Ed Kosner’s semi-independent Sunday Daily News is getting its own gossip columnist to cover more upscale scoop. Mr. Kosner has hired New York magazine’s Deborah Mitchell. “She’s going to be doing more items relating to publishing, politics and real estate,” said Mr. Kosner. “She’ll do some show business, but not as much as Mitchell [Fink] and Rush & Molloy.”
One result of this hire is that the paper might move Mitchell Fink, who is paired with Rush & Molloy Monday through Friday, from his Sunday position to Saturdays. Right now, there is no gossip in the Saturday News , and there is a perception that it needs to be gussied up.
“That’s been in the air, too,” said Mr. Kosner. “But to the extent that it’s my decision, my instinct is to add Deborah to the paper and increase the scope of the gossip stuff.” Mr. Fink said he didn’t know anything about it. Daily News editor Debbie Krenek did not return a call for comment.
Ms. Mitchell has been working with Beth Landman Keil on New York ‘s Intelligencer column since early 1996. Before that, she worked for Vanity Fair . Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Keil were always an odd, Laurel and Hardyish combination, and New York staff members said they don’t get along particularly well.
Her arrival at the Sunday News is part of Mr. Kosner’s continuing effort to distinguish the 835,429-circulation (as of March 31, the most recent audit) paper from the daily-a goal that has, according to Daily News reporters, often resulted in rival newsroom camps, with each side jealously guarding its writers and scoops from the other. Daily reporters have complained they no longer have that outlet to produce longer, more thoughtful pieces. When they do produce a piece of significant enterprise-like the News ‘ in-depth series on a diverse block in Queens, by Patrice O’Shaughnessy-it is held out of the Sunday paper, the pre-schism starting date for most big series. The Real N.Y. Story series, for example, started on Monday, Nov. 22. Conversely, it’s the kind of feel-good piece that’s clearly missing from the Sunday paper.
As for Ms. Mitchell, on Nov. 23, New York editor Caroline Miller said she wasn’t sure who the newspaper was going to replace Ms. Mitchell with. “She just resigned yesterday,” she said.
Ms. Mitchell said she’s looking forward to her new solo gig. “I think the more gossip columns, the better,” she said. Mr. Kosner said she’d start work in the new year.
New York might be losing one of its gossip columnists, but it’s retaining its deputy editor, Maer Roshan. After Off the Record disclosed on Nov. 17 that Talk executive editor David Kuhn was set to leave to work for Steve Brill’s new e-commerce site, which will probably be called Planet Content, Talk editor Tina Brown contacted Mr. Roshan about filling Mr. Kuhn’s position. According to the story circulating at New York , Ms. Brown, armed with Mr. Kuhn’s salary, mounted a typically persuasive, name-your-price effort to tempt Mr. Roshan on board. But by Nov. 22, he decided he liked where he was, even if his office doesn’t have a door, unlike the offices of the editors above him.
“I’m delighted that Maer’s staying,” said Ms. Miller, who wouldn’t comment on how much they paid him to do so. But does he get a door? “Uh, no. But I think there is an assistant in the bargain.”
“As honored as I was with the chance to work with an editor as amazing as Tina Brown, it was hard to leave a job that is still challenging and a staff that I love,” said Mr. Roshan.
Via a spokesman, Ms. Brown kept the good feeling going. “We love Maer and explored a number of ideas with him. He always made it clear he was happy where he was.”
Said one New York source: “He ended up with a British assistant that looks an awful lot like Tina.”
With the departure of its editor in chief and music editor early last month, followed by its deputy editor and articles editor in mid-November, The Source is faced with starting over, again, with few senior staff members on hand and none about to walk in the door.
It’s not the first time this has happened. The Source had to start over nearly from scratch in 1994, when its founder and publisher David Mays, without the consent of his staff, inserted into the hip-hop magazine an article he co-wrote about a rap group called the Almighty RSO, his old friends (they’re “his peeps or boys,” noted one ex- Source editor). That caused his co-editors in chief to call for his resignation and leave the magazine. Other editors followed. But not until they stole the files for the next issue from their computers and took them with them.
That might have killed the magazine. Instead, it presaged an era of tremendous growth. The business staff reportedly pitched in to produce the pilfered December 1994 issue, and new staff was eventually hired. Meanwhile, hip-hop had broken into the mainstream, filling MTV, the radio and minds of American inner city and suburban youth-and probably farm kids, as well. Circulation shot up from 125,000 to 425,000. And the magazine gained clout, with its Source Hip-Hop Awards getting a national television airing and attracting talents of the caliber of Janet Jackson, Will Smith, Lauryn Hill and Mike Tyson.
But all that growth has a downside, too. In the old days, it used to be called joining the establishment. In this case, it’s more like becoming the establishment. “It’s like a record label,” said one Source source. The walls between industry and journalism “don’t really exist.”
Still, it seems everyone at the magazine that Off the Record spoke with is comfortable with that. And it’s not likely to change-not with Mr. Mays at the helm.
Thirty years old and white, he grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended Harvard University. Nowadays, he’s the image of the hip-hop impresario: “lots of video game playing; basketball; shopping; jewelry,” said one insider. While he’s relatively low-key in public, associates said he’s aggressive when it comes to business. He sees himself, they said, as a power in the music industry. Word is, he’s interested in buying Vibe, although a spokesman for Mr. Mays called that “speculative.”
But then Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, the editor in chief, left in October for a job at RSW1.com, a new fashion and rap on-line venture being created by Russell Simmons. Two days before, The Source ‘s music editor, Smokey Fontaine, had left for Volume, an HBO-funded “urban portal” that’s due to launch in 2000. More recently, articles editor kris ex left to freelance and deputy editor Dimitry Léger has taken a job as a staff writer for Fortune magazine.
The new mass exodus might be coincidental. But just before Mr. Hinds and Mr. Fontaine left, there had been another Almighty RSO incident. RSO had been renamed the Made Men and, according to a staff member, there was a six-hour meeting in September between the Made Men and several of the magazine’s editors about their perception that the magazine was intentionally avoiding covering them favorably-or, in the case of a recent article, covering them in such a way that didn’t seem to take them seriously. “Tempers flared, editors cried,” said one insider. It was after that meeting that the number of “mikes,” which is the magazine’s star-system for rating bands, was increased on the Made Men review from three and a half to four and a half.
Mr. Fontaine told Off the Record that “it was a coincidence” he and Mr. Hinds left at roughly the same time. He said he didn’t leave because of the Made Men meeting, though. “We all knew what went down before,” he said of the earlier RSO incident. “I wondered, wow, if it could happen again.” But while noting, “He owns the book. He can do what he wants,” and refusing to comment on the Made Men meeting, he made clear, “I didn’t feel like my integrity was compromised.”
He said, “Dave has had a relationship with Made Men since he was a deejay in Cambridge. They were rappers in Boston. Ray, the lead singer, helped him then,” when The Source was just a photocopied newsletter distributed informally through the emerging hip-hop world.
So, again, Mr. Mays has to put out a magazine with a skeleton crew. How’s he handling it? “Fairly aloofly,” said one insider, who theorized that Mr. Mays has other things on his mind, like the possible Vibe purchase.
Mr. Mays didn’t return calls for comment. His in-house spokesman said, “There were rumors that there was some other story as to why Selwyn left. And that’s just not true. And he’s not going to address it.” His out-of-house spokesman, at Baker Winokur Ryder in Los Angeles, said of Mr. Mays, “He’s incredibly involved. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.” She speculated: “He might edit it for the next year. I don’t know.”
He may have to: There seems to be a shortage of experienced urban magazine editors.
“It’s tough-there are so many opportunities for young urban writers-editors,” said Mr. Fontaine, who himself has fled to the Web. In the end, he felt, ” The Source is going to be fine. Dave ain’t going nowhere.”
Anthony Lane is not going to replace Janet Maslin. After a brief flirtation with The New York Times, the critic re-signed to The New Yorker . His New Yorker critic-colleague David Denby is still up for one of the two new film jobs opening at The Times, along with five or six other candidates, including ex- Daily News critic David Kehr, ex- Wall Street Journal critic Julie Solomon and National Public Radio critic Elvis Mitchell.
“They are all under active consideration,” confirmed culture editor John Darnton, to Off the Record’s list of contenders. “But there are even more.” With Times executive editor Joe Lelyveld on vacation, the decision is not likely to be made imminently, either. “Our object is to exhaust the interest in the subject,” said Mr. Darnton.
While the replace-Maslin follies continue in Times ian slo-mo, Mr. Darnton is faced with another hole to fill: that of his second-string theater critic. Peter Marks, who’s had that job for three years, is defecting to the paper’s national desk to cover the Presidential campaign. “I’m going to be covering paid media-the advertising, the radio, the campaign message,” he said. “I like to think of it as the theater of the campaign.” Hmmmm.
Mr. Marks, a former metro section reporter, had a reputation for being a bit bored with his alternative theater beat of late. (When asked what the worst thing he’d had to review was, he said, ” The Mysteries of Eleusis at B.A.M. It was the most incomprehensible thing I’ve ever seen. It involved people waving their arms and wearing bizarre togas.”) “I sort of made it be known that I was available,” he said. “And this is what they offered.”
It’s not an unusual proposition for The Times: Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich teamed up to cover the “theater of the campaign” in 1992. Mr. Marks is planning to leave the week after Thanksgiving, and Mr. Darnton said the newspaper hadn’t made a hire yet. “We need somebody yesterday,” he said.
“I don’t think I handed this to him at a particularly good time,” Mr. Marks said.
The paper of record is trying to go back and change history. At least when it comes to new freelance writing contracts, which The New York Times has recently started circulating. Not only is The Times asking for all rights to the new pieces-which means it doesn’t have to pay writers more to put a piece on their Web site or if it gets optioned for a movie. But there’s a new clause-No. 2B-which asks the writer to sign away certain rights to articles that had been written for The Times in the past.
That has some journalists up in arms. “They want all rights past and future and give the writer nothing in return!” said one writer who’s been faced with the new contract. “It’s rather a horrifying story of The Times ‘ oppressive power.”
All this is because Jonathan Tasini, a freelance writer and the president of something called the National Writers Union, brought a suit six years ago against The Times and several other publishers over their not giving writers a split of the take they get by selling articles to Lexis-Nexis database.
At the end of September, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Mr. Tasini was right, and The Times had put articles on Nexis without having permission to do so. So The Times is cracking down, trying to get that permission retroactively.
“Starting in 1995, we’ve basically been fairly successful in having freelance writers give us permission to put their stuff on Nexis,” said George Freeman, assistant general counsel for the New York Times Company. But now that the company lost this appeal, it decided it needed to get rights retroactively so it doesn’t have to pull pieces from the Nexis database. “To the extent we haven’t, we are trying to make up for that. And the reason is that this decision pretty much makes us do it.”
Mr. Freeman said it was not possible for The Times to go back and pay for Lexis-Nexis rights to these old articles because it would be “a huge administrative nightmare.”
“We want to minimize the harm from 1995 on,” he said. “Or else we are in this position of having holes in history.”
Not all agents are sympathetic with Mr. Tasini’s suit. Some don’t care about writers not getting paid when their pieces show up on Lexis-Nexis at all and blame the suit for scaring The Times into generally clamping down on rights. “They’re not going to pay it to you,” said one entertainment lawyer of Lexis-Nexis money. Making money off electronic databases “is their new business model.”
Time Inc., another defendant in the suit, is holding off on changing history for now. Robin Bierstedt, vice president and deputy general counsel for Time Inc., said, “We’re not doing it at this point, but we might do it.” Generally, Time Inc. has bought all rights “for several years now.” She said that it appealed the decision last month.
This spring marks the 10th anniversary of Entertainment Weekly , and this time it might not be just the advertising department strivers who are getting a sunny group retreat. The long-suffering trend-spotters, nugget-crafters, reviewers and celebrity profilers are speculating that they might get to go, too. The current rumor: They’re going to ship off to the magical homeland of EW ‘s pop-sensibility kinsman, Ricky Martin: Puerto Rico.
Is this just a case of the editing staff living la vida loca ? EW spokesman Sandy Drayton said it could happen. “We are discussing a lot of options to reward our staff for the 10th anniversary,” she said. “Puerto Rico is currently in the wishful-thinking category, but you never know.”