Before there was Rick Bragg and David Rohde on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, there were people like Sydney H. Schanberg-the man who defined an era of war reporting as a correspondent for The New York Times in 1970’s Cambodia, and who was portrayed by the actor Sam Waterston in the Academy Award–winning film The Killing Fields.
These days, however, Mr. Schanberg isn’t in a war zone, but working for Manhattan Media, the publisher of such weeklies as The West Side Spirit and Our Town.
“A big piece of me would love to be there,” Mr. Schanberg said in an interview the other day. “But another piece says, ‘It’s time for someone else to cover these wars.'”
In 1970, and then again from 1972-1975, Mr. Schanberg bore witness to one of the worst conflicts in human history, between the United States–supported Lon Nol government and the Communist forces of Pol Pot. When the latter took control of Phnom Penh in the spring of 1975 and the Americans withdrew, Mr. Schanberg was the last American reporter left. He was captured along with two other journalists, then saved by his Cambodian assistant, Dith Pran.
For his efforts, Mr. Schanberg would win a 1976 Pulitzer Prize, while his subsequent New York Times Magazine piece “The Death and Life of Dith Pran” would become the basis for The Killing Fields, Roland Jaffé’s 1984 film. “I’ve seen death,” Mr. Schanberg said. “Lots of it. And you never get used to it. Not really. You tell yourself things in order to function, but you’re going to break down. It just gets to be too much. Eventually, you need to find a room where you can sit alone and cry.” Afghanistan presents its own reporting problems, Mr. Schanberg said, far different than Cambodia-and maybe worse.
As The Times‘ New Delhi bureau chief from 1969 to 1972, he visited the rocky country, then ruled by King Mohammad Zahir Shah. He remembers markets where people sold handmade rifles, though they had already begun to copy AK-47’s. Forty- and 50-year-old American cars would move through the countryside carrying 25 people, he said. Families would war with one another in the vein of the Hatfields and McCoys, firing through slits in their compounds. On the Khyber Pass, he saw plaques of British units that once held forts there-ominous reminders, he said, of the country’s ability to handle those from foreign lands.
And yet, Mr. Schanberg still feels a desire to get into the action again, to get that particular jolt one feels having escaped gunfire or captors. “The adrenaline you feel afterwards makes you high,” Mr. Schanberg said. “It really does. Of course, there are times you’re scared and sick. But the intensity of feelings is so much, it’s almost like you’re drunk. It’s something no one likes to talk about.”
Since resigning from The Times in 1985 after his twice-weekly “New York” column was canceled, Mr. Schanberg hasn’t had the greatest luck with new projects. In 1986, he signed up with New York Newsday, only to see the paper closed by its new owners, Times-Mirror, in 1995. He joined up with the crime-reporting Web site APBNews.com, then watched it fold in June 2000. When the then publisher of Our Town, The Westsider, The Chelsea Clinton News, and the West Side Spirit, Tom Allon, led an internal buyout of the papers from James Finkelstein’s oft-troubled News Communications Inc. in August, he quickly brought Mr. Schanberg on board to develop a new weekly project-an investigative weekly focusing on state and city politics.
Once there, Mr. Schanberg began writing weekly columns. The two said they’ve begun interviewing reporters for the new paper and hope to launch by the end of this year. “It’s not a comedown,” Mr. Schanberg said. “It’s all what you make it. Reporting is my thing, and I don’t care where I do it. I have an ego, but my ego’s been fed enough. I don’t need any more applause.”
Marty Tolchin, Mr. Schanberg’s onetime Times colleague and current publisher and editor in chief of the Washington weekly The Hill, said this of Mr. Schanberg’s new gig: “If Syd’s doing it, it’ll be great. He’s courageous and smart as hell. He won’t take bullshit from anybody.” — Sridhar Pappu
As New York rebuilds, even Condé Nast can find a way to help. On Sept. 27, Glamour magazine cleaned out its fashion closet and held a yard sale featuring all the freebie beauty products and assorted swag that passes through a women’s-magazine office, along with gift certificates for things like manicures and massages. The business side of the magazine also convinced advertisers to donate dinners and makeovers to raise money for the American Red Cross’ disaster relief. All in all, the Condé Nast shoppers took in $22,000. “It felt really U.S.O.,” said one Glamour staffer. “Shopping for the cause, I suppose.”
When reached for comment, a Glamour spokeswoman was reluctant to talk about the sale. “We didn’t want to publicize what we were doing because we didn’t feel that it would be appropriate,” she said. “So many people wanted to do something, and this was something to do.” Fellow Condé Nast title Brides also sponsored a shop-for-the-cause sale of stuff they’d found in the office and stuff they’d convinced others to donate. Proceeds went to the Sept. 11th Fund, but a spokeswoman wouldn’t say how much it raised. “The point of it is not to make a big deal about it. We don’t want to make it seem like we’re trying to get P.R. out of it.” A publicist at Bon Appétit, however, did want us to let you know that Bon Appétit “started from day one galvanizing over 30 restaurants to help in relief efforts.” –Gabriel Snyder
Primedia Inc., the publisher of New York, Chevy Truckin’ and Teddy Bear magazines, has been buffeted by plenty of bad news in recent weeks. There was a warning to Wall Street that its earnings would be lower than expected, and Scott Kurnit, the Internet visionary they snagged when the company acquired About.com, said he was leaving on Sept. 18. And there was a report that Primedia may be selling New York–which the company denied–in order to come up with the cash to pay for its acquisition of EMAP, a British publisher.
Perhaps most importantly to C.E.O. Tom Rogers, Primedia stock has found itself in Salon.com territory, trading as low as just below $2 a share. So, on Oct. 1, Mr. Rogers sought to buck up his troops with the announcement that all full-time employees would be getting 50 stock options. “I hope this helps everyone to more closely identify with the Company and take pride in our work,” Mr. Rogers wrote in the announcement.
Don’t expect any Primedia employees to retire on their stock options anytime soon. For the options to be worth anything at all, Primedia stock has to get above the $2.35 strike price. So, if Primedia hit $4, employees would be raking in $82.50. Or, as Mr. Rogers told his employees, “if we can get the stock back to where it was 18 months ago,” which would require a 1,500% gain to reach Primedia’s all-time high of $33.50 a share, “those stock options would be worth more than $1,500.”
Mr. Rogers, who recently bought $1 million worth of stock, also tried to reassure his employees that the stock plunge does not reflect any big problems at the company. “You are probably saying to yourself, ‘What is going on with the stock? How can the stock be below $2.50 and there not be a fundamental problem?'” he wrote. “The answer is-there is nothing wrong with the Company and nothing for you to worry about. We as a Company are fine. I hate seeing the stock at this level-really hate it. But I also know we are able to cover all our obligations… Again, let me allay any fears you have on this front-it is just not something you should be worried about.” Everyone feeling better? – Gabriel Snyder
While many of the Wall Street Journal reporters displaced from the World Financial Center make themselves comfy inside the Dow Jones quarters at 100 Sixth Avenue, some staffers will be traveling back in time all the way to the year 2000, when dot-coms still roamed the earth. Right now, staffers from the Journal’s editorial page – as well as some from the Weekend Journal section-are preparing to occupy the former headquarters of Work.com, over on 7th Avenue.
Work.com, of course, was a much-hyped joint venture between Dow Jones and Excite@Home that plowed through $30 million in little more than a year before it was sold last March to Business.com for $500,000 and eventually shuttered. Still, Dow Jones had lease to the Work.com space, and it has come in handy. One staffer told Off the Record that the dot-com burial ground is a much better space than the old one at 1 World Financial Center, which the source described as “an insurance office, but with mice.”
In the new office, however, there are Adirondack chairs with white cushions, and plexi-glass dividers between desks and steel lamps. All the desks are on wheels. A Guinness, beer-shaped blackboard still has scrawled in chalk: “Happy Hour: 3?” “It’s funny,” said the WSJ source. “People actually like it here.” Paul Gigot, the WSJ’s new editorial page editor, who surveyed the Work.com office on Friday isn’t sure when his group will officially move in. “It’ll be a bit tight,” Mr. Gigot said, “but I don’t think there will be any problems.” And when asked about the co-mingling his politically conservative editorial page staff working in closer quarters with the WSJ’s traditionally more liberal reporters, Mr. Gigot said, “I’m just delighted to have the space.” – Sridhar Pappu