So, where’s Joel
Stein? Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Stein-the yuk-yuk guy at Time magazine whose column once rotated
with Margaret Carlson and Calvin Trillin-has been like a stand-up comic without
a microphone. Though he’s been sent on various assignments, Mr. Stein’s regular
wisecrack-filled column-along with most of the front-of-the-book Notebook
section-has been cut from Time to
make room for the deluge of hard news.
And word is it might be gone for good. According to Time sources, the magazine’s managing
editor, Jim Kelly, has told Mr. Stein that he can stay on in the newsroom, but
his ha-ha column won’t be coming back.
Neither Mr. Kelly nor Mr. Stein would get into what had or had
not been said between them. But Mr. Kelly said that no final decision had been
made on the timing and format of any future column by Mr. Stein. Mr. Kelly
said, “Joel and I haven’t decided exactly when Joel will resume being a
columnist. It’s a question of tone.” He added, “He’s busy reporting the biggest
story of our lifetime-and that’s all he’s doing, and that’s all he wants to be
Said Mr. Stein, “At a time like this, the last thing that I’m
thinking about is my own little column. We’re at war … against terrorism !”
Mr. Stein added that he’s always had other responsibilities at Time besides his column. Recently, he’d
written a story about identifying the remains at ground zero and also a short piece about psychotherapy in
the wake of the attacks. In the Oct. 29 issue, he flew to Minnesota and did a
feature on the Mall of America.
“I’m doing what I always did, which is writing and reporting
stories,” Mr. Stein said. “The column was only about a third of what I do
around here. I pull my own weight.”
Then he added: “I haven’t been lately.”
Indeed, it’s fair to say that Mr. Stein is still looking for his
place in the suddenly serious Time .
“Yeah, I do feel funny,” he told CNN’s Aaron Brown in an appearance on Oct. 4.
“I feel like, you know, I don’t have a job any more, and I’m looking forward to
getting back to having one.”
It will be interesting to see what a magazine like Time does with a writer like Mr. Stein
in the hardened new media age, when celebrity- or suburban-parent-coddling
covers feel entirely out of sync with what’s going on in the world. Much of the
success of Time ‘s former managing
editor, Walter Isaacson-who left earlier this year to helm CNN-was chalked up
to figuring out how to do a newsmagazine in a culture that cared less and less
But now Mr. Kelly, who was appointed as M.E. in January, has had
the challenge of turning that glitzier, lighter Time back into a traditional newsmagazine. Though people seem to
want humor as much as they always did, it’s not clear if they want to get their
comedy from Time -or, for that matter,
if Time wants to be the magazine that
gives it to them.
Mr. Kelly seems, for now, to be resisting the kinds of soft-news
covers that became common for the magazine. Even before the merger with AOL,
the magazine did a few synergistic (though no one would use that word) cover
packages related to movies or television shows produced by Warner Bros., such
as Batman and Pokemon .
This fall, AOL Time Warner was openly making a big push across
all its media properties for Harry Potter
(a Warner Bros. film, of course). Like other Time Inc. magazines, Time ‘s Nov. 5 issue had a big package
about the film, and the magazine even got a writer in to see it before any
critics got to take a crack (curiously, though, Time didn’t serve up a review itself, going no further than
describing the Potter flick as boasting “eye-popping grandeur, dazzling special
effects and sumptuous production values” and “all the attention to detail that
a budget north of $125 million can buy”). But on Time ‘s cover, Harry Potter
only got a corner photo and a tagline, while President Bush got the main piece
of real estate.
Since 1997, Rich Johnson’s Web site Sportspages.com has
become an industry tool in the sportswriting business, providing valuable
information to columnists and beat writers covering teams. A writer, for
example, can use the service to get all the coverage of a particular team he or
she is covering, or to monitor the latest bleatings from bigfoot sports scribes
across the country.
But on its message board, Sportspages became something of a
free-for-all. It was there, last October, where The New York Times ‘ football writer Mike Freeman famously called
out New York sportswriters on charges of racism and sexism. Yet while Mr.
Freeman’s screed was serious and signed by the author, most of the diatribes on
Sportspages were unnamed-often morphing into angry, ad hominem rants about
colleagues and competitors. In recent weeks, a family death of one sports
editor was ridiculed, while the physical attributes of women writers were
thrown around in threads like “Hottest female print reporters” and “Hottest
“It was out of control,” said
one New York sportswriter. “At first it was just a funny little thing, but it
just turned so-oo nasty.”
Mr. Johnson thought so, too. That’s why he shut down the
anonymous forum on Friday, Oct. 19, replacing it with one where would-be ragers
would first have to register their real name and e-mail with him before being
able to post.
“I only do this part time,” Mr. Johnson explained. “I can’t be
dealing with this shit.”
A former on-air anchor at ABC News Radio who returned to a
station in his hometown of Portland, Ore., in June, Mr. Johnson said it’d been
made clear to him from “friends of the site” that they wouldn’t be friends any
longer if stuff like “Hottest babes” kept up. He also said he was tired of
dealing with phone calls from irritated editors who would contact him about
particularly volatile postings.
While Mr. Johnson declined to elaborate on who the editors were,
New York Daily News sources said that
one was Leon Carter, the paper’s sports editor, who they said called Mr.
Johnson on behalf of News columnist
Mike Lupica, a frequent target on Sportspages. One Daily News source said: “Mike was calling his editors, wanting them
to do something about this. He asked for editor interference.”
Another Daily News
source said: “Leon definitely went to bat for him.”
Mr. Lupica declined to be interviewed for this story, and a Daily News spokesperson, speaking on
behalf of Mr. Carter, said, “The answer is no: Mike Lupica had nothing to do
with the closing of the forum on Sportspages, nor did he ask any editor to
lobby for him.”
Since the makeover, the Sportspages forum reads less like a
Walter Winchell column and more like the “Goings-on” section of a weekly paper
in Vermont. While there remains a thread devoted to Mr. Lupica, there are also
ones discussing such ho-hum topics as the merits of the Arizona Diamondbacks’
starting rotation and a recent column by Sports
Illustrated ‘s Rick Reilly.
But for his part, Mr. Johnson seems relieved. While traffic to
the site is down 10 to 15 percent, it’s not as much as he’d feared. Moreover,
he said, 400 people have registered for the new forum.
“The forum was never supposed to be the main point of the site,”
he said. “That was a sidebar that took over my life for a while. Now things
seem like they’re back in proper proportion.”
The truest thing that can be said about Lisa Baird is
that she was a newswoman through and through.
During her 26-year career, she
touched all the bases leading to her stint on a big daily in New York: the Indianapolis Star , The Miami Herald , Gannett in Westchester, the Bergen Record , New York
Newsday . She was an assistant city editor for the New York Post until June.
Ms. Baird knew news, embraced it-even as a 40-plus-year-old woman
raising two daughters on her own, there was nothing she would rather do.
After Ms. Baird was let go from the New York Post in a purging of four top staffers that marked the
arrival of new editor Col Allan, she spent several days helping out on the copy
desk at The New York Observer . But
her time at The Observer was cut
short by her illness. After just a few days of fill-in duty, she begged off,
saying her treatments would consume too much of her time. She already was
limping, clearly in pain, from the cancer that had spread from her breasts to
her bones. Her suffering was clear one day when the elevator went on the fritz
and she was not able to leave the third floor.
Lisa Baird died on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Albert Einstein Medical
Center in the Bronx. The cancer had defied an aggressive course of treatment.
She was 44 years old. She is
survived by her two daughters, Marien Richardson, 12, and Jenne Richardson, 9,
her mother, father and two brothers. The girls will now live full-time with
their father, Clem Richardson, formerly of New
York Newsday and now a columnist for the Daily News .
A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 11
a.m. to 1 p.m., at Siloam Presbyterian Church, 260 Jefferson Avenue,
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Efforts are underway to start a scholarship fund
in her name.
-Mary Ann Giordano