Tina Brown plans to remake New Yorker in Harold Ross' image

September 25, 1992|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — New York--For three months now, the talk of the town has been about Tina's tightrope.

How will Tina Brown, the flamboyant former editor in chief of Vanity Fair, take her panache to the statuesque New Yorker without losing all those hard-core readers who have spent the summer in distressed anticipation of her arrival?

This week, in the middle of closing her first issue, which will hit the newsstands on Monday, Tina talked.

Distressed readers, just listen.

"Basically, my whole thrust has been to go back to Ross' magazine," she said of Harold Ross, the New Yorker's brilliant, eccentric founder, who edited the magazine from 1925 to 1951.

"It gave a writerly, newsy, interesting, intriguing feel to the contents rather than having contents that were overpresented on a plate," she said. "It was contents you had to squirrel around amongst to find things to be enchanted by and surprised by and amused by. 'Fancy this being here?' was the sort of response that you had to it.

"That's really all gone from the New Yorker, largely because the length of the articles really grew and grew and grew and because they really ate into the space that Ross had allocated for the really short material. I felt that was a real lack in the current New Yorker because there really wasn't a place to be fresh and responsive and short."

So, with Ross' magazine as her inspiration, Ms. Brown begins to make her imprint as the fourth editor of the magazine, after Ross, William Shawn and Robert A. Gottlieb. Here are some of the changes she will effect.

The "Notes and Comment" section, which has always been the lead item in the "Talk of the Town" feature, will be broken out as a stand-alone essay and run as the first piece in the magazine. Titled "Comment," it will represent the editorial voice of the New Yorker.

"Comment" will be edited by Hendrik Hertzberg, a New Yorker staff writer from 1969 to 1977 and, more recently, editor of the New Republic.

"We hope it will be civilized, informed, skeptical, humorous and about what seems to be in the mind of the magazine," Ms. Brown said.

The absence of "Notes and Comments" will free "The Talk of the Town" of its political tone and enable it to be both sharper and looser. While it will continue to be mainly about New York City, it will also reflect other metropolitan areas. Beginning in November, "Talk" will be edited by Alexander Chancellor, an English writer, columnist and former foreign correspondent.

"I don't think he will be an annoyingly British voice; I think he will be a dry, droll voice, but very much connected to America in the same way Alistair Cooke has been," said the 38-year-old Brown, who was born in England, is an Oxford graduate and began her journalism career in London before coming to the United States.

"Talk" items will be shorter. The section will also include one or two boxed bylined pieces by "young writers who are bright and smart and could get their start in 'Talk,' " Ms. Brown said.

Gone, however, will be the much used -- and much parodied -- lead sentence: "A friend writes . . ."

"I think it's a kind of an unnecessary constraint, and it's become arch," Ms. Brown said. "I don't like it when writers get 'New Yorker quaint.' "

Color will be used in a splashier way, including larger color illustrations. The covers will be more animated and satirical, although the magazine will continue to mix them up, sometimes running quieter ones, sometimes more humorous ones. Ms. Brown has said she likes covers with people in them, like the lascivious old top-hatted gentlemen with bosomy chorus girls on the Peter Arno covers in the days of Ross.

Reports that the New Yorker would introduce a masthead were untrue, Ms. Brown said. "The idea of a masthead is hideous because the New Yorker is so completely a democratic, unhierarchical, informal kind of place," she said.

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