When New York Post news feature editor Vicky Ward quit on April 21 to be Talk ‘s executive editor, staff members left behind began sniping about their former boss to media columnists: They dredged up the “Mental Ward” nickname for her features department; some told New York magazine that Ms. Ward rewrote, yelled, over-assigned; an aggrieved former staff member told Salon.com, “She’s immune to human suffering, given how much she causes.”
Then four Post feature writers, Leah Ginsberg, Jared Paul Stern, Hallie Levine and Maria Fernandez, signed a letter protesting New York ‘s rough treatment of Ms. Ward. “She is certainly one of the most open-minded, generous, straightforward and intelligent women with whom we have had the opportunity to work,” they wrote.
Of course Ms. Ward is also now a big-time magazine editor who can pay her old reporters $2 a word. And Post feature writers are griping because, they say, Post editor in chief Xana (pronounced “Shana”) Antunes won’t let them work with Ms. Ward.
Sources at the Post say that Ms. Antunes, smarting from Ms. Ward’s departure, is making sure that Ms. Ward doesn’t lure any of her features writers away. After all, it was Ms. Antunes who, over the objections of some other editors at the Post , moved Ms. Ward into the newly created news features slot just a month before she decamped for Talk .
“There’s some bitterness going on over Vicky,” said a Post editor.
Part of that bitterness is derived from the fact that Ms. Antunes first introduced Ms. Ward to Talk ‘s editor in chief Tina Brown late last year. According to Post staff members, Ms. Antunes had asked Ms. Ward to tag along to a lunch with Ms. Brown.
The view at the Post is that hiring Ms. Ward was a low blow. “It was the gracelessness with which Tina did it. There’s still some scars left over on the editorial side,” said an editor.
Said another: “I don’t think Tina will be invited back.”
Signs of a chilly relationship between Talk and the Post showed up last week on several fronts. At Talk , Ms. Ward secured an interview with Padma Lakshmi, the cookbook author and very good friend of Salman Rushdie. She approached Post writer Hallie Levine, about taking the assignment. Within a day, however, Ms. Antunes intervened and nixed the deal. Ms. Antunes is also keeping another feature writer, Allen Salkin, tethered to the newsroom. Mr. Salkin recently requested to go on sabbatical to work on book proposals this summer, but was turned down.
Both Ms. Levine and Mr. Salkin had no comment.
Of course, Ms. Antunes may have reason to worry about protecting her staff. A string of Post staff members has reportedly made calls to Ms. Ward, and Jared Paul Stern, whose column in the Post Ms. Ward once edited, has paid a visit to her new offices, Talk sources said. But for some Post writers, the perceived crackdown on freelancing is pretty tough to take.
“When someone you know who might be able to help you,” said one Post writer, “and for this obstacle to be thrown in front of them … It’s not fair.”
Unhappily for Ms. Antunes, the freelance disappointments come at a time when the Post features department is stretched thin. John O’Mahony has been handling the entirety of news features since Ms. Ward’s departure. And staff dissatisfaction is running high. “The Post is not heaven,” said one writer. “The fucking bathrooms are disgusting and there’s no free coffee.”
Particularly for feature writers, the Post has long been a springboard publication rather than a place where young writers grow old. “Unless you’re moving up the edit track,” said a features staff member, “I suspect some people don’t come here with the idea of finishing their career here.” Ms. Antunes did not return calls.
Two months into her new job as editor in chief of Mademoiselle , Mandi Norwood’s plans to revamp the 64-year-old young women’s magazine are underway. Of course, as her former employer British Cosmopolitan forced her to work out the six months remaining on her contract when Condé Nast hired her back in September, Ms. Norwood has had plenty of time to work on her plans, which are scheduled to make their debut in the August issue.
Ms. Norwood, the 36-year-old editor who mastered the “girls and orgasms” Cosmo formula prior to taking up shop at 4 Times Square, said the focus of her Mademoiselle will be the irresponsible years right after college before stuff like career, kids and marriage kicks in. She’s coined a term for it, for which Tom Wolfe may want a small cut: the “Me Years.”
Writing to freelancers looking for story pitches early this month, a Mademoiselle editor summed up the thinking this way: “The basic gist of Mlle as of the August issue is this: It’s all about what we think of as the ‘Me Years,’ when you have a lot of freedom, your life is revolving around yourself, having fun and figuring out what you want; you’re not yet jaded and cynical (think back!), but experiencing a lot of stuff for the first time (first big paycheck, first designer outfit, first “true love,” whatever). You’re not tied down to any one person, place or job, but rather have a lot of life possibilities. So, basically, you’re most likely in your twenties, not married, no kids and having fun. Given that this is a rather blissfully self-obsessed stage of life, before you have to worry about taking a husband’s or baby’s needs into account, etc., the stories will be rather ‘Me’-obsessed, too.”
On the phone with us, Ms. Norwood was a bit more circumspect. “I’m really harnessing all the wonderful celebratory aspects of being a young woman and putting them on the pages of a magazine.” The sex, she says, will be toned down. “I feel slightly irritated by the fact that because I’ve done Cosmo everybody thinks I can only do Cosmo ,” she said. “You know, I mean, sex is a very important part of a young woman’s life, but then other areas are as important and it’s those areas that I want to focus as much on.” In fact, the guide for freelancers describes the sex coverage this way: “tender relationship stories and sex stories that aren’t Cosmo -y and graphic; more psychological.” There will, however be a section called, ” Mademoiselle Mad About Men.”
The tone of Ms. Norwood’s Mademoiselle will be positive. Freelancers are advised, “This is important-we’re looking for a positive angle on things. So, if, say, lots of women are feeling lonely, then we would turn that into a story about the cutting-edge trend of loneliness, and make the thrust more newsy and positive rather than doing a servicey thing about overcoming loneliness, you know?” In another example, the health section has a “no diseases” stricture and no features on “horrors committed in other countries.”
The new section that Ms. Norwood said she is most excited about is a regular feature, called “Planet Mademoiselle ,” several pages dedicated to a lifestyle story, “sort of a celebration,” Ms. Norwood said, “of the different aspects of being a young woman.” The letter to prospective writers gives this example: “adult women having sleepover parties.”
Mademoiselle ‘s new editor has this advice for freelancers: “The more you can package your ideas, the better. For instance, pitching a story about women going through sexual dry spells will interest Mandi (our new editor in chief), but not as much as coining a name for the phenomenon and pitching it as ‘The Accidental Virgin’”-which happens to be the title of the latest tome from former Mademoiselle articles editor Valerie Frankel, which is being published online by Usatoday.com.
Ms. Norwood’s Mademoiselle , especially her focus on women in their 20′s and her emphasis on the “cheeky,” sounds similar to Jane Pratt’s Jane , which is published by Fairchild, now a division of Condé Nast’s owner Advance Publications. Ms. Norwood said that her ideas, however, are all her own. “Despite the fact that Condé Nast is actually corner to corner with other people’s magazines, I’ve actually not looked at any other magazine while I’ve been here,” she said. “To be honest with you I haven’t gone walkabout at all. The furthest I walk is to the Condé Nast cafeteria.” She said she goes to “peruse” the cookies.
Inside.com, Kurt Andersen and Michael Hirschorn’s entertainment and media industry news Web site, went live promptly at 3 p.m. on Wednesday May 10. What’s on the site now is what’s known in the Internet biz as a “soft launch”-the digital equivalent of playing the Shubert in New Haven before hitting Broadway. We’ll withhold our comments until the official opening.
That said, congratulations are in order for Inside.com’s news editor Jared Hohlt and product director Jake Freeman. The two staff members tied in the office pool predicting how soon the news that Inside.com was fully operational would appear on Jim Romenesko’s Medianews.org, a site that collects stray bits of media gossip from around the Web.
Though Mr. Andersen and Mr. Hirschorn had been hyping the site for weeks, the exact day and time it would go up was never announced. Both Mr. Hohlt and Mr. Freeman bet that it would take Mr. Romenesko 30 minutes to hear about it. The actual time from Inside.com’s launch to Medianews.org was 34 minutes. For their $1 bets, the two split a $16 kitty.
Malcolm Forbes Sr. used to throw a hell of a party. Once his son Steve, the presidential candidate, took over Forbes though, those corporate events seemed, well, kind of drab. Nevertheless, Mr. Forbes may have figured out a way to give the breakfast of the year for the C.E.O.’s of New York area advertisers at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, May 22: Hosting the event and addressing the executives will be Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, along with Cristyne Lategano.
Mr. Giuliani’s wife, Donna Hanover, fingered Ms. Lategano on May 10 as the “one staff member” who ruined the Giulianis’ marriage. Both Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Lategano have vociferously denied having an affair.
One might ask, has the Mayor bowed out at the last minute? According to a Forbes Inc. staff member, as of press time, both Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Lategano were scheduled to attend.
No one returned calls for comment.
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