considering the question of his legacy. “Finally, I am most proud of our commitment to long-form narrative journalism in general, which has been recognized by those who matter most to me, our readers, who — despite the conventional wisdom — immerse themselves in these pieces not only in print but on the Web, where they typically get a million or so page views each week.”

As for the next editor of the magazine, Bill Keller said he has asked potential candidates to write up a memo on what they’d like to do with it, and that they should get the memo to him by the end of July. “I’ve told people I’d like to have a successor by the end of August,” he said. 

jkoblin@observer.com