After being tossed out of their magazines, ex-editors in chief Michael Hirschorn and Kurt Andersen are teaming up with hedge fund manager and TheStreet.com proprietor James J. Cramer to start a new on-line publication. The venture, expected to be launched by the turn of the century, is expected to target entertainment industry insiders.
The trio has been trying for the last month or so to sell editors and writers around town on the idea. One source compared it to The Industry , the magazine that Adam Moss proposed but never got off the ground back in the early 90’s.
Both Mr. Hirschorn and Mr. Andersen said that it was too early to comment on the venture. Mr. Cramer, who writes a weekly column for The Observer , e-mailed to downplay his involvement, calling it “advisory–these are friends and I want them to do well.” All three worked together at Mr. Andersen’s New York , with Mr. Hirschorn, an editor, and Mr. Cramer, a columnist and old Harvard pal, leaving after Mr. Andersen was fired. Mr. Andersen went on to work for The New Yorker and write a screenplay and a novel, Mr. Hirschorn went on to edit Spin and Mr. Cramer to start TheStreet.com .
This is mostly Mr. Hirschorn’s project. Since he was fired as editor of Spin in January–and refunded his monetary investment in the magazine–he did a spell at the New York offices of Slate . Mr. Andersen, who was ejected from New York in 1996, spent some time out in Seattle with Tom Phillips, who had started Spy with Mr. Andersen before he had moved out to help launch several Internet ventures, including ESPN.com.
Mr. Phillip’s back in New York now as chief executive of Deja.com, said Mr. Andersen mostly spent his time out West researching his novel, Turn of the Century , which contains lots of half-baked ideas for media ventures. “I can tell you authoritatively he was not romanced by what he saw,” he said of Mr. Andersen’s time in Seattle. “I think he was intrigued.”
Just a week or so after pulling editorial page editor John Podhoretz’s gleefully hate-filled column purporting to comically portray John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death as part of some family deal with the devil, New York Post editor in chief Ken Chandler had to muzzle Mr. Podhoretz again. In the first edition of the July 30 paper, an editorial titled “Barbarella at the Bar Association” skewered the American Bar Association for inviting Jane Fonda to serve as its keynote speaker for its annual Silver Gavel Award ceremony. She declined–which the editorial writer attributed to “howls of protests from veterans”–but the editorial went on to huff and puff about the invitation, noting that Ms. Fonda was really only qualified to talk about “bulimia, Barbarella and feeling the burn” or, possibly, “prostitution,” since “she won an Oscar for playing a hooker in Klute .” It was that last crack that got Mr. Chandler’s attention and never made the later editions.
Mr. Podhoretz told Off the Record that “revisions like that happen frequently. Maybe not frequently, but they happen from time to time.” He said this one was made because it seemed “excessively flip.”
Mr. Podhoretz refused to comment on whether his recent editorial page adventures had cost him a shot at replacing Mr. Chandler, who is widely expected to soon move up to the publisher spot. Clearly, Mr. Podhoretz has his share of enemies willing to spread such tales, especially after his brief foray as features editor. But a hint that it was more than wishful thinking on the part of disgruntled staff members came from no less than Post spokesman Howard Rubenstein, usually considered a direct channeler of Rupert Murdoch, who told New York magazine for its Aug. 9 issue that Mr. Podhoretz “was never on a short list–or any list–to be editor.” Mr. Podhoretz has told friends that was fine with him–as house ideologue with no hard news experience, he never expected to be editor, anyway.
Mr. Podhoretz did tell The Observer that there had been “no edict” on the part of Mr. Chandler to make his editorials less spiteful.
Rufus Griscom, editor in chief and chief executive of Nerve , the Web site dedicated to “literate smut”–the sort of pornography you find in art galleries and college literary magazines–has been talking about publishing a print magazine almost since the site started two years ago. Now he has a real live print editor to do the job: Susan Dominus, a former senior editor at New York magazine, who took over on July 6 as Nerve ‘s executive editor.
Nerve has long had a fetish for paper. Scarcely after the site started, it sold a compilation of its pieces to Broadway Books. Nerve recently made a deal with Manhattan File where the magazine has created a Nerve section and pays Nerve a licensing fee and a portion of the acquisition cost. The first Nerve section appeared in Manhattan File ‘s July issue.
“I think there are a lot of people that don’t take on-line publishing that seriously, especially the sort of old media people,” Mr. Griscom said of his plans for a print magazine. “So definitely it’s appealing to get to those people and say, Hey, take a closer look at this.”
The team working on the print magazine includes Ms. Dominus, vice president of community development Emma Taylor, and executive editor Jack Murnighan, who has a Ph.D. in medieval literature from Duke University.
Mr. Griscom said that as he hires more people he hopes to hire more expats from print and academia. “I never thought I would take pleasure in the depressed salaries in print publishing, having come from that world, but I think academia and print publishing are both attractive [for hiring] because the ratio of I.Q. to salary is very high.”
Asked if she got a raise over her New York job, Ms. Dominus told Off the Record: “Hell yeah!” Ms. Dominus also received stock options that maybe–cross your fingers–will be worth big bucks if Nerve does an I.P.O.
It’s a big deal at The Wall Street Journal to have a correction run on one of your stories. “It goes in your file,” noted one reporter. It’s not unheard of for newer reporters to get fired for winding up in the corrections column too often. So it is not surprising that there was some glee among staff on July 23 when the paper had to run a correction for a piece written by one of the top editors. The mea culpa was for a July 9 review by managing editor Paul Steiger of a brand memoir called Selling Dreams , written by the president and chief executive of Ferrari’s North America unit. Most of the book review was a discussion of Mr. Steiger’s obsession with Ferraris, starting in his childhood and culminating last year when he was finally able to drive the sports car while on vacation in Italy. And that’s when the booboo occurred: He wrote, “The car I drove had seven forward gears.” In fact, the street transmission has six forward gears. “The transmission in Ferrari’s Formula One racing cars, on which it is based, has seven forward gears,” says the Journal correction.
At the New York office, members of the staff of Sidewalk.com are afraid they’re about to end up curbside, despite earlier
assurances there would be places for them within the company that has bought the Web firm.
The formerly ambitious Microsoft “city guide” initiative on the Web, which started out declaring the end of New York magazine’s Cue section as we know it, was bought out by Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch in mid-July. The staff was at first assured it has until October, when Sidewalk.com ceases to exist, to find new jobs within Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch. But on July 22, according to those in the Sidewalk office, Citysearch officials came by and told everyone that there wouldn’t be any jobs open in the office in New York. Within a week, that was amended with news there were a couple of jobs available–but all at considerably less pay, not to mention their location in the considerably scruffier Citysearch offices on West 13th Street. Sidewalk’s offices are in a bombastic high-rise in midtown called Worldwide Plaza.
How far the fall. An e-mail transmitted to the Sidewalk staff from Microsoft headquarters on July 19, the day that the deal was announced, crowed about Sidewalk’s results: “In the final Sidewalk Media Metrix report for FY ’99 (June ’99) Sidewalk achieved an 8.7 reach (#26 in rank). This was tops among all city guides with Digital City trailing at 6.8 reach. The combined Citysearch-Ticketmaster plus advertisers was a close third with 6.6 reach. Citysearch alone posted a 1.7 reach.” HQ went on to say, “Congratulations to all who worked hard to make Sidewalk.com the top on-line city guide and a top ranked site nationally.”
And then the sale. The official Microsoft line, according to a spokesman, is that, “There are about 90 employees nationwide who will be possibly transitioning over to Citysearch. They have about 200 positions open. So city by city, and New York specifically, they will certainly have the opportunity to interview for positions. And Citysearch is quite excited, actually, to bring Sidewalk employees over, if not all.” But, over e-mail, Sidewalkers are already buzzing about how, in one city, the restaurant reviewer was offered the job as editor in chief of the local Citysearch and found the job paid less. In Boston, staff members said, two employees are said to have cried when told how much they’d make under new management. “A lot of people will be laid off,” said one Sidewalk source, who noted that there were 40 people in the New York office.
One Citysearch source noted that no additional desks are being moved into their warehouselike space. “The deal was more about acquiring content than personnel, though a few people may be offered positions, if not in New York then nationally.”
The source added: “I don’t know what the [Sidewalk] severance packages look like, but unless they stink, I can’t imagine why they would want to come work here. Near as I can tell, they hated us, hated the fact we put our pictures on the site, that we were so opinionated and personal. And up until a few weeks ago, Microsoft was telling them they were winning the war, that we were toast. Now we jam.”
A number of the 40 New York staff members have stock–some quite a bit. And a failed Internet venture on their résumés won’t stop most of them from getting a new job by Oct. 19. Already, America Online’s Digital City guides division is in talks with several members of the Sidewalk office to work for them.
“We made the No. 1 slot and had a great time doing it,” said Jamie Pallot, Sidewalk’s New York executive producer. He’s not sure where he’s going next.
Michael Goff, the Out founder who had moved out to Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters to oversee Sidewalk, now works for the Microsoft Network and will remain there. Meanwhile, Sean Elder, the head of the New York Citysearch office, isn’t going to enjoy the merger: He quit on July 23 to become Salon ‘s media columnist, a job that used to be split between Susan Lehman, who went on maternity leave in May, and James Poniewozik, who was hired away to write about television for Time magazine in June.