Chaos theory states that it’s possible for the tiny air disturbance caused by a butterfly flapping its wings in Topeka to cause a tsunami in Tokyo. Could a trifle such as the Calendar Boy page in Vanity Fair change freelance policy for the whole of Time Inc.?
This is how chaos theory works at Time Inc.:
Last December, Vanity Fair had plans to introduce a new calendar page in its back of the book Fanfair section. They approached Jim Mullen, who writes the Hot Sheet page for Entertainment Weekly . Mr. Mullen needed approval to accept a freelance assignment, so he went to E.W. ‘s managing editor Jim Seymore.
“He said, ‘No, that’s competition,’” according to Mr. Mullen.
Vanity Fair still needed someone to do the page, so the next call went to Joel Stein, Time ‘s hairy-legged edgy columnist. Mr. Stein also had to check with his boss, in this case, Time managing editor Walter Isaacson, who also didn’t like the idea of a star of his writing for Vanity Fair , even if Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter is a pal. Mr. Isaacson told Mr. Stein no.
Mr. Carter, though, persisted and made an agreement allowing Mr. Stein to write for three issues of Vanity Fair , beginning with the March issue.
But when the magazine appeared on the stands, the page ran without Mr. Stein’s byline, using instead the pseudonym, “Calendar Boy.” This led the Village Voice , believing it was onto something, to run a column on March 1 stoking speculation on the true identity of Calendar Boy. Two days later, The New York Post ‘s Keith Kelly fingered Joel Stein.
Somewhere, Jim Mullen blew. He was not pleased to learn that a big Vanity Fair assignment so close to his grasp went to another Time Inc. employee after he had been forbidden using the “competition” argument. Mr. Mullen went back to his boss, Jim Seymore to complain. Not pleased to be the bad cop in the Time Inc. family, Mr. Seymore then complained to Mr. Isaacson; one E.W. editor used the word “ballistic” to describe Mr. Seymore’s presentation. Neither Mr. Isaacson nor Mr. Seymore had any comment.
Cut to: 21 West 52nd Street, March 13. As it happened, the managing editors of Time , Entertainment Weekly, People , Fortune , and Sports Illustrated were scheduled to have a summit lunch together, along with Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine and editorial director Henry Muller.
So there they were, all the big shots of the entire Time magazine empire at “21″ that Monday and the editors’ discussion turned to, of all things, Calendar Boy. “Jim was upset that he had said no to his guy,” Mr. Muller told Off the Record, “and it turned out that it went to another Time Inc. writer.”
The rest of the lunch conversation turned to freelance policy. “At the end of the lunch Norm asked me to draft a policy that reflected the views expressed,” said Mr. Muller. Mr. Muller said that if he wasn’t consumed with finding slots for Life staffers now out of work, the policy would be done, but, he said, he’ll have it done by the end of April.
Back at Vanity Fair , they’re keeping the decision on whether they’ll keep the identity of Mr. Stein’s successor, who’ll debut for the June issue, under wraps.
What exactly is behind The New York Times Sunday Styles section’s fascination with teenagers and sex? The latest: April 2, a lead story, “The Face of Teenage Sex Grows Younger.”
In between the grave, clinical pronouncements of uptown shrinks about the crisis of promiscuity facing the under 17s, Anne Jarrell fit in plenty of naughty bits such as, “groups of seventh and eighth graders rent limousines to take them to clubs in Manhattan, where they get drunk, grind on the dance floor and have oral sex in dim corners.”
But Ms. Jarrell’s investigation is just the latest. Last February, Monique P. Yazigi’s “A Sweet-16-Going-On-25 Party” was illustrated with a photo of two 16-year-old “vixens,” as the caption put it, shimmying on dance floor. This January, Ms. Yazigi reported from Ted Field’s New Year’s Eve party at Studio 54 that the 47-year-old was surrounded by underage women. “At 2 A.M.,” Ms. Yazigi wrote, “he and two young women formed a sandwich, one rubbing up from behind him and another, in a black halter top, wiggling in front of him.”
Next on The Times meets American Beauty beat came Rick Marin. Soon after Ms. Yazigi discovered the Sweet 16 Vixens, Mr. Marin reported that teen movies like American Pie, Cruel Intentions, and The Rage: Carrie 2 , had “become so sexually explicit (in language, if not nudity), so slutty (in male and female promiscuity), that they’re like soft-core porn.”
Up next: fashion writer Ginia Bellafante, who last fall reported on a collection for teen girls called “Heavenly Harlot” under the headline “When Women Dress Girlish and Girls Dress Sultry.”
Styles editor Trip Gabriel said, “I guess I’m surprised to hear you say it comes up at all.” Of the most recent look at teenage sex–which looked a lot like Lucinda Franks’ story on teenage sex for Talk last month–Mr. Gabriel said, “The phenomenon is a legitimate topic for journalism,” emphasizing the number of doctors, psychologists, and school administrators spoken with.
Every year Red Herring includes a spoof article in its April issue in honor of April Fool’s Day. This year, the magazine published a feature about a concocted Silicon Valley literary magazine called Slam .
According to the technology magazine’s little bit of fiction, a video games designer who can’t get published in Grand Street and Ploughshares and his wife, who flacks for Internet startups, are planning to start their magazine using poetry and art submissions from programmers and venture capitalists.
Apparently, the possibility that “Silicon Valley could become a mecca for the arts the way Florence was in the Renaissance,” as one of the fictional founders put it, touched a nerve in the soulless Internet economy. Since the issue hit newsstands, Bonnie Azab Powell, who wrote the bogus piece, has been sent quite a few e-mails looking to get in touch with the non-existent editors and requests for information on how to get subscriptions.
One New York City lawyer who has venture capital and e-commerce clients sent Ms. Powell his own poetry submission, which we hope was his own parody. Titled “All Things Being Equity,” it includes stanzas such as, “‘.’ The new master / of the universe. / Sometimes we click / with the value-added / where seeds / are more like magic beans.” and “The bottom line / is at the bottom of the list /as unregistered, restricted, / locked-up millionaires / wait to piggyback on piggybackers, / or to just tag-along. / Taking it e-asy? / iWish.”
In years past, Red Herring has written about fictional companies that have provoked anger when folks found out it was a prank. For instance, after they wrote about a product that would allow people to send e-mail messages telepathically, Ms. Powell said the magazine got inquiries from Sylvester Stallone’s wife, Jennifer Flavin, who was interested in the technology for their autistic son.
The wrath of duped readers aside, Ms. Powell said the little April Fool’s exercise helps the technology writers let off steam: “When you’re inundated with as many press releases as we are, it’s hard not to satirize them.”
Follow Gabriel Snyder via RSS.