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DEBORAH’S TEAM: It’s Deborah Needleman’s first week at The New York Times. She’s spent it partly in Paris, for the collections, and mostly avoiding questions about T.
A spokeswoman for the Times said Tuesday, “It’s her second day and she’s focused on getting herself settled here. She’s not ready to talk to the press and likely won’t be for a while. Similarly, it’s too early to talk about who might stay, who might go, who might join.”
She declined further comment Wednesday.
But plans Needleman has. She had big ideas even before she was named Sally Singer’s replacement last week.
According to sources, Needleman started negotiating with the Times while Singer was still holding court on the sixth floor. Needleman had always wanted to work at the Times, but for her, it wasn’t just a question of money. Journal managing editor Robert Thomson told her he’d match any offer from the Times, and, sources said, the Times had to dip into its discretionary budget to get her — a move that will not endear management to the Times union, still in the middle of an endless contract battle.
Needleman also wanted perks that had eluded previous T editors — a publisher of its own, for starters, which would lessen the pressure on the editor in chief to bring in ad dollars. She also asked to reposition T as a monthly that would be more general-interest, instead of themed, with each issue including coverage of fashion, design and travel.
It’s unclear if she got any of this. In the past, when Stefano Tonchi had asked for a monthly T, the ad sales team, which sells ads across categories for several Times sections, pushed back — they feel they can sell 15 issues. A sole publisher at T would make it more difficult to sell more ads in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
But it was telling that in appointing Needleman, Jill Abramson said she was brought in to “strengthen the franchise and reimagine its future on all platforms.”
More certain are the requests she did get. Although contracts haven’t been finalized, several sources confirmed two WSJ. staffers are joining her at T.: fashion features director Whitney Vargas and creative director Patrick Li. He resigned Friday; another staffer, market editor Andrew Lutjens, also resigned recently, but for reasons unrelated to Needleman’s departure.
It is widely expected other WSJ. staffers will migrate down to the Times on Eighth Avenue. Needleman prefers to work with familiar faces: she brought several Domino staffers to the Journal, including Off Duty editor Ruth Altchek and European editor Rita Konig.
Any additional departures at the Journal are unlikely to happen until Needleman’s successor has been named. The Journal has only begun the search, although some have thrown out possible candidates: perennial bridesmaid and GQ deputy editor Michael Hainey; Vanessa Friedman, the Financial Times’ fashion editor; and Rachel Johnson, sister to London mayor Boris Johnson and editor of the British weekly magazine The Lady. Hainey met with the Journal two years ago when it was casting about to replace Tina Gaudoin, the Brit who launched the magazine, and was also a possibility for T. Johnson, renowned for her p.r. skills, is conveniently profiled in October’s Vanity Fair. Johnson and Hainey did not respond to requests for comment.
At T, no one’s resigned or been reassigned. But with Vargas and Li, at least two staffers, Singer acolyte and features director Jacob Brown and creative director David Sebbah, would seem to be vulnerable. Both declined comment.
Singer, meanwhile, has not entirely skipped this season. She turned up in Paris at the Lanvin and Balenciaga shows — she is friends with the creative directors of both houses. Singer did not returns calls for comment on her next move.