Deborah Needleman Gets Her Wishes

New T editor to reveal changes in February

Well, that didn’t take long. Deborah Needleman is only in her third week as editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. And while new editors often stay under the radar for a few months as they figure out their strategy, she not only has a plan but is talking about it publicly.

And why not? After all, Needleman negotiated to get certain changes made weeks before her start date, and the Times, in order to woo her away from rival The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ., obliged.

One is the frequency change: Starting with her first issue out Feb. 17, 2013, the magazine will publish 13 times a year, down from 15. Needleman also didn’t want to be constrained by the many themed issues T had published, so going forward, there will still be issues devoted to men’s and women’s fashion, design, travel and holiday, but two of the four design issues will be dropped. Each monthly issue will cover a broader range of style and culture content.

“I feel like there were structural and physical problems that were important to deal with for the magazine to achieve success,” Needleman said from a cab en route to the Times. “One thing that concerned me was creating a connection with the reader. No one knew when the magazine came out. Fifteen seems like just too much to do a really high-quality magazine. I think, frankly, Design was dropped because they were the two thinnest issues.”

And what about the content?

“The magazine had traditionally been super-vertical with its themes,” she said. “It should be a culture and style magazine ever single month, so if you’re not interested hugely in every one of those themes, it should still be a magazine for you.”

Needleman declined to pull back the curtain on stories she has in the works, but presumably, her T will be a departure from her predecessor Sally Singer’s grungy and intellectual (and often not advertiser-pleasing) direction. Needleman suggested that her version would be accessible while recognizing the audience has a “New York sensibility” and is “more culturally sophisticated” than the Journal’s.

“It can encompass downtown, uptown—as long as the reader is invited in to understand why these things are kind of interesting,” she said.

“I’ve known Jill [Abramson] a long time,” she continued. “She, not being a decorating person, appreciated Domino and how that was shaped as a magazine. I made her interested in something she’s not terribly interested in.”

Come February, T also will be printed on a heavier paper stock and have a larger format as well as increased number of pages in the feature well—changes that Needleman had proposed but that didn’t get ironed out until after she started.

Another item on Needleman’s wish list was to have a dedicated publisher for T. The magazine falls under the leadership of Denise Warren, svp and chief advertising officer of the NYT Media Group and advertising svp Alexis Buryk, and while Needleman didn't get someone with that exact title, the Times did create the role of ad director for T. “It’s important in the way you want an editor for the magazine,” Needleman said. “Ideally there’s someone creating a strategy for that and a marketing plan. That is all happening; it’s just not happening with someone called a publisher.”

The person in that role may give up one sales advantage as a result of the loss of some themed issues—although he or she may get it back with the luxury advertiser-friendly heavier paper stock and bigger format.