After a blazing run as president and editor in chief of Random House, Harold Evans, 69, is going to work for Mortimer Zuckerman.
In his seven years at the publishing house, owned by S.I. Newhouse Jr., Mr. Evans spent a lot of money and made a lot of noise. Once an editor of The Times of London, he ran the house like a newspaperman. Colin Powell’s in the news? Boom-book deal. Dick Morris? Book deal. The President might be straying from his marital bed? Hello, Anonymous.
But Mr. Evans’ showmanship, combined with his seeming joy in throwing big money at big names, may have led to his demise at Random House in the end. His replacement at the august house, Ann Godoff, is expected to go about the job a little less flamboyantly.
Mr. Evans will now be the editorial director of Mr. Zuckerman’s miniature empire of publications: the Daily News, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company and The Atlantic Monthly .
“I’ve always had this newsprint in my blood and the wish to respond to the daily imperatives,” said Mr. Evans, who spent 39 years in newsrooms before leaving London for New York in the mid-80′s. “And although, thank God, I’m not going as the line editor, I’ll be able to satisfy my lust for news through the poor sods in the trenches.”
As part of his new job, he gets to face off against his former boss at The Times of London, Rupert Murdoch, who owns the New York Post . Mr. Murdoch fired Mr. Evans across the sea back in 1982.
“A lot of people see piquancy in that,” said Mr. Evans. “I have to tell you that it’s fun in the sense that it adds a certain excitement to it, but it’s not what’s going to preoccupy me. To try to produce a paper that would sort of beat or bring despair to Rupert isn’t necessarily the right formula for the Daily News . The Daily News has bigger things, i.e., the city and all its environs and people.”
Mr. Evans’ relationship with Mr. Zuckerman goes back to 1984. “Other people saw an unemployable English twerp and he saw somebody who might be made something of,” said Mr. Evans.
Mr. Zuckerman first gave him the newly independent Atlantic to run, then had him work on reinventing U.S. News & World Report .
The question is, did Mr. Evans jump or was he gently nudged from his perch at Random House? The first whiff that something was amiss came in early September, when Ann Godoff was named editor in chief of Random House adult trade books and executive vice president of the Random House trade publishing group. As such, Ms. Godoff was given the job of overseeing the editorial budget. In the past, the only person other than Mr. Newhouse whom Mr. Evans had to answer to in terms of how much he spent was Random House Inc.’s chairman, Alberto Vitale. Now, instead of Mr. Evans, it was Ms. Godoff holding the purse strings.
At Random House, Ms. Godoff is known for running a tight ship-meaning not spending as much as Mr. Evans on books and authors and not splurging on marketing herself or the books. As an editor, Ms. Godoff acquired such highbrow and commercially successful titles as John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil , Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and this year’s Booker Prize winner, The God of Small Things , by Arundhati Roy. Ms. Godoff paid well for the work of these authors, but, unlike Dick Morris or Colin Powell, they made money for the company. Apparently, it wasn’t just that Mr. Evans was overspending, it was that he was overspending on books that made a publicity splash at the time of acquisition but failed to come through with sales later. At least one prominent agent speculated that Mr. Evans’ departure was less indicative of belt-tightening at Random House than a shift in editorial focus. No longer will the editor of the company make himself the most famous saloniste in town through literary breakfasts at Barneys.
Mr. Vitale informed Random House editors of the change at an early afternoon meeting on Nov. 25, stressing to his staff that Mr. Evans’ departure was voluntary.
What exactly will Mr. Evans do for Mr. Zuckerman? Starting at the beginning of next year, he will have total responsibilty for the strategic direction and editorial personnel of the four Zuckerman publications. Mr. Evans said he doesn’t plan to focus on one property first, but rather “just absorb” what the editors and staff need and then try to deliver what he thinks they really need.
Mr. Evans, who is the husband of New Yorker editor Tina Brown, did not share any specifics of what he planned to do at the Daily News beyond some platitudes (“Watch this space” and “The News is on upward curve.”) But he offers Mr. Zuckerman what he thinks he’s always wanted–a sexy and exciting tabloid that’s somewhat vulgar but not egregiously so. Mr. Zuckerman hopes Mr. Evans can deliver an American rendition of a smart London tabloid like the Daily Mail .
Over at the Daily News , annoyance was the main reaction. Just as recently named editor in chief Debby Krenek is starting to put her own mark on the paper-witness the extensive coverage of the bride jilted at the alter-and hope has slowly begun to reappear at the tabloid, Mr. Zuckerman makes another move. “This guy is genetically adverse to stability,” said one Daily News staff member. “What this paper needs is stability above all else. What Mort doesn’t realize is by dint of doing this, he damaged Debby.”
At the afternoon news meeting of top editors, Ms. Krenek announced Mr. Evans’ appointment. She said she had had dinner with him several weeks earlier and found him charming. In response to questions of what exactly Mr. Evans will be up to, Ms. Krenek said she expected he’d spend most of his time at first at U.S. News . “Now I won’t just get calls from Mort,” she told the assembled editors. “I’ll get calls from Mort and Harry.”
When told the news of Mr. Evans’ new post late on Nov. 25, one News columnist quipped, “He took the job that Hamill turned down”-a reference to former editor Pete Hamill’s decision to leave the paper rather than accept a “figurehead” position above Ms. Krenek, who was eventually named editor in chief.
Several other News staff members expressed doubt that Mr. Evans would have power to make significant changes at the paper, which operates under the close supervision of co-owner Fred Drasner. “The job is totally irrelevant,” said one reporter.
After four years of working for Mr. Zuckerman in the 80s, Mr. Evans left in 1986 to join Mr. Newhouse and the launch of Condé Nast Traveler , the two kept in close contact. Mr. Evans even edited Mr. Zuckerman’s statesmanesque pronouncement on world events that ran on the back pages of U.S. News & World Report . (An industry source said he received $50,000 a year for his efforts; Mr. Evans would not comment about the compensation but said he does not write the columns.) Mr. Zuckerman is also the godfather to one of Mr. Evans’ and Tina Brown’s children.
Mr. Evans said he had no problem with Mr. Zuckerman’s reputation for meddling. “I was always glad to have a chairman or editor at chief at my back makling suggestions,” said Mr. Evans. “It’s not a vote of no-confidence. He’s not asking me to be editor.”
Additional reporting by Celia McGee and Warren St. John.
Hearst Magazines just can’t seem to avoid tripping over those pesky guidelines from the American Society of Magazine Editors-even when the society gives the company free rein to trample over them in spirit.
The latest blurring of the lines between editorial and advertising can be found in the December issues of seven Hearst titles, including Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Smart Money . Inside, the reader will come across the Hearst Magazines Drivers Guide , a 16-page mini-magazine trumpeting the virtues of Mazda’s “all-new, retooled, refined, reborn” 626 sedan. “Mazda’s new 626 is not just a smart buy,” exclaims the subheadline on the first sycophantic article. “A whole new spirit makes it fun to drive, too.” “Looking for a four-door with really sporty performance?” the article goes on to ask. “Specify the V6 5-speed powertrain. It’s hot!”
Originally, Hearst wanted to use the individual magazines’ names on the advertorials, but that would have been a breach of the A.S.M.E.’s guidelines on special advertising sections. Guideline No. 3 states, in part: “The publication’s name or logo should not appear as any part of the headlines or text of such sections.”
Hearst then asked if it could use the company name and logo on the driver’s guide. After a contentious discussion at an A.S.M.E. board meeting, during which some attendees pointed out that allowing Hearst to attach its name to the project would emasculate the guidelines’ intent, the group of editors bestowed its approval. “We do not have a rule specifically about an overall magazine group,” said Frank Lalli, the president of the A.S.M.E. and the outgoing managing editor of Money . “Obviously, we are going to have to revisit this.”
But even with the O.K. for a title, Hearst managed to commit a load of other faux pas. A tiny box on the opening spread insists that no Hearst reporter or writer was involved in the project, yet the editor’s note directly above it is written by one Barbara Novak, whose name also appears as an “executive assistant” on the editorial masthead of Popular Mechanics . A Hearst spokesman said that the picture was of Ms. Novak but that she had nothing to do with the preparation of the section.
The top of each page does have the words “special advertising section,” as A.S.M.E. rules stipulate, but that tag is supposed to be in type at least the same size and weight as the body text. It’s not. The identifiers sometimes can’t even be seen, obscured as they are by the colorful scenery in the pictures. And the typeface of the text is suspiciously similar to that of Popular Mechanics , which contravenes guideline No. 2b. A Hearst spokesman said the company believed it was in compliance with A.S.M.E. guidelines on these points.
Finally, a Hearst source told Off the Record that Popular Mechanics editor in chief Joe Oldham was very much involved in putting the package together and selling advertisers on it. That violates guideline No. 4. (A Hearst spokesman responded that since Mr. Oldham served only as an “adviser” to the project, he did not run afoul of the A.S.M.E.’s stricture against editors preparing such advertorials.)
These special sections can be lucrative for publishers. In this case, Hearst brought in more than $1 million in advertising revenue for the 16 million copies it produced. A similar guide is already in the works for Nissan, and others are being shopped. Hearst got a stern letter of reprobation from the A.S.M.E. earlier this fall after Cosmopolitan published a special editorial makeup section that gave more mentions to Cover Girl products than any other company, while all the ads and some of the models were from Cover Girl. And in an issue of Marie Claire in the fall of 1996, L’Oréal was the lone advertiser in a 16-page pull-out section in which more than half of the featured products happened to come from the Paris cosmetics maker.