Time Kills Walter Isaacson Prodigy, Joel Stein’s Column

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

doing.”

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

about news.

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.

-Gabriel Snyder

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

babes continued.”

“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.”

-Sridhar Pappu

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