Michael Hirschorn and Kurt Andersen are beginning to put a staff together for their on-line media and entertainment industry magazine. Early hires include Craig Marks, who was executive editor of Spin magazine under Mr. Hirschorn and who will direct music industry coverage after his current gig at Rolling Stone runs out, and Lorne Manly, a senior editor at Brill’s Content and former Off the Record columnist, who will edit media coverage.
Newcomers to the World Wide Web, Mr. Hirschorn and Mr. Andersen have learned quickly, adopting an Internet-style protectiveness for their nascent project. They’ve asked their potential hires to sign confidentiality agreements. Mr. Manley: “I’m not allowed to talk about it.” Mr. Marks: “I cannot confirm that. Neither can I deny that.”
But sources familiar with the project who are not bound by confidentiality agreements said the Web magazine will cover what’s going on in various fronts of media land, from advertising to Hollywood to publishing and music. By publishing on the Web, the magazine will have an obvious advantage over its print rivals when it comes to breaking news.
But such instant information may not come free. At the moment, the plan seems to be to make users pay. That puts the site at a bit of a risk: The only successful pay Web sites are those that offer information to help people trade from their home computers ( The Street.com , The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition ) or the ones that spew out pornography.
On the other hand, the Hirschorn-Andersen site will offer trade information to people in the entertainment business who are inclined to pay–and pay well–for up-to-the-minute insider dope. And some portion of the site will be free.
Mr. Hirschorn, when contacted, refused to comment.
Since one of their fellow reporters was fired after being arrested for assaulting a Los Angeles cop with a blue Pilot pen, some of the hard-boiled tabloid snoops who work for Star and The National Enquirer are wondering just what their new boss, David Pecker, thinks he bought earlier this year. Mr. Pecker ran Hachette Filipacchi magazines before throwing in with former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and the Evercore Partners investment firm in buying American Media Inc., which runs the weeklies. Mr. Pecker has spent a great deal of time talking about how he was planning to take the tabloids upmarket to appeal to advertisers and the masses of people who are underserved with accurate celebrity information. He wants to compete with People magazine and reap the rewards of increased ad revenue. So he redesigned the pages, advertised it more, and even, in the pages of The Wall Street Journal , offered $50,000 “from his own pocket” to be donated to charity “if any potential advertiser can find an alien, U.F.O. or a picture of Elvis” in The Enquirer . (He didn’t mention the Weekly World News , which American Media also owns, which actually does U.F.O. and Elvis stories and which will escape the Pecker overhaul.)
But then, according to sources at American Media, he got rid of an employee–in their eyes, for doing no more than practicing normal tabloid tactics. The reporter, David Sargeant, had been working for Star for less than a year when, on Aug. 10, he was assigned to stake out the North Hollywood home of ex-Captain Kirk, William Shatner, on the occasion of the apparently accidental swimming pool death of his wife, Nerine Shatner. As the Los Angeles Times reported it, Mr. Sargeant was charged with felony battery of a police officer after an incident at 2:40 A.M. when detectives at the station refused to grant an interview. “He created this big scene. He wouldn’t leave,” the District Attorney’s office told the Times . Shortly thereafter, Mr. Sargeant allegedly stabbed an officer with his pen and was arrested.
According to sources at the tabloid, an outraged Mr. Pecker personally intervened to keep Star from paying for Mr. Sargeant’s bail and for his lawyer–standard practice at the company in the past. And it wasn’t until three days later, after several tabloid veterans, including senior editor Richard Gooding, personally protested, that the paper agreed to pay for legal counsel for their reporter. “In the end, they did the right thing,” said one Star source. Still, two months later, on Oct. 7, Mr. Sargeant was fired. (Mr. Gooding wouldn’t comment.)
Mr. Sargeant hired his own lawyer, Elizabeth Kessel, to negotiate his exit from the paper. Citing a nondisclosure agreement he signed when he joined Star , Mr. Sargeant refused to comment to The Observer . But his lawyer said, “I think that basically what the company did was abandon him just when he needed them. He’s in the trenches going in to get the best story he can, and I think it’s just unconscionable that your employer says just get out there and get the best story, and if you get in trouble they won’t help.”
None of which has made Star a particularly happy place. “The feeling is that this guy [Mr. Pecker] doesn’t know what he’s doing,” said a tabloid reporter familiar with the situation. “This isn’t fancy magazine publishing. It’s British gutter journalism transplanted. It can’t be good news for people out there going through people’s garbage.”
When asked about Mr. Sargeant, Richard Valvo, a company spokesman, said, “David Pecker treated him according to company policy. The company policy American Media has in place for handling any employee procedure, no matter what it may be, is the same as the one he used at other companies in the past,” presumably including Hachette Filipacchi magazines. When asked what that entailed, the spokesman said, “I’m not going to get into that,” and refused to comment further, citing Mr. Sargeant’s upcoming arraignment Nov. 1.
“It should act as a chilling effect on every reporter out there trying to get the story,” said Ms. Kessel.
But Mr. Valvo said the company policies are clear. “Why should we get bad press for it? We didn’t do it.”
State Supreme Court Justice Harold Beeler is determined not to let parking garage developer Abe Hirschfeld turn his Manhattan courtroom into the kind of kooky morass that he made his tax-evasion trial last summer. But the judge is doing it in part by dragging in two of the city’s newspapers and issuing subpoenas for information.
Justice Beeler is presiding over Mr. Hirschfeld’s murder-for-hire trial, which is just getting started. During the tax-evasion proceedings, which ended in a hung jury, Mr. Hirschfeld took out a two-page ad in The New York Times proclaiming his innocence. There were other shenanigans during the trial, including a “protest” by some of his supporters outside the courthouse, as well as a lot of jokes and seemingly irrelevant material presented by Mr. Hirschfeld, who was acting as his own lawyer. After the jury deadlocked, he gave them each $2,500 and staged a banquet for them.
To avoid those kinds of embarrassing pranks, Assistant District Attorney Gilda Mariani got the judge to put a gag order on Mr. Hirschfeld, banning him from taking out newspaper ads, holding rallies and offering rewards that could influence the jury. So the judge was not particularly happy when the Daily News published an advertisement on Oct. 11 that could affect the jury’s opinion of the case. The ad was a reprint of an Oct. 7 News article titled “I Assumed Hirschfeld Wanted Hit, Sez Witness.” The ad stated that it had been “paid for by Abraham Alcalay” and gave a Houston Street address. A call to telephone information had no listing for an Abraham Alcalay in the Manhattan business or residential directories.
The judge issued subpoenas to the News and the New York Post , which ran a similar ad that week, to find out who paid for the ads.
Daily News vice president and deputy general counsel Eve Burton got the subpoena on Oct. 19. “It sought business-related information, and therefore we complied,” she said. “We were all but assured that there would be no request regarding news-gathering information, which we defend aggressively.”
Since Jonathan Alter escaped their clutches, Hachette Filipacchi has gone looking elsewhere on the Newsweek masthead for the new editor of George . They’ve approached Michael Elliott, a New York-based Brit who edits Newsweek International . No announcement is likely to be made about a new editor until after a deal has been completed for Hachette to buy full control of the magazine from the Kennedy family. But Mr. Elliott appears to be the front-runner for the job, and he’s got the right C.V. He was Washington bureau chief of The Economist before joining Newsweek six years ago. And he has some of that can-do optimism that has come to characterize George : Three years ago, he published a book called The Day Before Yesterday: Rediscovering America’s Past, Rediscovering the Present , in which he argued that the country has not gone to hell in a hand basket since the end of World War II … The title of Condé Nast’s new “shopping” magazine, which is being put together by Kim France: Mine .