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N.Y. Times cultures its arts quotient

Moss grows into assistant managing editor position

Under newly appointed executive editor Bill Keller, the New York Times’ culture coverage is making headway on initiatives begun but left unfinished by former topper Howell Raines.

Adam Moss, editor of the Times Magazine, has been named to the newly created position of assistant managing editor for features, overseeing the paper’s various culture contingents: the style and culture desks plus the magazine, book review, travel, circuits, real estate, escapes and special sections. He will assume the post after Labor Day.

Idea is to prioritize culture in a way not done since Arthur Gelb served in a similar role.

Staffers said that over the past decade, the culture desk has been a backwater at the Times rather than a destination for reporters and editors and that resources were skimpier than in other departments.

Former executive editor Raines, who resigned in June as a result of the credibility fiasco involving former Times reporter Jayson Blair, was known for prioritizing culture, but with an emphasis on pop — Britney Spears was famously made front-page material at the Gray Lady. And while efforts were made to revitalize the Sunday Arts and Leisure section, for example, the overall process was never completed.

With Moss now accepting a role that Raines had in fact offered him (he declined), that process continues.

In an interview with Daily Variety, Moss said that although pop culture was not necessarily a priority, it was “important news” — as, he said, was Hollywood. “Hollywood is hugely important. It and all of culture in many ways are really an interesting mirror of America at any one minute.”

Second gig for Mitchell?

Meanwhile, the Times’ culture desk is already facing an internal conflict: Times staffers said Wednesday that they were baffled by a report in the New York Observer that Times film critic Elvis Mitchell had disclosed he would be “lending his services” to the African and African-American Studies Dept. at Harvard next spring.

“I don’t think a staffer is supposed to have a second full-time job,” said one person, who added that Mitchell had not alerted the paper of his extracurricular ambitions.