Before Tina Brown makes her next career move, she must first settle her contract with her defunct Talk magazine. Though Ms. Brown has publicly declared an interest in working for Talk Miramax Books, the company’s publishing arm, sources say that Ms. Brown and Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of Miramax Films, are currently trying to figure a way to amicably settle the five-year contract the editor signed when she left The New Yorker-a deal which still has 18 months left.
“There’s a lot of fighting going on with Tina,” said an agent with knowledge of the situation. “Either she stays and sits and takes the money-or they pay [to settle with] her.”
Ms. Brown would not comment on the status of her Talk contract. But she did acknowledge that she had retained Bertram Fields, the powerful Hollywood lawyer with a history of helping high-profile clients settle contract disputes with entertainment companies-including Disney, Miramax’s parent, and Miramax itself.
“There are talks going on,” said Mr. Fields, who declined to comment further, stating that the parties are prohibited from discussing the negotiations.
Money, for sure, is involved in the negotiations, but also at stake is Ms. Brown’s future plans. Until she settles the contract, she can’t take on any projects outside Talk Miramax. Ms. Brown is said to be considering offers to host a talk show from two different cable networks as well as offers from several publications to write a column resembling the “Tina Brown’s Diary” column in Talk. But any such plans must wait until after the Talk contract is settled.
Ms. Brown’s current relationship to Talk and Miramax is complicated. Her contract to edit Talk magazine was with Talk Media, which was a joint venture between Hearst Magazines and Miramax Films. The New York Post reported the deal to be for $1 million per year.
But now Ms. Brown is the chairman of Talk Miramax Books, which is a distinct entity wholly owned by Miramax. Her contract with the magazine does not bind her to work at the book imprint, sources said.
Miramax executives contended that the discussions about Ms. Brown’s contract have been cordial. “There’s a difference between fighting and discussions and negotiations,” said one executive, noting that it was perfectly normal that Ms. Brown would want to end a deal to edit a magazine that is no longer being published.
The Miramax source, however, said that Ms. Brown’s departure was not a sure thing. That source sketched a scenario in which Ms. Brown could remain with the book division while adding duties in production and development for the film company.
Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for Miramax, said: “We have a very strong, positive relationship with Tina, and we look forward to working with her as long as she wants.”
But Mr. Fields’ involvement signals that Ms. Brown may be looking to exit sooner rather than later. Mr. Fields has worked for Ms. Brown before, but it was literary agent and lawyer Mort Janklow who originally wrote Ms. Brown’s contract with Talk. Mr. Janklow is involved in the current talks, sources said, but it appears that Mr. Fields is taking the lead for Ms. Brown on this matter. Mr. Janklow declined comment when reached by Off the Record.
Mr. Fields has some impressive wins in settling employment contracts. In his most notable case, he won $250 million in severance for Jeffrey Katzenberg after Mr. Katzenberg was fired as studio chief of the Walt Disney Company. In 1997, Mr. Fields represented former Miramax executive vice president Neil Sacker after he left the company with two years to go on his contract. Mr. Fields also represented Scott Greenstein, another former Miramax executive vice president, in a dispute about Mr. Greenstein’s contract. Both disputes have since been settled.
Should Ms. Brown settle her deal and leave Talk Miramax Books, agents and editors at competing publishing companies said they didn’t expect her departure to negatively affect the fledgling house. Several publishing sources assigned credit for the division’s success to editor in chief Jonathan Burnham. Though Ms. Brown has brought in some big-name authors, like Madeleine Albright and historian Simon Schama, others, such as Rudy Giuliani, Michael Chabon and Eoin Colfer, have come in through other channels, sources noted.
“Whatever Tina decides to do, I don’t think it will have much impact on Talk Miramax Books,” said a top New York literary agent.
Meanwhile, there are continued signs that Mr. Weinstein is taking a heightened interest in the affairs of his publishing shop. Mr. Weinstein, whose aggressiveness in movie dealmaking is legendary, has been similarly fierce in chasing books and authors he admires. Earlier this year, when Talk Miramax lost out in the auction for James Swanson’s book on the manhunt for Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, Mr. Weinstein called the author’s agent to ask what went wrong, a publishing source said.
Mr. Burnham pronounced confidence in the future of Talk Miramax Books, with or without Ms. Brown. Of her possible departure, he said, “It’ll be sad. Tina founded this whole organization; she hired me. Personally, it’s going to be a loss-but in terms of the operations of the company, we will continue to be healthy.”
Ms. Brown said of her role at Talk Miramax Books: “Just know that while I’m here, I’m 100 percent in it.
“Right now,” Ms. Brown added, “I’m living in the now.”
When classes wrap up at the Columbia University School of Journalism in a few weeks, it’s likely the school will not have named a replacement for outgoing dean Tom Goldstein, who announced his departure in January.
According to faculty sources, the selection committee is still in the process of interviewing candidates for the post, and in some cases still reaching out to candidates it wants to apply for the job.
There are two notable developments, however. Sources said that Tom Rosensteil, who had been seen as Mr. Goldstein’s preferred successor, is not in the running, while Alex Jones, the director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, is attracting positive attention from some on the journalism faculty.
Mr. Jones has been the director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University since April 2000. As a New York Times media reporter from 1983 to 1992, Mr. Jones won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for his coverage of the downfall of the Bingham family and their southern newspaper empire. With his wife, Susan E. Tifft, Mr. Jones wrote The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times.
As for Mr. Rosensteil, faculty sources said that the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism-a Washington-based group that is affiliated with the Columbia journalism school-has not applied for the job.
But a Columbia J-school faculty member said opinion on the selection was tilted against Mr. Rosensteil. “The sense was that he wasn’t going to fare well, so he didn’t apply,” the source said. “We were surprised-and pleased.”
The fact that Mr. Rosensteil wasn’t in the running was read by faculty sources as a setback for Mr. Goldstein. “It just says he wasn’t able to hand-pick his successor,” said the source.
Mr. Rosensteil and Mr. Goldstein did not return calls for comment. A spokesperson for Columbia said the university did not comment on faculty searches while they are in progress.
The appearance of a New York Times supplement in the French daily Le Monde has created some consternation and confusion among its readers and employees. Le Monde’s ombudsman wrote on April 13 that most reader reaction protested the weekly 12-page English-language section. “It’s self-enslavement, participation in the Americanization of France,” cried the head of a group that defends the French language. One reader noted sarcastically, “I guess Le Monde is published at the same time in The New York Times.”
Of course, The Times is just innocently trying to extend its brand globally-that’s what the marketing people like to say. The paper is looking for partner papers in Spain, Italy and Germany to publish its supplements, on the theory that they could lead to a bounty of Europe-wide advertising.
Meanwhile, staffers at the Paris-based International Herald-Tribune-the English-language daily that is a joint venture between The New York Times and The Washington Post-are asking: Hey, aren’t we supposed to be the New York Times global brand extension? The Le Monde deal has the IHT worried that one of their corporate parents is now the competition. The IHT, which carries Times and Post stories and is known as a temporary yet comfy assignment for editors from those two papers, is said to lose money.
“If The Times is deciding that they can do their own brand of journalism under their own flag,” said a newsroom source, “the implication is they don’t need the Trib anymore.”
Peter Goldmark, the chairman and chief executive of the International Herald-Tribune, was traveling and could not be reached for comment. But Bo Jones, the publisher of The Washington Post, said: “I certainly hope it does not result in a change of The New York Times’ commitment to the International Herald-Tribune.”
Times Company vice chairman Michael Golden visited the International Herald-Tribune’s offices on the morning of Friday, April 5, to reassure the staff there that the Times deal with Le Monde wasn’t a threat to the Herald-Tribune-for now. According to a source who attended the meeting, Mr. Golden said, “I can’t say the Le Monde deal won’t lead to problems” for the Herald-Tribune, but also said: “The New York Times wishes no harm to the IHT.”
During the meeting, the source said, Mr. Golden said that in addition to the Le Monde supplement, The Times was also in discussions to do branded content, though in translation, for other European papers, including Spain’s El Pais, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung and Italy’s La Repubblica.
The International Herald-Tribune staff, however, was not convinced that its further existence was assured, the source said. Mr. Golden said that the fate of the Herald-Tribune did not depend on it turning a profit right away, the source said. But according to the source, he did say, “There is no such thing as a strong unprofitable newspaper.”
A spokesperson for The Times said that Mr. Golden visited the Herald-Tribune’s offices as a “courtesy” during another business trip to Paris. “The supplements are part of our ongoing effort to identify new ways of extending Times branded content into new markets,” the spokesperson said. “Beyond that, we have nothing further to add.”
Microsoft’s Web magazine of politics and punditry, recently sent out an invitation for a cocktail party on April 30 at the Harvard Club featuring “Michael Kinsley’s successor as editor of Slate.”
There’s one hitch: They haven’t decided on who that successor will be. Slate’s still in the midst of its bake-off between deputy editor Jack Shafer and political editor Jacob Weisberg, which will determine the new editor.
“We haven’t made a decision,” explained Scott Moore, general manager of MSN News and Information. “But we know we will by that time.”
Perhaps Mr. Kinsley will do a Bert Parks and bring a tiara to the H-club bash and have Mr. Weisberg and Mr. Shafer stand side by side, fingers crossed. When the winner is crowned, Mr. Kinsley will grab the mike and sing:
There he is, Mr. Slate Editor!
There he is, your ideal!
The dream of a million wonks ….
Mr. Moore predicted it won’t be as suspenseful as that.
“My guess,” Mr. Moore said, “is that people will know before the event. But [they] won’t have known it for long.”
Every year, the folks at Gourmet magazine choose a spiffy theme to enliven their annual advertising-sales meeting. Last year saw “Campaign Gourmet,” a sales meeting with the added “bonus” of guest speakers like James Carville and Mark Green. This year’s theme was “Gourmet Rocks,” and the sale reps-along with all the Condé Nast staffers having lunch in the fourth-floor cafeteria-got an earful of Adharma, a band described by its drummer in an interview as a “no-holds-barred, pedal-to-the-metal, ass-kicking post-core ride of adrenaline with some early Guns ‘n’ Roses gutterpunk attitude to boot.” All band members were tattooed.
Gina Sanders, Gourmet’s publisher, said the “assertive heavy-metal sound” of the band “communicated the message ‘Gourmet Rocks.'” Adharma, whose name means “chaos” in Hindi, was selected thanks to an enterprising Gourmet staffer who knew the lead singer. They set up to play on April 15 during lunch hour, as sales reps streamed out of their meeting and into the Gourmet dining room, down the corridor from the famed Gehry cafeteria.
“It was hysterical,” said band manager Diane Gentile, who usually finds gigs in such places as the punk hangout CBGB for Adharma. “The ceiling started to come down from the vibration-paint started to fall from the ceiling. It was really loud.” A representative for Gourmet denied that paint fell from the ceiling.
The corporate gig, she added, was not the kind of thing musicians usually enjoy doing, what with getting up before 2 p.m. and all. “But for them it’s all about playing music, so they don’t care when they play or where they play,” she said. Then she added, “They were treated with gourmet food and champagne, so they really enjoyed it.”
For nearly two years before The New York Sun launched on April 16, its managing editor, Ira Stoll, wrote a critique of The New York Times for his Web site, Smartertimes.com. Each day, he took The Times to task for hidden liberal bias and overall sloppiness. These daily critiques can now be found in The Sun.
A recent internal memo at The Times on corrections issued by the Metro section noted that its April 11 story on The Sun had three errors that required correction.
In the memo, Times Metro editor Jonathan Landman wrote: “While all mistakes are highly undesirable, there’s something downright humiliating about making three when you write about another newspaper that happens to be run by a guy who made his name attacking us for sloppiness. It seems to me that we’ve screwed something up nearly every time we’ve written about these guys. Let’s stop!”