New York Mag's Adam Moss talks publishing to pupils

by Annie Huang / Beacon Staff • March 17, 2016

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Adam Moss, left, spoke at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre.
Adam Moss, left, spoke at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre.

The writing, literature, and publishing department invited Adam Moss, editor-in chief of New York Magazine, to speak about his experience managing the online presence of a print publication in the digitized world on Monday night at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre.

For Moss, a two-time recipient for Advertising Age's Editor of the Year, print journalism has yet to become a thing of the past. Best known for transforming the now 47-year-old magazine, Moss oversaw the publication as it expanded digitally. 

“We have done a lot of things wrong,” Moss said in the talk. “One of the things we actually did right is looking at the magazine site as a news site.” 

New York Magazine covers life, culture, politics, and style, with an emphasis on its namesake city. The magazine relaunched The Cut, its digital cover story section, in 2012. The site also features Grub Street and Vulture, which are blogs with extensive coverage of the entertainment and restaurant scenes. With the most of its content being published online, the publication cut back printing to every two weeks in 2014.

“We felt that we could do a better magazine if we reduced the frequency [of print],” Moss said. “We wanted to make a magazine that is closer to what we envision the future of magazines should be like—one with depth, tactile, and visual sensation.” 

Moss was introduced by writing, literature, and publishing faculty member Benoit Denizet-Lewis. Denizet-Lewis, an author and magazine writer, said he wrote for Moss when they both worked at the New York Times Magazine.

“It was [Moss] who had assigned me my first big cover story, ‘Double Lives On The Down Low,’” Denizet-Lewis said at the event. “It was great to have someone who showed faith in me at a very young age.”

Denizet-Lewis wrote the article when he first started working at the New York Times Magazine in 2003. “Double Lives On The Down Low”featured personal stories of men who live with hidden sexual identities.

“I like writing with subjects that are often polarized or over-simplified,” Denizet-Lewis said. “Often times, pieces about sexuality and sex are written that way. I try to write about groups and people that are misunderstood or ridiculed.”

The Q&A session began with Denizet-Lewis recalling a conversation he had with Moss a few years ago. According to Denizet-Lewis, when he first started teaching at Emerson, he asked Moss whether his students should create a print or online magazine. Moss told the professor to go digital.

But when faced with a similar question on his decision for New York Magazine, Moss said that he feels good about the future of print. He also said that, on the other hand, technology has allowed the audience of journalism to continuously grow.

“Today, a greater audience is distributed through digital and social media,” Moss said.

Moss said that he is aware of the increasing demand for news within a small screen. According to the editor-in-chief, his staff is always working to optimize the experience of a print magazine, even if that means slicing and dicing the material into small portions to suit different media platforms. 

“The main idea is to get people to read it,” Moss said. “What we can learn from this is that we can’t just live in one place anymore, whether that is in print or digital. You have to live really significantly on social media.”

Moss said he looks for a specific type of story for the magazine. He said that as an editor, he has to make sure there is a razor-sharp story to be told.

“It has to teach me something that I didn’t already know, something about how your world is changing,” Moss said. “It has to move you.”

Denizet-Lewis said that the editor-in-chief is known for making pieces feel present and needed.

“He is always trying to publish stories that have currency and need to be published at the moment,” Denizet-Lewis said.

To the hopeful future writers and editors in the room, Moss said that one central mistake New York Magazine applicants often make is not reading the publication prior to applying. He also said working in the field of magazine publishing is unlike any other job. 

“It doesn’t pay well,” Moss said. “If you want a regular job, you should go somewhere else.”

According to Moss, the ideal applicant has to be able to inhabit the sensibility of the magazine and a curious way of looking at the world, something that is really hard to teach. 

“You have to want to do it,” Moss said. “It’s a lot like kindergarden dynamics, working with other people to make something together.”

Junior writing, literature, and publishing major Sarah Dollard was among the many attendees who came to learn more about the industry. During the event, Dollard asked Moss if he thought bringing politics into social media is a good strategy for a candidate interested in publishing.

“I was pretty star-struck,” Dollard said. “Every person I have ever talked to about publishing has said that they fell into publishing by accident. I just wanted to know how he got his start.”

To answer Dollard’s question, Moss said he welcomes a political point of view on social media, as long as it is expressed intelligently. He said that an online presence, especially for writers, is like an audition, so it should never be bland.

“If you’re good at promoting [your writing],” Moss said, “then it has the potential of having a life.”