|ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: THE NEW YORK PRESS' JEFF KOYEN.|
Jeff Koyen is an asshole. Well, maybe he's an asshole. Judging solely by the content of the New York Press, it'd be difficult not to think he is. However, his willingness to slaughter sacred cows appears to be working. It may not seem that way, but Koyen says he is slowly, but surely building a younger readership with an approach which may turn away the older, stodgier readers and critics. Koyen's not mad -- he doesn't want them reading anyway.
It's still a little hazy as to whether the Jeff Koyen New York Press will actually become a relevant voice in the overcrowded New York media market, but under his reign it has gained a certain level of infamy. With each caustic swipe at the city's media players, politicos, and over-hyped scenesters, the Press both strengthens and lessens its credibility. He's even made it an honor to be "loathsome".
With those credentials, he's a perfect fit for the Q-and-A car wreck that is Rock and a Hard Place.
Fasten your jock-straps and prepare to wince. Let's get crunk.
BT: Since you've taken over the Press and under your leadership it has turned to bashing midlevel media humps. Was it a goal to get other media dorks perceiving your paper as the ultimate hatchet?
JK: We knew from the start that no top-level media humps would ever acknowledge us, so we decided to instead hit the people whose feelings we could actually hurt. I've no doubt that the top humps have monstrous egos and enjoy appallingly shallow lives, but it's been shocking to see the midlevel hump ego in action. They've so much invested in their images and connections and tiny fiefdoms that sticking a "KICK ME" sign on their backs can put them off their diets for days. It's just so much fun, we can't seem to stop.
BT: Who is your competition, really? Do Alt-Weeklies even matter anymore?
JK: Second part first: nope, not really. The alt-weekly model is dead or dying. Look through the country's other free weeklies, and you'll find the same unimaginative swill not just across the markets, but from within any given paper's own lifespan. They're recycling each other and themselves, which is just a heart-breaking waste of print. The alt-weekly readership has aged with the alt-weekly editors, resulting by and large in stale, homogenous products. Their stance as the proud voices of straight-thinking liberal minds is laughably simplistic and completely out of touch with the younger folk who must be converted into readers if those papers want to survive.
Technically, obviously, our competition is the Village Voice. I'm loathe to accept to that, however. Imagine showing up at a beauty pageant and you're put on stage with a dozen hare-lipped, mongoloid retards sniffing each other's cracks. To call them my competition is to reduce me, and I'd rather eat Michael Moore's ass than be part of that contest.
BT: That Jim Knipfel fella's been around for a long time. I hear he's pretty much blind. Has he ever come into the office and tried to photocopy something on the coffee machine or anything? Have any of your copy editors committed suicide when they get a first read on Slackjaw?
JK: Jim bumps around a bit, sure, but he's wise enough to come into the office very, very early-thus avoiding the crush of sales reps running over each other to get the last donut in the conference room. Come to think of it, I'm not entirely convinced he's blind -- it's not like he uses a Braille keyboard or brings a dog into the office with him, and no one's ever seen him using that cane he goes on about. I think it's just an excuse to not talk to anyone in the hallway.
As for Jim's raw copy, those 1000 monkeys he has working for him are
pretty good about running spellcheck. And, let's just say, thank god for
Word's grammar function.
BT: Why'd you box Scott Stedman, editor of L Magazine? Wouldn't it have been a lot easier just to unzip in front of each other and get it over with?
JK: In terms of equipment, I am a modest man, right in the middle of the bell curve. I couldn't take a chance that my beanpole opponent was slinging a surprise down below.
BT:Which blogs did you rip-off when you wrote your "Intro" section of the paper? Why did you choose to stop it?
JK: sexual_insecurity.diaryland.com, bukowski-wannabe.blogspot.com, meth-romanticism.blogspot.com and would-be-expat.blogformaerica.com. Bless, bless, bless the blog -- I haven't had to write an original sentence in five years!
I killed "The Intro" because I'd finally written about every night of drinking, every sexual encounter, every drug experience, every trip I'd ever taken. When the well runs dry, you've just got to move on. (See also: alt-weeklies, Village Voice.)
BT: Now, lemme ask you, is this your dream job? Do you aspire to head any other magazines that we've heard of -- none of that weird Prague/Anarchy 'zine shit that you seem to adore, either. If it is your dream job, what's the ultimate goal. What can you do with the Press?
JK: As some dead hippie kid once wrote, the journey is the destination. God help me if I ever secure my dream job. All I can say is, I'm here, working as hard as I can, doing the best job possible. Whether it lasts six months or six years is hard to say; I'll stay as long as I'm making progress. Should Vanity Fair or Harper's come knocking, I'd certainly open the door, if just a crack. Won't happen, though. And, I'm probably too spoiled by the awesome power I wield. Who wants to play seventeenth fiddle to Graydon Carter?
As for what I can do: I can take a fallen newspaper and make it relevant again. Which is not to slag on my predecessors, whom I respect and admire and who were my teachers, whether they care to acknowledge it or not. But New York Press lost some of its importance in New York City. Like its cousins across the country, it was aging badly. I'm trying to once again make New York Press a venue for emerging talent, those willing to take chances with their work, those who will step up innocently and eagerly, unconcerned about status and connections and shaking the right hands. Lord knows, they won't get very far dropping our name at cocktail parties.
BT: Alright, you did an issue called 50 Loathsome New Yorkers. Why only 50, though? Why don't you just make it 1,000? And you could put Chuck Klosterman on it like 12 times since you guys seem to hate him so much.
JK: Ah, poor Chuck Klosterman -- right place at the right time to become the latest in a long line of New York Press whipping boys. Pity not Klosterman -- he no doubt makes a handsome living producing vapid commentary that hobbles along on the crutch of nostalgia. He's a despicable, annoying writer; the personification of a necrotic pop culture feeding on itself.
BT: And how about Mugger? I mean, as much as you seem to deplore navel-gazing it seems like you're guilty of the biggest form of it when this guy would bash people who write for you (Jonathan Ames) in his own column. That seems to be an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle African-American.
JK: Actually, he bashed Mark Ames, not Jonathan(Editor's note: I fucked up). And before that, he bashed Matt Taibbi, and before that...
There's a difference between navel-gazing and spirited dialogue. Who says a publication must be consistent -- either issue-to-issue, or even within a single issue? We'll let the Voice handle the homogeneity in this town, thanks very much. I encourage my writers to challenge each other.
BT: Yeah, you should have them box ! Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? You seem to hate the metaphor that's attached with the city -- you know the "too-cool-for-school-be-all-end-all-of-everything-that's-culturally relevant-let's-get-fisted-in-Nobu's-bathroom-after drinking-a-Nyquil/Stoli-Raspberry-combo-on-a-Thursday-night blah, blah, blah " -- even though your publication seems to embrace cultural elitism. Explain, please.
JK: I deny that we embrace cultural elitism. We're impatient types that eschew both simplemindedness and high-falutin' big thought. As a general editorial direction, we don't particularly like trendy types -- but a newspaper is a sum of parts, and allowing writers their freedom is more important than any mandate from me. Again: New York Press is not a unified voice. Pick and choose at will.
I'm a nine-year veteran of the city, but was raised in nearby New Jersey and spent many teenage weekends puking in the very gutters that I now call home. A Queens-born friend claims one decade here makes for an official convert, so check back in 12 months.
BT: Now, honestly -- I know this is the toughest question -- but who in the mainstream media do you admire? Is there any publication or writer or editor right now where you can honestly say they're doing something right?
JK: That's a very tough question. I'm not an industry type. I don't follow bylines, I don't follow careers, or track any favorite writers. I exist in a bubble, with my eyes mostly on independent media. That said, I do read the aforementioned Harper's and Vanity Fair whenever they're not stolen from my mailbox (though I think Carter's most recent opening editorial was exceptionally grating). I adore the London Guardian's daily G2 section, but it's best when read in print, and especially when one is traveling. There are individuals whose work I admire, but right now I'm not in a position to drag the names up from the scraggly mess that is my memory.
BT: Giuliani is the most loathsome New Yorker according to this year's list. That seemed a bit easy and a ploy to just get people talking. I mean, the guy's a hero -- you know he saved New York from Oksana Bin Ramen and black people right? Will there be any effort to further expose the man you consider to be a fascist, vile human being? What story would you like the New York Press tell about him? And do you think your publication even has the credibility to tell that story?
JK: If Rudy took care of all the black people, who stole my Xbox?
But seriously, folks. We argued about the #1 slot at great length, and eventually settled on Rudy as something of a pre-emptive strike. He really is a loathsome human being, and those who criticize us for kicking a dead horse are wrong: Giuliani's just getting started. I don't believe he has a snowcone's chance in hell of ever reaching the White House, but I do expect he'll hold an elected office again. I don't have an obsessive hatred for the man -- I'm not Christopher Brodeur -- but people just can't get enough of that horrid, little, loudmouth oligarch. We'll keep serving him up.
As for a dream Giuliani story: Imagining Rudy to be a sexual deviant is giving him too much credit, so wishing for fucked-up debauchery is unrealistic. I wouldn't be surprised if he shook down some club boys for blowjobs back in the Michael Alig days, though. I'd pay good money for an expose involving graphic description of his genitalia -- a la Lewinsky with Clinton, or the children of L.A. with Michael Jackson. No, of course, we don't have sufficient credibility to influence his political career, but that's to our advantage: nothing held dear means nothing to lose.
BT: So, what will it take to make the Press relevant? Do you think you're in jeopardy of being canned if you don't turn it around anytime soon? I mean, have you had any spike in readership with the nothing's sacred approach?
JK: Our readership is actually up something like 20 or 30%, and the average reader's age has dropped by several years. Honest. The auditing people said so. The website enjoys more traffic than ever, and I have a sense that people are turning to the paper again.
To regain relevancy is a lengthy, tricky process. Observant types will note that I didn't tear the paper apart upon taking over; there's nothing wrong with New York Press' legacy. Instead, I spent the better part of a year hiring and firing, instituting relatively minor changes, shifting the tone and priorities. We're focused on New York City again. We don't run reviews of live events, but only previews; with the exception of our columnists (which were reduced in number) we tend to avoid national politics; we're not afraid to admit that we don't know everything, and that we sometimes make mistakes and contradict ourselves. Think of us as your funny, clever friend who gets too drunk at the party and embarrasses himself -- but only just a little. Sometimes that guy gets laid, but usually not. He's usually invited back, but not always.
I don't expect to get fired for not turning the paper around. I'll be shown the door the next time I publish a racist joke that I believe to have sociological merit but is offensive to everyone around me. Let's just say my bags are always packed.
BT: Okay. Time for the tough question: Would you rather watch Neal Pollack eat out your mother or go all jail-homo for a weekend with the following people: George Steinbrenner, Choire Sicha, Yankees pitcher Kevin Brown and John Strausbaugh.
JK: Don't get me wrong, the jail-homo weekend sounds fantastic. I'm not nearly as comely as I was in my twenties, so the other guys would probably be fighting over Sicha's mouth (considering how stretched and useless his asshole is by now). And John's an old friend, so I'd expect a certain amount of decency from him. Averted eyes, a spit-shine reacharound, that sort of thing.
But I'd go with Neal Pollack, all the way, despite his increasing girth and lack of deep-tissue talent. I'm not nearly the wicked talent as he, but still -- he might benefit from drinking of the womb from which I was sprung.
BT: Well, I guess I asked for that...