The queen is dead.
Come Aug. 1, New Yorker editor Tina Brown will depart and make room for the magazine’s fifth–but not yet announced–editor. The bomb was dropped at a hastily convened meeting at 10:30 this morning. Indeed, many of the magazine’s staffers were still sipping their first cup of coffee when word went out that Tina wanted to address “the staff.” And so they gathered in what is known as “the piazza,” an open space adjacent to the corridor where the magazine’s senior editors sit.
Sporting a simple blue suit, her hair streaked with just the right amount of blond, Tina walked into the piazza and started speaking while stragglers were still making their way up the stairs. This was, she said, a very difficult thing to do, but she had been presented with an opportunity that she simply couldn’t refuse. After uttering the usual platitudes about how The New Yorker is the best magazine in the business, Tina became farklempt as she pronounced, “I love you all.” Then, of course, came the hugs–along with tears from the members of Tina’s inner-circle who are surely wondering what all of this means for them.
And what does it mean for Tina’s devotees? Culturebox can only speculate. Tina is certainly responsible for bringing in most of the magazine’s hottest writers, and here we’re referring to people like the unrivaled David Remnick and Malcolm Gladwell, both of whom cut their teeth at the Washington Post. Some will probably follow Tina to her next stop, a new media venture formed by Miramax that will publish a monthly magazine and books, as well as produce films and television shows. (She will be the chairwoman and a part owner of the new company.)
But what will become of The New Yorker? During Tina’s tenure, the magazine’s editors were always talking about “the mix”–the never-ending struggle to strike the right balance between the slashy and the serious. The charge that Tina was too fond of the former is by now a cliche. It is also probably the last thing on the mind of billionaire Si Newhouse, who suddenly seems concerned with turning a profit at the magazine. And who can blame him? After all, as Fortune put it recently, the president and CEO of Conde Nast, Steven Florio, “turned a mildly profitable property into one of the greatest money pits in American magazine history.” Under the Florio brothers, Steve and Tom, The New Yorker has lost a whopping $175 million. It’s no surprise, then, that Newhouse has decided to merge the magazine into his Conde Nast empire. Next year, the The New Yorker’s sinecured staffers will move into Conde Nast’s new headquarters and will fight for phone lines and desk space with the rest of Si’s magazines.
As for who will preside over this dark day in New Yorker history, we can only report what we have gleaned from the rumor mill over on 43rd Street. The most obvious candidate seems to be Graydon Carter, the celebrity (if not celebrated) editor of Vanity Fair who has perfected the formula for the profile that simultaneously glamorizes and eviscerates its subject. It seems less likely that Newhouse will go with an inside The New Yorker candidate, though if he does, the best choice might be James Stewart, a respected newspaperman who did a tour as Page One editor of the Wall Street Journal in the early 1990s. Dark horses inside the magazine include Remnick and Kurt Andersen. To this mix, Culturebox would like to add a candidate of its own: Chip McGrath, the editor of the New York Times Book Review. A former staff member at The New Yorker, McGrath was passed over when Robert Gottlieb acceded to power, but over the past few years he has done a bang-up job at the Book Review, giving it all of the heft of the New York Review of Books with none of the intellectual snobbery. All the while, he has been writing nifty pop culture pieces for the New York TimesMagazine, so he seems to have that ingredient of “the mix” covered as well.
Place your bets.