GQ’s Angry Publisher Takes the Gloves Off with Esquire

For the last couple of years, GQ publisher Richard Beckman has resisted the urge to slag, at least publicly, his beleaguered men’s magazine rival, Esquire. But ever since Esquire publisher Valerie Salembier insulted the manhood of his readers-by suggesting that a higher percentage of GQ subscribers live at home with their folks than do Esquire subscribers-Mr. Beckman, a cocky Brit known to shoot off his mouth from time to time, has been in a rage.

“I thought her comments were among the least professional and credible I’ve heard from any publishing executive over the years I’ve been in this business,” Mr. Beckman told Off the Record. “When a quasi-competitor takes a cheap shot at me on the record, I feel I have to respond. I was absolutely infuriated.”

The trouble started in early January in Florence, Italy. Mr. Beckman, Ms. Salembier and a gaggle of New York magazine publishing types were there on the first stop of the men’s fashion show circuit. At a press conference organized by Hearst Publications and Esquire, an Italian journalist asked Ms. Salembier to describe the difference between the Esquire man and the GQ man. Ms. Salembier launched into a complicated analysis of the household incomes of the magazines’ respective readers, and in the process cited syndicated market research data showing that 22 percent of GQ readers-as opposed to 13 percent of Esquire readers-still live with Mom and Dad.

Word of Ms. Salembier’s comments reached Mr. Beckman by the next stop on the fashion show circuit-Milan-and as luck would have it, the rival publishers soon bumped into each other in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel. Mr. Beckman, according to a magazine publishing source who witnessed the altercation, was standing in the lobby “with eight or nine of his little pussies,” the hostile source said, when Ms. Salembier entered the lobby alone. In a tone described by the source as “snotty and sarcastic,” Mr. Beckman scolded Ms. Salembier for her comments and more than once vowed, “I’m going to put Esquire out of business.” Ms. Salembier, outnumbered and caught off guard, excused herself without mounting much of a defense.

“We had a harsh discussion in the lobby of the hotel,” Mr. Beckman confirmed. “I was absolutely furious.” But Mr. Beckman denied that he threatened Ms. Salembier or that he was travelling with a posse. “I mean, this is business, not war,” he said. “Well, it might be war, but it’s not really war.” Ms. Salembier would not comment on the exchange.

Back in Manhattan after the shows, though, Mr. Beckman didn’t let up. Several magazine-world colleagues report that Mr. Beckman vowed to “destroy” Ms. Salembier. (“I would never use those words,” Mr. Beckman said. “That’s not my language.”) And then, just as Mr. Beckman was making his dire pronouncements about Ms. Salembier’s future in private, two items appeared in quick succession in industry newsletters that suggested-surprise!-Ms. Salembier was about to be fired. The first appeared in Frohlinger’s Marketing Report the week of Feb. 2. A week later, The Delaney Report, another media newsletter, announced that a headhunter had been hired to find a replacement for Ms. Salembier. Hearst Publications denied the report, and a spokesman for the headhunting firm, Nordeman Grimm Inc., told Off the Record that the item in The Delaney Report was “totally untrue. I don’t know where they get this stuff.”

Ms. Salembier thinks she knows: Mr. Beckman. “The timing of the pieces was awfully suspicious,” she said. Associates of Mr. Beckman say they know as well-that Mr. Beckman has been bragging he’s the one behind the unflattering items about Ms. Salembier, a charge he denies.

“That would make me very powerful, wouldn’t it?” Mr. Beckman said. “I have no knowledge of whether her job is in jeopardy or not … I would say anyone who is tracking her numbers and how poorly Esquire has performed over the last few years would draw their own conclusions about her job security.… GQ will do over 2,000 pages of advertising this year; Esquire did 600 last year. They’re not exactly in my competitive screen right now.” (According to figures compiled by the Media Industry Newsletter, GQ pulled in 1,824.53 ad pages in 1997-a 17 percent increase from 1996-compared to Esquire’s 597.82 ad pages-a 1.83 percent decrease.)

“If he paid attention to our numbers, he’d see we’re closing our May issue, and it’s our eighth in a row that we’re up in ad pages and ad revenue,” Ms. Salembier said. “But I’m not going to get into my job security. That’s ridiculous.”

In response to the April 1997 hacking incident that crashed computers and erased reams of data at Forbes magazine, the company has asked employees to sign an Orwellian information policy that has staff members feeling watched. “The rumor is there’s someone paid to read our e-mail,” said one staff member.

Elizabeth Ames, Forbes’ spokesman, said that the notion of a paid corporate snoop was “absolutely false.” But the suspicions are hardly unfounded: Anyone who signs-a requirement for Internet access at Forbes -“agrees to allow his/her communications to be monitored,” the document states.

Among its more Big Brotherish provisions, the new policy informs employees: “Our security systems are capable of recording (for each and every user) each World Wide Web site visit, each chat, newsgroup or e-mail message, and each file transfer into and out of our internal networks. Forbes may monitor this activity at any time.”

” Forbes may access all electronic communications systems for content without notice to users of the system,” the document continues. ” Forbes management reserves the right to inspect any and all files stored in private areas of our network in order to assure compliance with this policy.” Employees who violate the new rules are “subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

“The language in this policy is similar to what’s used by Time [Inc.], Condé Nast [Publications Inc.] and the countless other companies that now have Internet security polcies,” said Ms. Ames. Indeed, by comparison, the Forbes policy seems only moderately harsh. Time Inc. “reserves the right to monitor use of e-mail and voice mail communications,” in its corporate information policy, and says such monitoring is “routine.” Condé Nast tells its employees that the company reserves the right to access e-mail, but doesn’t do so “as a routine matter.”

Still, Forbes staff members are miffed. “There is definitely a stir,” said one editor. The policy, the editor complained, “assumes we need baby sitters all the time to do our jobs.” And still another editorial staff member said that despite Forbes’ banner-waving for the corporate ethos, the new rules stood out essentially because “it’s unusual for us to have any policies here at all.”

When Steven Brill tells people about his new media magazine, Content, he said they often ask him, “Well, if you’re going to be the watchdog for the media, who’s going to watch you?” After a few months of careful deliberation, Mr. Brill now has an answer: Content will watch Content.

Mr. Brill has hired Nieman Foundation curator Bill Kovach-a former Washington bureau chief for The New York Times and the former editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -to critique Content in the magazine’s own pages. Mr. Kovach has a contractual guarantee of autonomy and is being paid two years’ salary in advance, “so we can’t fire him,” Mr. Brill said. Mr. Kovach’s unusual contract also assures him as much space as he needs for his critiques, and provides funding for research help if Mr. Kovach requests it. And while Mr. Brill and his staff will be allowed to respond to Mr. Kovach’s pieces, he has been guaranteed the last word in all disputes. He will not work at the Content offices, but will stay in Cambridge, Mass., at the Nieman Foundation. “In terms of public trust, this is, dare I say it, more akin to Ken Starr than Janet Reno,” said Mr. Brill.

The first issue of Content is due out in late June. Mr. Kovach said he doesn’t anticipate writing anything until at least the second issue but said, “Maybe there will be complaints before it comes out, I don’t know.” Complaints about the yet-to-be-published magazine can be sent to Mr. Kovach care of the Nieman Foundation, 1 Francis Avenue, Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

If you were wondering who was behind the creepy photograph of Jennifer Aniston on the cover of this month’s Allure, it was Condé Nast editorial director James Truman. And that cover came with a price.

Allure editor in chief Linda Wells had originally planned for a slightly more saucy full-body shot of the Friends star, one with “her boobs hanging out … in tights and high heels and looking like a cover model for Tiger Beat, ” according to a Condé Nast staff member. In fact, that cover image was shot, laid out and shipped to the printers on schedule. But Allure was being tested before focus groups in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Miami. And when the full-body shot of Ms. Aniston bombed with the “mall chicks in Chicago,” as one Condé Nast source put it, Mr. Truman decided it was time to show why he makes the big bucks.

With the print run of the original Aniston-in-the-rough cover nearly 60 percent complete, Mr. Truman phoned in the order to stop the presses. Overruling Ms. Wells, he was going with a close-up of the actress, a shot that had been chosen to run inside the magazine.

The close-up Mr. Truman chose could not be called Ms. Aniston’s most photogenic moment; she looks as though she’s being goosed. “It’s an even worse cover,” complained the Condé Nast source. Sixty percent of the March print run was shipped with the original bad cover; the remaining 40 percent went out with the new bad cover.

Allure is still dealing with the fallout. Some angry readers have bought both covers, only to find the same magazine inside. Ms. Aniston’s publicist was apparently infuriated because, as the Condé Nast source put it, “We made her look ugly.” And Allure staff members were angry because Mr. Truman, who, along with chief executive Steven Florio, has been leading a cost-cutting campaign at Allure had chalked up a fat expenditure they’ll be reckoning with down the road.

Mr. Truman did not return calls for comment. Allure editor in chief Linda Wells, who is traveling in Europe, could not be reached by deadline.