The following Off the Record item comes from writer Josh Bernstein, who spent a couple of days at The New York Times on a curious temp assignment:
My knowledge of The New York Times ‘ inner machinations is, at best, minor: I buy the Sunday edition to legitimize loitering at diners.
But on a recent humid morning, I found myself at a corner desk on The Times ‘ sterile seventh floor on West 43rd Street. A pleasant male staffer explained my two-day temp gig: I was to print color images from The Times ‘ “Facebook,” a computer database filled with photos and job titles of the more than 5,000 global employees.
The job was fairly simple. My overseer gave me a hand-written list of 16 departments to print, ranging from Circuits to Arts to the paper’s Washington bureau. In total, I would print nearly 1,200 8-by-11 glossy pages, the complete newsroom staff.
When a quizzical look scrunched my mug, my overseer said that the rumor was that the project came straight from the chief, Times executive editor Howell Raines.
“I guess Howell wants to carry around a notebook so he can study everybody in the company,” the staffer said in a whisper.
Indeed, the prevailing theory in the room where I worked was that Mr. Raines-after being chided for a lack of intimacy with his newsroom in a June 10, 2002, New Yorker article-wanted a hard-copy facebook so he could improve his sight recognition of his employees. The book would be something for him to flip through as he considered assignments, promotions or, perhaps, terminations.
But most of my Times colleagues were shy about talking about Mr. Raines. Though not everyone knew him (“Who’s Howell Raines?” a befuddled office assistant asked me), those that did held him in awe.
Toward the end of my first day, after printing more than 600 pages, a female employee walked over and introduced herself.
“So what are you doing?” she asked.
“Why do you think you’re doing it?” she asked.
I mentioned the New Yorker theory.
The woman nodded, then said, “Maybe he wants to see if there are any women to date.”
The work itself did provide a few insights, kind of a peep-show peek into West 43rd Street. The random names that had entertained me countless mornings were given substance. I thrilled to Elvis Mitchell’s dreadlocked photo. Spying Michiko Kakutani’s extension roused an urge to call and argue books. I marveled at staff editor Peter L. Keepnews’ apt surname. I wondered why the Culture department was filled with fiftysomethings. I jotted in my notebook names like Sytske Looijen and Julia B. Just.
But mostly my two-day stint meant this: I stared at a computer screen, cycled through alphabetical lists of departmentally divided employees, clicked a name, waited for the bleary mug shot and employee info to appear, printed said page, then repeated, one by one, until my index finger curled into a talon. Solitude and monotony overwhelmed me by the hour. Shortly after the 900th printout, when even Zuza M. Glowacko’s name failed to pique my interest, I knew I needed to leave.
I printed faces like the wind. The Metro staff blurred into Metro/City. I cranked through Op-Ed, cruised past Style’s doyennes, breezed by the Washington bureau-and then, finality. I gathered the last printouts, stacked them into alphabetical piles and placed Post-Its on top. I told another supervisor the project was complete. He told me to leave the printouts; he’d find an appropriate way to display them. Then someone signed my time sheet and I walked out the door.
No one said goodbye.
Contacted by Off the Record, a Times spokesperson explained Mr. Bernstein’s assignment: “Sometime after his appointment as executive editor, Howell Raines requested a printout of an existing employee directory, which is online for internal use, so that he could learn the names of as many staff members as possible with whom he would be having a series of get-acquainted lunches.”
Nearly a year after being relieved of his duties, former New York Post columnist Sidney Zion is taking his former employer to court.
Once one of a handful of left-leaning voices at the Post , Mr. Zion claims he was forced out of the Murdoch-run tabloid on trumped-up charges that he fabricated a controversy for a column that-coincidentally-went against the paper’s official stance under editorial-page editor Robert McManus.
In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, July 16, in New York State Supreme Court, attorneys for Mr. Zion sued the Post for breach of contract and libel. The suit, obtained by Off the Record, maintains that Mr. Zion was terminated “without cause” in September 2001. It goes on to say the Post and Mr. McManus made “defamatory” statements about Mr. Zion’s character by charging him with fabricating elements of a column.
In return, Mr. Zion’s looking for the $84,000 he was supposed to receive-plus interest-from the last year of his contract, and $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The suit states that Mr. Zion-a former columnist for the Daily News and The Observer -began his career at the Post in August 2000 after he signed a two-year contract to write a twice-weekly column for $2,000 a week.
At first, the suit claims, the job went well. Indeed, in the suit he described his relationship with Mr. McManus as “amicable” until Col Allan took over as the paper’s editor in chief in the spring of 2001. From then on, Mr. Zion claims, Mr. McManus began to treat him harshly and informed him that under Mr. Allan, “everything was different.”
This became apparent, the suit maintains, after the Post published a column by Mr. Zion on July 30, 2001, about convicted Brink’s robber Kathy Boudin. In 1981, Ms. Boudin served as a decoy in a Brink’s robbery that would leave three people-including two Nyack police officers-dead. Ms. Boudin, who was not armed, was convicted of first-degree robbery. Though not convicted in the deaths of the officers, she did plead guilty to second-degree murder for her role in the death of Brink’s guard Peter Paige.
With Ms. Boudin’s parole-board hearing approaching, Mr. Zion wrote a sympathetic piece towards Ms. Boudin entitled “It’s a Media Con Job on Brinks [ sic ] Holdup’s Boudin.”
“The line on Kathy Boudin,” Mr. Zion wrote, “who seeks parole for her role in the Brink’s Job of 1981, is that she should rot in jail for the murder of two cops whom she ambushed by convincing them to put down their arms.
“The line-now a received opinion-is that Boudin looked innocent, was scared and demanded that the cops stash their shotguns, whereupon the killers opened fire.”
In the piece, Mr. Zion went on to state that Ms. Boudin had not been convicted in the death of the two police officers, and that her sentencing judge had felt there was no reason she should spend more than 20 years in jail for what he deemed a “secondary” role in the death of Mr. Paige.
The following day, Mr. Zion’s suit claims, Mr. McManus sent an angry letter to him. Mr. McManus also forwarded the letter to Mr. Allan, then– Post publisher Ken Chandler and Mark Cunningham, executive editor of the editorial page.
In the letter, which is contained in the suit, Mr. McManus accused Mr. Zion of misrepresenting the controversy surrounding Ms. Boudin and misleading another editor at the Post about the subject. Mr. McManus wrote that Mr. Zion had created a false media misrepresentation-”that she had been convicted of murdering two police officers”-in order to generate a column.
“I found a total 16 citations for ‘Kathy Boudin’ over the past 60 days,” Mr. McManus wrote, “Apart from one headline, there was no reference to her as a ‘cop killer.’ Not one article ever even accused her of killing cops.
“There is-was-no uproar,” Mr. McManus wrote, “There is-was-no such ‘line.’
“In this respect, you fabricated the column.’”
Mr. McManus, in the letter, went on to say that henceforth, he’d have to approve all of Mr. Zion’s columns before publication, at an earlier deadline.
“I’m sorry that it has come to this,” Mr. McManus wrote. “If the Boudin column had been the first needing special attention, that would be one thing. But it is not, as you well know.”
Mr. Zion shot back a letter (also included with the suit) that he sent to Mr. Chandler and Mr. Allan on August 9. He swore he hadn’t made up the controversy and cited recent articles to prove it. Among them was the Daily News column Mr. McManus referred to, by Zev Chafets, entitled “Cop-Killing Radical Is Where She Belongs.” Mr. Zion also cited a July 15, 2001, Post editorial headed “Leave Boudin on Ice” that read, “Kathy Boudin helped snuff out the lives of three brave men, leaving behind three fatherless families, in a misguided and twisted quest to make this a ‘better world.’”
“My column ran against the editorial position of our paper,” Mr. Zion wrote. “One of the reasons Ken Chandler hired me-a year ago today-was to have diversity on the Op-Ed page. And Bob always encouraged this.
“I don’t reach out to be contrary,” Mr. Zion continued. “I only do it when it’s appropriate.”
Things broke down from there. Despite a plea to Mr. Allan to intercede, Mr. Zion’s suit claims the columnist’s relationship with Mr. McManus continued to deteriorate. In the weeks that followed, Mr. McManus and Mr. Zion argued about the new deadline, and Mr. Zion accused Mr. McManus of trying to fire him. After Mr. McManus refused to run one of his columns, the Post fired Mr. Zion on Sept. 10, 2001.
Mr. Allan and Mr. McManus, through a Post spokesperson, declined to comment.
When reached by Off the Record, Mr. Zion said, “The lawsuit speaks for itself …. I’m bringing the lawsuit because I can’t stand by and allow myself to be driven out of the profession I love because of a charge so phony nobody can take it out into the sunlight. If they can do it to me, they can do it to anybody.”
If you’ve recently received a phone call from either a headhunter or an editor from Us Weekly , seeing if you’d be interested in working for them … hey, bub, you’re not alone!
Who says no one is hiring in magazine land? Bonnie Fuller’s caption-and-fashion celeb picture-book seems to be playing flirty tele-footsie with everyone in town, tossing around teases of hefty raises, some as high as 100 percent.
Apparently, Us Weekly needs people, fast: The magazine is expanding, and one source familiar with the situation said 21 people have left or been let go since Ms. Fuller took over earlier this year.
But some who were approached by Us Weekly didn’t feel they got the personal touch. One person contacted by an Us Weekly editor said: “It seems like they just want warm bodies …. When they called me, they had no idea who I was. My name had just come up in conversation. They were completely unfamiliar with my work. I got the feeling that if I’d said ‘Sure, I’d love to work for you,’ that I’d have gotten the job … based on nothing.”
Others have absorbed a warm ‘n’ fuzzy sell from an Us Weekly headhunter.
“I’d never gotten a headhunter call before,” said Daily News reporter Helen Kennedy of her all-too-brief dalliance with Us . “It seemed like something you’d get in Corporate. I mean, if they were really interested in you, you’d get a call from an editor.”
Ms. Fuller did not return a call seeking comment. However, Janice Min, the magazine’s executive editor, said the magazine wasn’t desperate, just growing.
“We hired a headhunter to conduct our search,” Ms. Min said. “They’re calling many more people than we’d ever dream of hiring. We’re just casting a wide net. In fact, we’ve hired relatively few people.”
Ms. Min added there was a “very tough screening process” that interested applicants went through. When asked about the “warm bodies” comment, Ms. Min said: “That is completely untrue! There have been a good many people we’ve not agreed to talk to or turned away. We want warm bodies with actual skills who can contribute something to the magazine.”
Two warm bodies that recently passed through the Us offices didn’t have far to travel. According to sources, Time staff writer Joel Stein and senior editor Belinda Luscombe both had interviews at the magazine.
Mr. Stein acknowledged dropping by the Us offices on Friday, July 12, to Off the Record, saying, “I’ll talk to anybody. They all seemed nice. It was just sort of a meet-and-greet; not enough to have any real thoughts.”
As for Ms. Luscombe, she was surprised by the dough Us Weekly was tossing around.
“They’re throwing around a lot of big numbers,” Ms. Luscombe said. “They’re offering me half again my salary-a 50 percent pay increase. Kind of big!”
In the interest of full disclosure, Off the Record alum Gabriel Snyder joined Us Weekly a couple months back, and a headhunter recently called to see if we’d be interested in joining him. (Talk about your warm bodies!) Off the Record, however, is staying put.
“It’s The Osbournes !” Time managing editor Jim Kelly said. “Just call me Jim Osbourne!”
Recently, CNBC’s Business Center followed Mr. Kelly around for a day-in-the life feature-from his first cup of coffee at his West Side apartment right on through the day. And while a 15-minute version of the piece aired on Business Center on July 16, according to a Time spokesperson the network has planned a more in-depth, half-hour version for the future.
Sadly, what we see might not exactly be Mr. Kelly’s real world. According to sources at Time , Mr. Kelly called several writers who normally don’t attend the 10 a.m. meeting to show up on July 11 to, as one source put it, “juice up the meeting.”
Mr. Kelly said: “I wanted a full room. It’s July-a lot of people are on vacation. Normally, a lot of people come to the 10 o’clock meeting.”
Asked if there was a chance for an extended television run, Mr. Kelly said: “I’m ready; I’m willing. If they want to build a whole show around me, show me the contract.”