Tina Brown’s sidekick, David Kuhn, is set to leave Talk magazine for Planet Content, the e-commerce venture being set up by Steven Brill, the founder and editor of Brill’s Content . Mr. Kuhn had followed Ms. Brown from Vanity Fair to The New Yorker to Talk , where he was vice president and executive editor.
What a strange pair. Mr. Brill is a media missionary who has charged himself with the task of cleaning up journalism. In his magazine career, Mr. Kuhn has been more of a fixer and power broker than a traditional editor. His strength is not so much editing copy or assigning stories as it is making things happen, creating buzz and translating Ms. Brown’s words and deeds for her sometimes-puzzled underlings.
Mr. Kuhn is someone from the back room of glossy journalism, perhaps a necessary character but not the kind of fellow they tell you about in journalism school.
Still, the pairing of Mr. Brill and Mr. Kuhn may work out, given the mandate of Planet Content. Unlike Brill’s Content magazine, which moons over the content in other publications, Planet Content is just going to sell stuff. That could include magazines, books, movies and electronic versions of university monographs.
Some people at Brill’s Content are worried that the new venture, and its corresponding alliances, would harm their publication’s role as “the independent voice of the information age,” to quote the slogan. Mr. Brill promised Off the Record he’d make the corporate structure of Planet Content available so that it would be clear that “no media company that we cover–no media company period–will have any management role or direction role with this company.”
Conversations between Mr. Brill and Mr. Kuhn have been going on for some time over his e-commerce venture, apparently predating the arrival of Robert Wallace as editorial director of Talk in late October.
Planet Content is being funded by a $10 million investment by virtuous billionaire George Soros. Things are less rosy at Talk . Mr. Kuhn is the fourth major editor to leave the magazine in as many issues.
Mr. Kuhn did not return a call for comment by press time.
Mr. Brill would say only, “I just never comment on people who we may or may not be hiring.”
Just what will Kurt Andersen (co-founder, Spy ; onetime editor of New York ; author of Turn of the Century ) and Michael Hirschorn (onetime editor at Esquire and New York ; former editor of Spin ) call their Web venture for entertainment insiders, which is now in development? According to the Network Solutions database, Mr. Andersen registered the names Insidedope.com and Theinsidedope.com last March. In May, Mr. Hirschorn registered Thejungle.net. Lately, the two editors have been busy: They registered Inside-dope.com on Nov. 9, and the next day signed up for Inside-books.com, Inside-movies.com, Inside-advertising.com, Inside-music.com and Insidedope.net.
It took almost three months, but editor Mark Golin has finally repopulated the Details senior staff. He’s hired Entertainment Weekly ‘s News & Notes editor Albert Kim to be entertainment editor and Newsweek ‘s TV correspondent Kendall Hamilton to be a senior features editor. They both passed a rigorous editing test Mr. Golin sent out to the 30 or so applicants for the jobs.
Shortly after he took over–on Aug. 18, to be exact–editor at large Barbara O’Dair (who was serving as acting editor) jumped to Harper’s Bazaar , and articles editor Susan Murcko moved to Wired . Neither could see themselves doing what Mr. Golin wanted to do with the magazine. That left Mr. Golin and the team that defected with him from Maxim to try to relaunch Details while searching for replacement editors in touch with his feelings.
“It’s easy enough to understand and talk about,” said Mr. Golin. “It’s harder when it comes down to: What is this story about? What is the title of the story? What is the box that goes along with the story? A lot of people can talk about it, but few can do it.”
Among those innovations? Getting rid of the crappy, empty movie-star cover story. “We’ve been doing focus groups,” said Mr. Golin. “Most guys just aren’t interested in the intimate details of actors’ lives.”
He said he recently told a group of publicists in Los Angeles that he was sick of movie star profiles, and so were the readers. “If he’s got a new movie out and wants to talk about it, don’t call me,” he said he told the flacks. “If he attached rocket engines to his car, and they work, and he flies around dropping eggs on people, yeah, call me! That’s kind of cool.”
Mr. Hamilton, who started at Details Nov. 15, described the editorial test as “draconian. It was basically a full week’s work in and of itself … I showed it to a couple of people, who were sort of aghast. It was definitely designed to weed out the people who were serious from the window shoppers.” Mr. Hamilton, who’d been at Newsweek for “10 years–10 long years,” said he’d been a Maxim fan “in my baser moments,” but thought Details was shooting for a somewhat more ambitious reader. “It’s for the thinkin’ man,” he said. “But it’s not for brainiacs.”
Mr. Kim, who’d been at Entertainment Weekly for five years and Time Inc. for 11, also apparently aced the Golin test. He said the most interesting thing about leaving Time Inc., where he’d spend his entire career, was meeting Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine, who tried to keep him there.
Mr. Golin has imported Maxim ‘s boot camp ethic to the custom Italian office furnishings of the Condé Nast Building.
“I sort of tell everyone that I don’t expect them to necessarily keep the same hours I do,” said Mr. Golin. “And then I tell them I’m only kidding about that.”
Mr. Hamilton has yet to be replaced at Newsweek . Mr. Kim’s job at Entertainment Weekly will be absorbed by staff editor A.J. Jacobs.
Recently, several experienced staff members at the Daily News have made their escape: William Rashbaum is heading to the New York Times metro desk, deputy sports editor Teri Thompson has left for ESPN, and City Hall reporter Paul Schwartzman is going to The Washington Post . Earlier this year, other veterans of the News left the paper and did not go to another publication. These include reporter Gene Mustain, who left to go to teach journalism in Hong Kong, and longtime mob columnist Jerry Capeci, now a spokesman for John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The News has been a bleak place to work all through the 90’s. The departures of the above-mentioned stalwarts did nothing to brighten the mood. Worst of all, the paper is just not selling like it used to. According to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, both daily and Sunday editions were selling about 20,000 fewer copies this year, compared with last year.
Talk is certainly not the only publicity vehicle for its parent company’s movie-making interests: Check out Time magazine.
Time ‘s nine-page cover story on Pokémon in the Nov. 22 issue, complete with a many-colored centerfold headlined “Show Me the Pokémoney,” certainly reminds the careful reader that Time ‘s parent company, Time Warner Inc., released the movie (through Warner Brothers) and its WB network broadcasts the cartoon. Is it news?
Vibe and Spin magazines are being downsized. The two music magazines, both of which are for sale, are now big, floppy Rolling Stone -size publications. In the new year, they’ll be shrunk down to conventional magazine size.
Spin spokesman Jason Roth said: “We talked about this like a year ago. It had to do with dissatisfaction with our printer.” The magazine had been printed by World Color Press Inc. of Stillwater, Okla. World Color also prints Rolling Stone and ESPN The Magazine . “Our new printer isn’t even capable of printing the old size,” added Mr. Roth.