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So What Do You Do, Gerry Marzorati?

The New York Times Magazine editor on his (non)rivalry with ex-boss Adam Moss, the future of Sunday supplements, and why the Times needs a monthly luxury lifestyle mag.

- October 12, 2004

While Adam Moss starts "phase one" of his overhaul of New York magazine, his former deputy Gerry Marzorati keeps on keeping on over at The New York Times Magazine, which may just be the best newspaper supplement in the land. Marzorati has a lot to do with that, as he's been ensconced there for a decade now; he just marked his one-year anniversary as editor. If that's news to you, it's because Marzorati has no need for buzz: One of the luxuries of being buried inside the Sunday Times is the freedom to chew slowly on things like the election or Iraq in every issue, without worrying about newsstand sales. Still, slow change is coming, especially with Moss gunning for the cultural big game—witness each magazine's MoMA features just a week apart. Expect a long battle, as Marzorati has no intention of heading back into the wilderness outside the Times anytime soon.

Birthdate: February 8, 1953
Hometown: Patterson, New Jersey
First section of the Sunday Times: The Book Review

You've had the luxury of a long stint at one of the smartest magazines in America. Can you retrace your career path up until the point when you vanished into the wildlife refuge that is The New York Times Magazine?
My first publication I worked for was the SoHo News. I started as an editor there in 1977, and I worked there until it folded in 1982. I went to Harper's magazine, and I stayed there for 10 years. I was at The New Yorker for a year, and now I've been here more than 10 years.

You've been busy helping style editor Stefano Tonchi whip up T from the Times Magazine's sporadic lifestyle supplements, but the magazine itself has barely changed in past year. The biggest change has been the revamped food section with Amanda Hesser. Why make your mark in that area first?
I became the editor of the magazine a little more than a year ago, and one of the first people I spoke with was Amanda. Having done a lot of great work at the paper, I think she was feeling a little restless and wanted to do something new. I've always been a big admirer of her writing and of her thinking about food. I think she is one of the people who really understands that food is a sort of new form of pop culture in America—at least for the kinds of people who read The New York Times. It's got its trends and celebrities and gossip and a sort of intellectual aspect. She understands all of that and, you know, writes like a dream, so I said, "Well, maybe there's something we can work out where you'd come over to the magazine." And it took a bit of time, but that's what happened. The writing in the food section, before she got here, I thought had always been terrific, but I didn't think it was necessarily getting at this kind of newer, edgier food culture that we have now. This is what she came up with, this sort of smorgasbord of different kinds of writing about this new and exciting food culture.

What's next after the new food section? What will be the hallmark of "Marzorati's Magazine?"
There are things in the works that I'm really not ready to talk about yet. I wasn't hired to remake the magazine; the magazine is a very, very successful component of the Sunday Times. I worked closely, as did a lot of other people, with Adam [Moss] over the last five, six, seven years, reconceiving the front of the book, and reinventing some of the typographical aspects of the magazine. So you're not going to see a wholesale change, or a kind of relaunch. I mean, we are what we are. We are a magazine of ideas—the sort of literary journalism that responds to the news—and we follow our curiosities. We are a general-interest magazine. Perhaps since 9/11 a little newsier than we had been, but I think that can be said of most magazines. It's a newsier moment. I've tried to give more space to photography in the well to let the stories breathe a little bit. These are smaller changes, but it is The New York Times Magazine and I wasn't made the editor to change it.

What is the overarching mandate of newspaper magazines at this point? Besides the Times Magazine, there are a handful of other papers' magazines with a fraction of the resources and influence, and there are the national inserts—Parade, USA Weekend, and the latest incarnation of Life—which are cash machines, but often not taken seriously. What's your personal vision?
I think The New York Times Magazine is a unique product. There are other Sunday supplements, Sunday magazines, newspaper magazines, but I think from the perspective of our readers, who make it a first destination on Sundays, and our writers, who are top-flight national magazine writers, and the photographers we use, who are international photojournalists—we're a national magazine that just has a different delivery system than the newsstand. And I'm happy with that.

I've worked in magazines, at Harper's and The New Yorker, and I'm happy not to have to fight for position on the newsstand by wrangling one more tired celebrity for my cover. I'm happy to not have to deal with the kind of excruciatingly expensive mass-mailings you have to do to keep your subscriptions. And I look at it as a complete blessing to have The New York Times as my delivery system, and to be a component of the Sunday paper. It's two million readers, double the weekly readership. People who go out get this Sunday Times, of which the magazine is a big draw, because they want it, not because their boss is picking up the tab. This is something that they want to get. I reach those readers on Sunday, which is still, in what might be seen as an increasingly secular culture—it's Sunday, it's still a time that people set aside for leisure and reflection. We are a national magazine that happens to be distributed in an unusual way. That's how I edit it.

Considering that reach, and your resources, do you feel you have a responsibility to push the similar stories, and a similar sensibility, as a Harper's or Atlantic Monthly, or any of the other smart, small-circulation magazines that go relatively unread? If T is going to pick up the slack on the lifestyle front, is the Magazine going to become still more serious?
Over the last few years, we have probably dealt with more hard news than we did in the '90s because it's felt like a more hard-news time. The issue we're closing this week has a long piece on Darfur [Sudan] with a long photo essay from there, and then a long piece on the Bush White House. This is what readers in the news moment demand. It's still the kind of long-form literary nonfiction that I'm interested in publishing. These pieces won't read like something you'd find in The New Republic. But that's where we're going to go, that's what we're going to respond to. The magazine has a long tradition of doing international news. We're going to continue to do that, we're going to cover Washington, we're going to cover culture.

One of the things I am interested in, and I suspect involve the subtle changes I am interested in, is celebrating culture. I'm not as interested in pointing out all that's lousy about the popular culture. I think that's become an easy thing to do, a kind of thing that seemed edgy 10 years ago, but now everybody is doing it. I want to publish pieces like the profile on Wong Kar-Wai because I think he is a remarkable artist. And we did a long cover story on Pedro Almadovar. That's something I want to be able to do. I want to say, "These are the great ones." I want to celebrate them, even though they may not command as great a place in the marketplace. I don't think our readers necessarily worry about that. I think our readers want to be engaged with the great artists of their time, so you're going to see more of that that you have in the past.

Do you feel you're competing with Adam Moss? The throwaway critique of New York magazine at this point is that it looks more and more like The New York Times Magazine every week.
No. Adam is a friend and a great editor, and I learned a lot from him and I miss him. I think when we worked together we were in a great conversation about magazines. But the reality now is that half of the paper's circulation is outside the New York metropolitan area. So a million of the people who get The New York Times Magazine every week aren't in a place where they can even see New York magazine. I think what Adam's done, it just looks great, it looks way livelier than it did seven or eight months ago, but I don't think that week-in-and-week-out we're on the same turf.

What's the future direction of T, which you ultimately oversee. The Sophisticated Traveler will be folded into it, so it will become a full-fledged monthly.
That's right, it'll be like a monthly luxury style magazine. When Stefano was hired, my feeling at that time was that style is something that's become a much bigger thing in our culture than women's fashion or men's fashion, and style now permeates all of our culture. You really have a democratization of style, and I felt that the very narrowly defined individual supplements weren't capturing that. There was a way to create a magazine that would break down those kinds of boundaries a little bit and try to be more fun about style, and a little thinkier about style, and certainly more beautiful about it in terms of raising the level of the photography and making it a more sophisticated design. And I wanted us to stop thinking about them simply as an advertising base for women's fashion or men's fashion, and to start thinking, "Wait a minute. There's two million readers who might really be interested in this magazine!" And ultimately, that's what I have to sell. For lack of better words, they have this readership that is sophisticated, wealthy, and curious, and this is what I can offer advertisers, not simply a promise of a kind of narrow content.

Should The New York Times even be in the business of publishing a luxury magazine?
My feeling is that The New York Times should be interested in everything, absolutely everything. And that is a huge part of our culture, so why not? No one who picks it up at a newsstand or subscribes to it expects to march through it and read every single thing. Magazines can be pleasure. I'm somebody who believes strongly that, even when you're dealing with the most serious topics, a magazine is a pleasure vehicle. It's something to hold in your hand, it has a tactile feeling, it should have beautiful pictures and inviting typography and all these kinds of things, and pleasure should be part of that package that you get on Sunday. The New York Times should not be homework. The magazine is, you know, it's something to get into a bubble bath with.

Would you ever want to leave the Times Magazine at this point? Would you ever want to have to worry about getting a celebrity on the cover again?
I don't see myself leaving, not any time soon.

Greg Lindsay, a freelance writer in Brooklyn, has covered media for and Women's Wear Daily.

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