Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another One Bites The Dust: After 15 Years, NYT Magazine Quietly Kills "Lives" Back-Page Feature.

After 15 years, the NYT Magazine has quietly killed yet another of its most enduring and popular features -- this time, the back-page "Lives" column.

For the last two weeks -- the second and third issues since the magazine re-launched under new editor Hugo Lindgren -- the backpage feature has been named "Read More." Last week's feature was a 395-word profile of the director of the 1971 movie, "Pink Narcissus," and this week chronicles (in 487 words) the life story of LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy.

The NYT Magazine -- under the leadership of then-editorial director Adam Moss, now editor of New York Magazine -- launched the "Lives" column on January 28, 1996, with an essay by writer Louise Rafkin about her laundry.

There followed more than 500 columns written by the famous (Shana Alexander and Steve Martin contributed in the first year), unknown, and even anonymous -- almost always recounting a small, well-told personal tale. The column grew out of the NYT Magazine's annual "Lives Well Lived" issue that offered short reminiscences of that year's notable deaths.

Lindgren -- who served under Moss at both the NYT Magazine and New York -- has been busy dismantling much of Moss's architecture in recent weeks.

Among Lindgren's moves: he replaced both Randy Cohen (The Ethicist) and Deborah Solomon ("Questions For..."), both popular columnists, and killed Virginia Heffernan's "Medium" column. Perhaps his most controversial decision to date was ending the "On Language" column after 32 years -- most of them written by legendary language expert William Safire.

Lindgren has hired a new Ethicist and "Questions For..." columnist, and launched several new features, among them a regular column by his boss, executive editor Bill Keller, and columns with labels like "You Are Here," "Look," "Riff" and "What They Were Thinking."

The loss of "Lives" will have far-reaching effects among writers, especially those who saw the column as a means to break into the NYT Magazine. In it early years, the column featured the NYT debuts of such future bestselling authors as Elizabeth Gilbert (writing about her childhood home), Mary Roach (on her elderly father) and novelist Colum McCann (on a visit to a Russian cemetery).

In the first issue of Lindgren's re-design, the "Lives" column adapted a piece first published online at Reddit -- liberally editing the language in ways that diminished the writer's original voice, as we noted at the time.

That, as it turned out, would be the column's farewell entry.

UPDATE: Does "Lives" still live? We emailed Lindgren before posting our item and he failed to respond. But a NYTPicker reader wrote to a NYT Magazine editor named John Glassie, and got this reply.

The email suggests that instead of killing "Lives," Lindgren has simply demoted it to occasional status, depending on the supply of 400-word profiles in the bank. Smooth move, Hugo!


30 comments:

Brian said...

'Tis a sad thing. The 'Lives' article would be the first thing I read, followed by 'on language' then Cohen's page. All three would be calm, thoughtful pieces. I notice one effect of the layout/typographical change is that editorial and advertising boundaries are blurry. I wonder if substantive content disagreed with the new 'advertorial' direction.

Anonymous said...

Could Deborah Solomon's departure have something to do with this?
http://www.nytpick.com/2010/12/daddy-dearest-nyts-deborah-solomon.html

Krista said...

Hmmm, the 'big girl now' featured cover story seems to have a fat-lipped ax to grind against Miley Cyrus, and former child stars who are maturing not quite as wholesome cinderella's nor as all-out disasters. It'd be interesting to find out how much publicist or industry money was forked out for this cover, but that might discredit the magazine's brand as a whole. The direction the magazine is being pushed towards seems to be embodied in the writer's easy to reject thesis, which is pretty much summed up in the fifth to last paragraph:

"And that is the bind of the tween-girl idol: If you sell your sexuality, your young fan base (and certainly their parents) will turn on you. Yet if you stay clean, you’re dismissed by your peers as too bland. What’s more, no one — neither young women who have gone through it nor girls who will — has patience for the mistakes and pratfalls of your transition to womanhood."

That is to say, handful of victims for targeted sensationalism and a handful of heroes to worship unconditionally, and generation of enough buzz and hype to manufacture public opinion while no one is in a condition to think clearly. Pretty much.

Anonymous said...

What you say is true: Lindgren has been dismantling the columns established under Adam's Moss's brilliant stewardship of the New York Times Magazine. Why? Old-fashioned revenge. I know for a fact that Lindgren was fired by Moss from New York Magazine, which is why he left to take the #2 position at a lesser magazine ( Business Week). Can someone please go investigate this, please?

Frank said...

Hugo is the best. He's has all the answers and knows exactly what to do and how to do it, and who to front and whom to bench. Hugo is simply the best man suited for the job. Adam Moss was his mentor and taught him how to answer to questions in ways that are so saucy money just wants to pour from the clouds. Great men making pretty pictures.

Anonymous said...

Hugo, Don't you have anything better to do than to post glowing tributes to yourself under a pseudonym? You obviously wrote the above comment.

Bolton said...

All these comments show lack of self-restraint. Man is an animal. Hugo must be there to stir up his emotions. His fears of impending dooooomm and kaaakaaboooom of the barbarians (manufactured or real) at the gate!!!! Out there to turn your daughters into baddies!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, meanies. You don't cheer on the cover article?

Purdy Miranda, will she keep paying Ms. Peggy O. to keep her image tidy and barely edgy, or, will she cease to be a role model (and TV baby-sitter) to the truly retarded?

Anonymous said...

Hugo should never have given Bill Keller that column. It's going to end up destroying both their careers.

Anonymous said...

@6:20, why? What about Keller's column would ruin Lingden's career?

Anonymous said...

Apparently there are existing allegations that the mag's cover writer pressed Miranda Cosgrove for a kickback for the article + spin! Normally that kind of thing would be labelled as advertisement, but in this exception, if true, it wasn't. She's quite a rabidly aggressive author, but obviously a good autofundraiser!

Orange said...

Aww, my three favorite pages in the Times Magazine were "Lives," "On Language," and the crossword. Two of 'em gone this month!

Karen said...

The "Keep 'On Language' in the New York Times" Facebook page just ran this post. I "liked" it, then came here to mention I did so.

Anonymous said...

I grew a bit tired of Deborah Solomon's predictable politics. So I'm glad to have a new byline to decode. I hope it takes a bit longer to figure out its biases.

The Ethicist was always a bit glib for me. The columnist would first choose an impossible question with two opposing right answers and then come up with some glib reason to choose one. After some time, it becomes foolish, like someone trying to jump over the Grand Canyon on a motorbike each week.

On Language I'll miss. And the same goes for Heffernan, although I don't need more than 12 columns a year from her. Maybe she can find a gig that will give her that.

Anonymous said...

Not to be picky, but I think if you check the archives, you'll find that Elizabeth Gilbert made her NYT debut on the opinion pages about a year before her magazine piece appeared.

Sari Botton said...

I just heard from "Lives" editor John Glassie that the column is NOT dead. It will just run less frequently.

Andrew said...

Will miss Deborah Solomon's daddy issues, she sometimes wrote like a science fiction character as nice lady who was mind-controlled by a drag queen handler.

Anonymous said...

No one wants to compliment the editor for squeezing in and added 92 words to this week's last page? that's more value for your dollar right there! Let's not be so negative!
And I guess I had better sign this "Anonymous" since I seem to be the only one using my full name here!
Ken...oops, Anonymous

Raphael said...

Wonder what the probability is for a high quality submission to get through to the lives back page without an agent peddling through a bribe. With the rare exception, it's only pigeons chirping for the trash can to tip over.

No wonder nearly all the good stuff is getting blogged elsewhere and no one's getting paid to write only paying to be read.

Anonymous said...

At least Lindgren and his nasty slashes have saved me several hours (yes, truly enjoyable ones) of weekend reading time.

Without the pleasures of Randy Cohen (a long time fave), Ben Zimmer, Lives, Deb Solomon, I'll just turn directly to the crossword puzzle and the food page, if the recipe is decent.

I used to think the New York Times Magazine was something special......

Anonymous said...

The weasel getting squacked out by the seagulls!

Turnover of their most coveted assets, it is a new season and maybe an end to the days of the fascistic left.

Anonymous said...

but What is the "Riff" column?

Anonymous said...

"Lives" is there again this week. Is it definitely killed?

Anonymous said...

At first wuz jubilantly overjoyed by the report here that 'lives' was scrapped... but feel completely unmanned now that it's back like an avenger in chains... considering the direction 'lives' is taking, it should be renamed 'lowlives' .

Anonymous said...

NYTPICKY! You should investigate what Clyde Haberman meant in his final NYC column yesterday when he wrote, "decisions were made". Is he being forced to end the 1,500-run column?
just a thought.

Travelingdina said...

I'm so disappointed by all the changes in the Magazine. The design changes make it unpleasant to read, unfocused, and more like a website to be scanned than a magazine to be enjoyed and devoured. The line between advertising and content is indeed blurred, and I find the new titles trite. I'm so disappointed that I may finally cancel my print subscription to the Sunday times after over 20 years. I so looked forward to Sundays, but the new Magazine seems like a poor excuse for print; I'll just surf @longreads instead. If the Internet was causing the decline of print media, the Magazine's redesign will surely hasten it.

Elise said...

The most entertaining reads are write-ups by living specimens kept around literally for beating their breasts!!!

Brent said...

Why the hiatus, Tpick? Slow on updates or you're becoming a quarterly?

Anonymous said...

the nytpicker

a daily look inside the newspaper of record.


Did the nytpicker bite the dust?

John said...

So long NYTpicker.

It's time to bow out and let the site degenerate and morph into evanescence.