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Editors Rex: Lindgren-Moss Saga

Media world watches battle of Hugo Lindgren and Adam Moss.

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Late one night in early February 2009, at the headquarters of New York Magazine at 75 Varick Street, editor Adam Moss walked into the office of Hugo Lindgren, the editorial director.

Lindgren, a kind of bespectacled Aaron Eckhart and one of Moss’ right-hand men, had edited a piece called “Freakoutonomics” — an article about making it during the recession — and press time was getting near. Moss and Lindgren were used to withstanding the deadline squeeze together. But when Moss asked his editorial director if he could make a last-minute change on a pull quote, Lindgren snapped at his boss.

A pull quote! At this hour?

Lindgren told Moss he was tired of this sort of thing. The argument took place inside of Lindgren’s open office door and lasted for 10 minutes. There was a great deal of screaming and cursing, and plenty of staff in the New York office witnessed and heard the magazine equivalent of a domestic quarrel.

And while the fight over the pull quote wasn’t the trigger for making the two eventually split up, it signaled how far things had come in the relationship between one of New York’s great editors and the man who had worked by his side for 10 years.

A year later, Lindgren left New York Magazine for Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Within six months of that, Lindgren was named the editor of The New York Times Magazine. Lindgren will now take on his former boss, and current rival, on a weekly basis at the magazine that for five years was run by Moss, before he left the Times to edit New York.

“Did you see this week’s issue?” said Lindgren in a phone interview, referring to New York Magazine.

He laughed.

“They had one of our writers in there. They had pretty much our subject matter across the magazine. It’s totally good, though. What makes it good? Why are the Mets and Yankees spending so much money to put the best team out on the field? Because they don’t want to be the second best team in New York.”

Lindgren, from two miles uptown, was sizing up his competition, and seemed to be enjoying the moment.

“Yeah,” he continued, “there’s a healthy rivalry.”

And so the battle begins. Like most creative fields — fashion, design, music, advertising — magazine editing is made up of a world of mentors and protégés. If the protégés really have what it takes, and the mentors do their jobs, a breakup is inevitable.

And now it’s Lindgren vs. Moss, in the manner of David Granger leaving GQ and his mentor Art Cooper to edit Esquire; Kate Betts departing Vogue to take on her old boss Anna Wintour as editor of Harper’s Bazaar, or in Hollywood, Jeffrey Katzenberg leaving Disney to take on his old boss Michael Eisner. Mentor vs. Protégé; Master vs. Apprentice.

“I had to work for him for 10 years,” Lindgren, 42, said of Moss, speaking on the phone from his new office at The New York Times Building, where he was completing his second week in his new job. “We definitely had our share of disagreements and things that built up.”

“Hugo became unhappy in that job for whatever reasons,” said Moss. “And when he got unhappy it became unpleasant. It became unpleasant for him and it became unpleasant for me. Hugo knew himself well enough to realize he should go and do something else. Fabulously, it worked out great for everybody.”

Back in 1999, Moss was the editor of the Times Magazine, and one of his big tasks was to reinvent the front sections of the book. He hired Ariel Kaminer and then Hugo Lindgren, a tag team at New York Magazine, to build the section that came to be called The Way We Live Now. The section was a front-of-the-book well that helped define Moss’ touch with the art of magazine packaging.

But by the time Bruce Wasserstein bought New York Magazine in 2004 and brought in Moss to be its editor, Lindgren had recently left the magazine and had joined the paper’s newsroom to cover publishing; he’d wanted to write more. He angled for a spot on the sports desk but the openings weren’t there. Lindgren called Moss and asked if he could come back with him to New York. That was easy: Moss had to revamp a magazine again, and who better than his old running mate to help him do it?

“Hugo is a person of intense boyish enthusiasms, which he has the maturity to translate into great magazine material,” Moss said admiringly.

One thing needed to be sorted out, though. Moss told Lindgren that if he was going to join New York, he would be an editor, which meant he could only edit. Moss believes in a strict divide: Editors edit, and writers write. The wanderlust that had taken Lindgren off the magazine at the Times had to be put behind him. Lindgren agreed, and was hired.

Those early days were fantastic. Everyone was having fun remaking New York, and it wasn’t long before it became a hit with readers; the magazine cognoscenti awarded them eight National Magazine Awards between 2006 and 2008. By this point, Lindgren knew the weekly was a magazine that “blows most monthlies away.” The Moss style was becoming something, and Adam Moss was getting bigger by the day. Not that he hadn’t already racked up credibility for starting the cult-favorite city mag 7 Days in the late Eighties, then turning around the Times Magazine. But New York was a high point. The dynamic between the two — a cool, hard-driving and deeply analytical editor in Moss, who is considered to be one of the best managers and packagers in print media, working alongside an excitable, wide-ranging guy’s guy in Lindgren — worked fantastically well.

As for Moss’ secret of how to make Mossy magazines, Lindgren described it simply: “The incredible work habits, the incredible discipline, the rigor at wanting to make things make sense, wanting things to be better, wanting every component of the magazine to be as good as it can be. It can be terribly exhausting to work under, but he cares about the pull quotes, he cares about the table of contents, he cares about all the little things that go into a magazine.”

The very stuff that Lindgren admired was also what began to eventually take a toll on him. He had ideas as well and he wanted a bigger voice. And though they still valued one another, inevitably, the fights about headlines, story lengths, story ideas, and yes, pull quotes, increased.

“I guess I grew older and more experienced and I had a lot of other ideas myself that I thought were as good as his ideas, or whatever,” said Lindgren.

Lindgren likes to concede that Moss was often right in their disagreements. It’s just that for Lindgren it probably made those disagreements harder, not easier, to bear. And the wanderlust was back. It manifested itself in Lindgren’s dissatisfaction and finally he wanted to write again.

And that February night in 2009, under intense pressure to get the issue out, it had reached a critical point when they fought over the pull quote.

“He was just much more sensitive,” said Moss. “He took things harder. A year before, he would have laughed it off. I would push him a little bit, he would resist me a little bit, and that kind of dynamic — that process — that under most circumstances feels ordinary suddenly took on perhaps more meaning.”

Asked about the perception that he is a micromanager, Moss said, “That is probably true for Hugo,” he said. “I totally dispute it. I think people have an enormous amount of freedom — an enormous amount of freedom at New York Magazine. I admit I’m obsessive, and I drive the place pretty hard, but the people drive themselves pretty hard, too.”

Once it became clear that the two were no longer working perfectly together, and Moss began to take New York editor Jared Hohlt under his wing more, Lindgren and Moss had several conversations about whether it was time for him to move on, and Lindgren went on the job hunt in earnest. And then a strange thing happened: Lindgren knew he was leaving and things calmed down. Suddenly, the brothers at arms were buddies once more. They got along. Peace was restored. Moss sent out a lovely farewell note for Lindgren, and there was a very warm going away party.

Lindgren’s first stop was a surprise. Bloomberg had bought BusinessWeek, and it needed a revamp.

 

Lindgren would not be the editor this time either, but he’d be one of the chief architects. In a short time, he made his mark as executive editor under Josh Tyrangiel, who had bolted Time magazine from under his own mentor, managing editor Richard Stengel. Bloomberg BusinessWeek had become better.

Three months later, the Times Magazine job opened.

Lindgren never threw his hat in the ring for the job. For one, he had just started a new job. Also, his old colleague and friend, New Yorker features editor Dan Zalewski, had applied and became a front-runner for the position and Lindgren felt he was the right guy for that job. But Zalewski, after getting an offer, turned it down. (He got some perks from The New Yorker, including a new job title — features director — an assistant, a few weeks to write each year and some more money.)

From the get-go Times executive editor Bill Keller had to make a quick move. Times sources said Keller was intent on hiring from the outside, but now it looked more and more like he was going to have to settle on an internal candidate. That’s when Metro columnist Ariel Kaminer shot off an e-mail to Keller. Kaminer had worked with Lindgren back in the late Nineties at New York, and recruited him to come join her at the Times Magazine. And just as she had done 11 years earlier, Kaminer went into full gear and promoted the hell out of Lindgren. Keller asked Lindgren to submit a memo, and then he called an old friend to get a scouting report.

“When I was talking to Bill Keller about him, I gave him a very glowing reference,” said Moss. “I said to him, ‘Like any hire, it’s a bet. I would make that bet. I think Hugo is ready for this job.’”

Very shortly thereafter, Lindgren was the new editor of The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

“My impression of Hugo is he has grown up a lot in the last couple of years,” said Moss. “Is he ready for a job like this? It’s a very hard job. He can do it. He has the talent. He has the personal skills.”

Twelve days later, Lindgren hired Lauren Kern as his deputy editor. Only shortly before that, Kern had left the editorial director position at New York Magazine, to Moss’ great disappointment, to go to O!, with the statement that she wanted to enter women’s magazines. Lindgren brought her to the Times, and she walked out of the O! job only a few days into it.

Score one for Moss’ ex-protégé.

Now Lindgren has another major makeover on his hands. By the end of January, he said there will be a significant redesign of the title, a new front-of-the-book and a revamped back-of-the-book. The magazine will have a “different feeling to it” after all these years. It will, in other words, fully be Lindgren’s magazine and his chance to take on Moss head-to-head.

“If I ran into him, I’d have 25 things to tell him,” said Lindgren of Moss. “I’ve got nothing to prove to him, I have no grudges. Our differences were the by-product of working together a lot. I’m a pretty headstrong person and he handled that pretty amazingly well for a long time, and then you know what? It’s time for us to have different situations and it’s worked out pretty well for both of us.”

Several people familiar with their relationship compared it with a marriage where the magic became conflict; a romance soured; love lost. Neither Moss nor Lindgren bought that metaphor.

“It was more parental,” said Lindgren. “It was a process of growing up. I was thirtysomething when I went back to work there. I wasn’t a kid, but I learned a lot from Adam. I learn a lot from reading the magazine. He is what I want be when I’m his age.”

 

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