Off the Record

I suppose there are some people who say we should have acquired Cosmo or Rolling Stone or something like that.-Paul Steiger, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal

When the editors and writers of The Wall Street Journal returned to their offices in the World Financial Center in August, it felt like a fresh start. Despite having to crawl through nosy, annoying tourists from Iowa City and Cleveland pushing for views of the World Trade Center site, Journal staffers were relieved to be back together.

Now, that spirit of togetherness appears to be cracking. After announcing dismal third-quarter 2002 earnings on Oct. 10, The Journal ‘s parent, Dow Jones, told staffers there would be layoffs. And while waiting for something to happen, The Journal ‘s staff has become an angrier bunch as speculation rages as to who might be forced to go.

“It’s pretty dark,” said one WSJ source. “Everyone’s just waiting around to see who’ll get the ax.”

Another Journal source said: “Everyone went through this phase where we were pretty glum and angry. Then we just got fearful. And we’re still that way.”

Ronald Chen, a copy editor with The Journal and president of the paper’s union, IAPE Local 1096 of the Communications Workers of America, told Off the Record: “We have not got any indication on numbers and the types of workers that would be affected.”

One Dow Jones source familiar with the situation said that the layoffs could be announced as early as this week. The source said that many of the cuts will come from the paper’s information-technology unit, located in South Brunswick, N.J., but didn’t rule out the company eliminating staff from the newsroom as well. But, another Journal source said cuts would be minimal with no more than 15 from the paper itself.

According to sources inside The Journal , the fears of potential layoffs among the news staff were heightened after performance evaluations were done in early October instead of December or January.

Asked about this, Mr. Chen would only say: “Reductions in newsroom personnel tend to be big news. It’s the kind of news that the company would like the world not to pay attention to. They’d prefer to reduce the newsroom staff through the performance-review process. In the past, that’s been the case.”

Bracing for cuts, the paper’s union took the unusual step of asking people who might take buyouts from the company to come forward. Buyouts are not included, Mr. Chen said, in the union’s contract with Dow Jones, but he said there was “some advantage to doing it, rather than being forced to lay off people who might want to stay.”

Mr. Chen wouldn’t say how many people had offered, but as one source at The Journal said: “Never underestimate the number of people that want to leave a company.”

Sources at the paper said that nobody on staff would like to leave the paper faster than the more than 300 people permanently relocated to South Brunswick, N.J. According to sources, the morale at the sprawling suburban center has reached new lows in recent months, prompting speculation of an exodus following the payment of the bonus promised to all those who agreed to stay through Jan. 31, 2003. Those who stick around will receive a payment of 50 percent of their base salary, with a minimum of $25,000.

One relocated WSJ source, who said the morale in South Brunswick has gone from “disgruntled” to “toxic,” told Off the Record: “You’ll probably see a lot of people leave. People are only hanging around here because of the bonus. It’s miserable. We can’t stop thinking that this was part of some plan of forced attrition.”

Perhaps it’s only natural, but many inside the paper say the blame for the current situation lies with the paper’s inability to bunker itself from the cyclical nature of advertising-in particular, financial advertising. During the same period, Dow Jones posted an 85 percent drop in profits, while the New York Times Company reported a 35 percent gain.

“How is the New York Times building a new headquarters, and we can’t even stay together in the same office building?” one Journal source asked. “When things are good, you have to put away money here and there; you have to think ahead. There’s no evidence of that here.”

But how much does The Times matter from The Journal ‘s standpoint? In a Sept. 9 speech to investors at the Morgan Stanley Global Communications Conference, Dow Jones executive vice president and C.F.O. Richard Zannino listed Forbes , Fortune and Business Week as the paper’s four primary competitors. Faced with a devastating advertising market, he said, The Journal had held its own.

Over the years, The Journal has tried to diversify itself. In 1998, it introduced its real-estate-ad-friendly “Weekend Journal” to the Friday edition of the paper. Earlier this year, it introduced the “Personal Journal,” a fourth section meant to attract less volatile high-end advertising. The Wall Street Journal Sunday -a weekly Sunday supplement-now appears in 74 newspapers. The paid online version of The Journal has been an actual Web success story, increasing its advertising revenues by 24 percent and its subscriptions by 9 percent in 2001.

But as Mr. Chen pointed out to Off the Record: “After failing in some notable areas over the past decade, Dow Jones has been left with one lone franchise: the print Journal . Although WSJ.com has done well, that’s not what pays the bills.”

One analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity, applauded the advent of the “Personal Journal” but said: “It’s just too bad they didn’t do this before. They overexposed themselves to high-tech advertising during the boom. They could have diversified more in the late 1990′s. They didn’t, and the situation you see now is a direct result of that decision.”

The analyst said that while people outside the company can sympathize with the paper’s plight, “people are starting to question their management as well.”

Speaking from Tokyo, Journal managing editor Paul Steiger declined to comment on any personal decisions involving the paper. But he did comment on the paper’s overall financial health: “I think that when you’re in a cyclical business, there’s always a cry: ‘Why didn’t we diversify?’ Then you have things like Mobil Oil buying Montgomery Ward. I suppose there are some people who say we should have acquired Cosmo or Rolling Stone or something like that. But what we’re about is business news.

“We are what we are,” Mr. Steiger said. “Our focus is business news. We want to dominate in that domain. It’s a great audience; we will come back. But we are never going to have 20 pages of Saks or Bloomingdale’s or Bergdorf’s ads. We’re never going to have 100 pages of makeup and fashion ads. That’s not who we are. But who we are, I think, is pretty good.”

We found him! We found him! After being accosted by people seeking an explanation for the prolonged, mysterious absence of New York Times restaurant critic William (“Biff”) Grimes, Off the Record went on a cross-continental search. Following a few busted leads-including an embarrassing run-in with a goat and an empty bottle of Gatorade on the Mexican border-we finally located Mr. Grimes … at the library.

On Nov. 8, the New York Public Library will open its doors to New York Eats Out , an exhibition of menus meant to chronicle the history of restaurant life in New York. Mr. Grimes has spent the past year and a half serving as curator, plowing through the library’s collection of 25,000 menus in hundreds of boxes to find 250 for the show.

“I had no idea how much work would be involved in these things,” Mr. Grimes said. “You have to write 250 tags and keep your eyes peeled so things don’t get messed up.

“Whenever people would ask me,” Mr. Grimes said of his disappearance from The Times , “I’d say I was up to ‘Project X.’ This was a major component.”

Mr. Grimes said the menus served as “historical documents about the way people ate” in a city where people have always preferred restaurants to eating at home. As such, Mr. Grimes said, part of the challenge was making sure the exhibition reflected the broad tastes and incomes of eaters in the city, and not just the crowd at 21.

“There was a lot of good stuff that came from lunch rooms,” Mr. Grimes said, “from YMCA or YWCA cafeterias or very humble oyster houses. You get to see that it wasn’t all Delmonico’s.”

Asked about his favorite find, Mr. Grimes said: “The stash of menus that came out of the 1939 World’s Fair. You don’t think of the World’s Fair in terms of menus, but in many ways it was like a United Nations of food, with all these different international booths set up.

“And two very important restaurants came out of it,” Mr. Grimes continued: “Le Pavillon and the Brussels.”

Ah, what about his column in “Dining Out?” When asked, Mr. Grimes said it was “imminent.”

In December 2000, after a short-lived and tumultuous run as editor in chief of Men’sJournal ,Mark Bryant packed up his bags and headed back to New Mexico, where he previously had led Outside to three consecutive National Magazine Awards in general excellence.

But like that friend of yours who moves to Los Angeles and buys an Impala, Mr. Bryant’s ready to come back to us … as an executive editor at HarperCollins.

“I think I’ve been having too much fun out here,” Mr. Bryant told Off the Record. “I’ve been cowboying it too long. Even the horse I bought last year told me not to consider him my day job.”

Mr. Bryant said that after watching friends like former Harper’s deputy editor Colin Harrison make the switch, he too wanted to make the jump from magazines to books.

“This is really an opportunity to work with long-form journalism again,” Mr. Bryant said. “You don’t see that being practiced-or being practiced well-at a lot of magazines.”

Long-timefriendandcurrent HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey, who helped wrangle Mr. Bryant for the publisher, said of the new hire: “He’s worked with a lot of great writers, including Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer. Of course, both of them are under contracts with other publishers. But we’ll see how long that lasts.”

When told of Mr. Hirshey’s comments, Mr. Bryant said: “It would be wonderful to hook up with old colleagues. But I’d like to be looking for new talent, new voices. So I’ll be out peeking under rocks and logs for young writers. I’ll definitely be doing a lot of that.”

New York magazine business columnist (and former Observer writer) Landon Thomas Jr. is going to The New York Times to cover Wall Street. Times business editor Glenn Kramon said Mr. Thomas will begin in mid-November.

“It’s what he knows and what he likes,” Mr. Kramon said. “So that’s what he’ll do for us.”

Now that the snipers have been caught … it’s time to see some Steve Dunleavy ass! On Oct. 17, in a column titled “Wake up! This Terrorist Is No Native”, New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy laid out an argument that the person terrorizing the suburbs of Washington, D.C., had to be an alien marksman.

“If,” Mr. Dunleavy concluded, “when the shooter is caught, if he is not a foreigner, I will bare my derriere in Macy’s window.”

Following the arrest of two gunmen-both from the United States, though the Post took many pains to refer to John Lee Malvo as a Jamaican immigrant-Off the Record reached out to Mr. Dunleavy. Mr. Dunleavy did not return our calls.

However, when asked if Mr. Dunleavy would expose his pasty-white bottom to unsuspecting passers-by on 34th Street, Post metro editor Jesse Angelo said: “Negotiations are in the works.”

“I never regret a columnist making an opinion noted,” Mr. Angelo said. “That’s what columnists are paid to do.