Off the Record

As the Daily News prepares to deploy its new Sunday edition on March 28 to the tune of $2 million, owner and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman is determined not to shell out more money to the unions who print, package, fold, mail and deliver it.

On March 18, the Daily News filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to vacate the March 7 arbitrator’s decision awarding members of the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers Union a 17.9 percent retroactive pay raise. That decision sets in motion a series of “me-too” clauses with the other seven non-editorial, or “craft,” unions at the paper that ultimately could cost Mr. Zuckerman as much as $20 million, according to union sources. A payout of that magnitude would pretty much eliminate the 17 percent ad revenue increase–from $151.7 million to $177.5 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting–the News managed to chalk up last year. Not too surprisingly, the paper finds the arbitrator’s award “without rational support.”

“The arbitrator’s stated assumption that the Daily News can afford to pay the award is … entirely inconsistent with the economic history of the Daily News and the current realities of the highly competitive New York metropolitan area newspaper market in which the Daily News has lost substantial circulation,” the complaint states.

Daily News co-publisher and chief executive Fred Drasner, whose job it has been to make a rough peace with the unions during Mr. Zuckerman’s ownership, met with the heads of the eight craft unions on March 19 at the paper’s Liberty View printing plant in Jersey City, N.J., to make a plea for mercy–or, at least, rationalism. According to a union source, Mr. Drasner, flanked by News executive vice president and chief legal counsel Martin Krall, told the gathered union heads that the paper needed “more time to look at the issue.” Of course, Mr. Drasner can’t stall forever, given that the existing union contracts allow for at least two more possible wage increases before the agreements expire in 2005.

The Newspaper Guild, which ostensibly represents the paper’s editorial employees but was decimated when Mr. Zuckerman bought the paper in 1993, is the only organization that doesn’t have a contract. As a result, reporters and editors are left wondering whether the drivers’ raises will come out of their pockets. Already, it seems that the added costs of the new Sunday edition have dug into the paper’s editorial budget. “We’re hearing, ‘Don’t expect raises,’ ‘No, you can’t have this,’ and that kind of thing,” said one reporter, adding that the staff is “concerned and pissed off.”

“Once again, we’re all dragged down by the blue-collar printers,” said another reporter who lived through the craft-union strike that dumped the News into bankruptcy. Of course, as yet another reporter pointed out, “this is the one union [the drivers union] they can’t put the paper out without.”

Meanwhile, on March 22, that union filed an application with the same Federal judge, Michael Mukasey, to “confirm” the arbitration award, thereby giving it the force of a court order. As for the News pleading poverty, union sources said, that’s the first they’ve ever heard of it. According to J. Warren Mangan, the attorney for the drivers union, in nearly two years of arbitration the paper “never took the position that they were unable to pay in arbitration. They have a legal obligation to abide by that award unless it’s vacated … and there is no basis for vacating the award.” This is backed up by the arbitration decision itself, which notes that “the [ Daily News ] advanced no claim of its inability to pay.”

But that’s exactly what they’re claiming now. “The irrational magnitude of this award will reverse the Daily News ‘ efforts to revitalize the financial state of the paper and achieve economic stability after coming out of the 1993 bankruptcy,” states the March 18 complaint. It also takes issue with the arbitrator’s assertion that the Daily News pays its drivers the lowest wages in the city. “The arbitrator made constant comparison to the Daily News ‘ principal competitor but ignored the unrebutted record proof regarding that employer [the New York Post ], namely, that it reportedly sustains substantial annual losses which are subsidized by its parent corporation.”

Mr. Mangan said that Daily News drivers are simply underpaid. “The position of the [union] at arbitration from Day 1 was that they were seeking equal pay for equal work,” he said. But some in the newsroom aren’t feeling terribly sympathetic toward the drivers union in their face-off with management. “There’s real class animosity,” said one reporter. “They want to get paid the same as The Times when The Times gets a new color section every day?”

Perhaps most importantly, the Daily News complaint argues that with more wage negotiations coming before the entire contract expires in 2005, the arbitration award is a signal to its craft unions that big pay raises are in the works. The complaint reads: “The award will disrupt harmonious relationships with the other craft unions because it inevitably will send the message that wage reopeners should not be negotiated, given the ‘pie in the sky’ increases that are now available through arbitration.”

Mr. Mangan, who originally requested a 27 percent raise for the drivers union, dismisses the paper’s complaint as a case of sour grapes. “They don’t exactly like the fact that they didn’t get what they requested,” he said. “I don’t exactly like the fact that I didn’t get what I requested.”

Mr. Zuckerman, Mr. Drasner and Mr. Krall did not return calls for comment.

–With Gabriel Snyder

After enduring years of complaints that his relationship with a major movie executive created a conflict of interest in his coverage of the movie industry, New York Times cultural correspondent Bernard Weinraub is moving off the movie beat to take on the television industry.

In August 1997, Mr. Weinraub married Columbia Pictures president Amy Pascal, opening The Times up to accusations that their reporter had been shilling for his wife’s interests. He’d already agreed not to write “certain articles about the business side of the movie industry,” Columbia Pictures itself or its “competitive standing in Hollywood,” as The Times put it. But the attempt to keep Mr. Weinraub’s objectivity intact hasn’t really worked out, at least to the satisfaction of his critics, so Mr. Weinraub is giving up the studio beat to write about the creative types who make television. Mr. Weinraub will stay in Los Angeles and Bill Carter will continue covering the TV industry from New York with more of an eye toward the business side.

It’s not easy to stay uncorrupted in the Hollywood candyland of get-rich-quick options. Mr. Weinraub was dogged by reports that he had movie scripts in circulation with the studios when he landed in L.A. in 1991. And the griping has continued: Talent manager Michael Ovitz has lately taken to calling Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld to complain that Mr. Weinraub’s coverage is somehow biased against him. Times managing editor Bill Keller told Brill’s Content in their February issue, “The fact people are even saying, ‘Gee, is he completely neutral in this?’, that’s troubling. It’s something we’ve got to talk about.”

This conflict isn’t easy to overcome. Even Mr. Weinraub’s editor, John Darnton, had his book, Neanderthal , optioned by Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks SKG for $1 million in 1997, and Mr. Carter had to recuse himself from writing about HBO after the channel made a movie out of his 1994 book, The Late Shift .

That aside, Mr. Weinraub was not happy with those challenges to his character. “People are always looking for an excuse to trash anybody in Hollywood, especially anonymously,” he told Off the Record, referring to the Content piece. But “what really led me to think about this was when I began covering the Academy Awards in January,” he said. If his wife’s company had been nominated, he wouldn’t be able to write the stories. “I realized that that was a little crazy.”

He exchanged e-mails with Mr. Lelyveld, whom he has known for many years, and they came up with this rather murky solution: A new reporter will be brought in to cover the studio wars (probably from within The Times ), which will set off a few other shifts in the Los Angeles bureau, including a possible new role for James Sterngold, who also covers the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, Mr. Ovitz’s entreaties have apparently not worked, since Mr. Weinraub will continue to cover agents and managers of movie stars. All this will eventually come to pass later this year.

“We think he’s handled this extremely well,” said Mr. Lelyveld of Mr. Weinraub’s reportorial juggling. “He’s also been on this beat for a long time and any change in his beat will be made entirely with his consent.” Mr. Lelyveld added that he was “certainly not going to reduce Bill Carter’s role.”

Mr. Carter would be glad to hear that. Aside from a “brief chat” with Mr. Darnton, the culture editor, he said, “Nobody has said anything to me.” Still, Mr. Carter thinks the new arrangement won’t affect him too much. “I also have connections in the creative community out there,” he said.

Mr. Weinraub said he was looking forward to his time in front of the boob tube, since he thinks TV is, “on a weekly basis, as good or better than many of the films you see.” Of course, he has his wife’s studio to thank for I Know What You Did Last Summer .

When disgraced Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle starts writing for the newly revamped Sunday edition of the Daily News on March 28, he won’t be filing from the paper’s city room. In fact, he won’t be in New York at all. According to Michael Kramer, the editor of the Sunday opinion pages, Mr. Barnicle will be sending in his hard-boiled prose from the leafy suburbs of Boston where he lives. Why the Daily News needs a columnist based in Boston Mr. Kramer couldn’t say, but he doesn’t think his new columnist’s past “mistakes” should have kept him from being hired.

Mr. Kramer would seem to be taking an open-minded approach to the Sunday opinion pages, but it wasn’t always so. Back when he was working at Brill’s Content , Mr. Kramer edited a 3,000-word piece in the September 1998 issue titled “Not for the First Time,” which delved into the apparent hypocrisy of The Globe for firing columnist Patricia Smith while keeping Mr. Barnicle around despite several reported–and in some cases, litigated–transgressions.

“Michael Kramer knows better than most people about all the allegations against Mr. Barnicle,” said Rifka Rosenwein, one of the writers of the Content article. Abigail Pogrebin, who co-wrote the piece with Ms. Rosenwein, agreed, adding, “Michael Kramer encouraged both Rifka and I to report the story as aggressively as possible.” Both writers said that Mr. Kramer was involved in every step of the three-week process, from its birth out of a smaller item to line-editing the final version, which went to press before Mr. Barnicle left The Globe .

When asked by Off the Record what made him change his mind about Mr. Barnicle, Mr. Kramer seemed a little conflicted. First, he denied editing the Brill’s Content piece that filleted his latest hire. But when told that Ms. Rosenwein and Ms. Pogrebin said he had, he changed his tack. “O.K.,” he said, “I’ll take their memory of it, but it’s not mine.” Finally, after a little more thought, he decided to let the cognitive dissonance stand. “I think everyone’s familiar with his situation,” said Mr. Kramer of Mr. Barnicle. “I don’t think it’s a mystery.”