New York Magazine is losing its longest-serving editor in chief — and his departure is reviving talk of what exactly the future holds for the title.
After 15 years with the magazine and its parent company New York Media, which included the successful incubation and expansion of brand offshoots like The Cut, Vulture and Intelligencer, Adam Moss is leaving the post he took up in 2004. His last day will be March 31 and a successor is expected to be named imminently.
“There are many reasons, but they pretty much boil down to this: editors ought to have term limits,” Moss wrote in a note to staff. “Experience is good, but after a while every institution needs a blood transfusion. Plus: I’ve always only really known how to edit for myself and I no longer feel that makes sense for me and New York.”
To illustrate the generational divide he’s feeling, Moss said he’s had to ask “What is a PewDiePie?” [answer: a YouTuber who is also a man]. He also told The New York Times — his previous employer — in an interview that running a magazine simply isn’t what it used to be, alluding to the endless focus on driving and diversifying revenue and making ends meet. “I get reports back about what sold at what price point and all that stuff, and I think, ‘Wait, really, this is what I do for a living?’” he said to the Times. “You do spend less time worrying about getting a story right.”
And maybe that’s shown a bit as of late. Recently there have been stories that have been at odds with the cultural zeitgeist New York has long traded in, especially under Moss. Last month there was an unfunny essay by a comedian who attempted to characterize Priyanka Chopra as a “global scam artist” for her “fraudulent relationship” with Nick Jonas — that didn’t go down well and the article was eventually deleted. In September, there was a magazine feature on Soon Yi Previn, the longtime wife of Woody Allen, that received plenty of blowback.
The value of provocation is hard to argue on the Internet, but Moss tried to make clear in his memo that his decision to leave was his and the reasons behind it entirely personal.
“I love this place and I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do next,” Moss said. He was sure to add: “I don’t feel any anxiety for the company.”
But there is plenty of change going on. An online paywall recently went up for the first time, showing subscription revenue isn’t what it used to be; verticals are being increasingly propped up as stand-alone brands to drive online traffic and create more advertising opportunities. And there’s still speculation of what exactly the future is for New York under the corporate leadership of Pam Wasserstein as digital media is going through its first real taste of upheaval. Staffers are nervous, too, and recently went public with their unionization effort.
There is still industry talk that Wasserstein is shopping New York Media around for an outright sale, which could happen sooner than later, with one source saying there are ongoing talks with Bryan Goldberg of Bustle Digital Group and another pointing to Penske Media Corp. (which owns WWD). Both are essentially the only companies in acquisition mode for the last year, and that looks poised to continue. Representatives of neither company could be immediately reached for comment.
Yet another source said that while there may have been some preliminary talks with those companies, they’ve since ended without a deal. Bustle and PMC are both more apt to scoop up properties that are struggling and therefore a bargain, betting on turnarounds to recoup the investments, so buying New York would be something of a strategy departure. Nevertheless, there is a strong sense by those in the industry that New York has some kind of financial revelation coming up, be it a sale or bringing in a new stakeholder for a cash infusion.
With so much uncertainty, however, if you’re an editor who can pass the baton, now seems like a pretty good time to bow out. Especially if it’s to a younger editor with less attachment to how magazines used to be.
Such as it is, the names being thrown about right now by media insiders to take Moss’ place are Ben Williams, New York’s digital director, and Stella Bugbee, the editor in chief of New York’s popular fashion and female culture vertical The Cut.
One source said Williams, who has been with New York for 15 years, may not fit in with Moss’ idea of “term limits” but he’s said to be very savvy when it comes to advertising and online growth. Meanwhile, Bugbee, who joined New York almost 10 years ago as an editor, is said to be well-liked by Wasserstein and a good candidate to take up the mantle as New York’s second woman editor in chief.
The idea of an outside candidate coming in is thought to be slim, especially if the magazine is looking at the possibility of a new owner or financial partner. A New York spokeswoman declined to comment.