An Exit Interview With 'New York Magazine' Editor-In-Chief Adam Moss

22 hours ago
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The stack of magazines that I read regularly has changed a lot over the years, but one title that has been in the pile pretty much constantly is New York Magazine, which is odd because I've never lived in New York. Still, it somehow manages to be a must-read issue after issue. Adam Moss has been editor-in-chief for the last 15 years, and he is stepping down at the end of this month, so we've invited him on for an exit interview. Adam, welcome.

ADAM MOSS: Hi.

SHAPIRO: You've spent most of your life at magazines - Rolling Stone, Esquire, New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine for the last 15 years. What do you love about them?

MOSS: You know, I love their kind of strange mixture of being a sort of public service and also an entertainment medium. And you have to find that weird place in between. You're telling stories, and I've always found the various ways that you can tell stories in magazines to be deeply satisfying. And those ways are sort of exploding in all sorts of ways now. I mean, when I first started, it was on paper. And now there's also audio, and there's also video, and there's also live events. And what constitutes a magazine is changing.

SHAPIRO: What is a magazine anymore...

MOSS: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: ...When you're talking about all those things. It's like...

MOSS: It almost doesn't matter.

SHAPIRO: But that's a legitimate question because under your leadership, New York Magazine created Vulture and Grub Street and Intelligencer - all of these sort of web landing pages that may or may not bear any resemblance to a glossy thing that people hold between their hands that we call a magazine.

MOSS: Yeah. That's true, although I hope that they share certain properties altogether, which have to do with mainly a point of view. And that point of view is something that Clay Felker, who was one of the two founders of the magazine, understood immediately, which is that New York Magazine would not be about the concrete of New York. It would not be about geography. It would really be about point of view or sensibility. It would be how a New Yorker looks at the world.

SHAPIRO: When you say the through line is the New York sensibility or point of view, to me, that describes something as cynical as "Seinfeld" or as earnest as "Hamilton." So when you have those two ends of the spectrum, what is the New York sensibility or point of view?

MOSS: Well, I mean, people define it differently. But, you know, I think actually the continuum between "Seinfeld" and "Hamilton" is sort of useful because "Hamilton" is earnest, yes, but it's also really pretty clever. And "Seinfeld" is funny, but it's also really pretty smart. And so when you take those things together, when you take a sort of - a kind of approach that is just interested, engaged in a passionate way with things that happen in the world, you get something close to a New York sensibility.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about some of the memorable issues that New York Magazine has published during your time at the top of the masthead. One that comes to mind for me is an issue from July 2015. The cover story I'm thinking of is "I'm No Longer Afraid: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted By Bill Cosby, And The Culture That Wouldn't Listen."

MOSS: Ah, yes.

SHAPIRO: And the cover has all the accusers shot in black and white.

MOSS: So that cover probably is the single most important, in my opinion, cover that we ever did. And what was so powerful about it was that the cover alone told the entire story. And it was a project initiated by the photo director of the magazine, whose name is Jody Quon. And she believed that the Cosby accusers were not being listened to and that - it was her idea that if you assembled a mass of these women, you would begin to see how powerful their case was. And the Bill Cosby story, it had been surfaced, but it had kind of disappeared. And it was our hope - and I think it kind of happened - that the cover itself would catapult the story back into people's consciousness.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. OK. So, Adam Moss, tomorrow you're being inducted into the Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame. And I don't know if that comes with an opportunity to give an acceptance speech.

MOSS: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: But...

MOSS: It does, I'm afraid.

SHAPIRO: It does. OK. So you're going to stand up and offer some wisdom to people who care about magazines and care about journalism. What's your message?

MOSS: Well, I guess I'll just know better when I deliver it tomorrow. But, you know, essentially, it's a message of optimism. You know, when I announced I was leaving, there was, like, to my mind, you know, a sort of shocking outpouring of attention that that got and attached to it was this idea that it was the end of an era or something like that. But the end of something is also always the beginning of something. And I'm highly optimistic about what has begun. I think this is an amazing time for journalism. But it is also as riveting a period - horrifying and riveting a period - as I've ever experienced. And, you know, there's a lot of core values that are at stake here. And that makes for an extremely interesting time to be a magazine journalist.

SHAPIRO: Adam Moss, congratulations on your 15 years running New York Magazine and thank you for talking with us about it.

MOSS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.