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"The proliferation and acceleration of commentary on the web"
March 1, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

After more than 30 years at the New York Times, Frank Rich is departing the newspaper to write a column for New York magazine and its website. Rich has had a Sunday column for 17 years, which followed 14 years as a theater reviewer. [...]

The changes come as the NYT prepares a major overhaul of the Week in Review section. Rich’s weekly 1,500-word column (previously most columns were around 800 words) was part of an expanded Op-Ed page that the Times introduced in the Week in Review section in 2005.

Since then, the proliferation and acceleration of commentary on the web has called into question the role of a weekly opinion section. It’s also called into question the state of most weekly magazines, but for a variety of reasons—including its web sensibilities, New York magazine has been able to withstand those pressures (even Gawker’s Nick Denton has praised the publication).

posted by not_the_water (56 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
even Gawker’s Nick Denton has praised the publication

Well it is certainly praiseworthy if even Nick Denton praises it.
posted by The World Famous at 9:02 AM on March 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's also Bittman and The Ethicist.

And Andrew Sullivan leaving The Atlantic for The Daily Beast.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:04 AM on March 1, 2011


Is Rich leaving because of the paywall that's about to go up? Seems like he had a perfect bully pulpit at the Times otherwise. And the whole idea that "Oh, I'm gonna write a monthly column for New York Mag that will allow me to be even more expansive than I already am" ..... good luck with that.
posted by blucevalo at 9:16 AM on March 1, 2011


There's also Bittman and The Ethicist.

Plus Deborah Solomon's interviews, the William Safire-less On Language column, Virginia Heffernan's web-video analysis The Medium, and Rob Walker's consumer-culture critiquing Consumed (hat-tip Kottke). New NYT Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren sounds like he's either cleaning house in a big way or planning a revamp of the publication. (Who knows whether or not this factors into the upcoming paywall at the Grey Lady.)
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:23 AM on March 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


You forgot the "excessive use of italics" tag
posted by Outlawyr at 9:24 AM on March 1, 2011


A paywall is going to go up? What are they thinking?

"What hasn't worked in the past? Let's do that!"
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:27 AM on March 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Doktor Zed: "the William Safire-less On Language column"

That didn't have much to do with the new magazine editor, methinks.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:28 AM on March 1, 2011


Yes, they've been dropping little hints about it for a while now, but the paywall will indeed go up at the end of the first quarter.
posted by blucevalo at 9:29 AM on March 1, 2011


I'm anxious to see the new Magazine. Cohen's column was usually pretty good and Heffernan had some good ones (but most of the time I thought she would have greatly benefited from a little extra space). Walker's column was coasting for the past six months or so, and I'm not too disappointed to see it going. I wish they'd get rid of the recipe and medical columns, too.
posted by clorox at 9:33 AM on March 1, 2011


.
posted by nevercalm at 9:39 AM on March 1, 2011


Amanda Hesser's published her last recipe redux column this past Sunday as well.
posted by plastic_animals at 9:40 AM on March 1, 2011


I liked the Ethicist column. The paywall will likely kill my readership of the NYTimes.com. I pretty much get my news online now, and am looking forward to seeing who might pick up the slack online.
posted by theora55 at 9:41 AM on March 1, 2011


The Week in Review and the Magazine is (was?) the only reason I get the Sunday paper delivered. But I've noticed that I've been reading those sections online more and more anyway. At the rate this is going I might as well cancel and save myself the money.
posted by monospace at 9:45 AM on March 1, 2011


I was sad about Bittman and surprised about On Language and bemused about the Ethicist, but I'm actually surprised about Rich.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:47 AM on March 1, 2011


How could they get rid of Safire?

That's like firing Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:49 AM on March 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


How could they get rid of Safire?

He died.
posted by birdherder at 9:52 AM on March 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


How could they get rid of Safire?

That's like firing Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes.


The difference is that William Safire is dead.
posted by lalex at 9:52 AM on March 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


How could they get rid of Safire?

Uhh, easy. He died.
posted by killdevil at 9:52 AM on March 1, 2011


Too be fair, being a cadaver hasn't kept Andy Rooney away from 60 Minutes.
posted by brundlefly at 9:53 AM on March 1, 2011 [18 favorites]


They're trying a paywall again? Because it worked so well last time?
posted by delmoi at 9:57 AM on March 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well this blows. Where will I get my dose of Sunday morning long-form liberal outrage? Kristof and Herbert just make me feel guilty all the time. And Friedman's a joke. Come back, Frank.
posted by fungible at 9:58 AM on March 1, 2011


I'm not sure what they can do. They are cannibalizing their own circulation which has been dropping seadily. I suppose they figure if readers are going to move to the web then try to squeeze some money out of them. 1 paying customer is worth 100 non paying customers, and they probably won't lose relevance due exclusivity, look at their competition.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:59 AM on March 1, 2011


The difference is that William Safire is dead.

I'm not seeing the difference.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:00 AM on March 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


This payiong customer is cancelling his subscription. Pay model be d*mned!
posted by ahimsakid at 10:00 AM on March 1, 2011


Once again, my advanced age pushes me outside the MeFi mainstream... Because I remember a quite different "Frank Rich" and the memory is not a pleasant one.

He may be posturing as a liberal op-ed writer now, but at heart he's a cruel, elitist prick from way back when - they didn't call him "The Butcher of Broadway" for nothing. He savaged people and shows, often it seemed to simply show off how smart he allegedly is. There were active campaigns among producers to withhold ads from the Times until he eventually "left to pursue other career opportunities." If association is a measure of character, it's well known (though, perhaps apocryphal) that John Simon, of all people, wouldn't even be seated at a dinner table with him...

I don't care about the pay wall at the Times, and I don't care about New York magazine (at least, not that much). That Rich still is employed irks me, but at least it's someplace with a lower profile and less chance I'll run across a link to him.

Good riddance to bad garbage.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:08 AM on March 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Conflating the changes at "Week in Review" with the changes at New York Times Magazine is not quite right. As I understand it, while they are both fiefdoms, operating in silos, jealous of their budgets and staff, sometimes seen as skunkworks by the charitable, and often perceived by those who control them as rewards for putting in shit time and having patience, they are, however, separate, despite being a part of the same news outfit.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:11 AM on March 1, 2011


He may be posturing as a liberal op-ed writer now, but at heart he's a cruel, elitist prick from way back when - they didn't call him "The Butcher of Broadway" for nothing. He savaged people and shows, often it seemed to simply show off how smart he allegedly is.
What? Who cares?
posted by delmoi at 10:11 AM on March 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


They're trying a paywall again? Because it worked so well last time?

Last time I think it was only for the op-ed columns. The value of those columns is a tiny fraction of the value of the whole newspaper. So it doesn't follow that if people were unwilling to pay for the columnists, they won't be willing to pay for the whole paper.

Also, my understanding is they'll offer some limited content for free. I haven't seen how that actually works, so I can't judge how effective it will be in luring people to paying.

I didn't pay for the columnists when they were behind a paywall, but I'm going to pay (in fact, I am paying) for the whole paper. It's a valuable product, it's worth money.
posted by John Cohen at 10:21 AM on March 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I remember a quite different "Frank Rich" and the memory is not a pleasant one.

I have friends who were on the New York theater scene during Rich's tenure, and they all hate him with a fiery passion far beyond the usual loathing of actors and directors for critics. I have no doubt he is (or was) a dreadful person; but his op-ed columns over the past decade have been remarkably sane and honest at a time when those qualities are scarce among the Punditry Assembled, so I think I'll separate the dancer from the dance on this one.
posted by steambadger at 10:25 AM on March 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think the main problem with a paywall is marketing. Paywall needs rebranding. "Pay" makes it clear that you will have to disburse funds; "wall" is designed to keep you out. What will save newspapers is a new term that is less aggressive, less military, less monetary. Something that evokes joy and joie de vivre, something scented lavender, washes bright colors, loves you, like an explosion of flavor in your pocket.

How about: Footill

"The New York Times will start its footill at the end of the month"
"A footill!? Hooray! Finally, a way to pay for what I've been getting for free."
posted by chavenet at 10:25 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the reasoning behind getting rid of The Ethicist altogether and moving Frank Rich to the Magazine.

I could more see moving David Brooks to the Magazine, since he seems to have more of a sprawling "magazine" style. He has strengths and weaknesses, and making a tightly constructed argument isn't one of his strengths. Is there anything about Rich that's more suited to the Magazine than the op-ed page?

As for the Ethicist, that was my favorite thing about the Magazine. I got a year's subscription to the paper edition at the beginning of this year. I feel slightly cheated that most of the Magazines I get in my subscription will be bereft of the Ethicist.
posted by John Cohen at 10:27 AM on March 1, 2011


He may be posturing as a liberal op-ed writer now, but at heart he's a cruel, elitist prick from way back when - they didn't call him "The Butcher of Broadway" for nothing.

Oh, it's that Frank Rich.

I care. I'm a playwright and a critic, and he was the worst example of the latter. He was an absolute monster. has he ever shown any remorse? If not, it's fair to still bring that up.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:28 AM on March 1, 2011


and moving Frank Rich to the Magazine.

No, he's leaving the Times altogether and going to New York Magazine.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2011


I don't understand the reasoning behind getting rid of The Ethicist altogether and moving Frank Rich to the Magazine.

Frank Rich is moving to a weekly magazine called New York, not The New York Times Magazine, a weekly magazine that is published and sold with the Sunday edition of The New York Times.

New York and The New York Times Magazine are not related.
posted by clorox at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do so many people think the NY Times is the top of the best papers but they
want it to be free in all its fullness online?
Conservatives: the paper is a liberal paper so don't subscribe but read it free on line!
The Wall St Journal and The Economist both publish in print and online and they are doing very well...the NY Times now want to see if they can also succeed. In fact they are losing lots of money and are cutting and cutting staff...

It was very predictable that they would have to do something, soon, to survive, if in fact
they do.

Do you get Cable news free? ah, yes, the other tv channels are free, with 2nd rate stuff and tons of ads.
Get your news online? Where do they get it from? and what does the NY Times offer that you can not get from this or that online source? Peraps enough or maybe not enough. You decide.
posted by Postroad at 10:45 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What? Who cares?

I do, as do several others above - he was not "merely" a strongly opinionated critic; he was actively cruel in his writing and a petty, mean-spirited grudge-holder in practice. No one who worked in the theater during those years, myself included, would ever mistake him for a simple left-wing pundit...

As I said, I realize I'm outside the MetaFilter mainstream on this. But in my opinion, when it comes to Rich character does count, and his is the sort best avoided. No amount of water-carrying for liberal principles MetaFilter holds dear changes that for me.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:47 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The OpEd pay-wall was brazenly unreasonable. I have never heard anyone explain that one in terms that made sense.

An editorial pay-wall is a really different proposition.

It's not like the paper is getting ahead of its skis -- the only two peers it cares about (the WSJ and the FT) each have pay-walls, and seem to do fine.

Also, the readers the paper cares most about -- mid-to-high-income New York metro residents -- already have (still have) print subscriptions, and they'll get pay-wall passwords for free.

In fact, I think that the online pay-wall may well prove a terrific tool for retaining, and maybe adding, print subs. Ditching the print subscription is a constant temptation when the content is free -- but if the marginal cost to a print sub becomes a buck or two a week over the online-only sub (as it may well be), why not keep the print sub for the occasional convenience or tactile pleasure of it.
posted by MattD at 10:48 AM on March 1, 2011


I suppose I'm actually in the minority in that I will in fact pay for the Times online, in order to support the paper once it goes behind a paywall (I'm still currently attached to an old account from a previous journalism job that allowed me access to the first paywall). I like the Times. I like investigative journalism. Investigative journalism costs a lot of money (I can't remember the exact quote but Bill Keller said something along the line of the Times being a series of weekly feature magazines that exist only to fund the hard-news reporting). The reason I don't currently subscribe to the Times is that I don't have time for dead-tree newspaper reading any longer.

Like the Economist, which I also pay for, I'm interested in the survival of hard-news. If the Times were to disappear, who would take their place? HuffPo? Salon? TPM? Full-time bloggers (the last one makes me laugh). Having international bureaus producing hard news costs _a lot_ of money, and I don't see the funding coming from anywhere other than subscription costs.
posted by jivadravya at 11:01 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ooh, what exactly did Frank Rich do as a theatre critic that was so terrible? I googled and only found this great interview he did with Dan Savage. But it didn't tell me what I want to know.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:14 AM on March 1, 2011


What? Who cares?

I do, as do several others above


He was the evil arts critic 17 years ago. Seventeen! I've read his reviews. I understand the vitriol. But after 17 years isn't it time to let it go?

(This not a facetious, trolling question. I'm serious.)
posted by not_the_water at 11:28 AM on March 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


17 years isn't that long a time to hold a grudge against someone and then, ultimately, take a little bit of pleasure in their misfortune. Not that it's a good idea, mind. But it's not even close to the statute of limitations.
posted by The World Famous at 11:30 AM on March 1, 2011


Robert Brustein:

But as a critic…. (Laughter.) He was a triumphant, witty, powerful middlebrow, and he prevented a lot of very important playwrights and directors from being produced in New York. I date the downfall and deterioration of the American theatre from Frank Rich’s quite brilliant regime. He wanted those people on stage that he approved of, and he didn’t want them if he didn’t approve of them.

A commentary:

Frank Rich, unaffectionately dubbed "the Butcher of Broadway," reigned supreme as The New York Times drama critic for over a decade. During his sway, the theatre community smarted under his acrimonious notices. When he walked into theatre receptions, the actors, it is alleged, walked out en masse. There were even rumors of plots against his life but, as anyone familiar with the New York scene knows, there is no tyrant as immovable as a theatre critic who enjoys the confidence of his editorial hierarchy.

I can't find examples -- not much of his criticism is available online. But I recall reading his comments -- and he could be especially unpleasant about the appearance of female actors -- and being quite shocked by them.

But after 17 years isn't it time to let it go?

Letting go comes easier when somebody shows remorse. He ruined people's careers, and some people take that pretty seriously.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:30 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


And Friedman's a joke.

Friedman's a great joke! I opened his column on a whim the other day and this is what I read:

If Not Now, When?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
What’s unfolding in the Arab world today is the mother of all wake-up calls. And what the voice on the other end of the line is telling us is clear as a bell:
“America, you have built your house at the foot of a volcano. That volcano is now spewing lava from different cracks and is rumbling like it’s going to blow. Move your house!” In this case, “move your house” means “end your addiction to oil.”


There's a laugh in every clause. The title! The "mother of all whatevers" thing! The volcano! With cracks! MOVE YOUR HOUSE!! Then explain "move your house."
Really, could you not just out and out copy that onto the op-ed page of The Onion?

You read people making fun of him and you think they're exaggerating, but the man needs no parody. Long live the moustache of understanding! I fucking love him.
posted by Trochanter at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


I heard he's writing a musical based on his life called "That's Rich!" and the theater critics in NY are busy sharpening their knives.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 11:51 AM on March 1, 2011


he could be especially unpleasant about the appearance of female actors

Are you sure that's not John Simon? That's something I associate with him.

In any case, as William Goldman explained in The Season, the Times drama critic - whoever he is - single-handedly holds life-and-death power over dramas produced on Broadway*. [He can wound musicals, but he can't kill them.] That kind of power could corrupt anyone.

I don't have an opinion on whether Rich abused his. But it's hard for me to imagine anyone holding the job for that long without making a long list of impassioned enemies.

* Yes, they actually used to mount new dramas on Broadway.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:54 AM on March 1, 2011


How about: Footill

How about tithe? Seems to work for churches and you wouldn't want to make God mad by not subscribing to the NYT?
posted by photoslob at 12:03 PM on March 1, 2011


John Simon was even worse than Frank Rich; thanks for reminding me of him. What a team.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:10 PM on March 1, 2011


He may be posturing as a liberal op-ed writer now, but at heart he's a cruel, elitist prick from way back when - they didn't call him "The Butcher of Broadway" for nothing.

Seriously? I'm a pretty frequent NYC theatergoer, but I think the good he's done as a liberal op-ed columnist far outweighs any alleged sins he committed in expressing his opinion as a theater critic.

This grudge sounds pretty parochial.
posted by Tin Man at 12:55 PM on March 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


So The Times wants me to pay more and get less? There's a plan.
posted by octothorpe at 1:05 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm afraid I have to me-too. I only know FR as the liberal voice on NYT. I cannot imagine why you'd hate a critic. A critic is just a single member of the audience. S/he might/might not be informative, but who is at fault of he "ruins careers"? Blame the audience who can't think for themselves - that's whom you should have your beef with, or are you expecting critics to work as your advertising and PR and sales team to whore you to the audience no matter your merit? And what if the audience agrees with him, and have come to trust his judgment - in which case you failed with the audience, so don't blame the critic who is merely the bearer of bad news. Of course, since I know nothing about him as a critic, maybe he is the devil. However, if so nobody here has provided any evidence so far, with specific links to what he did and how it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Sounds like a lot of sour grapes so far.
posted by VikingSword at 1:39 PM on March 1, 2011


Frank Rich's review of the infamous Moose Murders is still a classic:

I won't soon forget the spectacle of watching the mummified Sidney rise from his wheelchair to kick an intruder, unaccountably dressed in a moose costume, in the groin.
posted by Tin Man at 1:50 PM on March 1, 2011


nobody here has provided any evidence so far, with specific links to what he did and how it was wrong, wrong, wrong

When I was a young 'un, I went through a fairly major Edward Albee phase. So when I heard he had a new play opening on Broadway, I excitedly petitioned Father Beese to take me to it.

I attended the drama as respectfully as you might imagine. So when one or two people were uncouth enough to boo at the final curtain, I dismissed them as vulgarians.

Then came the Frank Rich review - scathing enough that it would have doomed even a new work by Zombie Eugene O'Neill.

Now that the phase is long behind me, I suspect he was absolutely right. But at the time I was quited vexed with him.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:43 PM on March 1, 2011


How about: Footill

A foot-ill? Sounds like something you need to see the podiatrist for.
posted by delmoi at 3:35 PM on March 1, 2011


after 17 years isn't it time to let it go?

No. The guy ruined lives without compunction. He's an elegant writer, and smart, and I'm usually on the same political page as him, but fuck that guy. Now and forever.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:35 PM on March 1, 2011


He can wound musicals, but he can't kill them

Sounds like you're describing a Greek god. And man do I wish someone would have killed CATS.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 6:28 PM on March 1, 2011


Judy Miller wasn't available?
posted by bardic at 12:50 AM on March 2, 2011


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