Texas Monthly Wants $1 Million From the New York Times for Poaching Editor Jake Silverstein
Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein had several reasons to celebrate on March 28. The last installment of an exhaustive five-part, 25,000-word series on a botched triple homicide investigation was live online; the day before, a big Texas Monthly-branded barbecue event had gone off without a hitch in Brooklyn... and, after an extensive search, the New York Times was finally ready to announce it would be naming Silverstein the new editor of its Sunday magazine.
The news, announced on the Times' website that Friday came as a surprise -- Silverstein's name had not been mentioned in speculative articles leading up to the announcement -- and a nasty one for Ian Arnold, vice president of Emmis Publishing, the owner of Texas Monthly.
In a lawsuit filed in Texas' Travis County on Friday, Emmis' lawyers claim that the Times began their pursuit of Silverstein way back in December 2012, a year and three months before the announcement, and more than ten months before the Times Magazine's last editor, Hugo Lindgren, was pushed out in November 2013. (Lindgren is now acting editor of The Hollywood Reporter.)
When Arnold first learned that Silverstein was being considered for the position, Emmis' lawyers say Arnold called Times' managing editor Dean Baquet (the man who, with T Magazine editor Deborah Needleman, led the search). Arnold told Baquet that Silverstein was under contract with Texas Monthly until February 2015, and, according to the suit, "Arnold further advised Baquet that because Texas Monthly would incur losses associated with the early termination of Silverstein, Texas Monthly would expect to be compensated by the Times."
To some, that might sound like extortion, but maybe that's why we're not all lawyers.
Baquet, according to the suit, responded with a polite "we'll be in touch" in the event that they decided to hire Silverstein. (The suit does not say when this conversation took place.)
He never called, and that there is the rub, to Emmis. "Despite Baquet's assurances, the Times did not contact or inform Texas Monthly of its decision to ultimately hire Silverstein. In fact, plaintiff did not learn of the hiring until Silverstein informed Plaintiff [Emmis] shortly before the Defendant [the Times] publicly announced the hiring across multiple media outlets."
Emmis is now demanding up to $1,000,000 (and certainly no less than $200,000) from the Times to compensate for the loss of Silverstein. (Silverstein himself is not named as a party in the suit.) On Friday, a spokeswoman for the Times called the lawsuit "inexplicable."
It is interesting to note the suit's assertion that the Grey Lady played the long game in wooing Silverstein. If Emmis' lawyers have their timeline right, the Times was chasing Silverstein long before Lindgren's departure in November.
After Lindgren's departure, Times editor Jill Abramson -- who, the suit alleges, trekked all the way to Texas to close the deal with Silverstein in mid-March -- promised the magazine would have a new editor by year's end. At that time, in November 2013, she told Capital New York, "We will be looking at candidates from both inside and outside the newsroom."
In a memo one month later, in December 2013, Abramson backed away from that promise, telling staffers the Times would spend three months rethinking the purpose of the Times Magazine before hiring a new editor. (Day to day operations at the Times Magazine were overseen by deputy editors Joel Lovell and Lauren Kern, both rumored candidates for the position, in the intervening months.)
Send story tips to the author, Tessa Stuart
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.