Memo to New York Times: Ditch the Magazine

The memo announcing Gerald Marzorati’s new role at the newspaper seemed like an anti-climax until the last paragraph, when Executive Editor Bill Keller issued this open call for ideas:

Oh, yes. The magazine. Running The New York Times Magazine is one of the best jobs in magazine journalism. We intend to take as much time as we need to find a worthy successor to Gerry. I invite anyone, inside or outside, who thinks he or she has a great vision for the magazine and the ability to execute it, to put your ideas in the form of a memo and send them to me by the end of July.

The candor is pretty refreshing even if the fact that Keller and Co. are so flummoxed about what to do with the magazine that they’ve created an ad for the job, crossed their fingers and hope the hive will spit out a solution.

That’s unlikely. The problem with the magazine section has nothing to do with the writing and editing talent available and everything to do with the way ideas and images are distributed in today’s world. In short, the magazine section lacks impact.

That’s primarily because the long-form work—look at today’s excellent story by Jan Hoffman on the cyber-bullying issue (what’s with these ‘fraidy-cat parents anyway?)—that used to be the exclusive province of the magazine is now the meat of the daily paper. Ditto the distinctive voice of columnists who appear all over the weekly calendar.

The obsolescence of the magazine section should be viewed as Bill Keller’s success in transforming the newspaper, not a sign of weakness. The bold move forward would be to cross the Rubicon and get rid of the magazine itself. If the ad dollars are still meaningful, re-package the culture coverage, week-in-review and op-eds into a glossy vehicle that cross-pollinates between culture, social trends and politics—while providing a place for the crossword puzzle.