All Attention on New Times Power Center: The 10:30 a.m. Meeting

Since Sept. 11, one of the biggest changes at The New York Times has been the increased role that the paper’s top-level editors have played in the daily editing. While this development was motivated by local and world events, there’s a concern–or at least a curiosity–among certain Times staffers that the paper’s top editors will remain regularly involved once terrorism and war move off the front page.

Those with the most interest in this question are The Times’ desk editors–the people who manage particular departments of coverage, like foreign news, national news and cultural reporting. Traditionally, these editors have had a lot of freedom to plan their pages–and then lobby the top (known as “masthead”) editors to get pieces on page 1.

But since the terror attacks, the masthead editors–led by new executive editor Howell Raines–have been far more hands-on in the cultivation of each section. While their efforts were mainly concentrated on the A Nation Challenged section (which did not have a formal editor), these high-level editors also involved themselves elsewhere in the paper. A new power center at The Times has become the 10:30 a.m. meeting that Mr. Raines instituted for masthead-level editors only. Sources at The Times say that much of the news planning has been going on there, without the input from the desk editors.

And while this kind of “war room”-type consolidation made sense during a period in which terrorism-related news sprawled over the traditional divisions of foreign, national and metro news, the desk editors have chafed at the new arrangement, and there is concern that it will outlive the crisis period. With the A Nation Challenged section over and the intensity level of the news cycle falling, Times editors and reporters are now watching closely to see where the dynamic settles between the masthead editors and the desk heads, who include national editor Katie Roberts, acting foreign editor Roger Cohen, metro editor Jonathan Landman, style editor Barbara Graustark and culture editor John Darnton.

“War changes a lot of institutions,” said a Times staffer. “It’s hard to separate the war from the new management because they are so interconnected.”

Times staffers took note that, in recent weeks, the desk editors have been included in the morning masthead meeting, though only one each week on a rotating basis. Some observers saw the inclusion of the desk editor as a conciliatory move to soothe the bruised feelings of the desk heads. A spokesperson for The Times said, “We have done this in an effort to increase cooperation and communication across the masthead and among the news desks, and we are pleased with the results.”

– Gabriel Snyder

Elsewhere at The Times , the Sunday Styles section has hired a new writer: Warren St. John, a senior writer at Wired who, prior to that job, wrote this column. Mr. St. John, who will start in February, joins a section that has seen several departures in the past few months, including deputy editor Ilene Rosenzweig and her colleague (and boyfriend), writer Rick Marin. Some sources at the section saw the hire of Mr. St. John–who, like Mr. Raines, is a native of Alabama–as part of an effort by Mr. Raines to nudge the section away from its reliance on fashion-related stories. Some at the section have characterized it as a bid to boost the Styles section’s “testosterone factor.”

Since September, Styles has also seen the return of Alex Kuczynski, who had been covering media for the business section. Ms. Kuczynski’s slot has remained unfilled, though former Mediaweek writer David Handelman has been filling in with regular freelance pieces on the magazine industry. Sources say that the finalists for the job include two former Inside.com staffers, Lorne Manly and David Carr. (Incidentally, Ms. Kuczynski and Mr. Manly are also former reporters for The Observer .) At the now-virtually-defunct Inside, Mr. Manly was Mr. Carr’s editor. And though Mr. Carr had edited the Washington City Paper and written its media column, it fell largely to Mr. Manly to show him the ropes of the New York media scene. When Inside laid off its Web-site staff, Mr. Manly became the editor of Folio within the Primedia trade-publication empire, Media Central. As for Mr. Carr, he decamped to a contributing-editor job at New York and a gig as a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly .

Said The Times’ business editor, Dave Smith: “They are two very fine talents, but I’m not commenting on whether they’re in competition.” Mr. Manly did not return calls for comment, and Mr. Carr had no comment on the situation, except to say that he and Mr. Manly remain close friends.

– G. S.

It’s been nearly a year since Michael Kelly debuted his redesigned version of The Atlantic Monthly with last year’s February Bill Clinton retrospective issue. So far, the changes he’s made seem to be having a result on the newsstand. According to group publisher John Sullivan, who oversees the business side of both The Atlantic and the National Journal , single-copy sales of The Atlantic from February through November 2001 were up 29 percent from those issues the year before. Over those nine issues, The Atlantic averaged newsstand sales of 33,800, compared to 26,100 for the same period in 2000, Mr. Sullivan said.

The biggest seller was the July-August Mark Twain cover, which included a newly published Twain story. But other Atlantic hits have included the September cover, “The Great College Hustle,” a critical look by James Fallows at early-admissions policies at elite colleges that was cited by Yale recently when it announced it would be reviewing the practice. That issue sold 38,500 newsstand copies–and November’s cover on the crash of Egypt Air 990 by William Langewiesche sold 37,000. There have also been some lemons this year, including the October cover, which carried the tagline “Peace Is Hell.” The timely though unfortunately titled story, which looked at the hidden costs of American peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and elsewhere, hit newsstands the week following Sept. 11 and sold only 24,300 copies.

As for subscriptions, it’s tougher to tell how The Atlantic is doing. At the end of 2000, The Atlantic purchased the subscriber list of Civilization after that magazine closed down, adding about 170,000 subscriptions to its 441,000 subscribers for its December 2000 issue. Since then, the number of subscribers has settled to around 500,000 (it’s typical that not every new subscriber stays when one magazine buys another’s subscription list).

Asked to explain the bump in newsstand sales, Mr. Kelly cited a couple aspects of the redesign, including cover-design changes and the addition of a cover flap on newsstand copies, just like The New Yorker ‘s.

“But beyond that, I think it’s because we’re doing some right things editorially,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’re more aggressive about cover packages that are news-generating and talk-generating.”

The past year has also seen a shift in the mix at the magazine. When he first took over The Atlantic , Mr. Kelly spoke a lot about increasing the amount of narrative nonfiction in the magazine.

In January 2000, shortly after he was named editor of The Atlantic , Mr. Kelly said he wanted to “see more narrative, long-form nonfiction again; this is in the tradition of the magazine.”

But in the last year, the magazine has been running more idea pieces, such as the December cover story about Red and Blue America (as in the network election maps) and the January “Hard Questions” cover package, which dealt with topics out of a high-school debate society like “Must the United States Remain a Superpower?” and “What Went Wrong with Muslim Civilization?”

The magazine has also added something it calls “The Agenda”–a regular front-of-the-book bloc of pundits, including David Brooks, P.J. O’Rourke, James Fallows, Margaret Talbot and Jonathan Rauch. Eventually, Mr. Kelly said, he wants to merge this set of writers with the quirky and interesting section “Notes & Dispatches,” which runs short features.

In a pundit-saturated world, Mr. Kelly said he’s learning that it’s easier to sell regular columnists than less well-known bylines on narrative pieces.

“We also have some evidence from focus groups and reader surveys that we’re getting a big payoff from some of the regular writers,” Mr. Kelly said. Still, he said he wanted them to be only one part of a mix, in which readers regularly come for the pundits and stay for the features. “If you want a magazine like ours to become indispensable, you want people to read different parts in different ways at different times,” he said.

–G.S.

Employees of News Corp. may have missed out on company holiday parties this past year, but they did get a touchy-feely message from their boss, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive.

On Dec. 20, the employees of News Corp., which includes the New York Post , Fox Entertainment and Fox News Channel, found a message from Mr. Murdoch in their in-box.

“Dear colleague,” Mr. Murdoch began. “As we approach the end of an eventful year, I want to express my appreciation for both your day-to-day contributions and your extraordinary efforts during what is a challenging time for us all.”

Mr. Murdoch said that the events of Sept. 11 had let News Corp. shine “as the world looks for fair, balanced and insightful news and information with renewed urgency–and looks to entertainment more gratefully than ever.”

At the same time, Mr. Murdoch cited the bad economy since Sept. 11 “and economic conditions beginning long before that” as forcing company-wide budget cuts, which has included a News Corp. hiring freeze. But he said that he hoped to get through the recession without layoffs. “Our cost-cutting measures are proving to be invaluable as we seek to weather these difficult conditions without cutting jobs. Unfortunately, they have also entailed sacrifices, from canceled holiday parties to tighter budgets of all sorts.”

Still, he predicted “that next year will be another very difficult one”–a line that was noted by the British paper The Guardian –but included this pledge: “I intend to write to you regularly in 2002, and I invite anybody who wishes to respond to me personally to do so at Rupert.Murdoch@newscorp.com.”

At press time, there was no word from Mr. Murdoch’s spokespeople if any employees had taken him up on his invitation to e-mail the boss. An e-mail message to Mr. Murdoch was not immediately returned.

– G.S.

Sean Flynn’s 14,000-word opus for the July 2000 Esquire, “The Perfect Fire,” detailed the stories of six Worcester, Mass., firefighters who lost their lives in a 1999 blaze. At the time, the Worcester tragedy was one of the worst in recent memory–and Mr. Flynn’s piece would land him a six-figure deal with Warner Books and eventually the 2001 National Magazine Award for Reporting.

Then Sept. 11 happened–and suddenly the Worcester fire, while still tragic, was dwarfed. Mr. Flynn, who was deep into his book, took a few days off after the World Trade Center tragedy and reassessed his work.

“I wanted to make it a more universal story,” Mr. Flynn said. Now, he said, his book is “less a story of a warehouse fire in Worcester and more a story of firefighters. These men were part of a breed. The men [entered] that warehouse in Worcester thinking they were going to die. I suspect that the men entering the World Trade Center thought the same thing.”

Mr. Flynn’s book, which will be called 3,000 Degrees: The True Story of a Deadly Fire and the Men Who Fought It , is now in the “nip-and-tuck phase” and is tentatively due to come out next fall. When asked if he was worried that his own book would get lost among the expected deluge of fire-oriented books about the World Trade Center attack, Mr. Flynn said: “I sure hope not. Obviously I’m really proud of the Esquire piece, and I think the book tells an important story. But I have no idea what goes into the marketing and selling of books.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Flynn said that some of the Worcester widows have made pilgrimages to the city to try and help those new widows through the grief.

“They all said, ‘We lost six and it was the worst thing ever–but compare it with 340,'” Mr. Flynn said. “The numbers are still inconceivable.”

–Sridhar Pappu