Frank Lalli, the new, surprise editor of George magazine, started work at 9:30 A.M. on Nov. 30. He wasn’t taking John F. Kennedy Jr.’s empty office but was sitting just outside of it, in the office of Kennedy’s assistant, RoseMarie Terenzio. Ms. Terenzio left the magazine shortly after the October memorial issue closed. Mr. Lalli has not gotten an assistant–”yet,” he said. So he was answering his own phone.
“John had a suite of offices; I took the one closest to the hall,” he said, explaining that it was his style to stay close to the newsroom. “At Money magazine, I had a desk on the news floor. I’m a hands-on editor. I prefer where I’m sitting.”
According to a George source, when the senior staff of George magazine was called to a meeting with Hachette Filipacchi Magazines chief executive Jack Kliger midday on Nov. 29, the new editor, with his bushy mustache, was sprung on them. The reaction? “Oh my God, what’s Frank Lalli doing sitting there?” one editor was overheard saying.
So what was Mr. Lalli doing there? “[Mr. Kliger] wanted a magazine maker. That’s what I am.”
Mr. Lalli, 57, has a long history as a “magazine maker.” He ran Money magazine from 1989 through 1997, and had worked for the New York Daily News , House & Home , Forbes and New West –the latter under Clay Felker, a pioneer of reader-oriented service journalism. It was while working for Mr. Felker 23 years ago that he met an ad salesman for The Village Voice named Jack Kliger. He said they’d been friends ever since.
“I first started talking to Jack in the summer,” Mr. Lalli said. That was shortly after Mr. Kliger took over for David Pecker, but before Kennedy died. By then, Mr. Kliger had pretty much decided to end Hachette’s relationship with George. That was fine with Kennedy, who had already begun trying to find new investors, according to a publishing executive familiar with Kennedy’s plans at the time.
Mr. Lalli said his conversations with Mr. Kliger had nothing to do with George. “I was talking about another start-up and some other roles I might be able to play at Hachette,” he said.
Mr. Kennedy was killed in a plane crash on July 16. Soon after, Hachette decided to keep the magazine alive, but wanted to buy the shares Kennedy had controlled from his heirs. Meanwhile, they were looking for a new editor.
Just after Labor Day, Mr. Kliger and Hachette editorial director Jean-Louis Ginibre met with Newsweek ‘s Jonathan Alter. Mr. Alter wrote an edit plan and they talked salary, but by October Mr. Alter had decided to stay put. The whole thing got messy when Mr. Alter told the press he’d been offered the job and Hachette denied it. Hachette became gun-shy about who they talked to next. They wanted someone who wanted the job, not someone they’d woo and who might reject them at the last minute, said a source familiar with Mr. Kliger’s thinking. They didn’t want another Alter-esque blow-up, especially while they were still negotiating to buy the magazine from the Kennedy family.
The deal went through on Oct. 27, while the search for an editor continued. Candidates were impressed with Hachette’s commitment to producing the magazine for at least two more years. Nonetheless, Newsweek international editions editor Michael Elliott also turned them down.
Re-enter Mr. Lalli. “After Jack and Hachette bought the magazine from the Kennedys, Jack called me up and said, ‘I have another idea for you,'” said Mr. Lalli. Mr. Lalli said he hadn’t read the magazine particularly closely, but he took home a stack over a weekend. “I got back to Jack and said, I’m interested in this … I find myself, my background and outlook on life compatible with what John Kennedy was trying to do: to help people understand who the public figures are in this country who have real political clout, and how are they using it to either serve the public or disserve it.”
Sounding very much like his mentor, Mr. Felker, he said, “If you want to get this magazine down to two words, what we’re doing is ‘power people.'”
At Money, Mr. Lalli took a nearly crusading attitude toward his job and his readers, even testifying before Congress on issues affecting their financial well-being. His editorials had titles like, “Congress aims at lawyers and ends up shooting small investors in the back” and “What we ought to remember about the Oklahoma bombing is the heroism, not the terrorism.” He said he persuaded President Clinton to veto a securities law. “I wrote five editorials that changed public policy,” he said. He expects to do the same at George .
His fellow editors at Time Inc. said, however, it was that earnest spirit that ultimately doomed him in 1994, with the arrival of Norman Pearlstine. Mr. Pearlstine was looking for a magazine with an edge, and that’s not what Mr. Lalli was about. He had been gunning for Mr. Lalli’s Money for years and, in fact, is said to have started Smart Money while he was at The Wall Street Journal to exploit what he saw as its failings.
In 1997, Mr. Pearlstine booted him upstairs in Time Inc., after writing an editorial in Money praising him for his defense of the American consumer. Mr. Lalli stuck around until the next year. One theory has it Mr. Pearlstine didn’t want the embarrassment of firing Mr. Lalli while he was president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, particularly as Mr. Lalli was doing earnest, do-good things like fighting Chrysler’s attempt to get pre-approval of articles in magazines in which it advertised.
At Money, Mr. Lalli adopted the motto “Our Readers Above All,” and had it mounted in brass near the office’s entrance. So expect George’s can-do American spirit to continue, unfettered by irony.
Will Hachette, which has had a reputation for mingling church and state, leave Mr. Lalli and his Dudley Do-Right tendencies alone? Mr. Lalli said he’s not worried. “That was one regime and this is another regime,” he said. “We won’t have problems in that area.”
The New York Post crew bid farewell to Jeane MacIntosh, Richard Johnson’s No. 2 reporter at Page Six, on Nov. 29 at Langan’s on West 47th Street. Ms. MacIntosh is moving to Chicago to be with her fiancée and serve as the paper’s Midwest correspondent. Earlier that day, Mr. Johnson hired her replacement, Paula Froelich, who’ll be coming from Dow Jones Newswires. Previous gig: Derivatives Week .
The main advantage to covering gossip as opposed to derivatives? “I’m so psyched,” said Ms. Froelich, “because I’ll know who the blind items are. Oh, my God, it’s fabulous.”
Editors Kurt Andersen and Michael Hirschorn have hired Variety news editor Chris Petrikin for their planned Insidedope.com Web site. Mr. Petrikin rose quickly at Variety : He started as editor Peter Bart’s assistant five years ago and ended up covering the movie studios. He joins Craig Marks, who will oversee music industry coverage, and Lorne Manly, who oversees media coverage. Asked about the latest hire, Mr. Hirschorn continued acting as if he’s involved in some top-secret mission, saying, “I just can’t comment in any fashion.”
For the last few months, Out president and editorial director Henry Scott has been trying to organize a “management buyout” of the troubled lesbian and gay monthly. According to a publisher he approached, the deal was structured so that a new investor would be found and he would remain in charge. Such a deal would bail out Robert Hardman, Out Publishing Inc.’s chairman, owner and chief benefactor over the years.
But that plan did not work out, and now Mr. Scott has left the magazine.
Mr. Scott, who had previously worked as a marketing executive for The New York Times and as an editor at The Hartford Courant , became president at Out after the departure of its founder, Michael Goff, in 1996. By most accounts, he cut costs and raised ad revenue. In January 1998, he oversaw a radical shift in the magazine’s editorial direction. He threw out editor Sarah Pettit and replaced her with a flashy British fellow, James Collard. Mr. Collard lasted about a year, then left mysteriously. Next, Mr. Scott himself took over as editorial director.
Circulation fell to 115,000 by the most recent audit in June 30, 1999, down from a high of 134,700 in 1997, the final year of Ms. Pettit’s tenure. Out ‘s competitor, The Advocate , has 83,000 paying readers.
One publisher the magazine approached about buying Out said the magazine was about $5 million in debt. That fact, combined with the proposed deal’s stipulation that Mr. Scott would remain in charge, blocked the deal.
When reached at home, Mr. Scott refused to comment. But in an e-mail sent out to friends and business acquaintances, he wrote of his Out days: “It was a tenure marked by more than its fair share of problems and controversies, the latter of which I admit to sometimes creating and always reveling in.” He also said he’s writing a book and will be consulting at Out and Nest , an interior decorating magazine.
Steve Pippin, the magazine’s executive vice president and general manager, will now serve as Out ‘s president. Executive editor Tom Beer will oversee the editorial side for the time being.
Out spokesman Alberto Rojas said “several parties” are looking at the magazine. “We’ll hopefully close a deal in the new year,” he said. He refused to comment on the magazine’s debt or who the suitors are.