NEW YORK -- There are a handful of magazine editors so famous their status is like a movie star's. Perhaps no one exemplifies this better than Tina Brown, former editor of the now-defunct Talk. After Talk failed, much column space was devoted to the question: "What will Tina do next?"
Well, we finally have the answer. When not acting as host for a cable TV talk show or writing a column for a London daily, Brown will be working for the man who may be the newest member of the Famous Editors Club, Maer Roshan.
Since word leaked almost a year ago that Roshan planned to launch a general-interest magazine aimed at urban twenty- and thirtysomethings, the 35-year-old has been the topic of conversation at Manhattan media parties and the subject of many a New York Post gossip item.
Why all the talk about his new magazine, Radar?
Maybe it's because there have been so few magazine launches recently. In this sour economy, it is tough going for any magazine start-up, let alone a general-interest one like Radar. Or maybe the buzz is because Roshan is a former Talk deputy editor; he was hired as Talk's editorial director, and he helped increase circulation 17 percent in the magazine's last five months. Or maybe it's because Roshan cobbled together $1.75 million from various investors for the first three issues of Radar, which he has sold as an antidote to the stale, gushing celebrity and pop culture magazines on the rack.
Whatever its source, the buzz reached fever pitch recently with Radar's launch. Roshan was all over cable TV and featured in publications from New York to Los Angeles.
When the debut issue hit newsstands late last month, the questions about what Radar would look like and sound like were finally answered. The cover features a not-so-flattering picture of Jennifer Lopez, illustrating a story titled "Monsters Inc." The piece is full of details on America's meanest and most self-absorbed power players. Other selections include a piece on Noelle Bush, the troubled daughter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; a profile of presidential hopeful Howard Dean; a feature on the culture of Kinko's; and an article about an L.A. bar that offers refuge to reality-TV alumni.
The eclectic mix is no accident, as Roshan writes in his editor's letter: "The magazine we wanted to work for was the kind we wanted to read -- one that was smart but not pretentious, stylish but not superficial, irreverent but not cynical, and comfortable with both high culture and low. The magazine we had in mind was one with editorial and visual bite, one that would cover celebrities with as much honesty as we would cover any news subject, a magazine that would not be beholden to focus groups or publishing experts or publicists."
So what's the response to Radar?
"I thought it was a very strong first issue," says Kurt Andersen, a founding editor of Spy, the satirical magazine that reached its heyday in the '80s and serves as a sort of model for how Radar wants to approach celebrity coverage. "However, I think, for instance, that they should abandon the idea of trying to do capsule reviews [or reviews in general] of new books and movies and TV; what does Radar bring to the table that a million other publications don't already do?"
Says Simon Dumenco, a media columnist at Folio: "It's a very quirky mix. There are a lot of people who have criticized the 'Monsters Inc.' story, but media people are cynical to begin with. Apparently it had the right mix for Howard Stern to obsess over it. He talked about it extensively and quoted it extensively. Everybody has done a 'best and worst,' but if it's written and packaged in such a way that it can get picked up by the right people. ... If Maer can convert 1 percent of 1 percent of Howard Stern's listeners, that's a vast audience."
Others weren't so kind.
Russ Smith, a columnist for New York Press, an alternative weekly newspaper, wrote: "Is the debut issue of Radar awful? No. Does it live up to its motto 'fresh intelligence'? No. One of the worst stories is an extremely naive political profile of presidential aspirant Howard Dean by Jonathan Van Meter. Van Meter just doesn't add much to the thousands of column inches that have already been toted up about the holier-than-thou former Vermont governor."
And what about the editor himself?
"I'm thrilled; we wanted it to be energetic and funny," says Roshan. "Obviously it's a first issue, and there are thousands of things I'd do differently. But it's a really good start."
Roshan adds that he's already been approached by a major publishing firm to back the project. (He won't reveal which one.)
Though Radar has received mixed reviews, the one thing most agree on is that Roshan is a PR genius.
A strong belief
"I don't feel apologetic for making sure that people pay attention to it," Roshan says. "That's part of an editor's job. Especially when so many things out there are trying to get people's attention. If you believe in something you're doing, it's part of your responsibility to make sure people see it."
Reporters are eating up the Radar story.
"I think anything that has to do with Tina, there's some weird rub-off that comes with that whole Tina Brown thing," Roshan says.
Unlike Talk, which was launched in 1999 at a glitzy party in New York Harbor, Radar is watching every penny. Along with investing his own money, Roshan tapped some well-to-do professional acquaintances. Among the investors are Ben Brafman, rap impresario Sean Combs' lawyer, and Michael Fuchs, former HBO chairman. As the lore goes, their launch party was at a local bar, and the wife of one of the investors made a cake. The bill was $100.
Their offices, though unintentionally hip, are scant. Radar is just off Union Square, away from the midtown media hub that houses Time Inc. and Conde Nast. You can barely call the space it occupies an office. One managing editor estimates it can't be more than 1,100 square feet.
On this day, a TV crew is there. Roshon recognizes there's a downside to this much publicity, too. "I've been gratified by some of the attention, but also alarmed at the same time," he says. "I have watched it too many times. It's like a pendulum that swings back and forth, and it's only a matter of time before the long knives come out."
Still to come are some of the regular columns. Candace Bushnell, who wrote the "Sex and the City" columns that eventually became the HBO TV series, has agreed to write a domestic affairs features. Brown will write on a yet-to-be-determined subject.
Tara Weiss is a reporter for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.