Is ‘New York’ Going National?

New hires could suggest less focus on local coverage

What do Frank Rich, Jonathan Chait, and John Heilemann all have in common? One, they’re all nationally recognized writers. Two, they all write about national politics. And three, they all write for a local magazine.

New York has always covered national politics, but its mission was never to influence the national political discourse. Now, editor Adam Moss finds himself with an all-star team of political columnists on his hands, joining an already strong team of political feature reporters—and just in time for the 2012 campaign season.

“I think we actually have a pretty big opportunity here to become a major destination for people interested in politics,” Moss told Adweek. “We’re going to meet that challenge and meet that opportunity—we’d be crazy not to.”

Moss says there's been no grand plan to turn New York into a leading source for political news and opinion. Heilemann has been writing for the magazine since 2005, before his No. 1 New York Times best-seller, Game Change, came out. Rich, who was hired from the Times earlier this year, has been a longtime friend and colleague of Moss's. Chait, who was until this week senior editor at The New Republic, was simply a talent who wasn’t available, then became available. “He wasn’t the last puzzle piece in a grand scheme,” Moss said.

But now that he has this team, Moss says he and the editors at New York are going to have to come up with a strategy for covering the 2012 campaign. “Politics is also good business,” he said. “It’s not why we’re doing it, exactly, but it makes it easier to do it, because readers are interested in it.”

As of now, that strategy will see Chait writing a daily column online and some stories for print; Heilemann writing his bi-weekly column, as well as three to four features annually; and Rich writing his monthly essay. Reporters Joe Hagan, Jen Senior, and Gabe Sherman will add to that coverage as well, and Moss said that New York has some new features it will roll out over “the next several months.”

At the moment, only 32 percent of New York’s print circulation is outside the New York metro area. That’s a bigger cut than that of, say, the Washingtonian, which draws 5 percent of its circulation from outside the D.C.-metro area, or Los Angeles, which draws 6 percent from outside of Los Angeles County. But it’s far smaller than that of national, New York-themed magazines like The New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine—often seen as New York’s primary competition—which draw 81 percent and 61 percent, respectively, of their circulation from outside the New York metro area.

On the other hand, 77 percent of New York’s Web traffic comes from outside the metro area, and more people read the periodical's print content on the website than they do in the actual magazine. 

Perhaps the one concern is that by dedicating so much real estate to national political coverage, New York could lose some of the local audience looking for local coverage. But Moss isn’t worried about his ability to balance the local and the national. “I think you can do both,” he said. “We really care about New York, and we will continue to be an authority in the things that we feel we are an authority on."

But the balance certainly seems to be shifting to the national side. “We’re in a climate where the greatest story of our day is our bizarre and really interesting political climate, and I want to cover it as well as we can,” Moss said. “For a magazine like this not to be throwing as many resources as we can or as much talent as we can at this subject would be missing a huge opportunity."