What Does “Urban Modern” Editing Look Like?

The big news in New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati’s pre-Labor Day Q&A with readers was the jaw-dropping price tag of the publication’s mammoth (and excellent) Katrina hospital investigation. But, in response to another question from a reader, Marzorati offered this noteworthy reply:

Does the Magazine have an ideology? At the risk of giving some of my colleagues hives, I think it does. Call it Urban Modern. That is, I think it reflects not a left-or-right POLITICAL ideology but a geographical one, the mentality of the place it is created: 21st Century Manhattan.

So: The Magazine reflects a place where women have professional ambition, where immigrants are welcome, and where gay men and lesbians can be themselves (if not marry, yet). The Magazine also reflects a place where being rich is not a bad thing, where fashion is not a sign of superficiality and where individualism is embraced. Here, arguing is not bad manners. Here, a chief way of loving your hometown is criticizing it: For, say, not doing enough for those (children, the poor, the homeless) who are most vulnerable. Here, art is seldom spoken of in moral terms, and most aspects of everyday life — food and drink and bathroom fixtures — are mostly spoken of in aesthetic terms. And here, as E.B White famously wrote, it tends to be those who come from elsewhere full of longing who make the place what it is.

More generally, we reflect a place where change is not a threat, where doubt and complexity are more TRUE than certainty, and where most everything non-criminal is tolerated — except a bad haircut.

Via Michael Calderone, it seems that The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier does not approve: “Urban Modern? That is not ideology, it is interior design.”

I don’t often agree with Wieseltier, but he’s got the better of this feud. To pile on to his remarks just a bit, many of the best things Marzorati praises about his city—opportunities for women, immigrants, and gay people; caring about the vulnerable; art appreciation—are not unique, in time or place, to “21st Century Manhattan.” As a certain president who tends to be popular in the Big Apple once put it, “yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”

Manhattan is a wonderful place. But paeans to its wonderfulness from the people who live here go down a lot smoother with a little more wry self-reflection.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.