The redesigned New York Times Magazine made its debut yesterday and, with the exception of the crossword puzzle (which editor Hugo Lindgren admitted not tinkering with "lest a pitchfork-wielding mob (led by my father) assemble down in our lobby"), it is radically different from the previous incarnation. Gone are popular columns On Language and Recipe Redux, replaced by columns with names like Look (a three-page photo essay) and Riff (A spot for critics to, you know, riff).
The decision to axe the On Language column attracted the most criticism from fans and the media. "I hadn't thought it possible," writes Newark Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, "but the editors of The New York Times have found a way to make their Sunday magazine even more grey and dull." Times crossword puzzle blogger Dem Allen admitted "it hurt to lose a column that provoked so much conversation among word lovers and students of etymology."
But the most bewildering aspect of yesterday's issue may have been a backpage essay by a graphic designer named Justin Horner, adapted from a Reddit message-board post. The NYTpicker blog tracked down Horner's original essay online and discovered the Times had made significant changes to the language of the piece. "The piece isn't ruined; far from it," admits NYTpicker. "But it sure ain't better." More to the point, the removal of Horner's more colorful language reflect the larger problem NYTpicker has with the new design's apparent lack of interest in language and the printed word. He hopes the Sunday magazine under Lindgren's leadership will begin to show "the commitment to language and style that was the essence, and point" of "On Language." But "the Horner edit isn't a very auspicious start." The Village Voice's Joe Coscarelli agrees. "There's something in the neutering of the language," he writes, "that dulls the edge of an otherwise sharp move by editors doubtlessly chasing younger readers."