MINE IS BETTER THAN THEIRS: New York Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren told a group of Columbia Journalism School students on Thursday night that the magazine became “kind of static” before he took over and it was “truly necessary” to make big changes.
“It was a magazine that I think had definitely gotten into certain routines and habits,” said Lindgren. “And a lot of the same people were doing a lot of the same things since . The Ethicist had been the same guy for 10 years when I got there. And there was the woman who did the interviews had done them for 10 years.”
So he went about removing Randy Cohen from his post as the Ethicist; replacing Deborah Solomon as the “Questions For” columnist, and eliminating the On Language column.
“I obviously took no pleasure in it but it was truly necessary,” he said. “I mean, the front of the book is the place that has got to evolve and change. And the columnists there were not, to my personal taste, doing the work. My feeling kind of was, ‘I don’t know how long I get to edit this magazine, but I’m going to put the stuff that I like and I want there.’ And the people that we got rid of had done good work, had been there, and had been committed to their jobs, and I had a lot of respect for them as professional people. But I felt that we could do different.”
He said it was vital to try new things, and took a shot at his predecessors (Gerry Marzorati and Adam Moss edited the magazine before Lindgren) for not being as experimental.
“It is not OK to be like, ‘Well this guy is pretty good and we’re just going to stick with it.’ We have got to find the best, most exciting, dramatic, attention-grabbing, meaningful journalism we can. And we’ve got to try formally different things,” he said, adding, “But that’s something I feel my predecessors didn’t do enough of.”
Not that all of his changes have gone over smoothly. Lindgren said his “The One-Page Magazine” front-of-the-book feature, which is a mishmash of about a dozen tiny items written up in tiny type, has not been a hit with his readers.
“I’d say 90 percent of the mail I get is about how much they hate the One-Page Magazine,” he said. “I like it a lot, but I understand that it is so beyond anything the New York Times Magazine has ever done, and I so love that that I might be blinded to whatever we might be doing wrong there.”
Yeah, it really hasn’t swayed him.
“Like, here’s the thing about the One-Page Magazine: it’s one freaking page,” he continued later. “If you don’t like it, turn the page. And this one woman went through the whole thing and critiqued it each day. ‘This was this, this was this.’ And I said to her: ‘Here’s 25 other things in the magazine. Did you get your money’s worth?’ And I think the answer is yes.”
Lindgren charmed his Columbia crowd, more so than most editors who speak at these events and wind up dishing out safe, banal career advice. He took the occasion — a year after he redesigned the magazine — to give a brutally up-front defense of all that he’s done so far with the weekly.
Or, let’s take advertising. Lindgren said that decades ago the magazine was a catchall for advertisers and was so packed with ads that “you couldn’t find the articles.”
“If you pick up the magazine you have with you it’s not really like that anymore,” he said.
The magazine everyone had with them — the issue with the Susan Dominus cover story on teenagers — totaled 58 pages, and had 14 ad pages, according to Media Industry Newsletter.
“I don’t know what our individual [profit and loss statement] is on the magazine now, I’m afraid to know,” he continued. “But I do know that people subscribe to the Sunday New York Times and the weekend edition in large part because of the magazine. And that is acknowledged in the building. I don’t get any accounting that demonstrates that, but definitely it’s well understood. And that’s what we’re kind of relying on.”
Lindgren said that when T: The New York Times Style Magazine was created a few years ago, luxury advertisers raced over there and haven’t come back to the weekly.
“That has all the advertisers,” he said. “Not all of them, but it has all the luxury advertisers, which is one of the only growing markets for print journalism. And they have all the advertising. We used to have Ralph Lauren and Chanel, but we don’t anymore.”
T happens to produce stories that advertisers like, which the weekly can’t be relied on for.
“They do some interesting stuff there, but they’re not going to do a story about a famine in Africa next to the Chanel ads,” he said. “It’s an environment that the luxury advertisers feel comfortable in, and it’s difficult for us to make the counterclaim.”
Through the March 11 issue, the weekly magazine has 163 ad pages and is down 24 percent for the year, according to data from MIN. T, meanwhile, through two issues, has 170 ad pages and is down 6 percent for the year.