On Battle Alert, a Tense Journal Waits for Pearl

Since the kidnapping of reporter Daniel Pearl on Jan. 23 in Karachi, Pakistan, Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger has assumed the dueling roles of journalist and international diplomat. On Friday, Feb. 1, for example, Mr. Steiger was helping to assemble The Journal’s nominations for the Pulitzer Prizes. Later that day, Mr. Steiger was trying to calm his staff amid claims that Mr. Pearl had been executed by his captors.

Each day seems to bring more unsettling information to The Journal ‘s newsroom, now split among locations in New York and New Jersey since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack displaced the paper from its home in the World Financial Center. Just two days after ABC News, MSNBC and Fox News issued reports that Mr. Pearl’s bullet-riddled corpse had been found, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, Feb. 5, that Pakistani police had captured three suspects in Mr. Pearl’s case, while MSNBC News quoted U.S. officials that there was a “slight glimmer of hope” in the search.

Staffers at The Journal said that Mr. Pearl’s plight has been a struggle for everyone at the Dow Jones publication-not to mention the 38-year-old reporter’s family. But now Mr. Steiger is trying to publish a newspaper and, at the same time, lead a cautious public campaign to win the release of a kidnapped employee.

“There’s only so much Paul can do,” said Steve Goldstein, a vice president for The Journal ‘s parent, Dow Jones. “The best thing that Paul can do is be the managing editor of the paper.”

How The Journal proceeds on Mr. Pearl’s case is a closely guarded discussion, limited to the paper’s top executives and editors. On occasion, The Journal will consult with government officials on Mr. Pearl’s situation. Mr. Goldstein said the paper has not hired a private counterterrorism company to help advise it in its actions.

Media-wise, the paper has moved with caution. The Journal has purposely limited Mr. Steiger’s exposure, as well as that of other Journal and Dow Jones executives. Mr. Steiger has done only three interviews: Larry King Live , the Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn and the BBC World Service. Dow Jones C.E.O. Peter Kann has done no interviews. Similarly, the paper has restricted access to Mr. Pearl’s wife, Mariane, though on Feb. 4, she gave an emotional interview in which she pleaded that her husband’s kidnappers take her life instead.

Mr. Goldstein said the decision to limit the paper’s media appearances was his. The only media of any import to The Journal , he said, are those that can reach Mr. Pearl’s kidnappers.

“Our goal is to help Danny,” Mr. Goldstein said, “and our audience here is Pakistan. Everything we do is translated into French [Ms. Pearl's home country] and Urdu. We’ve had no contact with the people holding Danny, and we’d like to have some.

“Placing Paul [Steiger] on Good Morning America doesn’t do that,” Mr. Goldstein continued, “and having Paul appear on talk shows in America doesn’t do that. We’re only interested in programs that are shown or heard in Pakistan.”

Indeed, The Journal ‘s approach on Mr. Pearl mirrors the tactics of an ad buyer rather than that of a news organization. It’s dispersing its resources to a specified target audience-Pakistani terrorists-with a single direct, controlled message: Mr. Pearl’s not a spy; he has a wife and people who love him; let him come home.

“They have duties that come before journalism,” said New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “They’ve been put in a case where they have to ignore the journalism part of it and act tactically. To have people appearing all over the media, you can lose control of that. And who would know better than journalists?”

Joel Simon, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, put it this way: “Ultimately, what you want to try and express to them [the kidnappers] is that you’re not going to accomplish anything by this. You’re going to delegitimize the issues you raise.”

Where The Journal has been careful is on the role of the government in Mr. Pearl’s case. According to their e-mails, Mr. Pearl’s captors believe the reporter is a C.I.A. or Israeli Mossad operative. The Journal has stated that that claim is patently false. But in denying those claims, the paper still has to cooperate with the government agencies, who represent Mr. Pearl’s best hope for being found.

“We are not the government,” Mr. Goldstein said. “The governments of the United States and Pakistan are working on this. We publish a daily newspaper, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Pearl’s case has produced a strange scenario within The Journal ‘s offices. Though the staff is sometimes briefed on Mr. Pearl’s status through e-mails, the vast majority of reporters are getting their information not from the newsroom, but from outside news organizations.

And though yesterday’s news of suspect arrests and a potential break in the case was promising, it has been nearly a week since any real news of Mr. Pearl has been released by the people who claim to be holding him. Earlier, of course, individuals claiming to have Mr. Pearl in their possession had e-mailed photographs of him in chains and with a gun to his head and, on Feb. 1, the e-mail reporting that he was dead.

Such e-mails have led not only to worry, but also to concerns about pranks. Throughout the ordeal, Journal sources said, Mr. Pearl’s colleagues have been subject to pranksters and unverified reports out of Karachi. On Feb. 1, in addition to the e-mail saying Mr. Pearl had been killed, a group “thirsty for the blood of another American” called Pakistani authorities asking for $2 million.

The misinformation grew worse on Sunday, Feb. 3 when ABC News reported that a body found with bullet holes and dumped alongside a road in Pakistan had been identified as Mr. Pearl’s. MSNBC and Fox News both followed suit, and WSJ deputy managing editor Barney Calame was forced to send out an e-mail at 3:54 saying: “All: A body that was found in Karachi isn’t that of Danny Pearl, contrary to broadcast reports you have heard in the past hour or so.” The next day, Newsday falsely reported that Asra Q. Nomani, a Journal staff writer on book leave and the Pearls’ host in Pakistan, had been picked up by Pakistani officials for overstaying her visa.

Said one WSJ staffer: “It’s getting to be a little much. None of us are sure what to believe anymore. It’s just tough with all the rumors going around.”

Meanwhile, what’s emerged among staffers is an appreciation for Mr. Steiger.

As one WSJ staffer put it: “I’m sure it’s really tough for him to deal with this. But I think he’s showed enormous strength. I mean, we’re all living a nightmare.”

Terry McDonell, 57, has decided to flee US Weekly to become the new managing editor of Sports Illustrate d-and once he gets there, he’ll be met with a big personnel headache that could have a big impact upon the magazine. Sources tell Off the Record that SI ‘s principal rival, ESPN the Magazin e, is again seeking to raid some of the Time Inc. title’s top talent, including big guns Rick Reilly and Gary Smith.

Mr. Reilly, who writes a weekly column on the last page of the magazine, and Mr. Smith, a winner of the National Magazine Award, are among Sports Illustrated ‘s best known and most popular writers. Sources at the magazine said that losing either writer would be a major blow to Mr. McDonell and the man who hired him, Time Inc. editorial director John Huey.

“This is something they’ve got to deal with,” said a Sports Illustrated source.

ESPN’s courtship of SI stars-and Mr. Reilly and Mr. Smith in particular-is not without precedent. The biweekly, which launched in 1998, has a staff heavy in SI refugees, including its current editor, John Papanek, and former SI and Time writer Steve Wulf, who became ESPN the Magazine ‘s executive editor. Back when ESPN launched, Mr. Papanek approached Mr. Reilly and Mr. Smith about coming aboard. A bidding war ensued, and though it is not clear what incentives led Mr. Smith to stay, Mr. Reilly got a raise to nearly $500,000 per year-along with options to write three screenplays for Warner Brothers, a corporate sibling of Time Inc. Mr. Reilly’s current contract expires in November, a source said.

It is unclear what ESPN the Magazine , which is owned by Disney, would offer this time around. Reached for comment, Mr. Reilly sounded a bit like Juan Gonzalez rhapsodizing about playing for the Mets.

“I’ve been writing about sports for a long time and I’m open to changes,” Mr. Reilly said. “On the other hand, I have the best job in sports journalism and it’d be hard to give that up.”

In the talks with Mr. Smith, sources said that ESPN offered the opportunity to write the same kind of “bonus” pieces (what Sports Illustrated calls its long features) and then have the opportunity to turn them into documentaries for the ESPN cable network.

Mr. Papanek said through a company spokesperson: “It’s always been ESPN’s policy not to engage in or comment on speculation.” Sports Illustrated officials and Mr. Smith declined comment.

So, welcome aboard, Mr. McDonell. SI has been in turmoil over the last three weeks by the unexpected announcement on Jan. 14 that managing editor Bill Colson would be leaving, reportedly after clashing with Mr. Huey over the magazine’s stewardship. Mr. Huey has made it clear within Time Inc. that he isn’t happy with the current state of SI , which is considered the most prestigious sports magazine and one of Time Inc.’s most popular titles.

Mr. McDonell, who arrives at SI after stops as editor of Esquire and Men’s Journal as well as US Weekly , was considered something of a dark-horse candidate, at least initially. But according to one source, Mr. Huey was searching for an editor who wasn’t a sports geek. A source said Mr. Huey had told Time Inc. executives, “You really don’t need somebody who knows a lot about sports to edit SI . You can roll a baseball down the hallway at SI and someone will pick it up who can tell you all the stats you need to know.”

Of course, as a veteran of men’s publications, Mr. McDonell isn’t exactly unacquainted with the sporting life. When Mr. McDonell was bumped from Esquire in 1993 to make room for Ed Kosner, he found himself editing Hearst Magazines’ Sports Afield . And while working for Jann Wenner, Mr. McDonell edited Men’s Journal , which fashioned itself as an alternative sports title. What’s more, Mr. McDonell received a football scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley, but he only played freshman year.

Still, Mr. McDonell is a far cry from Mr. Colson, who had spent his entire professional career at SI , and Mr. Colson’s predecessor, Mark Mulvoy, who one source said “could name every hockey player by just looking at the way they stood on the ice.”

Mr. McDonell defended his jock chops to Off the Record. “I’ve run men’s magazines for a long time and a huge component of that is sports,” He also said that his two sons have kept in touch with the sporting life. “I’ve been to a lot of high-school football games.”

The key qualification for Mr. McDonell seems to be that Mr. Huey trusts him to be a corporate editor and run the weekly in a manner more to his liking. In addition to editorial differences between Mr. Huey and Mr. Colson, sources said that one of the things that led to Mr. Colson’s departure was a reluctance to go schmooze with advertisers. With ad pages down 17 percent in 2001, a source said that Michael Klingensmith, who served as president of SI until June of last year when he was promoted to executive vice president of Time Inc., had grown increasingly irritated with Mr. Colson’s unwillingness to go to advertiser events.

Mr. Colson did not immediately return calls for comment. Mr. Huey, too, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Mr. McDonell said the things he’s supposed to say about changing SI : He wanted younger demographics, he wanted news, he wanted long pieces. But he comes to SI at a strange point in its long history. Sports-reporting aesthetics have changed from A.J. Liebling to PlayStation 2, and SI seems to be caught in an awkward middle stage. Though it’s gospel on West 51st Street to say that ESPN has had no impact on SI , Mr. McDonell inherits the biggest brand in sports journalism from an old-guard editor, at a moment when it is being forced to change.

For his part, Mr. McDonell minimized the amount of change in store for SI . “Not change in any monstrous, serious way. I’d say change with a little C,” he said.

Instead, to perhaps avoid comparisons of Tina Brown taking over The New Yorker , Mr. McDonell appealed to the hallowed traditions of SI . “I’m anxious to get back to literary journalism,” he said. “This is where I learned about literary journalism.” That didn’t speak highly about what Mr. McDonell had been up to at US Weekly . Mr. McDonell has not set a final date for his departure from the Wenner Media title; he said he intended to meet with Jann Wenner on Thursday, Feb. 7 to resolve the matter.

-Sridhar Pappu and Gabriel Snyder

Just for the record, Ron Galotti, the former president of Talk , has made his way back to Condé Nast. The publishing company announced on Feb. 5 that Mr. Galotti would become the publisher of GQ . There had been rumors, of course, that Mr. Galotti was heading for Condé Nast since Talk folded on Jan. 18, and before then, too. And to everyone, it seemed pretty obvious that he was going to take a job there when Condé Nast shuffled executives on Jan. 28 and left the GQ publisher job vacant.

So what took so long? Maurie Perl, the spokeswoman for Condé Nast, said of Mr. Galotti, “He did have an extensive contract with Miramax and so he had to deal with those issues.”

Now, Mr. Galotti has some new issues. In the Jan. 28 moves, Richard Beckman, the publisher of Vogue , moved to a corporate job as chief marketing officer. Tom Florio, who had been publisher of GQ , moved to Vogue . By coming in as GQ publisher, in the status-conscious Condé Nast empire, Mr. Galotti looks to rank below both Mr. Beckman and Mr. Florio.

Mr. Galotti was not available for comment.

-G.S.

In the middle of the worst media recession in decades, Alan Light-a curly-haired fellow who never found a VH1 special he didn’t like yapping on-announced on Feb. 5 that he has quit his job as the editor in chief of Spin … to launch another music magazine.

Mr. Light, who has been editor of Spin since Michael Hirschorn was fired from the job in 1999, is teaming up with former Spin publisher John Rollins on a magazine project. The two don’t have any investors yet.

“Yes, it’s a music project. I don’t want to get too much into it,” Mr. Light said. A staffer at Spin characterized the idea as a “music magazine for adults.”

Mr. Light said it was his decision to leave the job.

The Spin source said speculation was that with the magazine hurting-ad pages were down 21 percent in 2001-Mr. Light wasn’t up to make the teen-friendly, all-Britney-all-the-time changes to make the magazine more attractive to advertisers.

-G.S.