No More Seymore? Entertainment Weekly Editor Makes Plan
Just two weeks after he stood on the stage of the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom to receive a National Magazine Award for General Excellence, Entertainment Weekly managing editor Jim Seymore has begun the his slow exit waltz away from his Time Inc. fiefdom, sources told Off the Record.
Mr. Seymore’s status as managing editor has been the subject of speculation inside and outside Time Inc. for some time, but sources said that over next month, while Mr. Seymore tends to commitments outside EW , started a process that will help determine who will take over the celebrity-chronicling magazine when he officially steps down.
In March, Mr. Seymore took on a consulting role for Time4Media, the AOL Time Warner division that publishes Golf Magazine , Popular Science and Field & Stream -a move that was seen as a harbinger of changes to come at EW . But in a recent memo to selected staff, Mr. Seymore announced that he would be less accessible to EW in the next four weeks and devoting more time to that consulting role. In the interim, he put co–executive editor Peter Bonventre in charge. Mr. Bonventre’s stint, which began with the May 17 issue, will run until the June 6 issue.
An absentee managing editor is not unusual at Time Inc., where the men and women in charge sometimes roam the country lunching with advertisers and sitting in with focus groups. But in EW ‘s case, this is an extended absence taken by a managing editor who’s recently taken a side job.
What’s also surprising, sources said, is that Mr. Seymore picked Mr. Bonventre over fellow executive editor Richard Sanders to run the show. Mr. Sanders, who was on vacation the week of Mr. Bonventre’s first issue, more often runs the show in Mr. Seymore’s absence. Mr. Bonventre’s turn at the helm, sources said, is interpreted at EW as a chance for him to prove himself worthy of consideration as the managing editor.
One Time Inc. source described the scenario this way: “The feeling was that they’d already seen what they had to from Richard, and wanted to give Pete a chance to show what he could do.”
Mr. Seymore, however, denies that he’s staging an internal competition. Twice in his memo, sources said, Mr. Seymore wrote that this was not intended to indicate a “bake-off”-referring to the 1995 battle between Daniel Okrent and Bill Colson for the stewardship of Sports Illustrate d, where both men each received three months to strut their stuff.
“Is it a bake-off in the way Bill Colson and Dan Okrent was?” said another source. “No. But anyone interested in this job is going to look for an opportunity to show his stuff.”
To be sure, both Mr. Bonventre and Mr. Sanders have put in their time inside the golden coffin. Mr. Bonventre, a onetime Newsweek scribe and CBS News senior producer, joined the House of Luce in 1989 as a senior editor for Life , before joining EW in 1993. In 1991, Mr. Sanders came to EW after a six-year stint at People .
Meanwhile, an air of mystery has continued to surround the future of Mr. Seymore at EW . When he took the outside consulting job, Mr. Seymore said he would continue doing both jobs indefinitely. To be sure, new Time Inc. editorial director John Huey has shown a willingness to shake up the tops of his company’s mastheads. And though the company’s preference is usually to hire from within, sources said an outside candidate could very well be plucked for the EW job.
“Nobody has any sense which way they’re leaning or how long it might take,” one source said. “It could be the end of the summer; it could be the end of the year.”
Mr. Bonventre did not return a call for comment. Mr. Sanders meanwhile referred the matter to an EW spokesperson. Mr. Seymore, through a spokesperson, said: “Richard and Pete have always run the magazine on occasions when I am away from the office. It is an equal sharing of responsibilities and as simple as that. To read anything more into this would be inaccurate.”
John Tierney, The New York Times ‘ contrarian Metro section columnist, is leaving New York to work in the paper’s Washington bureau later this summer. Mr. Tierney, who has been using his column recently to campaign for toll booths on city bridges and to cheer Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed end of the curbside recycling program, e-mailed: “Washington’s a great place to work-the mother lode of material for a libertarian-but the real reason I’m going is that I can’t bear to stay in New York once the recycling program is cut. What would I do with my weekends if I couldn’t sort bottles and cans?”
Mr. Tierney didn’t say what would happen with his Metro column, or what he’d be doing once he arrived in D.C. “I can’t say much more at the moment-we’re still hammering out the details,” he wrote.
Times officials did little to clear up the mystery. A Times spokesman said, “This remains in the realm of speculation, and we can’t comment on speculation.” When told that Mr. Tierney had confirmed the move, the spokesperson said that newsroom management had nothing more to add. Washington bureau chief Jill Abramson had no comment, and Metro editor Jonathan Landman did not return calls for comment.
Some Times staffers saw Mr. Tierney’s move to Washington as part of a grooming process to make him an Op-Ed columnist one day. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who is in charge of selecting the Op-Ed columnists, is said to be concerned about maintaining conservative voices on his Op-Ed page. Of course, Mr. Tierney is a very New York sort of conservative: talking approvingly about him can get you dirty looks from your lefty pals, but he isn’t exactly a right-wing firebrand. But with William Safire the lone conservative on the Times Op-Ed page these days, there is probably a niche for Mr. Tierney’s brand of urban libertarianism on the page.
Precedent? Times staffers made comparisons to Tom Friedman, who spent a year as the newspaper’s chief economic correspondent before his appointment as an Op-Ed columnist in 1995. Editorial-page editor Gail Collins, who would be involved in the selection of any new Op-Ed columnists, declined to comment on Mr. Tierney.
The New York Times has been criticized the past for being a little soft in reviews of books by its own staffers. For instance, there’s a Web site, Mobylives.com, which has been tracking the number of times The Times plugs its own current and former employees: 253 plugs in the 387 days the site has been counting.
But rarely does a Times writer come in for a true pasting in the pages of his or her own paper. Such was the fate of Lisa Belkin, whose recent book, Life’s Work , was pounded in a review on May 8 by Maureen Corrigan. It’s certainly possible for a Times writer to write a bad book, but what was interesting about Ms. Belkin’s book was that it’s primarily a collection of her columns about balancing a career with motherhood, which she has written for The Times Magazine since 1999.
It isn’t likely that Ms. Corrigan’s review will be blurbed on the paperback edition. “[Ms. Belkin] risks so little intellectual capital in analyzing [personal issues] that her reflections vaporize almost as soon as they hit the page,” Ms. Corrigan wrote. Elsewhere, Ms. Corrigan complained of Ms. Belkin’s “characteristic failure to think things through to a potentially self-challenging conclusion.” And the true insult: “If the curled lip of derision is Martin Amis’s characteristic essay trope, and the wink of complicity is Calvin Trillin’s, then the shrug-the frustrating adolescent kind-is Ms. Belkin’s.”
Ms. Belkin declined comment when reached by Off the Record, but sources at The Times say she was devastated and furious by the review. “I was quite stunned to see it myself,” said one staffer.
Ms. Corrigan is the book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and frequently writes book reviews for the Washington Post and Newsday . (She has also, in the past, reviewed books for The Observer .) Ms. Corrigan said that she has written less frequently for The Times . “They call me in once or twice a year, almost specifically when they do books by Times people,” she said. “They don’t want their people to do them. They think it would be a conflict of interest.”
And, Ms. Corrigan said, she wasn’t called in as a hired gun to trash the book. She said, “I’m not given any directions when I’m given an assignment, ‘love this book’ or ‘pan this book.’”
Bob Berkvist, who assigned the book review, did not return a call for comment.
Dennis Lay Johnson, who runs Mobylives.com and compiles the tally of Times plugs for Times writers, said that most of the plugs he tallies are positive, but there have been a few negative doozies. Last year, the Times ‘ Michiko Kakutani slammed Michael Lewis’ book Next , which, like Ms. Belkin’s Life’s Work , included material that Mr. Lewis had written for The Times Magazine .
A couple of sources at The Times went so far as to suggest that the review of Ms. Belkin’s book was a reaction to Mobylives.com, a swipe to show that The Times is not always lovey-dovey with its own. Mr. Johnson was flattered by the suggestion, but said, “I strongly doubt that.” Still, one source said, “I guess it showed The Times to be completely free from conflict of interest.”
Typically, when Artforum editor Jack Bankowsky is featured in the pages of The New York Times , he’s dispensing quotes on contemporary art: about wresting “attention from the spectacle of the commodity,” or how “using the technologies available can speak to contemporary reality.” But Mr. Bankowsky appeared in the national edition of The Times on May 9 as a pitch man for Sprint PCS. In a full-page ad that ran on the back page of the A section, Mr. Bankowsky’s mug was used to sell the Total Digital Connections Plan ($79.99 a month for 8,000 minutes!).
Mr. Bankowsky, described in the ad as “a success-driven overachiever” but otherwise unidentified, told Off the Record that he wasn’t concerned that his dalliance in the world of commerce would hamper his role as an arbiter of taste in the art world. “I don’t know if it will have that effect on me, because it was uncredited,” he said. “I wasn’t too worried or I wouldn’t have done it.”
Mr. Bankowsky’s photo came to the attention of the San Francisco–based advertising agency Publicis & Hal Riney through photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’1999 book Art World , which came out at the same time as Mr. Greenfield-Sanders’ Art World exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery. The show collected 700 portraits of-you guessed it-people in the art world. The photo of Mr. Bankowsky was taken in 1993, shortly after he was promoted to editor at Artforum .
Ruth Rosenfield, an art director at Hal Riney, said: “Jack Bankowsky was chosen simply for the way he looks: successful, honest and self-assured.” Of Mr. Greenfield-Sanders’ work, she said: “His straightforward, honest treatment of his subjects really fit with our target for this wireless plan.”
Mr. Bankowsky was paid for his inclusion in the print ads, which have also run in Time and Newsweek , but wouldn’t say how much. “It was nice for a hard-working editor,” he said. Enough to buy dinner for you and your art pals? “It’s a little bit more than a nice dinner with your friends.”
The May 20 issue of The New Yorker features a Talk of the Town profile on Nick McDonell-everyone’s favorite 18-year-old novelist, who’s also the son of Sports Illustrated managing editor Terry McDonell. The younger Mr. McDonell, whose book Twelve is being published by Grove/Atlantic, is depicted by writer Dana Goodyear as your normal cool Riverdale kid, doing stunts on his scooter and taking Latin … except with, you know, a novel. In that same vein, Ms. Goodyear notes that Mr. McDonell “also sometimes does not do what is expected of him, or what has lately been requested of him: take off his shirt for Details , although whether he has entertained the idea is a matter of some debate between him and his friends Mookie and Margo.”
Fair enough. But there’s a catch: The folks over at Details say they never asked to photograph him, much less to appear bare-chested for the magazine.
“It’s important to note,” said Details editor in chief Dan Peres, “that there’s no better judge of young literary talent than their willingness to expose their pecs. However, we didn’t put Mr. McDonell through that test.
Ms. Goodyear declined to comment, and the younger Mr. McDonell could not be reached for comment at deadline. However, the elder Mr. McDonell said he thought that perhaps The New Yorker misunderstood.
“I certainly don’t speak for Nick,” Mr. McDonell said, “but I think it was probably part of a joke they all have about being famous. He certainly didn’t mean to put down Details . He likes the magazine.”