On Monday, July 23, News Corporation chief executive Rupert Murdoch and Daily News editor Edward Kosner–field marshals in a Western Front-style New York City tabloid war–both visited Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to Katharine Graham, the late publisher of The Washington Post.
Mr. Kosner told a few News colleagues that while he was in D.C., he bumped into Mr. Murdoch outside Ms. Graham’s home, where a reception was held following her National Cathedral funeral. Mr. Kosner has known Mr. Murdoch for more than a decade, their relationship dating back to the 1980′s, when Mr. Kosner was editor of the then News Corp.-owned New York magazine.
But it was the first time the two men had seen each other since Mr. Murdoch had imported new editor Col Allan to take over the Post . There, on the sidewalk, Mr. Murdoch complimented Mr. Kosner. “You gave us quite a wake-up call,” he said.
Mr. Kosner thanked Mr. Murdoch and said, “We’ve all been working hard.”
A spokesman for the News , Ken Frydman, confirmed that the two men met in Washington but said Mr. Kosner had no further comment. A News Corp. spokesman refused to confirm or deny the details of Mr. Murdoch’s exchange.
So how has the Post answered this particular wake-up call? Most recently, by embracing the “Lizziemobile.” Vin Montuori, the Post ‘s vice president for marketing and promotions, said it was his department, and not anyone in the newsroom, that came up with the idea of giving away a black Mercedes S.U.V. just like the one Lizzie Grubman used to plow into 16 people.
After the contest stoked some controversy, Mr. Montuori said it was Mr. Allan who decided to move the shock-jock-style gimmick into his news pages.
“It was just something we did to entertain our readers, and that was all that went into it,” said Mr. Montuori, who is acting as the Post ‘s spokesman on all things Lizzie-related because the paper’s normal P.R. firm, Rubenstein & Associates, is also flacking for Ms. Grubman.
Farrah Weinstein, the same staffer who took the Mercedes ML55 out for a test drive for the July 18 issue, got the assignment to cruise the S.U.V.–emblazoned with New York Post logos, natch–through the Hamptons on July 28.
“There was some thought as to hiring a blonde Lizzie look-alike,” said a Post source. “That was seen as in poor taste.” But, the source added, “The Daily News would never think of something this brilliant!”
As transitions go, Howell Raines’ ascension to executive editor of The New York Times has been pretty smooth. The last major staff question was answered on Thursday, July 26, with the announcement of Gerald Boyd’s promotion to managing editor. Mr. Boyd’s move officially takes effect once Mr. Raines formally assumes the captain’s chair on Sept. 6.
But even The Times has its wrinkles to iron out. One such wrinkle arrived in early July, when John Montorio, an associate managing editor who served as a sort of features czar for The Times , took a job at the Los Angeles Times as deputy managing editor for features.
At The Times , Mr. Montorio had been the back-of-the-book guru responsible for introducing the Sunday Styles, Dining In/Dining Out and House & Home sections. He also helped birth The Times ‘ The City Sunday section.
And that made him something of a wanted man. This past December, Mr. Montorio was promoted to the A.M.E. title–a new job at the paper custom-made by executive editor Joe Lelyveld and managing editor Bill Keller–partly because his style sections were out of their “creation” phase and partly to prevent Mr. Montorio from hopping to the Los Angeles Times when the paper first came calling in December.
“Joe and Bill really bent over backwards to create a job that would satisfy me here creatively and challenge me,” Mr. Montorio said of the December offer, which he turned down.
But the decision to stay in New York ate at him. “I can’t deny that over the months, I thought fondly of Santa Monica and I though fondly of the offer, and to be perfectly honest with you, that it was a one-in-a-million journalistic opportunity that I had let by,” he said.
Mr. Montorio, who has already left The New York Times , will start at the Los Angeles Times at the end of August. He has a mandate to completely overhaul all of the paper’s feature sections. His title makes him the No. 3 editor at the paper, under Big Kahuna John Carroll and another former Times man, managing editor Dean Baquet.
So what changed between December and July? Said Mr. Montorio: “I know this sounds crazy, but you don’t tell destiny to get lost.”
Others at the paper were a bit less philosophical. “They named the next executive editor, that’s what changed,” said a Times source. “I don’t think John had any reason to think he wouldn’t come through the transition O.K. He had a meeting with Howell, and I think he gave him sort of general reassurances. It’s just a matter of suddenly he had this bird in the hand, and the bird in the bush looked a little less certain.”
What was making things less certain was Mr. Montorio’s relationship with Mr. Boyd. It was widely known at The Times that the two men didn’t get along, at least at one point in their careers. When Mr. Raines was named the next executive editor in May, it was expected that Mr. Boyd would be his managing editor–making him, among other things, Mr. Montorio’s boss.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the prospect of Gerald becoming managing editor made John a little uneasy,” said the Times source.
The tension between Mr. Boyd and Mr. Montorio began several years ago, the Times source said. Mr. Boyd’s wife, Robin Stone–formerly the deputy editor of the Living Section and now editor in chief of Essence.com–had been in the running in 1997 to be promoted to the daily’s Living Section editor. It was Mr. Montorio’s decision to make, and he passed her over. Ms. Stone left for Essence later that year.
“There’s bad blood because John didn’t give Gerald’s wife a job she wanted, and for a long period of time Gerald wouldn’t speak to him,” said a Times source.
Mr. Montorio acknowledged his past differences with Mr. Boyd but said it had nothing to do with his decision to go to Los Angeles.
“There was a time when there might have been a little chill in the air, but I never thought it was a big problem, either professionally or personally,” he said. “I think, in a very strange way, Gerald and I are very much alike. I think we place a high priority on honesty and loyalty, and there’s passion in what we do.”
Through a Times spokesman, Mr. Boyd said: “John has been a real friend for as long as I’ve been at The Times . We have worked together, socialized together, been in each other’s homes and shared many wonderful experiences together. Any other presentation of our relationship is wrong, and anyone who knows the two of us knows it.”
Nerve , one of a handful of dot-com-inspired print magazines that was supposed to lead to a cross-platform, screen-to-paper revolution, is getting out of the perfect-binding-and-insert business … at least for now.
Rufus Griscom, who started Nerve.com with Genevieve Field from their one-bedroom apartment in 1997, said the company decided to halt publication after the June/July issue and is relaunching the magazine next spring.
“Not unlike Details , we’re in a redesign, relaunch mode,” Mr. Griscom said, referring to the former Condé Nast boy toy that stopped publication in 2000 and then sprung back to life months later under Fairchild’s banner.
“The challenge is getting critical mass with advertisers,” Mr. Griscom said. “We’re in a risqué category.”
Mr. Griscom declined to elaborate on how the magazine will change, but did say, “I think we’re going to make it sexier and funnier, while keeping the literary ballast.”
Either way, Susan Dominus, former New York senior editor and editor in chief of Nerve , Episode 1, won’t be coming along for Mr. Griscom’s big ballast. Ms. Dominus recently accepted contributing-editor positions at New York and Glamour .
Traditionally, summer has been a time when monthly magazines find new ways to do even less work than they already do. But it seems that the staff of Maximum Golf –Rupert Murdoch’s swinging “I’m going to make this 15-foot birdie putt, then party all night to Sugar Ray while thinking about Anna Kournikova” magazine–has taken it to even further extremes.
“People are just sitting around,” one Maximum Golf source said. “They’re taking long lunches, coming in for a couple of hours, surfing the Web. It’s weird, because we’re just in limbo.”
That limbo officially began on July 17, when Lachlan Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer and his father’s heir apparent, told senior members of the magazine that the company was putting it up for sale. Then, last Tuesday, the younger Murdoch showed up in a conference room, his sleeves rolled up, a man ready to address the staff.
“Most everyone wanted to know if we were just going to get three weeks’ severance,” a source said. “They wanted something concrete.”
“We were hoping for some really good news or really bad news,” said another source.
Instead, according to Maximum Golf sources, Murdoch the Younger just gave them the “It’s not you, it’s us” speech. He told them that with the economy in a sorry state, they were just a bad fit for News Corp.’s core business. According to one source, Lachlan Murdoch spoke for 15 to 20 minutes, telling them they were “trying to sell it and was sorry he couldn’t say more.”
Next up was editor in chief Michael Caruso, the man who persuaded Murdoch the Elder to finance his rock ‘n’ roll links magazine only two years before. According to sources, Mr. Caruso said the staff would be paid until further notice and that there were up to five potential buyers.
“But he wouldn’t confirm that Dennis [Publishing] or Time Inc. were in the running,” said one source, referring to the magazine’s most mentioned potential suitors.
Thus, the newsroom at Maximum Golf has become a work-free zone. In fact, sources said, the September issue, which had closed the week of July 9, is being held at the printer, and all work on the October/November double issue has stopped entirely.
“Probably 10 percent was done,” one source said. “It’s really on hold.”
A spokesperson for Lachlan Murdoch didn’t return calls for comment. Mr. Caruso, for his part, politely declined to go into the matter. He did tell Off the Record that “we think the situation will get resolved really soon. Then we’ll plunge ahead.”