Time Out Editor Laments Comedy of Errors

Before you plan a night on the town with the help of those perky listings in Time Out New York, you might want to call ahead first. This warning comes not from some disgruntled reader, but from the magazine’s editor, Cyndi Stivers.

On June 28, Ms. Stivers sent a scolding letter to the Time Out New York staff via e-mail: “Every week, I get more letters (and subscription cancellations) about careless errors in the magazine that have cost people money, time and aggravation. Occasionally, there is a reasonable explanation–the city revoked a permit for a street fest at the last minute, say–but usually there isn’t … and as I say, these mistakes seem to be occurring more often.

“Since you seem to need reminding: It doesn’t matter how lively our writing is or how great the magazine looks if the underlying information is wrong. The more popular we get, the more people we send off on wild goose chases. And I assure you, the buzz we’ve created will vanish all too quickly if the word spreads that we are not credible. Ironically, we were more accurate when we had many fewer staff–so what does that tell me? We’re either getting lazy or complacent. Either way, a dangerous situation …

“For those of you who weren’t here in the beginning, we actually fired one staffer for making too many mistakes, and we will do it again if we need to. I’m going to shout this: You are responsible for the information in your section.”

Among the errors acknowledged in recent Time Out New York corrections were: a listing of a “free concert” that wasn’t; a music review that had the late Latina pop star Selena married to the wrong guy; and reporting that Liz Tilberis died of breast cancer, instead of ovarian cancer.

In her scolding note to the staff, Ms. Stivers appended an e-mail from a reader who detailed his nighttime misadventures caused by Time Out New York: The poor fellow apparently hopped in a cab to see Sandra Bernhard at the Beacon Theater, only to find someone else on the bill that night: “Thankfully,” he wrote, “I got my money back because I was carrying Time Out and could prove the error.” (He had other examples, too.)

One person who received the e-mail blamed Ms. Stivers: “It’s stupid for her to complain about that, when they’re too cheap to shell out for fact checkers.” Said another: “The cheapness is so endemic. It’s totally embarrassing. You can’t hold on to people who are good.”

According to two staff members who have left the magazine, Time Out doesn’t try to match offers when editors from other publications come a-raiding the staff. There have been more than 15 departures over the last year, with Us magazine taking two people from the weekly, Details taking three and GQ hiring away two. Most recently, the photo editor, Nancy Jo Iacoi, left for Premiere and the technology editor, Tom Samiljan, left for that mysterious Web fanzine that Jann Wenner is starting.

Ms. Stivers described her note to the staff as “summer housekeeping.”

“Basically, I just needed to remind everyone that accuracy was critical. We probably have 3,000 listings a week and the law of averages says that we are going to make mistakes occasionally.”

So does this mean Time Out New York will add fact checkers to its staff?

“Absolutely not. That’s the job of the reporters,” she said. “I think that fact checkers just make reporters lazy.”

She may be cheap–but she may be right.

Suzen Johnson, the former flight attendant who had some kind of affair with ex-football star (and Kathie Lee Gifford’s husband) Frank Gifford, has filed a $10 million lawsuit in Miami against The Globe, the tabloid that carried the story.

At the time of the story, it seemed that Ms. Johnson was a participant in a kind of tabloid sting operation. The Globe videotaped her and Mr. Gifford in a room at the Regency Hotel on the Upper East Side. “I wanted to do this since I met you,” the duped Mr. Gifford told her. “You’re so perky.”

Now Ms. Johnson is suing The Globe for false imprisonment, negligence and slander, saying she did not want to go along with what she described as the magazine’s “mission to choreograph and produce a scandal story.”

In the suit, a New York player has emerged: Braden Keil, a freelance reporter for the New York Post. Mr. Keil writes the Post‘s Table Hopper column, which details where celebrities eat, and he occasionally pops up as a contributor to the Page Six column. Ms. Johnson also claims Mr. Keil is her cousin. The suit mentions that he got a fee from The Globe for helping out.

Mr. Keil, the husband of New York magazine’s Intelligencer co-columnist Beth Landman Keil, was at the Regency during the Johnson-Gifford liaison, with Globe editor Candace Trunzo, according to the lawsuit. According to the suit, Mr. Keil and The Globe editor were “watching and monitoring video … equipment” while the lovers were making hay in an adjoining room of a two-bedroom hotel suite. But Mr. Keil denies it. “I certainly wasn’t in the next room monitoring it and taking notes,” he said. The Miami Herald first reported the suit June 23.

Mr. Keil, who describes Ms. Johnson as a “distant relative,” said she has it wrong in the suit. For one thing, he said, she’s the one who approached him with the idea of doing a story on her relationship with Mr. Gifford. Mr. Keil says he told her that the story fell into the category of “too unsavory” for the Post –so he passed along her name to Globe editor Tony Frost.

“What happened between my phone call and what was in The Globe was beyond my wildest dreams,” he said.

But what about that payment?

“I didn’t negotiate anything,” Mr. Keil said. “It’s sort of a tip fee.”

Does Mr. Keil have any regrets about getting involved?

“I only wish I’d asked for more money,” he said.

The Globe paid Ms. Johnson $25,000 for her part. Later, as the Herald reported, Playboy paid Ms. Johnson $100,000 for a five-page spread called “Franky Panky: The Woman Who Sacked Kathie Lee’s Hubby.”

Gourmet‘s first issue under its new editor–former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl–comes out in September, and the magazine’s advertising department came up with a big idea: get a bunch of restaurant owners together and ask them to each kick in $1,000 for an ad saluting the editor in her debut issue.

The restaurateurs, who were approached in the last week of June, did not like the idea. “The ad amounts to a shakedown from a publication that both reviews and promotes dining establishments,” said one restaurant source. “What goodwill are the restaurants buying for their $1,000? What bad will are their declining counterparts inviting by refusing to pay?”

A spokesman for Danny Meyer, the owner of such restaurants as Gramercy Tavern and 11 Madison Park, said they turned the magazine down. “It just wasn’t something that made us comfortable,” she said. Another restaurateur who didn’t return the message from Gourmet said, “I just think the whole thing was inappropriate.”

Reached on July 6, Ms. Reichl said: “I don’t know anything about it. And I don’t know how I feel about it.” She added, “I’m not a restaurant reviewer anymore, so I don’t see it as being a conflict of interest.” Except that the magazine does cover restaurants.

In defense of the zealous advertising department at Gourmet , it should be noted the restaurant owners may have dug themselves into this position when, earlier this year, they chipped in to salute Ms. Reichl in a Times ad commemorating her departure from the newspaper.

Will the ad run? Susan Ludlow, the magazine’s associate publisher, said, “I don’t know where it stands right now.”