Apparently the New Guy at The Post Doesn’t Get the Joke

The staff of the New York Post had a gift for Col Allan on his first day on the job as editor in chief of the tabloid. At the news meeting on April 30, they presented him with an elaborate pedestal sink, in honor of the most memorable detail they’d gleaned about their new boss: At least at one point in time, he had a habit of peeing in the newsroom sink.

The joke didn’t kill, but then again, no one got fired. According to several Post staffers, the one-liner going around the newsroom afterwards was that the editor who tried to expense the sink–it was of the neoclassical variety you might expect to see in the pages of House & Garden –was going to have his expense report rejected by Mr. Allan.

But the gift-sink gag seems to have been the last bit of levity at the Post since Mr. Allan arrived. Staffers report that the atmosphere has been tense in the newsroom recently, partly because the new boss is a mystery, and all the Post crew has to go on is the gossipy profile published by an Australian Web site, Crikey.com.au.

Mr. Allan declined to be interviewed, but staffers said that so far, the new editor in chief hasn’t made any changes at the paper. “He’s mostly just observing,” said one source. Another staffer said that there was plenty of cozying up to the new guy going on. “The amount of ass-kissing is unbelievable,” the staffer said. “They run after him like little children. And when he laughs, they laugh. When he doesn’t laugh, they don’t laugh.”

How far has the brown-nosing gone? On Wednesday, May 2, a denizen of Langan’s–the unofficial Post watering hole on West 47th Street–spotted Mr. Allan having a drink after Thursday morning’s paper had supposedly been put to bed. At around 8 p.m., Post managing editors Stuart Marques and Joe Robinowitz barged in to present their boss with a brand-new front page with breaking news. Such hand-delivery is rare at the Post ; then again, everyone’s looking to get on Mr. Allan’s good side.

Alas, Mr. Allan told the two eager-to-please editors not to bother with the change. He went with what was already on the wood: “HER NUMBER’S UP,” the story of a lottery-ball girl who was fired after just three appearances.

What was Steven Brill thinking? At the April 2 news conference announcing Brill Media Holdings’ acquisition of Inside.com parent Powerful Media, Mr. Brill went out of his way to praise the magazine Kurt Andersen and Michael Hirschorn had produced, even to the point of slagging his own, much preachier media magazine, Brill’s Content .

“I read Inside magazine and saw they were filling a hole that, frankly, we were not filling,” Mr. Brill told the three dozen or so reporters in attendance, “and it made me eager to do the deal. Most of what we see has a business element to it, and we need to cover that, and we will cover it.”

David Kuhn, editor in chief of Brill’s Content , chirped up, too. “Since I have been doing the magazine,” he said, “the thing that has been more clear to me is that we needed to be stronger in things that Inside was so strong in.”

So they announced that Brill’s Content would be folded and arise as a brand-new magazine focusing more on the business of media and entertainment, dubbed Inside Content .

One month and two days later, Mr. Brill issued a press release announcing, in effect, “Remember that whole Inside Content thing? We were just kidding.”

Mr. Brill’s statement read: “Launching any new magazine in this economic environment doesn’t make sense; what makes much more sense is to take the magazine we already have that has a clear, important editorial mission and a loyal readership and put it immediately on firm economic footing, which is exactly what we are doing.”

According to the press release, the new plan is for Inside Content never to see the light of day and for Brill’s Content to go from a monthly schedule to a quarterly one–and, of course, there are more layoffs, too.

So, we asked Mr. Brill, was what you said at the Palace Hotel wrong, or was this the plan all along?

He responded in an e-mail (Mr. Brill did not accept an offer for a telephone interview): “No it was not the plan all along. I just felt that I was risking our strong base of subscribers–who are renewing at rates of 70 percent–at a time when changing and risking that base looked increasingly worse by the week.”

He did not say what exactly made that proposition worse by the week. But if Mr. Brill sticks to this version of his plans, what is clear is that he is moving out of the magazine publishing business. Whatever he gains in cost effectiveness in going to

a quarterly–Mr. Brill says the formerly unprofitable magazine will now break even–he loses in relevance.

Now that the dust has settled–at least for the moment–it’s worth taking a look at just who’s left at Brill’s Content and Inside.com. On May 4, Mr. Brill fired four more people, all formerly of Brill’s Content : staff writer Stefani Lako Baldwin, production manager Laura Brahm and two fact-checkers, Emily Chenoweth and Anna Schneider-Mayerson. In addition, the executive editor of Brillscontent.com, Heather Maher, was also let go, although she was not part of this new round of layoffs.

This means that, of the 45 names listed on the most recent Brill’s Content masthead (not counting contributors like Newt Gingrich and Ralph Nader), only 21 people remain. At Inside , out of an editorial staff of 63 (that’s not counting contributors, technical staff and the four employees farmed out to various Primedia publications), just 25 people remain.

Those 46 survivors, less than half the combined staff of the two publications, were called to a general meeting on May 4, where Mr. Brill explained the changes at the nascent Brill-Inside experiment–a departure from April 2, when the Brill’s Content staff was never formally told the merger news, even as the press conference was underway. In another departure, at the end of his speech Mr. Brill asked if there were any questions. No one raised their hands. Mr. Brill said (to paraphrase how several of those present remembered it): “Nobody has any questions?” He paused. “Because I’ve got time to sit here and talk–I don’t have a ball game to catch today.”

But of course. The Yankees–whose season opener Mr. Brill had taken in on April 2, the day the ax fell the first time–were playing in Baltimore that night.

Last week, Off the Record reported that Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris–two of Al Gore’s least favorite people–had a chance to chat at April 28’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, D.C. Both were guests at the table for the magazine Business Week . But at the time, we didn’t know what they said.

Turns out that the woman sitting between them was Maria Recio, a reporter in the D.C. bureau for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Ms. Recio got the plum seat because she also happens to be married to the Business Week Washington bureau chief, Lee Walczak.

Ms. Recio told us that the passionate discussion Ms. Harris and Mr. Nader held over the appetizer was about (what else?) Florida.

“He thought there were irregularities in the vote count,” Ms. Recio said, and Ms. Harris agreed. Mr. Nader then moved the conversation on to how Ms. Harris was handling her instant-celebrity status. “She said her family is prominent [in Florida], but that they are just low-key and they’ve never been seeking attention.” Ms. Harris spoke about being recognized at the supermarket. Some people, Ms. Harris said, told her she looked different in person, to which Ms. Harris would tell them, “I’m not wearing my makeup.”

Ms. Recio said of Ms. Harris that night: “She didn’t have all that much makeup–and I was looking.”

Later, the two returned to the subject of the Presidential election. Ms. Harris declared, “People blamed me for the election!” as she brought her hand over her heart.

“More people blamed me!” Mr. Nader insisted, taking credit for keeping Mr. Gore out of the White House and matching her indignant gesture.

“More people blamed me !” Ms. Harris responded.

Footnotes to history, you soo-oo crazy!

When Keith Harris, a music editor at alt-weekly City Pages in Minnesota, took a job working for Blender, Maxim publisher Felix Dennis’ shot over Jann Wenner’s bow, he wrote in his farewell column: “This was a totally unexpected assignment, and it was also too exciting an opportunity to pass up–it might be hard to envision, but editing some 200 CD reviews a month is actually a dream job for a dork like me.”

So much for that. Mr. Harris’ goodbye missive in City Pages was dated Feb. 28, 2001. After a hectic few weeks producing the premier issue, Mr. Harris and Blender editor in chief Andy Pemberton thought it was best to part company on April 23, just days after the first issue closed.

Mr. Harris, reached at his Brooklyn apartment, called the departure a “mutual” decision. So did Mr. Pemberton. “He wasn’t quite right for the magazine,” Mr. Pemberton said. Mr. Harris declined further comment on the matter.

But those close to the magazine–very few are at the magazine; Mr. Harris was part of an in-house editorial staff of four–said that Mr. Harris seemed tense and pressured during the frantic close of the first issue, discovering that his dream job was not all he had thought it would be.

“He had no idea what he was getting into,” said one of Mr. Harris’ reviewers.

Rock ‘n’ roll, baby.