In defense of the NYT Magazine
Leon Wieseltier’s attack on the NYT magazine is doing the rounds of the Twitterverse today, which is understandable, since it’s always fun to watch a brutal smackdown. But the fact is that the smackdown is profoundly unfair, and that Wieseltier has picked a most peculiar target for his ire.
It’s worth remembering here that the NYT magazine is just that — a glossy magazine, produced so that the NYT has a venue suitable for the kind of expensive, high-production-value ads produced by fashion companies and the like. “I understand that The New York Times Magazine is not Mind“, Wieseltier writes, but really he doesn’t: indeed, he doesn’t seem to have grappled at all with the idea that different parts of the NYT have different sensibilities, and that the glossy magazine, by its nature, is going to be the most fashion-friendly, “Urban Modern” part of the paper.
Given that, Wieseltier should really be astonished by the depth of the magazine’s seriousness and ambition: the fact that it devoted an entire issue to the question of women’s rights, especially in the developing world; or the fact that it is regularly home to the most insightful and important financial journalism that the NYT produces, such as Joe Nocera’s investigation of value-at-risk or Paul Krugman’s 8,000-word essay on inequality.
Wieseltier might fancy himself above the mundane considerations of newspaper economics, but the editor of the NYT magazine cannot be. And every section of the NYT outside the daily news hole has to be able to pay for itself, and ideally cross-subsidize the central newsgathering operation. Wieseltier claims that there is “a mark of decadence” upon the magazine — well, yes, of course there is, glossy magazines are fundamentally decadent institutions. What’s impressive is that the NYT has taken this decadent institution and used it to commit great journalism. Good for them, and long may they continue to do so.