Big Media Layoffs Jolt CNN, Murdoch From Dot-Com Daze

The most surprising part of the news that CNN was planning to lay off 500 to 1,000 employees–its 750-person interactive division taking the brunt of the cut–was not the layoffs themselves. Considering that the AOL-Time Warner merger was approved just the day before, a newly merged company shedding jobs is not all that rare.

No, the most surprising thing about the layoff news was that CNN employs 750 people in its Internet efforts–nearly a fifth of the entire news organization dedicated to the upkeep of an medium that, except in very rare instances, can’t make a dime.

What could Ted Turner have possibly been thinking in bringing all of those Web producers, editors and reporters dedicated solely to CNN.com on board?

Mr. Turner was thinking the exact same thing that The New York Times ‘ publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and NBC president Bob Wright were thinking, as well as–very grudgingly–News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch: There was a new medium out there, and if they didn’t grab a chunk of the new territory, some 22-year-old kid with $50 million in venture-capital backing to play with would. The media titans were afraid, very afraid. A millennial-sounding Mr. Sulzberger asked his employees just last fall: “Are we a company that venerates the past or are we one that invents the future?”

Well, who knows now, Pinch?

The monsoons of wealth blowing through the Internet have long since abated. Mr. Sulzberger has given up the idea that New York Times Digital will some day wash the family business anew in a river of I.P.O. gold. After filing to sell tracking shares for the Internet division in January last year, Times Digital withdrew its registration in October.

By all accounts, though, Mr. Sulzberger remains confident that the Internet is the medium of the future, and he is helping his company transform itself. Except now he’s decided that the revolution can be fought with fewer people; 70 were laid off from Times Digital on Jan. 7.

Those casualties, it should be noted, were the byproduct of the pre-I.P.O. fattening up Times Digital had undergone to make it look like a mature company for the Wall Street suitors. Though it’s small condolence to those who are starting out 2001 unemployed, when Times Digital shelved the tracking stock plan, it needed to shed jobs.

The Times is still in the Internet arena. The same can’t quite be said for News Corp. When it comes to deciding whether to be on the Internet or not, the question in the executive suites at News Corp. is “Why should we be on the Web?” So far, Mr. Murdoch–who has made his career out of overturning media mores in order to make a buck–isn’t finding many reasons to take part in the Information Revolution.

Last summer, according to the Financial Times , News Corp. executives made the decision to pull out of the Internet–reversing decisions to get into the Internet barely a year before. With a wobbly credit rating stemming from a brush with bankruptcy in the early 1990′s and dreams of a $40 billion acquisition of satellite broadcaster DirecTV, News Corp. is squeezing every budget for extra cash.

To that end, shortly before Christmas News Corp. instituted a hiring freeze in every division, and most recently it dissolved its Internet division, News Digital Media, which was the holding pen for the company’s Web properties. About 200 people in the division are likely to get pink slips.

A News Corp. source said that the company still considers the Internet a major part of its news operation, saying that the changes and cutbacks are designed to improve efficiency among the company’s respective operations as much as profitability. The source noted that similar cuts have taken place at other news network operations.

But the heart of the problem, the source said, is that major news operations, like their small-time competitors, have yet to find a way to make a decent buck through the Web. “The present advertising-revenue model on the Web is not generating the income which networks were hoping to achieve,” the source said.

Of course, plenty of suckers probably went broke after the novelty of watching short reels of dogs punching bags and trains going through tunnels wore off. But anyone who thought there was nothing more to the movies turned out to be an idiot, too. Now, nobody wants to be the Internet’s fool.

We got O . We’re getting Rosie . Is Tiger next?

Executives for Hearst Magazines–giddy with the success of O: The Oprah Magazine –are looking to follow up that hit with another mononymed celebrity title. Hearst insiders say the company is working up a magazine devoted to the life, words and wisdom of golfing sensation Eldrick (Tiger) Woods.

A Hearst spokesperson refused to confirm or deny the project–”We look at literally hundreds of proposals every year, including internally and people coming to us. The only time we talk about a new magazine is when we announce an intention to do a magazine,” he said–but Tiger makes perfect sense, when you think about it. Not only is Mr. Woods the finest golfer of his era, he is arguably the most popular athlete on the planet these days, pocketing tens of millions of dollars in endorsements every year. What’s more, his fame has already transcended his sport–your mom knows who Tiger Woods is–and at a mere 25 years of age, he has decades of earning potential left.

In fact, over the long term, Tiger could out-Oprah Oprah. With O , of course, Hearst has proven it can successfully theme an entire magazine around a single big personality. Starting out with an initial rate base of 500,000, O now boasts a circulation of more than 2 million. By many measures, it is the most financially successful magazine launch of all time.

And others are racing to get a piece of that action. Gruner & Jahr announced plans to relaunch languishing “Seven Sister” book McCall’s as Rosie’s: The Magazine, after the talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell. And then there is the Bannockburn, Ill.-based publisher H&S Media’s bid to launch a magazine centered around those lovable Full House twins, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.

The formula is that, by bringing star power in-house, a magazine can launch with a ready-made, loyal fan base and not have to rely on their celebrity wrangler to produce some fabulous cover subject month after month. Of course, the main variable in all of this is the relative star power of whoever you dub “editorial director.”

Mr. Woods is already a superstar in the magazine world. Editors from golf-specific to sporting to general-interest titles know that one of the easiest ways to goose their newsstand sales is to slap his picture on the cover.

Michael Caruso, editor in chief of Maximum Golf , was none too pleased to hear about the possible competition from Tiger .

“I think we’re already producing the best possible magazine for the Tiger Woods generation,” Mr. Caruso said. “I hope Tiger realizes that.”

A potential problem for Hearst, though, is Mr. Wood’s existing “playing editor” contract with Golf Digest , which grants the New York Times Company-published magazine the exclusive rights to any instructional articles carrying Mr. Woods’ byline.

Mr. Woods first signed on with Golf Digest in 1997 for three years. Earlier this month, Mr. Woods renewed the deal for unspecified “multiple years, with options to renew.” The deal also allows Golf Digest to use Mr. Woods’ likeness to market the magazine, a spokesperson for the magazine said.

Mr. Woods’ publicist said, “We do not know of any plans by Hearst to produce a Tiger Woods magazine.” Of course, sometimes the celebrity can be the last to know. With O, Hearst developed the magazine internally before showing it to Ms. Winfrey.

When Washington Post reporter Tim Page wrote on Tuesday, Jan. 16, that the three-year search for Kurt Masur’s replacement at the New York Philharmonic had ended–and that the orchestra had all but anointed American maestro Lorin Maazel–he also effectively ended The New York Times ‘ three-year monopoly on the major cultural story.

The Times insisted that The Post got it wrong, and planned to publish a piece on Wednesday, Jan. 17, stating that Mr. Maazel has not been installed in the Philharmonic. The Philharmonic, too, said no decision has been reached yet. Contacted in Washington, however, Mr. Page stood by his story.

Whatever the case, The Post piece had to sting at The Times , where cultural news in the city is practically considered a birthright, and institutions often spoon-feed news breaks to reporters knowing the stories will receive ample coverage. Until the piece by Mr. Page–a former Times reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for music criticism while at The Post in 1997– The Times had broken virtually all of the big news pertaining to the Philharmonic’s lengthy search. It was The Times which broke the news that Riccardo Muti had been chosen last April; the paper was also first to announce that the negotiations had been called off last July. The Times then reported that Mariss Jansons and Christoph Eschenbach were the next contenders, and that article had all the trappings of an official announcement.

Finally, on December 27, Times reporter Allan Kozinn confirmed the rumors that the 70-year-old Maazel had joined the list of candidates with the official endorsement of a quote by Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s executive director.

But then Mr. Page–who worked at The Times from 1982 to 1987 and Newsday from 1987 to 1995 before coming to The Post –delivered his stunning announcement on the cover of the Washington daily’s Style section.

Mr. Page, who quoted unnamed sources in his piece (he said he wasn’t able to contact the Philharmonic officially on Monday, Jan. 15, since it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday), acknowledged that his story was short on some details. But knowing firsthand The Times’ near-monopoly on Philharmonic news, he wanted it to get in print as soon as possible. “New York institutions have a tendency to gift-wrap their articles for The New York Times ,” Mr. Page said. “In other words, it’s not news until The New York Times gets it. I’d be working on a story and check up on it, and I’d find it written up in The Times the next day. I didn’t want to see that happen.” The Post story struck like a thunderbolt in the city’s musical community, but over on 43rd Street, Times bosses downplayed Mr. Page’s work.

“We tried following it up,” said culture editor John Darnton, “and we’re not being able to duplicate the story. We’re running a small piece tomorrow in the paper because this story aroused some interest, but from our point of view it looks like it’s still open.”

Asked whether he’d thought The Times had been scooped when he first read the Post story, Mr. Darnton answered coolly: “I always hold off judgment until I have been able to get a confirmation. I feel less badly when it turns out that the story may not be completely accurate. It sounded to me as if it was premature.”

The Philharmonic, too, wasn’t keen on the Post piece. The orchestra is currently touring in Spain, and the article caught Zarin Mehta, the Philharmonic’s executive director, and Eric Latzky, the public relations director, off-guard. “It’s speculative and incorrect,” said Mr. Latzky, reached on his cell phone in Spain. “Journalists have a right to write that, but it’s incorrect, and the insight in the negotiations were completely incorrect.” Mr. Mehta, reached on the same cell phone, added in his inimitable accent, “It’s disturbing when things are inaccurate. It has an impact on our day-to-day lives. I’m here talking to the press instead of listening to a concert.” Mr. Mehta also said that he had asked Mr. Page to retract his story.

But Mr. Page, while not gloating over his report, stood firm. “I’ll run a retraction the moment another candidate is nominated by the Philharmonic,” he said.

“For some organizations, ‘premature’ means it’s not in the hands of The New York Times ,” Mr. Page added. “If that’s your definition of premature, then that’s fine. But when the smoke clears, my sources tell me it will be Lorin Maazel.”

–Elisabeth Franck

On Jan. 20, the nation will marvel (assuming no wily protesters make a muck of things) at the peculiarly American miracle of the peaceful transfer of power. Let’s see if Men’s Journal can equal the feat.

So far, three editors have left Jann Wenner’s glossy abs ‘n’ adventure magazine following editor in chief Mark Bryant’s Dec. 18 resignation. Mr. Bryant’s replacement, Sid Evans, asked managing editor Dan Ferrara to resign so that, as is customary, Mr. Evans could hire his own No. 2, magazine sources said. Mr. Ferrara had no comment; Mr. Evans said the decision was mutual.

Also departing are articles editor Mark Adams and deputy editor Gillian Fassel. Both editors were hired by Mr. Bryant after he came to Men’s Journal last January. Sources at the magazine said that Mr. Adams wasn’t pleased to see Mr. Bryant leave after disagreements with Mr. Wenner about the direction of the men’s title. “I basically came in because I wanted to work with Mark,” said Mr. Adams, who once interned for Mr. Bryant at Outside magazine. “He left, and I just figured it was time to move on.” He will be working on several freelance editing and writing projects. Ms. Fassel is leaving to become the executive editor of the Hachette Filipacchi spin-off Elle Girl, where she’ll work for her “best friend” from college, Brandon Holley.

“I’m sad to see them go,” Mr. Evans said. “They’re both great editors.” Of Mr. Adams, he added, “He had been here about a year and was working on Mark Bryant’s agenda, and then to turn around and start on a new agenda–that was something he didn’t want to do.”

Mr. Evans said his “agenda” entailed “taking the magazine back to its roots, which in my mind is great journalism and great service.”

No replacements have been named for the three positions. However, Mr. Evans did ask Off the Record, “If you know of any good features editors, let me know.”

Off the Record also hears … The New York Times has hired Walt Bogdanich, currently a producer for CBS News’ 60 Minutes , as the enterprise editor for the business section, said Times investigations editor Stephen Engelberg. Mr. Bogdanich won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for an investigation into faulty testing at American medical laboratories for The Wall Street Journal . After joining ABC News in 1992, Mr. Bogdanich broke the story–before Lowell Bergman at 60 Minutes , in fact–about the ways tobacco companies manipulate the nicotine in cigarettes. That resulted in a $10 billion lawsuit filed by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds against the network. Mr. Bogdanich resigned in 1996 after ABC apologized to the companies in an out-of-court settlement, a settlement which Mr. Bogdanich refused to sign. He then moved on to CBS News.