Whither the Times magazine?

MediaWeek, under its new boss, Michael Wolff, asked a bunch of us what we’d advise the New York Times Magazines’ new boss to do. Here was my full answer:

Their Q: The New York Times Magazine has a new editor, Hugo Lindgren. If you could make one suggestion for how he could improve the Times Magazine what would it be?

My A: Ask me whether I care. I don’t pick up the magazine. I do read stories out of it when I see links and discussion. The magazine — like the newspaper — is unbundled. Or to pick another metaphor: its content is atomized, and then some of the free atoms find their way into new molecules not through editors’ packaging but through readers’ recommendations.

Other real (read: standalone) magazines at least have some worldview and community of shared interest gathered around them. The Times Magazine has a weaker identity and weaker ties; it’s not a magazine so much as a slick paper on which to print more Times stories.

So why have a magazine? Slick advertising. So I’d put the reporting where it belongs — in the paper — and let the fluffy speciality magazines with good endemic ad categories — fashion, travel, home — take over.

Or here’s another idea: Turn the magazine into a curation of great content of the week from the web. Become a molecule-maker.

  • That’s a great answer. Too bad it was edited down to a nasty sound bite.

    • It wasn’t even nasty. I still said I wanted the reporting preserved. I just don’t see the need, personally, for the magazine as a magazine.

      • The Truth

        “It wasn’t even nasty” and “Ask me whether I care” kind of contradict each other don’t they? I think most would call your response nasty even if you want to preserve the reporting.

        • I don’t speak PC. It’s a foreign language.

    • Andy Freeman

      Everyone wants reporting. It’s journalists who are in trouble, and deservedly so.

      • Stan Hogan

        Why deservedly so, Andy? That sounds rather “nasty.” What has happened to the business models of newspapers that has resulted in fewer real journalists being employed isn’t really the fault of journalists.

        That said, at least the condensed version of Jeff’s response made some sense and did so without the bitter “dance on their graves” tone.

  • Tim Scoutelas

    Love the candor Jeff. Keep it up!

  • Eric Gauvin

    It appears your issue is with the edited version vs. the full version above. Are you trying to say you’ve been misquoted? It does seem strange that a journalism professor injects so much emotion into clarifying his point of view.

    BTW, why didn’t you provide a link to the edited version of your answer?

    Is this it?

    Ask me whether I care. I don’t pick up the magazine. I’d put the reporting where it belongs — in the paper — and let the fluffy specialty magazines with good endemic ad categories take over. Or, turn it into a curation of great content of the week from the Web.


  • I agree with you completely in terms of consumption behavior.

    However, does it make sense for existing publishers to become aggregators/curators? It seems they have a very tough time making that transition.

  • I read the New York Times Magazine, but the sections need to be changed up every once in a while. There’s always the linguistics column, there’s always a “Lives Column”, there is now a truly annoying food column about the writer cooking with his kid (who cares?), the same “consumer column”. It all stays exactly the same, year after year, with not much that’s new. I’d like to see them have their staff writers write features that don’t fit into these boxes. they are great writers — I am sure they’d like some creativity every once in a while?

  • Michael Hickins

    “I don’t speak PC.” Oh God, now you’re adding self-pleasuring to the mix of pontification and pedantry. Perhaps some “lazy journalist” will pick up on this and it will be repeated often enough and Jeff Jarvis will be known far and wide as the man who doesn’t speak PC.
    Truth is, the only practical experience Jeff Jarvis has had in real-world journalism resulted in abject failure. Jeff was the eminence grise behind Fairchild Internet (2001 attempt), which folded — folded!! — six months after launch, six months after failing to find a single paying customer in JJ’s ill-conceived “business model”.
    So it’s the ultimate irony for Jeff Jarvis to give advice to people struggling in their actual working lives to create a working model out of the current disruption. There really is a need for news; JJ may think he already knows everything, including the future, but some people still need news and analysis. How to package it is indeed the question, but only a fool would turn to JJ for answers.

    • I can see you have a good sense of “humor” and like “quote marks” a lot.
      Hate to burst your bubble, bub, but Fairchild wasn’t my doing. Got a little on me but I argued against what I’d say were the causes of failure.

      • Eric Gauvin

        your specialty seems to be arguing against things…

        • And yours is arguing against me.

          Except I’m not arguing against something here. I was asked for my suggestions. I gave them.

  • Mike D.

    Maybe see it as I see it, a cartoon for cartoonish mental . . .

  • Mike D.

    Maybe see it as I do – a cartoonish attempt to be relevant, and be done with it. Most people are . . .

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  • It was not even sad. I even said I wanted to alert has been preserved. I just do not see a need, personally, the magazine of the newspaper.