Columbia’s Dream Team: Star Trip Status Quo?

Paging Quincy Jones! The big head-scratch at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism took a starry “We Are the World” turn on Sept. 23 when new president Lee Bollinger announced his “task force” to examine the school’s future. And wowzers, the names: Ken Auletta, Bob Woodward, Anna Quindlen, Nick Lemann, Sylvia Nasar and Clarence Page, to name a few. There’s Claire Shipman and Gwen Ifill and Todd Gitlin, and Newsweek chairman Richard M. Smith. Victor Navasky? There, too.

That’s not all of the big names, either. The complete 33-member Columbia Journalism School task force reads like an encyclopedia of super-achievement in journalism, academia and beyond. It includes current Columbia heavy-hitters like Alan Brinkley, provost Jonathan Cole and acting journalism-school dean David Klatell, and even the Carnegie Corporation’s Vartan Gregorian.

It’s quite a list. But out of Columbia, the question this week was: What can Lee Bollinger’s Dream Team be expected to do?

“It’s a veritable Who’s Who ,” said one faculty member at the journalism school. “That said, I just don’t get this. What is going on here? It’s not as if we haven’t been trying to deal with questions of what a journalism education should be for a number of years.”

The big worry out of Morningside Heights was that Mr. Bollinger’s task force was too star-laden and status quo-heavy-that in his effort to name Big Names, the Columbia president assembled a crew that possessed admirable talent and experience, but were mostly media insiders. The concern was that Mr. Bollinger’s All-Stars didn’t have enough out-of-left-field thinkers necessary to stimulate the role-of-a-J-school conversation the new president said he wanted to have.

But then again, said another faculty member at the journalism school, maybe that’s exactly what Mr. Bollinger wanted.

“It is certainly an impressive list,” said the faculty member. “But in the end, it’s irrelevant. [Mr. Bollinger] is going to do what he wants to do. That’s what people don’t understand. It’s completely irrelevant.”

“You’re talking about great people on that list,” another faculty member said. “But at the end of the day, you can’t get away from what journalists do. I’d be shocked if anything really came out of this-I really would.”

But faculty skepticism of Mr. Bollinger’s intentions hasn’t been in short supply since earlier this year, when the fresh-from-Michigan president suddenly suspended the university’s search for a new dean for the journalism school. In his decision, Mr. Bollinger said that he wanted to fully understand “what a modern journalism school curriculum should look like,” adding that to “teach the craft of journalism is a worthy goal but clearly insufficient in this new world and within the setting of a great university.”

A Columbia spokesperson said, “The task force will be a process. It hasn’t even had its first meeting yet.” As for the membership of the committee, the spokesperson said, “Having working journalists will bring a valid perspective to what schools of journalism will be like tomorrow. It’s looking forward.”

Elsewhere, reaction to Columbia’s new task force varied widely.

“Well, it’s certainly a big committee!” said Orville Schell, dean of the graduate school of journalism at the University of California. “How do you wrangle all those cats into one bag? But maybe the discussion alone-raising the models of what a journalism school is and should be-maybe that would be a good start.”

Mickey Kaus of Slate and Kausfiles.com said that Bollinger’s list didn’t “seem bad,” but added: “The question in my mind is whether there’s enough people on this committee open to the idea of just having the school go out of business instead of wasting a year of a young journalist’s time.”

The Nation and New York Press columnist Alexander Cockburn was bit harsher.

“What are these people meant to do?” Mr. Cockburn said. “It’s completely ridiculous and will achieve absolutely nothing!

“If you have an institution like the Columbia Journalism School,” he continued, “given its position relative to the newspaper industry, and given the shape of the industry, those people can sit around in a circle and jerk each other off for the next 20 years and they’ll still come up with nothing. You can write up pretty accurately what the mission statement will be: you know, honorifics about the tradition of American journalism. But none of that’s going to alter what the basic structure of the industry is these days.

“Renewal in newspapers comes with political change,” Mr. Cockburn said. “Journalism in America was renewed with the impact of Vietnam-you know, by the realization that the language of journalism in the 50’s and 60’s wasn’t appropriate to current events.”

Mr. Cockburn suggested “burning down the school, send all the applicants around the world with $100 and come back with 20 stories-and take a year to do it. And no putting $100 in your shoe, either! They’d learn more; they’d do more interesting things.”

New Men’s Journal editor in chief Bob Wallace has made his first move in bringing the magazine from the outer brush of outdoor and adventure magazines to the domain of GQ and Esquire , by hiring New York articles editor Mark Horowitz as his executive editor.

Mr. Horowitz’s first job in this mainstreaming journey? Working on adventure and travel service pieces!

“We wanted to send a clear message,” Mr. Wallace said, “that we’re still interested in travel and adventure, and Mark is brilliant at doing great packaging and great service material.

“As we evolve into a men’s general-lifestyle magazine,” Mr. Wallace said, “forget general interest-men’s-lifestyle magazine-we really want to make sure that these building blocks remain strong.”

In the weeks prior to the dismissal of former editor Sid Evans and the hiring of Mr. Wallace, departures plagued the magazine. As a result, Mr. Wallace-the fifth editor in the magazine’s 10-year history under Jann Wenner-told Off the Record he was in position to make approximately three more editorial hires, saying “there’s room to expand the staff right now.”

As for Men’s Journal new general-interest edict, Mr. Wallace said it would begin up-front, with a “more consistent cover philosophy.”

“The covers would go from being a fitness cover one week to an outdoor cover to a gear cover,” Mr. Wallace said of the fronts of the previous regime, “so really it would be really racked in different places based on the cover image. What I want is a very direct cover image, probably based on using people on the cover to really clarify the image of the magazine.”

Does that mean celebrities on the cover?

“Sports figures,” Mr. Wallace said, “celebrities, anybody who we feel represent the DNA of the magazine.”

As for the magazine’s adventure-loving readers, Mr. Wallace said don’t worry.

“Our intention is not to leave them behind,” Mr. Wallace said. “Our intention is to bring them along.”

How’s he doing?

For the past year, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has reviewed movies for the Manhattan weeklies The Downtown Express and The Villager.

Recently, though, Mr. Koch’s handle on cinema came under some scrutiny from a community film leader. In a letter to the Express , Karen Cooper, director of the Film Forum wrote “Yes, I am fully aware that Ed Koch was once the mayor, but that gives him no specific experience, sensitivity or ability when it comes to film reviewing.”

Ms. Cooper went on to write that Mr. Koch’s “writing would garner a C-minus from any self-respecting sixth-grade English teacher.”

Mr. Koch responded the following week. He pointed out that he’d written eight nonfiction books and that his reviews are “intended to provide an ordinary guy’s perspective on movies.”

“Finally,” Mr. Koch went on to write, “let me test the depth of Ms. Cooper’s cultural knowledge. I recommend that she look to Goethe’s play ‘Gotz von Berlichingen’ to ascertain my true feelings towards her.”

Say what?

“In the play,” Mr. Koch told Off the Record, ” for the first time a classic German writer put in the mouth of one of the characters ‘You can kiss my ass.’ And Germans not being able to bring themselves to be that vulgar wouldn’t repeat that language, but instead would say ‘ Gotz von Berlichingen !'”

Ms. Cooper said the letter had been intended for John Sutter, the editor and publisher of The Villager and Downtown Express . She said she’d forgotten to mark it “not for publication.”

“I agreed with [Mr. Koch’s] letter,” Ms. Cooper said, “that the language was unduly harsh and inappropriate. I would have phrased things differently had I known that I would be writing for publication.”

“Nevertheless,” Ms. Cooper continued, “I stand by everything I said in the letter. He’s an inappropriate person to comment on this work. He doesn’t have the background. He doesn’t have the skill.”

Wanted: Someone to sit and listen to Mets manager Bobby Valentine applaud his team’s effort while watching slugger Mo Vaughn eat a box of donuts. 162 games a year.

Daily News Mets beat writer T.J. Quinn, who had covered the team for the Daily News for the past two and a half seasons, has fled the Shea clubhouse. He’s off to the News ‘ sports investigative team, filling the opening left last spring when Luke Cyphers bungee’d to ESPN the Magazine .

Mr. Quinn-who previously covered the team for two and a half seasons for The Record in Bergen County-told Off the Record he’s simply had enough of being a baseball writer in baseball’s most demanding market.

“I have two young kids and a wife,” Mr. Quinn said. “After awhile, it just gets too tough on everybody. The competition. The nerves. I’m tired of having my wife be a single mother half the year.”

Mr. Quinn’s departure from the sport all together is the second by a young, well-respected baseball scribe this year. Before the start of spring training, The New York Times ‘ Buster Olney-who’d covered the Yankees throughout their championship run-gave up the beat for the less-draining task of covering professional football. And this for a beat once considered a newspaper’s franchise, where writers once would spend 17 or 18 years, if not their entire professional lives.

“I think a big part of it,” Mr. Quinn explained, “is that the job didn’t used to take as much time. The season itself was shorter. The playoffs were shorter. You also had relationships between writers and teams. You had writers who covered the 1969 Mets who got World Series rings. Can you imagine somebody today doing the same thing? Before, you were more invested in the team and part of the team and part of the community and now you’re in a situation where you’re an enemy. All the time.

“I just look at the relationships between some of the older guys and the teams they covered,” Mr. Quinn continued. “When you see guys of the Yankee and Mets teams of the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s come around, their relationships are different with the older writers are different. It’s like these are old pals getting together for something. I don’t know if it’s going to be the same way with Mike Piazza in 20 years. I like the guy. Are we invested in each other’s lives? No.”

As for Mr. Quinn’s replacement in Flushing, News sports editor Leon Carter referred the matter to a News spokesperson who said: “Right now, we plan on filling in. After the baseball season ends, we’ll work on finding a permanent replacement.”

For five years, Max Boot has had the dream of every young neo-conservative: editing the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal . Part of the job was fending off unsolicited think tankers, wanting their byline on pieces about nuclear disarmament.

Now, The Journal ‘s op-ed page will have to fend off Mr. Boot. On Tuesday, Sept. 24, Mr. Boot confirmed to Off the Record that he’s going to be a national security studies senior fellow at the New York-based think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations. The job, he said, would allow him to write his next book on technology in military history, full-time and during daylight hours.

“What I tried to do is make it a little more lively,” Mr. Boot said of his time at the op-ed page. “Less policy-wonky, ironically enough-less think-tank material. So, in my new job, I’ll have to rethink that subject.”

Always an instigator, in the past few months the page has scored two major hits: first with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft’s piece coming out against a possible war with Iraq, and later with former GE chief executive Jack Welch’s repudiation of his controversial retirement perks.

The Journal has not named a replacement, but in the meantime, deputy op-ed page editor Tunku Varadarajan will handle Mr. Boot’s duties. A Journal spokesperson said a decision on a permanent solution would come soon.