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!