N.Y. Times editor discusses his role in acclaimed publication

Courtney Scrib

As print news media sales continue to decline, the future of the New York Times lies literally in the hands of Villanova students.

Last Wednesday afternoon Gerald Marzorati, assistant managing editor of the Times and a 1975 Villanova graduate, returned to the University as the guest speaker of the “Writing at the New York Times” lecture. As the assistant managing editor, Marzorati is involved in the strategic planning of the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States. His decisions and insight help determine the direction of the New York Times over the next five, 10 and 15 years.

Although projecting the fate of a publication as respected as the New York Times may seem overwhelming, Marzorati’s plan for the future is relatively simple and convenient.

According to Marzorati, within the next 15 to 20 years (or even sooner), paper newspapers will become obsolete. Subscribers and casual readers will no longer be able to physically pick up a paper; instead, they will have news customized and sent directly to them via cell phones and other personal wireless devices.

“In transitional technology, I believe cell phones are the preferred choice,” Marzorati said. “People have an emotional attachment to cell phones.”

In a trend seen throughout the newspaper industry, the New York Times online circulation vastly outnumbers its paper circulation. Generally, the Times Web site will bring in 11 to 12 million unique users a month. In contrast, the paper edition has a monthly circulation of around eight million copies.

The biggest dilemma the Times and other newspapers face as a result of online development is in advertising. Online ad revenue generates only one tenth of the revenue generated from print advertisements.

“The question is how do you make money online, not if people will continue to read the New York Times” Marzorati said. “In fact, greater numbers of people will be reading [the online edition].”

However, Marzorati also points out that while weekly print newspapers are nearing the end of their era, he believes that there will always be a Sunday print edition. In part, this is because 35 to 45 percent of the money the Times makes comes from the Sunday paper.

In the past, readership followed a “serendipity model.” People picked up a newspaper with the intention of looking for certain articles but then came across and read articles they did not think would be interesting.

Today, however, the model is more customized. People can disaggregate a newspaper’s content by selecting the news topics and updates that they want to receive through podcasts and wireless devices. Eventually, they will also be able to choose what time they want this delivered to them. For example, if employees want to read headlines and breaking news during their lunch breaks, they can schedule the news to be forwarded to them during this time.

Marzorati describes this move towards allowing consumers to be in charge of the product as “revolutionary.”

“What technology allows is going to be enormous,” Marzorati said. “There has never been as much of a variety of media outlets as there is now. This is all just the beginning.”

Before he was named assistant managing editor, Marzorati was the editor of The New York Times Magazine, where he had been editorial director of the magazine since 1998. Marzorati, who describes himself as a “social, gregarious person who needs to be around people,” first started at The New York Times in 1994 as articles editor of the magazine. Prior to joining the Times, the northern New Jersey native was an editor of nonfiction at The New Yorker and deputy editor at Harper’s Magazine for 10 years.

After graduating from Villanova, Marzorati moved to New York City and enrolled in what he refers to as a “hangover program” at New York University. Soon after, he took his first publication job with the SoHo News. Living in a Greenwich Village studio apartment and eating “lots of Chinese food and pizza,” Marzorati quickly learned that if he wanted to pursue journalism, money could not be his priority.

“My advice is to make money not a consideration for as long as you can,” Marzorati said. “The people I know who are happiest don’t worry about money. It’s the relationship you have with your peers and coworkers that matter more.”

While he recognizes that there is greater pressure today to redeem college investments financially, he contends that it can be just as rewarding for college graduates to have a job and be around people they genuinely like.

Marzorati also believes that the most practical thing any student can do is know how to read and write better than everybody else.

“Being able to reason, read, extrapolate content and write well and elusively, these skills will not be outsourced,” Marzorati said. “Learning to read really well and write really well is the single most practical thing you can do, even if parents do not agree.”