One of the works of art in Moss’s book is a Times front page from May 2020, which saw the paper memorialize nearly 100,000 COVID deaths by filling A1 with the names of 1,000 people who’d lost their lives to the virus. Moss had wanted to include a public memorial in the book—he’d thought of Maya Lin and the Vietnam Memorial—and then this cover happened. “And I thought, Well, this is the Vietnam Memorial, except it’s in the pages of a newspaper that I used to work in, where something like this was, I mean, really inconceivable,” says Moss. It was “a little atypical for the book, but I was interested in it anyway,” he adds. In his interview for the book, Dean Baquet, then the paper’s executive editor, rewards Moss’s instincts. “I actually thought that page was trying to portray a feeling. Nobody was going to read it name by name. It was like a Rothko,” he tells Moss. “And the longer you look at a Rothko, the sadder you get.”

Moss’s pages, too, evoke a feeling—the frenzy of the creative process—and provide a tinge of nostalgia. With the book’s layers of small type, arrows directing you through graphics, and annotations and dialogue in footnotes, the reading experience is not unlike the one you’d have with New York in the Moss era. (In fact, one of the designers of this book, Luke Hayman, previously worked as the magazine’s design director.) “Very early on in my career, I developed an interest, which I’m not sure that all editors have,” says Moss, “to continue to use a magazine as a canvas to try new things. I was always interested in new story forms—always. [It] just kind of was a fetish, almost.” This book, says Moss, made use of some of those magazine tools. “A reader comes to a book with different sets of expectations, but can we push it?” asks Moss. “If I had done it as straight text, I think the book would be much less interesting, but also it would not feel as much an expression of me.”

Courtesy of Penguin Press.

When I recently met Moss at a downtown restaurant not far from New York’s old office, it had been five years, almost to the day, since he’d stepped down from the magazine. Under his leadership, New York didn’t just navigate the transition from city weekly to digital publisher; it thrived in it, launching a number of online verticals—The Cut, Vulture, The Strategist, Grub Street, Intelligencer—that function as stand-alone properties, with some also serving as sections in the print magazine (which, since 2014, has published every other week). Moss, like the magazine he edited for 15 years, is obsessive and curious, with a twinkle in one eye and knowing skepticism in the other. 

“I had gotten older,” Moss, now 66, says after I ask why he left New York. “There was more and more that the editors were bringing me that I didn’t relate to, didn’t understand, because they came out of the experience of a younger generation of staff members, which would translate to a younger generation of readers,” he adds. “The only way I know how to edit a magazine is by editing for myself.” And he was sick of the responsibilities that came with being a boss, particularly the one requiring him to spend a lot of time on business strategy. “I was still doing journalism, but I wasn’t doing it enough,” he says. A bicycle accident in 2017 also put things into perspective. “For the first time, I imagined myself being fragile, perishable. So I felt I had another chapter, but not that many more,” he explains.

Does he miss New York? “I miss the people generally. I miss specific people specifically. I miss the ‘let’s put on a show’ aspect of it,” says Moss. He doesn’t miss the news cycle much, though, and has enjoyed being “liberated from the gerbil world,” as he puts it. Still, his brain remains in editor mode. “It forms everything into stories and almost everything into narrative. And so I don’t turn that off,” he says. “And I’m glad I can—he never listens to me, but I can just write a little note to [New York editor in chief] David Haskell and say, ‘Hey, have you thought of this?’” He’s also been consulting for other journalism operations, including The Washington Post’s Opinions section. (Editorial page editor David Shipley is his friend and former colleague.) “I’m kind of like a constant, relatively well-informed focus group,” Moss says of his role.

Otherwise, he’s been enjoying his free time. “I go to museums. I go to movies. I hang out with my friends. I go to painting classes,” Moss says. “My quixotic painting thing is really a big part of my life. I don’t want to pretend otherwise, even though I am embarrassed.” (So much so that he has yet to share his work publicly.)

I ask him if he’s found the answer he set out for. “I’ve gotten one part of the answer, which is that the work of art is the work…. It’s the most banal observation, but that it’s not about the thing you make; it’s about the making. It took me three years to figure out that that was actually true,” he says. “And let me tell you, it has changed my life.”

Charlotte Klein

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