Staffers at The New Yorker have been flinching of late, as they see the approaching shadow of Friday, August 13, the day The Most Eccentric Magazine That Ever Was gets shoehorned into Condé Nast's homogenous new headquarters on Times Square. It's hard to tell who is more peeved: those staff writers who aren't getting offices in the new building, or those lucky enough to have been assigned a room on the top two floors of Condé's new digs. (The company will occupy the 4th through 22nd floors of the 48-story building.)
To writers accustomed to expressing their individuality, the new headquarters is sounding a tad, shall we say, sterile. The company has informed employees that they must move their own office plants and that smoking will be forbidden throughout the entire building. And that's not all: according to a company brochure, "all furniture and carpeting has been deconstructed and laboratory-tested to confirm that its finishes do not adversely impact indoor air quality."
The brochure, an 11 x 14 foldout called "Your Space," is fancy wrapping for a memo from Condé Nast CEO Steve Florio. Starting with a brief history of the "culture of creativity" at Condé Nast, the brochure recalls how, in 1996, after realizing that the headquarters needed serious renovation, the company hit on the idea of building a "new state-of-the-art 'green' office tower."
But being "green" doesn't preclude being fabulous. Florio recounts a brainstorming session he had with real estate developer Douglas Durst, long before the blueprints of the new building emerged: " 'The location?,' I asked. 'At the crossroads of the world,' Durst replied."
The memo informs recipients that each office will contain an adjustable desk, a "personal cabinet" with room for coats and additional storage, and bookshelves to accommodate "books, binders, and magazines." But New Yorker writers whose current offices are crammed with books have been told they are forbidden to bring their old bookcases to the new building or to hang anything on the walls. The proliferating restrictions have led one writer to joke that Condé Nast should rename the seating plan "Your" "Space," because, as he says, "It's not yours, and it's not space."
P.S. Here are two publications that you may want on "Your Bookshelf," if you're one of those New Yorker writers who likes to reminisce about the good old days: the June issue of Food & Wine, which has a gorgeous throwaway piece about buffalo by long- departed New Yorker writer Ian Frazier, and Some Times in America, a memoir by the British journalist Alexander Chancellor, recounting the year he served as Tina Brown's first Talk of the Town editor.
Originally commissioned by Brown's husband Harry Evans when he was at Random House, but later rejected on the ground that it was "too British," Chancellor's book has just been released in England by Bloomsbury Publishing. Amusing, if somewhat apocryphal, stories abound.
Hal Espen, who was named editor of Santa Febased Outside magazine in March, continues to raid Gotham for editorial talent. In addition to features editor Jay Stowe, formerly of The New York Observer, Espen has just hired Mary Turner to be his new executive editor. As senior editor at Allure, Turner assigned and edited pieces by top literary writers, such as Charles McGrath and Ian Frazier, which may explain what Espen calls her "great reputation with writers." It doesn't hurt that Turner met Espen where else? at The New Yorker, where both were formerly on staff.
"Mary will be involved with planning the editorial direction of the magazine, as will everyone," says Espen. "Outside is small enough so that we don't have to be hierarchical, and I'm looking forward to having a team approach." Of Jay Stowe, Espen says, "He has a wonderfully sharp mind and great productivity and moxie and attitude. He edited a lot of complicated and sophis- ticated coverage at The New York Observer."
Also new to Outside is deputy editor Jay Heinrichs, who was formerly editorial director of North Carolinabased Pace Communications. Pace produces corporate publications such as US Airways' monthly magazine Attache, which Heinrichs launched and for which he edited the likes of Ann Beattie and Paul Theroux. Espen praises Heinrichs's "management acumen" and "real editorial skills."
Espen expects to make more hires soon, including "one or two" more senior editors within the next month. "The magazine's ambitions have outgrown the staff we have available," he says. "We have lots of new competition coming up and we plan on crushing them." But at some point this summer, he says, he plans to find time to go outside.
Tough Act To Follow
Ever notice how pieces from Harper's Magazine end up on Public Radio International's This American Life and vice versa? The relationship becomes still more incestuous at the end of June, when Harper's associate editor Susan Burton joins This American Life as a producer. Burton is giving up the Readings section of Harper's to follow a path forged three years ago by Paul Tough, who leaped effortlessly from editing Readings and features at Harper's to producing pieces for This American Life to his current gig as editor of Canada's highest-circulation glossy magazine, Saturday Night.
Here's where the plot thickens. Joel Lovell, who edited Readings before Burton, quit Harper's last fall to join Saturday Night as editor of the Canadian Letters section which bears a strong resemblance both to Readings and to This American Life. So what do these creative forums have in common, besides the ubiquitous fingerprints of Paul Tough?
Julie Snyder, a senior producer for This American Life, explains that the radio show and the Readings section both rely on narratives by "everyday people, people who aren't official writers. It's the idea of finding stories in unexpected places." The show also tries to help people tell their stories in a way that gets to the "emotional heart" of the matter a technique at which Tough excels, according to Snyder.
Pointing out that Harper's editors and This American Life producers belong to a mutual fan club, Tough says many of them share an ability to locate material in diverse genres and to juxtapose that material in a way that brings out the connections between the disparate elements. "Just as a Readings editor looks for a particular piece of art to put next to a particular box to embed in a particular essay," says Tough, "at This American Life, they're creating shows around a single theme, and all the stories get at that theme in different ways. When you listen to them back to back, they mean something more than what they would on their own."
Tough and This American Life executive producer Ira Glass go way back; Glass was contributing to Harper's before he launched the radio show. And one more thing: Tough started his career as an intern at Harper's, as did Susan Burton, Alex Blumberg (who also joins This American Life as a producer this month), and Roger D. Hodge. Hodge will succeed Burton as Readings editor at Harper's.
Marriage of Ideas
Talk about a power couple: Nicholas Lemann and Judith Shulevitz, respectively a staff writer for The New Yorker and the New York editor of Slate, plan to get married in November. And it's no secret. They invited about 70 friends to a rollicking engagement party on May 23, at the home of Walter Isaacson and his wife.
Isaacson is, of course, the managing editor of Time magazine, and his party would have offered rich material for Lemann's new book, which chronicles the history of meritocracy in the U.S. High-IQ partygoers included New Yorker writers Joe Klein, Lawrence Weschler, and Malcolm Gladwell Gladwell being one of Shulevitz's best friends.
Shulevitz is a decade younger than the fortysomething Lemann, but has a résumé to match. When Michael Kinsley tapped her for Slate, she was already ascendant in New York, having worked as editor of Lingua Franca from 1991 to 1994 and deputy editor of New York magazine from 1994 to 1995. In 1996, when Mediaweek included her on a list of editorial all-stars for the "next millennium," the mag made pointed reference to "her frighteningly big brain." Her essays on highbrow topics from Freud to feminism now appear regularly in Slate and The New York Times Sunday Book Review.
And Lemann? In April, New Yorker editor David Remnick called his new hire "one of the best and smartest journalists of his generation." Lemann's first long piece for The New Yorker is due out in a few weeks, and his book on meritocracy will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the fall. On staff for many years at The Atlantic Monthly, Lemann published The Promised Land, a book about the history of the black migration to the North, in 1991. He and his sister, the novelist Nancy Lemann, grew up in New Orleans along with childhood buddy Walter Isaacson.
Lemann and Isaacson, both Harvard men, were crowned members of the media "overclass" by Newsweek in 1995. Did someone say meritocracy? Next time someone compiles that chart, expect Shulevitz to appear with a bullet.
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