Sally Singer Talks T

Editor's second issue of T: The New York Times Style Magazine — the women’s fashion issue — comes out Feb. 27.

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Sally Singer


Appeared In
Special Issue
WWDStyle issue 02/16/2011

When Singer was told that the newsroom perceived T as the soft section at the Times, she looked down at the musty floor in El Quijote.

“I hope they don’t say that anymore,” she said.

If retooling a successful franchise without messing it up weren’t enough, a second hurdle for Singer will be a way to coexist with another new editor in the building: Hugo Lindgren, who was hired to edit the Times Magazine in September. Both are outsiders, and like some strong-willed editors, they both have fairly high opinions of themselves. And, according to sources, there’s already some tension between the two.

Back in the summer, before Lindgren’s arrival, Times department heads and editors gathered to meet Singer. She’d only been in her new job for a matter of weeks, and was asked by an editor if, as an outsider, she had any advice for the next Times Magazine editor?

“Fire the entire art and photo departments,” she said, according to several people familiar with the meeting. (“I can’t comment on that,” Singer said, when asked about it).

Since Lindgren was hired, he has decided he likes the photo staff just fine and has kept it intact. It hasn’t made for the most comfortable working relationship on the sixth floor where the two magazines are located, especially since Lindgren plans to introduce more photography in the back of his reinvented magazine that will debut in March. There is potential for fashion stuff, and sources said Lindgren reached out to Singer to see if she wanted to collaborate on the back pages. (A few years ago, when the weekly Sunday Magazine ran style pages at the back, then-editor Gerry Marzorati farmed that content out to T editor Tonchi). But the Lindgren-Singer talks about the back pages haven’t gone much of anywhere, those sources said. Her opinion of the Times’ photo department hasn’t helped much. And part of the problem is that Singer reports directly to Keller, and not to Lindgren. (Tonchi used to report to Marzorati).

“There’s no turf war,” insisted Singer. “The Times Magazine is Hugo’s turf, so if Hugo wants my team to contribute to the Times Magazine, we would be delighted to.”

Both Singer and Lindgren said that it would be a “joint” decision to figure out how to handle those back pages.

“I like Hugo a lot,” added Singer.

“I like her very much,” said Lindgren.

If Singer is just beginning to learn how politics at the Times works, she certainly has no illusions that life is a little bit different at her new job.

“Vogue is at the heart of what Condé Nast is,” she said. “Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but you think that it is. I don’t think T is the core of the New York Times. The core is the third floor of the newsroom and what runs on the front page. That’s a different relationship.”

Nevertheless, she sees it as her mission to make sure that the “line between what happens on the third floor and the sixth floor is a little bit fuzzier than it used to be.”

And certainly is making itself clear through a more idiosyncratic magazine, one where Singer “shines through on every page,” as Wintour put it in assessing her first two issues.

Being blunt, though, isn’t there the danger that stories about autism and Susan Sontag’s assistant in the Seventies, as interesting as they are to Singer and the non-obsessed fashion reader, might scare off advertisers? Even if Tonchi’s model of T may not have been a fan-favorite among the journalism elite, it got the job done, especially in the eyes of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Is Singer concerned at all for being on the hook for drawing in advertising dollars and acting as editor-publisher in a way that no other editor in the building has to worry about?

“I think advertisers want to be in a magazine that is read by educated people who have the means to understand their product and possibly consume their product,” she said.

“I don’t think a luxury book simply contains products that cost a certain amount or look a certain way or are made in a certain place,” she said. “The definition of luxury is bigger and broader than that. It’s a bigger experience than that.”

Her mission, as she sees it, is less about advertising concerns.

“The newsroom at The New York Times wants a level of journalism — magazine journalism — that is worthy of the Times,” she said. “That’s my job. To pull it off. My way of pulling it off might be slightly different from how my predecessor did it.”


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