ink-stained wretches

New Times Magazine Editor Hugo Lindgren on His Plans: Big Subjects, More T, and the End of ‘The Way We Live Now’

In late September, the months-long search for a replacement for Gerry Marzorati as editor of The New York Times Magazine ended in a surprise: Times brass tapped Hugo Lindgren, the 42-year-old writer and editor who had helped relaunch Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this year. Lindgren had been at Bloomberg a mere eight months, having been lured away from New York Magazine back in January. Before New York, he worked for the Times Magazine, where he helped create the “Way We Live Now” section. We spoke to Hugo about his plans.

So when is the magazine “yours,” per se?
That’s a difficult question. It is mine now. I’m in charge. We’re going to be doing some significant redesign work, and have a newish magazine by the end of January. The big thing is, I want to create a kind of new identity for the front-of-the-book section. That doesn’t mean that everything’s being tossed out. We’re looking at everything and evaluating what sort of fits. We have a front-of-book editor [Greg Veis] starting December 1.

Talk to me about “The Way We Live Now.” Will that ever be an outdated concept?
I don’t think it’s outdated at all as a concept, but on the other hand I don’t know that it’s all that distinct anymore. The “Way We Live Now” idea is the whole news media now: the idea that your personal dilemmas were shaped by public events and news. We’ll be revisiting this concept. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the front of the book called something else.

What do you think of what Gerry Marzorati did with it?
There was a party for Gerry to sort of mark the end of his time at the magazine. And Michael Pollan delivered this incredibly lovely toast that was about the way [Gerry] managed a magazine and how it was about making the magazine part of the conversation. It really made sense to me as an operating principle. He talked about the “Marzorati take” on things. Gerry was just an idea machine. The two things that the magazine does that your basic newsstand magazine has a much harder time doing is strong political and foreign-affairs coverage.

What do you think it does worst?
I want to focus on what I can do and not my differences with what has been done in the past. What I would say is I want to make the magazine a big-subject magazine. It’s not that it hasn’t been; when I see a Glenn Beck cover or even a Rex Ryan cover, I think those are right where the magazine can and should be.

I’ll tell you what I think it does worst — I think when it tries to be light or funny it fails. Are you going to make any parts of it lighter? Is that possible?
I think anything’s possible. It’s just a bunch of blank pages. People point to that sometimes, the “Funny Pages” as an example of what the magazine has a hard time doing. But I think the key thing is not to be afraid of taking risks. I think the funny pages was a risk. And I applaud them for taking it.

So you won’t be overseeing Sally Singer at T, the way Gerry used to oversee former T editor Stefano Tonchi. The two jobs are separate. Can you explain how they will relate?
I’m not exactly sure. Sally and I are going to have some conversations about that. I expect and hope there will be a T presence in the weekly magazine. She’s been busy closing her first issue. I have just seen bits of it and it looks pretty exciting. I know Sally, we have some good friends in common, so I think we start from a really good place.

You said T might have a presence in your magazine?
I expect it will. I like the idea of there being a real sort of pleasurable stylish component to the weekly magazine.

Is that the same thing as Sally having input in your decisions?
Yeah, she’d have a lot of input in that. She could have input into anything. I’d be happy to talk to her about my ideas and she’d be happy to talk to me about hers. There’s no wall dividing us. I think we’ll have a lot of conversations, because they’re going to do a more adventurous journalistic magazine than has been done.

You told Women’s Wear you don’t anticipate making drastic staff changes right off the bat. There’s been some moving around. But will you make them eventually?
No, no. I mean, the core group here is clearly pretty great. There are certainly people at plenty of other talented places that I’d love to see here — but it’s certainly not like we’re bringing in a whole new team.

Will there be new features? You added life to Bloomberg Businessweek partially through new sections and features.
There’s going to be new features, there’s going to be a new back of the book. There’s a couple of things we’re going to do that the magazine hasn’t done before. It’s not exactly like Businessweek. That magazine had not been loved for a time by the people who owned it and were in charge of it. I think the foundation is much stronger here.

Did you like working at Bloomberg Businessweek?

Yeah, I totally did. I really liked working at Bloomberg, not just the Businessweek part of it. I enjoyed the way the company operated.

That sounds like a lie.
No, it’s true.

I’m not saying you’re lying, but you just don’t often hear people say that about Bloomberg.
First of all, Bloomberg is changing, and Businessweek is part of that changing. It would not have been a good job for me to be one of their ace finance reporters and covering the markets really closely. That’s really high-pressure work that I would not have been cut out for. But I didn’t have to do that! There’s a real difference when you work at a company that is making a lot of money and is very successful. It is a positive environment. It does spill over into the journalism.

Huh. Welcome to your new job!
Hopefully we’ll be making a lot of money, too.

Was Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel mad at you when you left after just eight months?
Not the slightest bit. He was an unbelievable gentleman.

I can fact-check that, you know.
You can call him up. I got an e-mail from Josh yesterday. He said the nicest things. It was funny, he said, “You know I knew this was going to happen. I just wish it happened in two years.” He was terrific to work for.

Is there a web strategy for the Times Magazine or is that out of your hands?

There’s a lot of issues with that going on [at the Times in general]. We expect to have a lot of influence over how things go there. What exactly, I don’t know. It’s not my most immediate issue. I’m definitely focusing on the print magazine. Because, regardless of what we do on the web, the print edition is going to inform and influence everything that the rest of our operation does.

New Times Magazine Editor Hugo Lindgren on His Plans: Big Subjects, More T, and the End of ‘The Way We Live Now’