Daily News Plagued by Production Problems

The Daily News , plagued by production problems that have kept thousands of copies from getting to newsstands and subscribers in a timely fashion, has overhauled its entire deadline structure. But the supposed solution to the distribution woes has already dumped more work on reporters and editors while doing nothing to improve the Daily News ‘ ability to print in color.

As of Sept. 30, the News scaled back the number of editions it publishes from four to three. The national edition-a skimpy, 32-page paper that carried little from the New York editions-has been killed. In its place, the four-star edition, which had been hitting newsstands in the New York region at about 5 A.M., has been renamed the Metro edition and will now appear by midnight at 24-hour newsstands in New York City and get shipped out to newsstands across the country.

The upshot: Reporters now have to file the first versions of their stories as much as two hours earlier than before. Any metro stories that are scheduled beyond page 8 have to be filed no later than 4 P.M., while front-of-the-paper stories have to be in by 5 P.M. and business stories by about 4 P.M.

Needless to say, none of this is going down too well with a staff already demoralized by minuscule 2 percent raises (that’s the maximum) and no permanent editor in chief since Pete Hamill was forced out in early September. “There’s general griping among the staff,” said one editor. “They’re saying, ‘How the hell do you get the story done by 4 o’clock?'”

Articles, of course, can (and will) be updated for later editions. “But the time writing that first version could be spent reporting,” said one reporter. “It’s like doing double the work,” added one editor.

The new deadlines, executives argue, will allow the Daily News to have a paper on the streets of New York around midnight for the first time. “When the Post is out, we’ll be out,” said Les Goodstein, executive vice president and associate publisher, referring to the News’ tabloid archrival. But more importantly, News executives are praying that the earlier deadlines will help get the later editions to the newsstand by 5:30 A.M. Since the paper switched over to its expensive new color-printing presses in Jersey City, N.J., on Sept. 9, the Sports Final edition hasn’t reached parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn until 8:30 A.M. or later. In fact, on Sept. 15, the News was so backlogged it didn’t even print its final edition, sources at the paper told Off the Record.

By doing away with the separate national edition, the News can get the presses rolling with as complete a paper as possible earlier in the cycle, cutting the amount of setup time the pressmen need and preventing delays from cascading through the press run. The rejiggering, if all goes well, means the Sports Final edition should come off the presses 45 minutes to an hour earlier than the usual 5:45 A.M. “The traffic situation in New York gets pretty hairy the later and later you go,” said Mr. Goodstein.

Nonetheless, the new schedule will do nothing to solve the Daily News ‘ current color dilemma: If the paper runs to more than 160 pages on a weekday, it can’t have any color. So virtually every Friday for the rest of the year, the paper won’t have any color because there are too many ads, editorial employees were told at a recent meeting. Some News employees and former executives claim that the paper’s color problems can be traced to plain old stinginess on the part of owners Mort Zuckerman and Fred Drasner. When they got their sweetheart deal from New Jersey to build the Daily News ‘ printing plant in an old liquid bleach factory formerly owned by the Clorox Corporation, the owners opted for only nine snazzy Goss four-color offset presses. Some said they should have gone for 12, and that they stinted by spending just $160 million to build the plant. New presses, industry sources said, would cost the News about $13 million a piece.

Mr. Goodstein disputes that take. “When we looked at buying presses, the amount of advertising we ran was significantly less,” he said, referring to the size of the paper. He added that the News is looking at increasing its printing capacity.

Jim Gaines, squeezed out of Time Inc. last year by editor in chief Norman Pearlstine, is returning to his home of 20 years. Sort of. Mr. Gaines, the former managing editor of Time, People and Life , will be the editor of a new golf life style magazine from American Express Publishing Corporation, a division that Time manages for the financial-services giant. The prodigal son helped develop the concept of Travel & Leisure Golf , and now he’s been given the task of editing the magazine full time, Time sources said. Any potentially awkward moments that could result from bringing Mr. Gaines back into the fold seem to have been averted, for the moment. Mr. Pearlstine has given his blessing to both the project and the editor, sources close to Time said. And Mr. Gaines, who has been living in Colorado since he left the company, working on a book about flying and adhering to the noncompete clause departing Time executives must sign, won’t have to move back to New York to accomplish his editing chores.

Travel & Leisure Golf won’t offer any golf lessons, like Golf and Golf Digest , and it won’t be full of real estate ads for golf-course homes, like the upcoming International Golf Estates magazine from the German owner of Sportswear International . But it will deal with golf the way Cigar Aficionado deals with cigars. Cars, wine, clothing, gadgets, travel destinations-these will be the focus of the prose, perfect for capturing advertising dollars from the makers of such redundant products. “It’s a men’s life style magazine seen through the prism of golf,” said Dan Brewster, the president and chief executive of American Express Publishing. The dummy issue, which prospective advertisers are being shown now, even carries some real (literary) copy, featuring a John Updike story, “Farrell’s Caddie,” about the first golf club in America, and The Observer ‘s own Michael Thomas sizing up Tiger Woods.

Travel & Leisure Golf is expected to get the official go-ahead in early October. Four issues are planned next year, with six in 1999, according to sources close to Time.

Kathy Bishop, the New York Post woman’s editor who’s been known to browbeat and abuse her reporters with all the gusto of a hard-charging man, still managed to shock the newsroom with her unexpected firing of reporter Heidi Mae Bratt on Sept. 22.

The dismissal of Ms. Bratt-generally regarded as talented by her fellow hacks at the paper-after a year and a half on the job prompted one unknown Post employee to add some graffiti to a petition already posted in the women’s bathroom on the 10th floor of the paper’s midtown Manhattan offices. Scrawled in blue ink were the words: “How about a petition to get rid of Kathy Bishop?” sources said.

Ms. Bratt’s ouster has so outraged many reporters and editors in the newsroom that they have banded together and are giving Ms. Bishop “the silent treatment.”

Post sources said Ms. Bishop and Ms. Bratt had butted heads before; Ms. Bishop would overhear Ms. Bratt’s phone interviews and rip into her reporting as soon as she hung up. However, the sources could not pinpoint a catalyst for the firing. “It really came out of the blue,” said one reporter. But the quasi-contracts under which most Post employees toil allow for firing with or without cause. Ms. Bratt declined to comment.

Ms. Bishop doesn’t treat her other three employees or freelancers much better, sources said. “She is constantly derogatory and derisive,” said one Post reporter who has witnessed Ms. Bishop’s employee-relations skills in action. Ms. Bishop is prone to yelling “Are you stupid?” and is not too concerned if lots of people happen to be around.

Ms. Bishop declined to talk about “personnel issues,” but did say, “Heidi is very well liked, myself included, but it wasn’t the right job for her.” Ms. Bishop added that she was unaware of any graffiti and couldn’t talk about the silent treatment.

The Washington Blade hasn’t even started its New York version yet, but Wilbur Ross’ and Jerry Finklestein’s involvement in the new edition of the gay newspaper is already raising hackles among some of the gay community’s intelligentsia. The alleged sins of the owners of News Communications Inc., publishers of weekly community newspapers like The West Side Spirit , revolve around two issues: their sexual orientation and journalistic integrity.

Mr. Finklestein, father of former New York City Councilman Andrew Stein, and Wilbur Ross, husband of Lieut. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross, are … straight. “The takeover of people outside the community is a degradation of the whole role the gay media has played in the gay rights movement,” said Daniel Harris, the author of The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture . “The only way I would tolerate straight ownership is if this person was committed to gay rights.”

“I don’t mind the fact they’re straight,” said the regularly peeved Larry Kramer, referring to News Communications’ owners. “But I mind that they’re such a 10th-rate purveyor of newspapers. The Blade , which is not the most courageous paper in the first place, is likely, I would think, to be watered down.” Mr. Kramer is also a contributor to LGNY , a nearly 3-year-old gay newspaper that is none too pleased that an interloper is stepping into its turf, starting on Oct. 24. But despite the carping about heterosexual ownership, LGNY ‘s founder and publisher, Troy Masters, hit News Communication up for money a little more than a year ago, industry sources said. Now it’s turned to the parent company of The Advocate for an infusion of capital; the two sides met on Sept. 29.

Washington Blade and News Communications executives find the criticisms specious. They point to the journalism awards the two companies have won, and to the fact that News Communications, with its 50 percent stake in The New York Blade , will have no say in editorial matters. They also point to congratulatory letters they’ve received from Sarah Pettit, editor in chief of Out , and Sean Strub, the founder of Poz , the magazine for H.I.V.-positive people, as evidence that they’ve got what it takes, baby.