Times Metro Section to Lose Its Sourpuss Editor

Joyce Purnick announced the end of her two-year run as editor of The Metro Section of The New York Times to her staff on July 20 at about 5 P.M. She’ll return to writing a column–”Metro Matters, probably,” she said–the same space she used to fill before ascending to the editing job.

The new metro editor will be Jonathan Landman, who now edits Sunday’s Week in Review section. His name came as a bit of a surprise to Times watchers; Ms. Purnick’s job switch had been rumored for a while and word was that fast-rising national editor Dean Baquet was the likely front-runner. Then again, Mr. Landman is said to be regarded as a “utility player” that the paper “moves in when they need a quick fix. It could also suggest the suddenness of this move,” said one senior Times man.

Mr. Landman will be faced with the task of reviving a section that has made a practice of long feature-y outtakes on topics like city beekeeping while falling short on actually breaking news. Any plans as editor? “If there was, I wouldn’t tell you,” Mr. Landman said. He added: “Joyce is fabulous. To be able to have her writing that column is terrific.”

For her part, Ms. Purnick said she’s ready for an easier pace. “I decided I really didn’t want to grow old as an editor,” Ms. Purnick, who is 53 and married to former Times executive editor Max Frankel, told Off the Record. “Or older. That I wanted to go back to writing.” She said she made that decision some time ago but now was the right time to make the move: There were several openings and changes about to be made in the section, she said, and she felt it was better to let the new guy make the moves, rather than “saddle somebody with my choices.”

Meanwhile, she said, she’s ready to be untethered. “It’s sort of like being a doctor used to be. You’ve got a beeper, you’ve got a cellphone,” said Ms. Purnick. “If John F. Kennedy disappears, you have to be there. If Flight 800 crashes, you come into work … I’ve really reached the stage in life that I want to live my life.”

In other moves, her deputy, Matthew Purdy, will return to writing, and the city editor, Jim Roberts (who is married to Daily News editor Debby Krenek), will head a project called Politics 2000.

Ms. Purnick will join John Tierney and Clyde Haberman in the Metro column rotation. As a columnist, she had a keen eye for the pungent detail and a tart tongue when it came to political and governmental shenanigans. She even broke news. But that tart tongue did not serve her well as metro editor. Her staff considered her a bit of a sourpuss and blamed her for taking the bite out of stories–particularly the mushy Public Lives column, which she oversees.

But she and Mr. Frankel, perhaps to counter her sour image, had invited the staff out to their place on Fire Island for a picnic July 24. Her departure from the Metro desk is Labor Day; meanwhile, the party’s still on. “Of course it is,” she said. “It’s just a party.”

The George magazine staff came together in its 41st-floor offices on 50th Street and Broadway on the hot and humid morning of Saturday, July 17, shortly after the news broke that their boss and friend John Kennedy was missing over the Atlantic. Crying and watching TV, they hoped that everything would turn out all right, that John Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law would somehow be found by the Coast Guard, and everything would return to the way it was before.

Of course, the way it was before wasn’t perfect. Kennedy had been determinedly trying to figure out how to keep the magazine alive beyond the Dec. 31 expiration date of his deal with Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. The magazine had no publisher, ad sales and circulation were down and David Pecker, the former head of Hachette who had signed up the magazine and been its prime cheerleader, had left to work at the company that publishes The National Enquirer .

There were news vans out front, and people had stopped staff members, wondering if they worked at George . “Crazy people outside,” noted one Hachette employee.

On Monday, July 19, employees at other Hachette magazines noticed extra security guys with earpieces–the building wasn’t set up to keep the press of people out. Staff members were asked not to talk to the press. It was apparently the Kennedy family’s wish.

The George staff met with Hachette president and chief executive officer Jack Kliger. The company was officially saying, “HFM continues to be committed to fulfilling John’s vision for the magazine,” according to its July 19 afternoon release. But the distraught and shell-shocked staff thought the meeting was handled ham-fistedly. “It wasn’t his best performance,” noted one insider. “He treated us like a bunch of bankers hearing the annual report,” said another.

The September issue of George was closing at the end of that week. It was the final issue edited by John Kennedy, and that fact alone will be its commemoration to him, said an insider. Plans for a future commemorative issue haven’t been decided.

Anna Starr the art director of Elle , quit her job July 20 in protest of the alleged treatment of the art production editor. Andrea Legge, by the magazine’s creative director, Gilles Bensimon.

Mr. Bensimon, who helps oversee the close of the magazine, making sure things are up to his standards, allegedly “strangled” Ms. Legge “jokingly” during the close of the September issue late last month, according to several Elle staff members. Ms. Legge subsequently quit.

Reached at home, Ms. Legge had no comment, citing a confidentiality agreement she said she reached with Elle parent company Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.

For her part, Ms. Starr said, “I have chosen to leave. It’s not official yet–but I’m leaving.”

Mr. Bensimon comes from France, where men and women are perhaps more likely to playfully throttle each other, and where he made a name for himself as a fashion photographer at the original (French) incarnation of Elle .

The August issue of W magazine has a “special section” called “The W Black Book” that purports to provide information on “the greatest places to indulge and improve yourself, whether you’re interested in the sublime (yoga, meditation) or the delightfully superficial (eyebrow tweezing, bikini waxing).” Next to a picture of John F. Kennedy Jr. there’s an entry that reads: “The weather may be stormy inside the simulated flight training room at Flight Safety in Vero Beach, Florida (561.564.7600), but it didn’t stop John Kennedy Jr. from earning his pilot’s license. Kennedy returned for more lessons this spring.”