Pecker Dumps Hachette, Begins Tabloid Reign

Hachette Filipacchi Magazines chief executive David Pecker, notorious for his hellbent quest to make Hachette magazines spend less and make more, announced on Feb. 16 that he was resigning to run a journalistic operation where that doesn’t matter so much: American Media Inc., publisher of such supermarket tabloids as The National Enquirer , Star and The Weekly World News .

Hachette chairman Daniel Filipacchi called all the editors and publishers in the company’s offices at 1633 Broadway into the 45th-floor corporate conference room at 4:30 P.M. to announce Mr. Pecker’s departure. By all accounts, the announcement was made without any fanfare, although it came as a surprise to both the editors and Hachette executives.

Mr. Pecker made a lot of noise in his nine years at Hachette. He quickly got a reputation for buying magazines on the cheap and running them even cheaper. He fought with the Magazine Publishers of America, and eventually pulled out of the organization for ignoring the usual church-state boundaries delineated in the industry between advertising and editorial integrity. In 1996, in one of his most brazen moves, he forced the editors of Premiere to kill an article on a partnership imbroglio at the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain at the request of Ronald Perelman, who at the time was a 50 percent owner of the magazine. After Mr. Pecker gave them the order, Premiere ‘s two top editors resigned. Mr. Pecker really didn’t care. “The last time I looked,” he told reporters, “I am C.E.O. of the company.”

Mr. Pecker’s colleagues may not be so sad to see him go. “People are happy because he manages like an accountant,” said one Hachette executive. “It makes it hard to do magazines here. You don’t have any money to spend.”

Mr. Pecker is paired with a group of investors who are purchasing American Media, which rules its tabloid media empire from headquarters in Lantana, Fla. The investor group, Evercore Capital Partners, a New York City-based buyout company, is set to pay $767 million in cash for the publicly traded company. According to an announcement released by Evercore the same day, the company “entered into a definitive merger agreement providing for the acquisition by an affiliate of Evercore of all the outstanding shares of American Media.” Evercore also announced that Mr. Pecker will become chief executive of American Media and will get an equity stake in the company. In February, in the face of stiff competition, American Media shut down Soap Opera News and Soap Opera Magazine , and sold its trademarks to Primedia Inc. Mr. Pecker will remain at Hachette through March 31. A Hachette press release stated, “A successor will be announced at a later date.”

M usician , which had a pretty good run in the 1980’s as the celebrity-froth-free rock and jazz magazine for people who actually know how to play music, was shut down on Feb. 8. Its glory days were long past. In the last few years, as its original writers and editors left, it had morphed into a trade publication, a practical monthly guide for the working musician with features on the importance of health insurance, “two-track ambient recording” and investment guidance from such musical luminaries as former Journey drummer Steve Smith and “techno rocker” Moby. “It was like watching your child get lobotomized,” said Vic Garbarini, who was editor in chief from 1979 to 1985.

The magazine was started by two friends, Gordon Baird and Sam Holdsworth, in Boulder, Colo., in 1976. They later relocated the editorial offices to New York. A 1980 interview with Paul McCartney, published not long before John Lennon’s death, put the magazine on the map. Indeed , a recording of the interview was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1981. By then, Messrs. Baird and Holdsworth had brought enough marquee value to Musician to attract the interest of Billboard , the music industry trade bible, which bought the magazine in 1981.

As Charles M. Young, a writer and editor at Musician from 1983 until 1996, put it, “The writers all knew something about music,” and unlike the more star-oriented Rolling Stone , ” Musician got into the mystical side and the technical side of music.” In short, the magazine catered to an audience of music cognoscenti, picking the brains of a rogues’ gallery of musicians-Keith Richards, Joe Satriani, Elvis Costello, Sinead O’Connor, U2, T-Bone Burnett, Morrissey, George Clinton, Nirvana-and getting them to wax about everything from the music they made to what brand of microphones they preferred.

It worked well enough that, at a certain point in the mid-1980’s, Billboard considered taking the 125,000-circulation magazine to the next level, beefing up its circulation and making it more of a mass-market read, like Rolling Stone . But the owners decided to keep it small. Mr. Garbarini said that in the 80’s, the plan worked and the magazine was “making money hand over foot.” The stay-small-and-focused strategy continued under editor Bill Flanagan, who kept the rock icon interviews and new music coverage coming after he took the helm in 1985.

But according to Mr. Young, the magazine was slow to pick up on grunge and “the atmosphere in the offices got rather toxic in the early 90’s.” By now, Billboard had become a part of the BPI Publishing empire, alongside The Hollywood Reporter and Amusement Business , and the management at BPI began to meddle, some former editors said. In 1995, Mr. Flanagan left to become vice president and editorial director at VH1, where he has successfully repackaged the channel along the lines of his version of Musician -minus the technogeek fixation on musicians’ hardware.

With Mr. Flanagan gone, BPI hired Robert Doerschuk, a former editor at Keyboard magazine, to make Musician less mystical, as it were, and more practical-that is, a trade magazine for working musicians. After the publisher was fired, the offices were moved to Nashville in 1998, where Amusement Business is published. (Mr. Doerschuk declined to comment.) There it remained, pumping out its no-bones financial and technical advice until it was put out of its misery.

Mr. Garbarini, a Playboy contributor these days who also lives in Nashville and had kept in touch with the staff, lamented that the magazine had become a dry manual about the business. It was about “‘Tell me about your business plan,'” he said. “And nobody was interested. Of course they weren’t!” A source at the magazine confirmed that Musician ‘s circulation had sagged recently. It was Mr. Garbarini’s understanding from talking to people at the magazine that circulation was down to about 50,000.

Howard Lander, president of Billboard Music Group, referred calls to Karen Oertley, an executive in Nashville who oversaw Musician . Through her assistant, she said, “We suspended monthly publication, but we will continue to do the Musician ‘s Guide to Touring and Promotion twice a year.”

Slowly, reporters and editors at The Wall Street Journal are learning something about class-consciousness. The same week they got news that the Dow Jones & Company’s plump 50-year-old profit-sharing plan was being tossed into the Hudson in a corporate rethink, they learned that their afternoon coffee service was being canceled.

Every day, the cart arrived in the elevator lobby of the 10th-floor newsroom at around 3 P.M. Its purveyor, a man named Angel, would walk around the halls ringing a bell, notifying the droopy-eyed reporters that he was there to caffeinate them. (He also sold cookies, fruit and popcorn.) But one day in late January, Angel told everyone that his rounds would end as of Feb. 1, leaving the undercaffeinated with the prospect of having to take the elevator down to the Au Bon Pain in the building’s lobby.

First their retirement plan, now the afternoon coffee cart. This was a low blow indeed. A Dow Jones spokesman explained that the decision to eliminate the afternoon coffee routine was made by Eurest Dining Services, the catering company, and was not related to any corporate cost-cutting. But the newly empowered staff swung into action, quickly circulating a petition and securing the return of the coffee cart. “In the face of a popular uprising, they capitulated,” said Dow Jones spokesman Richard Tofel. “This is probably a bad thing for Au Bon Pain.”

That grass-roots victory in hand, the staff has embarked on another 70’s-style protest: The week of Feb. 8, many started wearing union buttons declaring: “I ™ My Retirement Benefits.” There is also talk among the increasingly disgruntled editorial staff of boycotting appearances on CNBC, which Dow Jones has a stake in. Laura Kaplan, an organizer for The Journal ‘s union, the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, said that negotiations with Dow Jones for the next three-year contract haven’t begun yet, but that they didn’t plan to include afternoon coffee.

With only the dust marks of a reproduction Wurlitzer jukebox marking the spot where editor in chief Michael Caruso used to be, Details is struggling to hold onto enough editors to keep things going until Mark Golin is released from his contract at Maxim . According to the Details staff, articles editor Susan Murcko and West Coast editor David Keeps-who should be used to crisis management by now, having had to fill in after Joe Dolce’s sudden departure two years ago-are marshalling the staff, along with executive editor Barbara O’Dair, who’s been called in from maternity leave. But even as the incoming editor gets down to the hard work of taking writers affiliated with Details out for get-to-know-you drinks, some editors aren’t sticking around to see what the Golin era will bring. As of Feb. 12, two senior features editors have left-Michael Hainey to be a senior editor at GQ , and Tim Moss to freelance (the latter move had been planned for some time). Robert Levine, the associate editor hired by Mr. Caruso to oversee music coverage, has left to take the post of senior associate editor in Alan Light’s new regime at Spin .

Over at Spin , Mr. Light has moved quickly to shore up the editorial staff after Miller Publishing’s Jan. 19 ouster of editor in chief Michael Hirschorn and executive editor Craig Marks. Senior editor Sia Michel has been rechristened as music editor and saddled with the three-ring circus that Mr. Marks’ job had become after seven years (i.e., editing features, supplying Spin with fresh voices and pop cultural vision, and keeping diplomatic ties with the often chaotic recording industry) . Will Hermes, a frequent contributor to Spin , The Village Voice and Entertainment Weekly , has been brought in as reviews editor-a job Mr. Light had been filling in on when Mr. Hirschorn was axed. Lisa Steinmeyer is staying on as art director, only without the influence of “creative consultants” Markus Kiersztan and Christiaan Kuypers (known around the office as “Hans and Franz”), who have also vacated the premises.

Mr. Golin’s contract at Maxim has just under three months to go and, according to Drew Kerr, a publicist for Dennis Publishing, Maxim ‘s owner, “It’s pretty simple. When his replacement is found, he’s free to go.” Essentially, this means a hiring freeze over at Details , where bodies are needed. People familiar with the situation say he is likely to bring over his second-in-command, Catherine Romano, whose title at Maxim is “editrix.” Ms. Romano made the journey from Cosmopolitan to Maxim with Mr. Golin, where, Mr. Kerr confirmed, they pulled down the same salary.