John Podhoretz Takes a Spill From His New York Post Feature Empire

There’s been a setback in the Podhoretz-ization of the New York Post . When editorial page editor John Podhoretz added the features department to his domain last November, he went so far as to move the business department out of their desks so that his new staff could be closer to him. Thus was born the “Pod Pod.”

The re-engineered features section, called Living, debuted on Dec. 8 with more columnists and a letter of introduction announcing that it was “a major step forward in the Post ‘s coverage of: the arts, features, fashion, health, dining, food, and fun of all kinds in the world’s greatest city.” Budget-minded innovations included first-person columnist Susan Brady Konig writing from home, fashion spreads featuring photos of the Post ‘s fashion editor, Libby Callaway, and gossip Jared Paul Stern playing at being world-weary in print.

But despite Mr. Podhoretz’s great leap forward, his new section apparently wasn’t innovative enough. On April 27, he ceded half of the Living section to Vicky Ward, his deputy features editor. Ms. Ward is a former New York correspondent for the London Daily Mail whom Mr. Podhoretz hired to help him revamp the section. Like Mr. Podhoretz, Ms. Ward has a reputation for being a bit high-strung; one member of the Post staff said that the part of the “Pod Pod” she oversaw was renamed the “Mental Ward.”

The Living section will now stand on its own, separate from the culture coverage, which Mr. Podhoretz will still oversee, and Monday through Thursday it will occupy the space right before the opinion pages. The culture coverage will remain deep in the tabloid, behind the business pages.

Mr. Podhoretz said that he didn’t mind handing over Living to Ms. Ward. “It was long the intention, from the time that we started, that I would step back once it got established,” he said. “Because, obviously, I had a lot of duties.” He added that he was holding on to the arts and culture pages “because of my overwhelming interest in the area.” As for Ms. Ward, “she’s going to do the rest. Which she can do very competently, without my supervision.” Neither Ms. Ward, nor Post deputy editor Xana Antunes, who is said to have instituted the shift, returned calls for comment.

When a huge crowd of local residents gathered in a suburban parking lot in Littleton, Colo., on April 25 to express their sorrow over the killing of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School, the media had a chance to document the many different faces of grief. But a handful of the nation’s leading newspapers chose instead to focus their attention on one particularly tearful brother and sister in the crowd of 70,000 who seemed to symbolize what was lost in the massacre.

The New York Daily News , Newsday , The New York Times and The Washington Post all ran pictures of the same mournful siblings on their front pages on April 26. The New York Post , which was busy turning its attention to the killers’ parents on its cover, ran a picture of the siblings inside that day and again on its editorial page on April 27. Shots of the same two young people, taken by a number of different photographers, went out over the newswires and quickly became the totemic image of the event.

“It does happen occasionally and I don’t understand why,” said Times deputy picture editor Mike Smith of the Associated Press photograph the paper ran. He referred Off the Record to Philip Gefter, the weekend picture editor who was on duty that Sunday and who said he chose the shot because he “thought it was really kind of succinct and emotional–it sort of said it all.”

But how did it happen that so many major dailies focused on the same two mourners when they had a crowd of 70,000 to choose from? Mr. Gefter said that the number of photographers were limited and that The Times wasn’t able to get theirs in, so they relied on photos from the press pool. Newsday ‘s cover featured the same A.P. shot used in The Times –the brother with his eyes closed, leaning his chin on his sister, who was holding a rose aloft–but the Daily News and The Washington Post had their own photographers on the scene and ran shots of the kids in different moments.

Susan Biddle, a Washington Post staff photographer, explained that the pool photographers were placed on a riser. She was part of the pool traveling with Vice President Al Gore, who attended the ceremony, not the Littleton pool, but she climbed up on the riser, anyway. Scanning the crowd behind her, she spotted the siblings. “They were the most emotional in the area,” she said. “I didn’t know everyone else was shooting them, too.”

Mr. Gefter admitted that this was a limitation of photojournalism these days. When pictures come in from the war in Kosovo, he said, “They all have the same group of refugees, because they are all gathered in the same place,” for the cameras.

Mark Golin, the new editor of Details , is sick of all the attention. Getting picked up every morning from his Hell’s Kitchen apartment and chauffeured to the office. Having a hefty chunk of S.I. Newhouse Jr.’s money to spend and expectations to live up to. Most of all, he can’t get used to one particular fact of life at Condé Nast: everybody wanting to know what he’s up to.

So he’s doing what he can to stop it. On Friday, April 23, at 3 P.M., he called the Details staff together to warn them not to talk to the press. Given that he’s busy reconfiguring the ex-fey hipster magazine in his image–which means instilling in it a headlong, kill-the-enemy, we’re-all-in-this-together feeling that doesn’t grow organically in the Condé Nast hothouse–he was sick of the leaks. He didn’t want his cover choices or his new hires bandied about in the media columns. And he warned his staff that he’d quickly–within “15 minutes,” in fact–figure out who the leaker was and let him or her have it.

Of course, by Monday, April 26, this order became the stuff of chatter around Condé Nast and quickly leaked to the outside world. When reached by Off the Record, Mr. Golin held to his rule and refused to comment.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the land littered with ex-Condé Nast editors … former Details editor in chief Joe Dolce has come up with a whole new gig. Mr. Dolce has been an editor at large at Playboy for the last year and a half since Condé Nast replaced him with Michael Caruso (who was in turn replaced by Mr. Golin). Mr. Dolce has teamed up with Brandusa Niro, former fashion editor of L’Express and former editor in chief of Canadian fashion magazines Elite and Ego , to start something called Fashion Wire Daily, which will provide coverage of fashion and life style trends. Although it has a Web site “under construction,” Fashion Wire Daily will mainly be a syndication service providing features and information to television and radio producers and newspaper editors. “It’s one of those obvious ideas,” Mr. Dolce said. Currently, he’s busy hiring contributors and editors for a projected June launch. For the time being, Fashion Wire Daily inhabits office space on West 24th Street provided by the North American Publicity Company; however, Mr. Dolce refused to divulge who is providing the financing for the wire service.

Editors at Ray Gun Publishing Inc., the seven-year-old Santa Monica, Calif.-based magazine publisher, are as edgy as the magazines they work for since their paychecks went missing this month.

Things in the Ray Gun Publishing mini-empire have been in a state of flux ever since the venture capital firm R.a.m. Securities took control of the magazine company last April from its founder, Marvin Scott Jarrett. The new owners set about repositioning the flagship music title, Ray Gun (founded on the principle that design could blot out text), and the young men’s magazine Bikini , for more mainstream appeal. They also informed the members of the Bikini staff that they “were going to compete with Maxim and Details with a staff of four,” according to one Ray Gun Publishing source. Then in November, Mr. Jarrett, who had stayed on at the company, left to start a new women’s magazine, Nylon .

By early 1999, Bikini had transformed itself from an arty, overdesigned hipster mag that ran nude photos of starlets into a West Coast imitation of Maxim –April was the de rigueur “Sex Issue” with someone named Jaime Pressly peeling back her foil-like bikini on the cover. But the restructuring continued. The editor, Erik Himmelsbach, was fired in February, and a freelance writer named Joe Donnelly was brought in to take his place.

Ray Gun Publishing sources said payroll was a week late in February; then the company was late with paychecks in April, as well. Indeed, according to those sources, paychecks for April weren’t doled out until the week of April 19. Mr. Donnelly–whose voice-mail that week said, “Hi, you’ve reached Joe Donnelly, editor of Bikini magazine. [Pause] That was a pregnant pause, you can interpret it”–told Off the Record: “We are as close to realizing the promise of this magazine as we have ever been … For now, we have confidence in the ownership and what they’re trying to achieve.” When asked on April 26 about not being able to pay the staff, Ray Gun Publishing president Seth Seaberg would only say, “This is a business and business is about money.”

“The current management has inherited magazines with a number of problems,” said a source at Ray Gun Publishing, who went on to note that “no magazine has ever made it in Los Angeles.”

At least one staff member is leaving, though she said it’s not because of tardy paydays: photo editor Tonya Martin is moving to Details to fill in (at least temporarily) for longtime photo editor Greg Pond, who quit the magazine due to revolving-door fatigue.

Magazine beauty editors went a bit pale when they opened up their mail April 21. The night before, Harper’s Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis had lost her battle with ovarian cancer. But when they opened up a promotional package postmarked April 19, out tumbled a tube of “Berry Bazaar” lip gloss, part of a fund-raising project organized by Tilberis, her magazine and the cosmetics company Sebastian International for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, of which the late editor served as president from 1997 until her death.

“It was really shocking,” said one editor. “Everything in the package got worse and worse.” Opening it up, she found a copy of Tilberis’ memoir, No Time to Die , and a photo of the “point of purchase” display, which had a picture of Tilberis and asked the question: “She survived ovarian cancer … Would you?”

It was bad timing, to say the least. Lisa Marie Bongiovanni, a spokesman for Sebastian International, said the cosmetics company sent a letter out to the salons that have just begun selling the lip gloss, informing them of what had happened. She also said that they were working with their art department to create a new display. Ms. Bongiovanni indicated that the company was completely surprised by the news. “She seemed so aggressive in her fight,” she said. All of the profits from the sale of the lip gloss will go to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund–”unfortunately, in her memory,” Ms. Bongiovanni said.