AMC 2007: Adam Moss on Being EIC: ‘You Get Paid to Be a Dilettante’

Monday afternoon AMC 2007 Editor Octopus.jpg

From left: The New York TimesDavid Carr; Stephen Adler of BusinessWeek; ReadyMade‘s Shoshana Berger; Angela Burt-Murray of Essence and New York‘s Adam Moss

New York Times media reporter and columnist David Carr did his best to deviate from panel-talk formula while moderating “The Editor as Octopus” this afternoon at AMC. Taking the stage with four editors-in-chief — Stephen Adler of BusinessWeek; ReadyMade‘s Shoshana Berger; Angela Burt-Murray of Essence; and New York‘s Adam Moss — Carr tried to keep it interesting by asking the EICs everything from whether they miss old-school editing and “yelling at writers” to which songs they’d karaoke in place of being on the panel.

Overall, the talk centered around “how these guys’ lives have morphed and changed,” as Carr put it, in the ever-evolving EIC role. Berger seemed to feel she had it easy, since “the beauty of ReadyMade content is it’s evergreen and fairly extendable.” Burt-Murray cited the challenge of positioning Essence not just where her female reader is going, but also “where she wants to be.” But what had Adler connecting his business-minded readership with 12-steppers?

“We’re now calling the reader a ‘user,'” he said, “something I really like because it implies addiction — if they’re a user, then they really need the thing.”

For his part, Moss was candid about the disjointedness his job entails. “The song I would sing at the end of every day is ‘I Go to Pieces,'” he said, adding later that “I’ve always found that the basic quality you need as an editor is severe ADD … As an editor, you get paid to be a dilettante.”

His colleagues’ best practices ranged from “don’t forget who brought you to the dance [i.e. the reader]” for Burt-Murray, to Adler’s “if you think you can’t do something really well, don’t do it.” Sounding a bright note for the 20-something contingent glued to YouTube and Facebook, Berger’s advice to her fellow mag editors was to “hire kids who know what they’re doing, who are more nimble and agile than you.”

Carr did his best to stir the pot, asking the panelists if they ever got “nostalgic for the old days [pre-online media and “magabrands”] when you would bloody copy and yell at writers?” He also lamented the bygone days of lengthy magazine think pieces, telling the panelists, “I’ve lost the ability to think long thoughts” in the wake of the new media blitz, to which Berger quickly retaliated: “Long thoughts are okay, just not long pieces.”

Closing on a nostalgic note of his own, Carr recalled a Moss-ism dating back to the EIC’s tenure at the New York Times: “When you want to make change, you have to decide first what’s going to suck.”


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