Columbia J-School Dean Consults for Bloomberg

Hoping to diminish concern about its

impartiality during Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as Mayor, Bloomberg News has hired

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism dean Tom Goldstein to oversee

the company’s coverage.

In fact, Mr. Goldstein-a former New York Times and Wall

Street Journal reporter who later served as press secretary for former

Mayor Ed Koch-has been on the job since mid-December, monitoring Bloomberg

News’ newsroom and advising Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg News’ editor in chief,

on potential conflicts. Mr. Winkler said that Mr. Goldstein is “free to go

anywhere and look at whatever he chooses.

“For the foreseeable future,” Mr. Winkler continued, “he’s going

to examine everything we do and make recommendations that will help us get

better, while reporting directly to me.”

But Mr. Goldstein’s hiring by Bloomberg News presents a thorny

scenario that some critic’s worry may be a conflict in itself. While it’s not

uncommon for academic officials to hold jobs in the private sector, having the

head of the country’s most prestigious journalism school-one that’s part of a

university that regularly has business before the city-in a business

relationship with an organization owned by the Mayor is an arrangement that has

given some journalism educators pause.

“I wish I had heard of this

earlier so we could have met and discussed this, because there’s conflict of

interests involved here,” said Columbia journalism professor James Carey.

Mark Crispin Miller, a journalism professor at New York

University, called the relationship “troublesome.”

“It’s worth raising questions

about Bloomberg hiring a prominent person from Columbia University,” Mr. Miller

said. He noted that Mr. Bloomberg has already endowed a professorship at the

school and added: “It’s an institution, through its holdings, with a great

stake in how the Mayor’s office governs.”

Efforts to speak to Mr.

Goldstein, who was traveling back from a journalism conference in London on

Jan. 8, were unsuccessful; The Observer

traded phone messages with the dean on Jan. 7 and 8. But a spokesperson for

Columbia University rejected the idea that there was any potential conflict

posed by Mr. Goldstein working for Bloomberg News.

“We have deans who serve as

consultants all the time,” the Columbia spokesperson said. “We have faculty

from our business school serving on the boards of corporations. Yes, we have a

mechanism for examining conflicts of interest. But the fact that someone is a

consultant to someplace is not a conflict of interest.”

Other faculty members also rose to the dean’s defense. “I don’t

think it puts Columbia in a weird spot at all,” said Columbia journalism

professor Samuel Freedman. “I think what’s weird is the reason it’s being

probably being done-the fact that we have a media mogul as Mayor.” Marvin Kalb,

the journalist turned media critic and a lecturer at Harvard University’s

Kennedy School of Government (as well as a friend of Mr. Goldstein’s), said: “I

have the highest regard for Tom Goldstein, and if anyone can do an impossible

job, he can.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Winkler also didn’t see any problem with

Mr. Goldstein’s part-time job. “I don’t see where the conflict comes in,” he

said. “What do we get out of this other than what we bargained for: advice and

scrutiny? Tom’s been around this long enough; he’s not going to jeopardize his

own integrity. Why should he?”

What’s certain is that Mr. Goldstein finds himself in an

unprecedented position. Though Mr. Winkler initially said he might hire an

ombudsman to address the Mayoral coverage issue, Mr. Goldstein is not an

ombudsman; rather, he serves as a paid consultant to the media company. (Mr.

Winkler declined to say how much Mr. Goldstein is paid.) Mr. Goldstein’s

findings and recommendations are given internally and are not reported to the

public at large.

To date, Mr. Winkler said,

Mr. Goldstein has devoted the vast majority of his comments to Bloomberg News

style and has complained that “some of the stories were too long.” On the

subject of the Mayor, Mr. Winker said that in December, Mr. Goldstein raised

“some questions why we didn’t write about an event having to do with Mike. He

thought it was odd that we just summarized it.” Said Mr. Winkler: “We told him

that we’d made a decision not to do our own enterprise reporting until Jan. 1,

when he actually was Mayor.”

And while Mr. Goldstein is expected to stay with Bloomberg News

for the foreseeable future, his future at Columbia’s journalism school is less

clear. There has been speculation that Mr. Goldstein this spring will step down

as dean when his term ends-and that speculation predated his hiring at

Bloomberg. One faculty member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said

that the department expects to hear a decision from Mr. Goldstein when the

journalism school has a faculty retreat on Jan. 22. Speaking at the retreat

will be Tom Rosenstiel, a former Los

Angeles Times media critic who currently runs the Washington-based Project

for Excellence in Journalism and is rumored to be Mr. Goldstein’s favorite to

succeed him as dean. (Mr. Rosenstiel declined comment.)

Another faculty member, also speaking on the condition of

anonymity, said that the news about Mr. Goldstein’s relationship with Bloomberg

may be a clear signal that the dean is ready to depart. “Already there’s been

grumbling amongst the faculty about how much he’s away from the office,” the

faculty member said.

But no matter how much time Mr. Goldstein spends looking at

Bloomberg News, some wonder how much he’ll be able to do to assuage conflict

concerns at the company. Even the dean’s admirers were skeptical that the

arrangement would solve the original problem of Bloomberg the news service

covering Bloomberg the Mayor.

“What can Tom do? Say ‘ Tsk,

tsk, you made a mistake’?” said Mr. Kalb. “That’s not going to accomplish

much.”

Mr. Miller was more doubtful.

“He’ll certainly be able to halt some of the more egregious cases of conflict

of interest, but I extremely doubt any one employee will have the power to keep

the situation legitimate,” the N.Y.U. professor said. “It sounds like a P.R.

gesture.”

Mr. Miller pointed to the recent media walk-through of Mr.

Bloomberg’s renovated City Hall, which landed photographs of donated Bloomberg

L.P. terminals on the front page of every paper in town.

“Already the Mayor has used a photo-op for a product placement

for the Bloomberg computers. It may seem petty to [Mr. Bloomberg], but it is

improper. And if [Mr. Goldstein] took issue with this, it may lead to him

leaving his employ.”

Mr. Kalb said that the only

real solution was for Mr. Bloomberg to completely extract himself from his

media empire. Prior to running for Mayor, Mr. Bloomberg removed himself from

the day-to-day management of the company, but a ruling is pending from the

city’s Conflicts of Interest Board as to how the Mayor should handle his

majority stake in Bloomberg L.P. Said Mr. Kalb of the Mayor’s stake: “It’d be

better for everyone involved to do something that totally removes him from any

activity of the news operation.”

Dan Altman’s time on The

New York Times ‘ editorial board didn’t last long. The 26-year-old had been

hired away from The Economist last

summer to write editorials on business and economics, but about six months

later-a couple of weeks before Christmas-Mr. Altman started showing up in the

business section of the paper, as a reporter.

It isn’t clear what led to the departure of one of the youngest

members of the editorial board in the history of The Times. Reached by Off the Record, Mr. Altman confirmed that he

had transferred to the business desk, but wouldn’t say what had happened. “It’s

probably not something I should discuss with you, but it was amiable,” he said.

Gail Collins, the editorial-page editor, wouldn’t discuss why things didn’t

work out, either, and referred us back to Mr. Altman.

But a source at The Times

said the move was made rather quietly, and chalked it up to Ms. Collins

fashioning her own editorial board.

Mr. Altman had been interviewed and hired by Howell Raines, who had been

editorial-page editor before his promotion to executive editor, and Mr. Altman

didn’t click with Ms. Collins at the helm, the source said.

Replacing Mr. Altman on the board is Adam Cohen, a senior writer

at Time magazine who has most

recently covered business and technology. Little, Brown will be publishing Mr.

Cohen’s book about eBay, titled The

Perfect Store , in June. Mr. Cohen declined comment.

Clearly, Ms. Collins is

making some changes to the editorial board’s management. She said that rather

than handing out “beats” on the editorial board, where each member writes

primarily within his or her specialty, she is trying to broaden the scope of

each board member Mr. Cohen will also be writing editorials on law and

technology as well as economics. He starts the week of Jan. 21.

Also joining the editorial board is Ethan Bronner, The Times ‘ education editor. Mr.

Bronner, who started Jan. 8, has covered the Supreme Court and the Middle East.

He’ll write on those topics, but in March, according to Ms. Collins, the plan

is for him to also replace Phil Taubman as assistant editorial-page editor. Mr.

Taubman, in turn, will replace Phil Boffey, the deputy editorial-page editor.

Mr. Boffey, a veteran on the editorial board, is retiring from full-time duty,

but will continue to pitch in with editorials on science matters.

-Gabriel Snyder

The competition between former Inside.com staffers Lorne

Manly and David Carr for the media reporter’s position at The New York Times is over, and the winner is: both of them!

The two will reunite inside the Business Day’s media department

under media editor Dave Smith. Mr. Manly will become deputy media editor, while

Mr. Carr will join as a reporter. “Lorne will join me as player-coach for a

while, writing and editing and learning his way around the building,” Mr. Smith

wrote in an e-mail announcing the hires. The two will start in February.

The position of deputy media

editor is a new one at The Times ,

leading one business staffer to note that things are getting crowded on the

section’s media beat. In addition to Mr. Smith and eventually Mr. Manly, there

are already several editors who deal with media, including Tim Race, the Monday

business editor, Rich Meislin, who edits technology-a beat that has more and

more dealt with media topics-and his deputy, John Haskins.

Mr. Smith told Off the Record, “We’re trying to boost our media

coverage and get it to the next level.”

-G.S.

When it begins

publishing sometime this year, Ira Stoll will be doing a lot of the heavy

editorial lifting for The New York Sun .

But for the last year and half, he’s been running Smarter times.com, which aims

to take the piss out of The New York

Times each day.

In their Jan. 14 issue, New

York magazine asked Mr. Stoll how he’d feel if someone targeted him each

day with Smartersun.com. “I’d be thrilled,” Mr. Stoll said.

We’re not sure how thrilled

he’d really be, especially since, way back in August 2000-more than a year

before Seth Lipsky registered Nysun.com-Mr. Stoll claimed the Internet domain

Smartersun.com for himself. However, Smartestsun.com is still available.

– G.S.

In the past few months, the New York Yankees lost a lot of the

men who helped define the team’s four-consecutive-pennant,

three-consecutive–World Series run. Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius retired.

David Justice will begin his season in Oakland, Tino Martinez will man first

base for the Cardinals and Chuck Knoblauch will be in Kansas City.

Now comes word that the team’s losing its most prolific beat

writer as well. According to sources at The

New York Times , Buster Olney is leaving his perch at Yankee Stadium for the

New Jersey Meadowlands, where he’ll cover the Giants.

In Mr. Olney’s place will come 26-year-old Tyler Kepner, who came

to the paper in 2000 from the Seattle

Post-Intelligencer and has covered the Mets for the past two seasons.

Giants writer Bill Pennington will move to boxing and general interest, while

Rafael Hermoso, who split time between the Yankees and the Mets last year, will

become the paper’s main man at Shea.

Mr. Olney, Mr. Hermoso and Mr. Kepner declined to comment, and

Mr. Pennington didn’t return a call at deadline. The section’s editor, Neil

Amdur, referred Off the Record’s interview request to a Times spokesperson, who didn’t return a call for comment.

But Times sources

indicate that the moves were instigated as a result of Mr. Olney’s desire to

simply do something else, having followed the Yankees through 162

regular-season games and multiple rounds of playoffs since he came to the paper

in 1997.

“It’s a natural progression for a lot of people,” one Times source said. “You can only go so

long doing the same beat.”

Another Times source

said: “He [Mr. Olney] has a child. If he could cover the Yankees from home, he

would. It’s more of a lifestyle change than him not wanting to cover the

Yankees anymore.”

One New York baseball writer described the travails this way:

“The baseball beat’s a real grind. It’s the biggest sport and you’re always on

call. The travel is hell, and it’s only going to get harder. Look at how many

people stay on the baseball beat for a long time. Not many guys do this for 10

to 20 years.”

-Sridhar Pappu

Since Sept. 11, Michelangelo Signorile has appointed himself the

watchdog for homophobia in the war on terrorism. He started out back in

November, when he wrote a piece for Newsweek

condemning a rumor “wafting through media circles” that Mohammed Atta, one of

the hijackers in the World Trade Center attack, was gay. (Incidentally, we’re

not sure where that speculation has appeared, aside from the National Enquirer and Salon .)

Anyway, Mr. Signorile’s point was that it’s not O.K. to suggest that Atta might

have been gay, and it’s certainly not O.K. to suggest that being gay and having

a homophobic father might have had something to do with a middle-class Egyptian

boy becoming a terrorist.

“As outlandish as the Atta speculations may sound, it’s the kind

of narrative we’ve seen all too often in America … the notion of a dangerous

homosexual conspiracy has reared its ugly head over and over again,” he wrote.

But now, in his Jan. 2 column for the New York Press , Mr. Signorile is arguing that it’s perfectly O.K.

for the media to report that John Walker’s father, Frank Lindh, is gay. And

it’s even O.K. to say that a gay father might have had something to do with a

middle-class Marin County boy becoming an Al Qaeda fighter.

“If Lindh had left his wife for another woman and his son were

traumatized, it would certainly be discussed in the media. So if Lindh did

leave his wife for a man and it affected Walker, it should similarly be

reported on. That would be treating homosexuality and heterosexuality equally,

rather than relegating one to the level of a dirty little secret.”

Huh? Is there any standard here, other than that if there’s a gay

angle on the terrorism story, editors need to assign Michelangelo Signorile a

piece to sort out what’s homophobic and what isn’t?

We sought clarification from the pundit. “It seems like a

contradiction,” he replied, “but I explain it all in a longer piece in the

March issue of Talk .” We can’t wait.

-G.S.

The competition between former Inside.com staffers Lorne Manly

and David Carr for the media reporter’s position at The New York Times is over, and the winner is: both of them!

The two will reunite inside the Business Day’s media department

under media editor Dave Smith. Mr. Manly will become deputy media editor, while

Mr. Carr will join as a reporter. “Lorne will join me as player-coach for a

while, writing and editing and learning his way around the building,” Mr. Smith

wrote in an e-mail announcing the hires.

Mr. Smith noted in his memo that the two will start in February

and “will sit with us in Bizday.” (That’s short for Business Day, i.e. the

business section.) The position of deputy media editor is a new one at The Times , leading one business staffer

to note that things are getting crowded in the section, especially on the media

beat. In addition to Mr. Smith and eventually Mr. Manly, there are already

several editors who deal with media, including Tim Race, the Monday business

editor, Rich Meislin, the technology editor-a beat that has more and more dealt

with media topics-and his deputy, John Haskins.

Mr. Smith told Off the Record, “We’re trying to boost our media

coverage and get it to the next level, and having these two talents will be

great.”

-G.S.

Editors at New York

magazine were surprised to open the New

York Post and the Daily News on

Jan. 2 and read about a Talk magazine

story on Robert Durst, the New York real-estate family scion charged with

dismembering a man in Galveston, Tex., and also under investigation for the

1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie, and the Christmas Eve 2000 murder of

Susan Berman, a close friend.

Why the surprise at New

York ? Both newspaper stories were very similar, reporting that Talk had dug up new information

suggesting that Berman had told her friends that Mr. Durst had confessed to her

that he killed his wife. The lead to the News

story was, “A former close friend of millionaire murder suspect Robert

Durst said she was prepared to ‘blow the top off things’ just days before she

was found shot to death, according to a newly published report.” The paper then

cited a conversation between Berman and actress Kim Lankford. The Post cited the conversation as a “new

report.”

But the report wasn’t new to New

York . Lisa DePaulo, who wrote the Durst article for Talk , had previously written a story on Berman’s death for New York ‘s March 12, 2001 issue-and in

her opening anecdote, she described the very same conversation between Berman

and Ms. Lankford.

Was Talk touting Ms.

DePaulo’s warmed-over reporting as a scoop? “I was a bit taken aback to see

that both papers lead with something we reported a year ago,” New York editor Caroline Miller told Off

the Record. “I don’t know if it was pitched as new, or if there was some

misunderstanding with the newspapers that this was new when it wasn’t.”

Ms. Miller did praise Ms. DePaulo’s piece, saying it had broken

“new ground” in the Durst saga. And the exchange between Berman and Ms.

Lankford appeared deep in the Talk article,

which had also dug up new anonymous quotes from Berman’s friends saying that

Mr. Durst had confessed to the murder of his wife.

Reached for comment, Ms. DePaulo said of

the Lankford quotes, “It was newsworthy then and it’s newsworthy now. The fact

that it wasn’t picked up in March was a bummer, but P.R. isn’t my territory.”

She added, “It would have been remiss to leave it out.”

Of course, relations between Talk

and New York remain touchy since Maer

Roshan left New York last year to be Talk ‘s editorial director, taking

several of his writers with him.

Mr. Roshan said that the article was simply provided to

newspapers in full-apparently, both the Post

and the News carefully screened it

and came up with the same lead piece of information-and that Talk didn’t have control over what they

picked up. “Lisa DePaulo’s meticulously researched article is packed with new

information and insights that she spent months reporting for us,” he said. “Her

article for Talk is the most

comprehensive study of the Durst case to date, and it speaks for itself.”

-G.S.