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NEW YORK — Five weeks ago, Frank Rich sent an e-mail to New York magazine editor in chief Adam Moss asking if his friend of 24 years could give him a call.
“Frank said he was feeling that he had done what he could do on the column and that he wanted to do something different,” Moss said Tuesday, recounting the conversation. “And he asked me for advice. And I said, ‘Well, how about New York?’ And he said, ‘Huh? Huh! That’s an interesting idea. What would you want me to do?’ ”
Moss spent the next few days thinking about the answer. He recalled the negotiations he had with Rich in 2004 — when Moss came fairly close to poaching the New York Times all-star — and remembered he was eager to write, but also keen to provide big picture wisdom for a reinvented New York magazine. So Moss proposed that Rich write a monthly column that would serve as the anchor of a section — “almost a mini-magazine,” said the editor in chief — that he could then help put together. In addition, he’d write around once a week for New York’s Web site.
The idea excited them both, and by Tuesday the Moss-Rich marriage was complete and Rich’s 31 influential years with the Times were over. Rich’s last column for the paper will be in two weeks. The move marks a major shift in Manhattan’s print media landscape — and a tit-for-tat in what has become an ongoing raiding of talent between the Times and New York magazine.
“I’ve always been someone who has shaken up my career,” said Rich, speaking from his cell phone in Baltimore, where he was overseeing the production of “Veep,” an HBO pilot that stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, on which he serves as executive producer.
“As much as I love the Times, there was no way for me to reinvent myself at the Times,” said Rich. “I’ve been a critic, I’ve been a columnist at the magazine, a senior writer writing pieces for the well of the magazine, and then did both kinds of op-ed columns, including one they very nicely created for me.”
When asked if there was anything the Times leadership could have done to keep him, he was definitive.
“There’s nothing I wanted,” he said. “There’s nothing I wanted from them. They’ve been nothing but great. They let me do this HBO stuff, too, on the side, which has been a big boon to me. But I don’t want to be an editor. I don’t want to be a manager at the Times.”
Beyond his peripatetic writing career, Rich has been an adviser and consigliere to Times editors and a mother hen of sorts to a legion of Times writers. His loss was felt on Tuesday.
“His contribution to the institution is much greater than his impressive sum of clips,” said Jodi Kantor, a correspondent with the Times and the former Arts & Leisure editor. “There is a whole unseen contribution to the paper.”
Kantor said that it “feels like the end of an era,” and that “a lot of people at the Times, at one point or another, have had this feeling of, Oh my God, Frank Rich believes in my work and wants to help me do it!”