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
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."
"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.
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
spurned Raines but accepted the offer from executive editor Bill
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
"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.