Deborah Solomon’s Last Supper

Writers ousted from 'Times Magazine' commiserated at dinners

Hugo Lindgren has made a lot of changes as editor of the New York Times Magazine. Before relaunching it in March, he disposed of high-profile columnists Deborah Solomon (“Questions for . . . ”) and Randy Cohen (“The Ethicist”), and altogether terminated the “On Language” column, which Ben Zimmer had taken over from William Safire, as well as Virginia Heffernan’s column on digital culture, “The Medium.”

After the hatchets had stopped falling, Solomon had the departed over to her place—“a beautiful apartment filled with stunning art,” according to Heffernan—for dinner. “The Last Supper,” as Solomon called it, was actually two events held about a week apart in March. At the first, she treated Heffernan and Zimmer to soufflé (“delicious,” according to Heffernan). At the second, she served chicken curry to Cohen, Zimmer, and Amanda Hesser, the magazine’s former food editor, who left under Lindgren to focus on food52, a website she started in 2009, but may return to the magazine later this year. (The curry was “very good,” according to Hesser, who unfortunately brought corked wine).

“You probably want to hear that the mood was funereal, but in fact I was delighted to talk to my colleagues in such depth,” Solomon, who talks of the two dinners as though they were one, told Adweek by email. “We were all in confessional mode, so I would say the evening was like an AA meeting except that none of the participants is or ever was an alcoholic.”

Solomon is not quite as confessional now, but she clearly took issue with Lindgren. “Frankly, the decision made little sense to me from either an editorial or a business perspective,” she said of being let go. “It seems to me that a newspaper putting up a paywall might want to preserve its most popular columns and features. Most of us would probably agree that the job of management is to separate assets from liabilities, and I had hoped the new editor would want to preserve the things that worked instead of jettisoning everything and everyone just to show that he could.”

At the first dinner, Solomon “told the tale of her departure, which had lots of drama to it, and Zimmer told about his, which had less,” Heffernan remembered. “I told mine. Then we brooded about the future of the magazine, and our own futures."

By all accounts, the second dinner was similar to the first. “We did talk about some of the more personal and distressing details of The Great Front of the Book Purge of 2011,” Cohen wrote. “The conversation was sparkling on both occasions,” Zimmer added.

The five have since moved on. Heffernan now writes for the Times’ Opinion section. Cohen is developing an "Ethics" program for public radio. Zimmer produces data visualization software. Solomon, at the time of our correspondence, was at work on a piece for the Times Book Review—though it is fair to assume that will be an irregular gig. (She says that Keller encouraged her to keep writing for the paper.) But all seem thankful to have been given the opportunity to share their feelings. Times columnists tend to write from home, and for most, Solomon’s dinners marked the first time they had met one another.

“I finally met Ben Zimmer and got to ask him about the difference between the words empathic and empathetic,” Solomon said. “He advised me to use the latter.”

Update: This story originally incorrectly said that Lindgren had encouraged Solomon to keep writing for the paper. It was actually Keller who’d encouraged Solomon; the article has been changed to reflect that fact.