Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism

Thinking outside the magazine

Adam Moss, editor of New York magazine discusses the innovations that earned the publication the Missouri Honor Medal.

Adam Moss is a trendsetter in the world of journalism.

“A single person can have an outsize effect, and many would suggest that Mr. Moss, with his deft hand for provocative covers and smart assignments, is one of the best editors working in a hybrid age,” says New York Times media critic David Carr about Missouri Honor Medalist Adam Moss.

Moss has been the editor-in-chief of New York magazine for eight years. During his Oct. 15 master class at the University of Missouri, he talked about the development and growth of New York’s website into one of the most innovative and successful online magazines read worldwide.

Moss re-launched the magazine’s website in 2006. He transformed it from a magazine companion site into a redesigned, up-to-the minute news and information site. Instead of recycling stories from the print issue online, popular Web stories started influencing what appeared in the print magazine, Moss says.

“In a way, New York magazine is fast becoming a digital enterprise with a magazine attached,” Carr noted in his article.

Today, the website is a ‘portal’ to five different digital magazines, Moss explained:

* The Daily Intel: offers news and features stories.

* The Vulture: focuses more on entertainment news.

* The Cut: is a site for women who want to view the latest fashion trends—“News from the Runaway.”

* The Grub Street: is a blog about food and the restaurant scene. It was expanded in 2009 to five different cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

* The Sport Section: is a sport blog that reports on football, baseball, basketball, hockey and tennis.

Moss said that audience is the key word to create conversations. Online comments were transformed and expanded into blog posts and also became letters to the editor in print.

The magazine is about New York and also about ways of examining the world. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has pointed out “The nation’s best and most-imitated city magazine is often not about the city — at least not in the overcrowded, traffic-clogged, five-boroughs sense.”

Moss shared statistics with New York Times public editor David Okrent that reflected the online publication breakneck pace at a 2011 conference, according to a Nieman Journalism Lab article. publishes new material every six minutes.

“It starts at that speed at 8:30 in the morning ending about 7,” Moss said. And the rate slows down until the next morning. “We still publish 8 or 9 things overnight.”

The expectations regarding Web traffic are high, too. “If it gets 10,000 readers, that’s successful blog post,” Moss said. When a magazine piece is posted online, the traffic is expected to be around 200,000 or 300,000 hits.

And “the editing process online is zero, pretty much,” Moss said. He explained that’s why he hires people who can create quickly smart and accurate content. “I’m not that comfortable with that, but that’s practical reality. It’s a speed business.”

Moss said the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has been his most challenging Web story. The staff met a year in advance to discuss what they would do for the event; planning was essential. They came to the conclusion that they wanted to explore how the attacks changed the way Americans see the world and see themselves. The New York staff created an online encyclopedia with 96 entries and invited people to share their photos and own experiences.

Moss shared another challenge. Weekly online-only sex columns, under the name of “sex diaries,” turned out to be very popular, so Moss decided that it could be a good story for the magazine. Kurtz wrote: “When Adam Moss put ‘The Sex Diaries’ on the cover of his magazine — explicit jottings from such hot-to-trot folks as ‘The Polyamorous Paralegal’ and ‘The Trader Who Will Fly for Sex' — it hardly seemed like a subject fit to print for The New York Times.” But that’s the reason why Moss came to New York magazine, “to spark conversations on far-flung subjects,” Kurtz penned.

Moss approached the controversial issue of payroll subscriptions. The online content is completely free, he said. In the future, he added, New York Magazine will have to choose what content is only available to subscribers and what should remain free. The New York Times made the transition, and it has been profitable. Ideally, he would like to stop publishing the print magazine — because it is too expensive — and have people pay for the online version on tablets, smartphones, etc.

By Kevin Dubuois. 

Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism.
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