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At the Times, not everyone adores Moss' tutelage. Some very accomplished reporters complained about it becoming near impossible under Moss to get into the magazine. "There are detractors who long for the old days when the magazine was—I don't want to say dull—but very serious and took the world seriously," one veteran told me.

Outside the paper, though, a profession not easy with praise offers it nevertheless. In 2000, the Columbia Journalism Review put Moss on its list of top 10 magazine editors. The following year, Advertising Age named him editor of the year. Any time the helm would open at a major magazine, Moss' name invariably came up. But he stuck faithfully with the Times, shielded (and perhaps even coddled, some would say) by an institution that kept his product exempt from the newsstand vagaries that often compel editors to slap salacious covers on glossies they otherwise want us to take seriously. There's a tradeoff, of course. The Times' gravitas imposes its limits.


Which is not to say that the Times of today is very much like the paper for which Moss, who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, worked as a copy boy for six months in his first job out of college. He hated it. "It was a place where people were very frightened and anxious about authority," he recalls. "Everyone was nervous. There was a lack of confidence that bred insecurity and autocracy throughout the organization. I wasn't interested in newspapers in the first place, so I split."

Moss went to Rolling Stone, then to Esquire, rising to deputy editor before hearing that the owner of the Village Voice was looking for someone to run a brash New York weekly with an anti-establishment bent. Moss won the job in 1988 and became founding editor. They called it 7 Days. A supernova, it burned out in two years, losing $10 million. Simply put, there was no business plan, Moss says.

"It was more fun than I'd ever had," says Moss, oozing middle age, "an experience of pure joy and little sense…a bunch of kids making a virtue out of their amateurism." The gig included Moss' swankiest office ever: a high perch on 61st Street and Madison Avenue.

The man who hired Moss at 7 Days is David Schneiderman, the current CEO of Village Voice Media. "I think Moss is really the editor of his generation," Schneiderman says. Concepts introduced by Moss in 7 Days would later insinuate themselves into the Times (take the wedding narratives in the Sunday Styles section; visceral stuff cleverly packaged). In 1991, Joe Lelyveld, then managing editor of the Times, invited Moss to do some consulting. The Times wanted to launch new sections, add color, verve. Moss was a spice rack.

"It was very exciting because I didn't know anything about newspapers, and the Times was paying me to learn the business," says Moss. He preferred this version of a "weird journalism graduate school" to pounding Manhattan's sidewalks trying to raise money for a startup magazine, The Industry. (In it, Moss wanted to explore "how ideas disseminate through the culture—the business of how that happens.") In 1993, the same year the Times' Book Review added color, Moss was offered the job of editorial director at the Sunday magazine. Tired of "humiliating turns with bankers" trying to make The Industry happen, he accepted.

The Times was a changin' in the early 1990s. The gay-intolerant reign of executive editor and Times veteran Abe Rosenthal had ended, and the paper's new publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., had made clear from the start that sexual orientation would have no bearing on his employees' careers. Colleagues who disparaged gays were chastised. The paper that in 1963 had fretted in a page-one headline "Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern" did an abrupt about-face. It became among the first to make the gay civil rights movement front-page news.

That didn't necessarily make it easy for Moss to go public with his own sexuality. It helped, he said, that "by the time I was in a more public position, the movement had succeeded in opening people's minds." But by the time Moss offhandedly mentioned at a journalism panel a few years ago that "I actually edit a magazine that's pretty gay," only the Wall Street Journal seemed to get worked up about it.

Far more potential career peril lurked earlier this year as the Times roiled with dissent over the autocratic style of executive editor Howell Raines, who bullied and bruised as he sought to shake what he considered lethargy out of the paper. Raines established a star system that was widely resented and blew up in his face when it was discovered that a favored young reporter, Jayson Blair, was a sociopathic fabricator of news.

Raines was forced to resign in June after, as Moss describes it, a revolution for which the Blair incident was a mere catalyst. Raines had offered Moss, a year earlier, the very job he has now, but Moss turned him down. Asked why he spurned Raines but accepted the offer from executive editor Bill Keller, Moss uttered something about unfinished business at the magazine. Fact is, he's worked well with Keller, who has restored some civility since taking over ("no fear or favor in the newsroom," he said when named to the post) and made it clear to Times people that, yes, there is room at the paper for a life beyond work.

Good for Moss, because life beyond work is where he likes to take us. His imprint on the wider Times is already evident. After the music industry began suing private citizens over their online swapping of songs, Moss called together section editors and ordered up saturation coverage. It was a lifestyle moment.

"I think that if the paper doesn't get really good at covering the things that people actually spend most of their day thinking about—their families, their cultural obsessions, their material obsessions—then it's going to cease to be relevant enough to a reader to continue to be a habit," Moss says.

Selling that philosophy to fellow editors and reporters at the historically rigid Times—and finding its proper tone in the daily tussle of news—would challenge any mortal. But Zalewski, who worked with Moss for four years, is confident that his old boss will find his groove. "He's a master pitchman," after all.


Frank Bajak '79 is the technology editor for the Associated Press and enjoys nothing more than scooping the New York Times. He believes he wrote exactly two articles for the Oberlin Review when Moss was its editor—both of which were published, for better or worse, exactly as he wrote them.