Art Spiegelman, who’s broken up with The New Yorker about as many times as Elizabeth Taylor did with Richard Burton, says he and the magazine have reached the town of Splitsville … again.
Speaking from Paris on Dec. 29, Mr. Spiegelman told Off the Record that he had decided not to renew his contract, which is about to expire, as a staff artist and writer. Unlike his previous flights from the magazine under former editor Tina Brown, Mr. Spiegelman described this one as “incredibly gentle and civilized on all sides.”
“There are things I need and want to do that don’t fit the current mood of the magazine,” Mr. Spiegelman said. “It is by default the best magazine around, but it seems much more about taking things in stride. Whereas, I just think the sky’s always falling with more reason than ever.”
Mr. Spiegelman said current New Yorker editor David Remnick told him that he was welcome back at any time, and could continue to design covers for the magazine. Likewise, Mr. Spiegelman said he hoped to produce freelance pieces for the magazine. However, Mr. Spiegelman said, right now he felt he no longer had a place fronting the latest dispatches from Nicholas Lemann in Washington and Ken Auletta from the Miramax catacombs.
“After Sept. 11, there was period when The New Yorker was as confused as everybody else and it was possible to produce very interesting images,” Mr. Spiegelman said. “More recently the magazine seems to have quieted down its covers for one thing. On the other hand, the place I’m coming from is just much more agitated than The New Yorker ‘s tone. The assumptions and attitudes [I have] are not part of The Times Op-Ed page of acceptable discourse.”
Currently, Mr. Speigelman’s putting up all that pent-up agitation to other pursuits. Mostly, he said, he’s devoting his energy towards his new comic strip “In the Shadow of No Towers” now being published once a month by the German newspaper Die Zeit , and reproduced in the United States by The Forward . He described his current endeavor as “recollections of Sept. 11, 2001, and the feeling of imminent death that it brought with it seen from further and further spiraling distances as we move towards a present where we’re equally threatened by Al Qaeda and my President.”
In addition, Mr. Spiegelman said, he’s in the process of putting together a collection of his work from his 10 years at The New Yorker , which will debut as both a show in Milan and as a book in Italian in May 2003.
Looking back on his decade-long tenure with the magazine, Mr. Spiegelman said he enjoyed working for both Mr. Remnick and Ms. Brown, and produced covers he was proud of under both. However, he wasn’t shy about pointing out the differences betweeen the two.
“Tina did a great service to the magazine by kind of rejuvenating it,” Mr. Spiegelman said. “Even though it was with a lot of characterized criticism of what she did. And David is the inheritor of that. From where I sit it looks like David’s trying to sew Tina’s gains back into the earlier tradition of the magazine. And it must be said-I never read the earlier editions of the magazine. David grew up loving [former editor William] Shawn’s New Yorker . Maybe it’s a class thing, but it was never a part of my life. The sense I get is that it’s trying to find an equilibrium that will reincorporate some of those issues. It’s less interested in writing about a dominatrix than it was a few years ago.
“I find as much fault with David Remnick’s New Yorker as I do with American media in general,” Mr. Spiegelman continued. “It’s insanely timid. But that’s a criticism I’m not leveling at David. It’s part of the zeitgeist right now. And it’s why I feel I’m in internal exile.”
Mr. Remnick was traveling and unavailable for comment and a spokesperson for the magazine declined to comment.
Even before “Golfgate”-when editors at The New York Times infamously killed two columns straying from the paper’s editorial stance on allowing women members at the Augusta National Golf Club-the newspaper was at the center of the story. For months now, The Times has been crusading against the male-only policy at Augusta, making it a national story and forcing other publications to react to its news breaks and commentary.
But The Times has no monopoly on the story. In fact, several months ago USA Today scored a significant coup when it published a list of members at Augusta National. It included an array of well-known, and not-so well-known, corporate heavyweights and celebrities, including racing magnet Roger Penske and American Express C.E.O. Kenneth Chenault. It also included John F. Akers, who was identified as a former employee of IBM. What it did not say, however, was that Mr. Akers-who worked as IBM’s C.E.O. for seven years, from 1986 to 1993-has served on the board of directors for the New York Times Company (in addition to four other corporate boards) since 1985.
Mr. Akers did not return calls seeking comment and a spokesperson for Augusta National declined to comment. However, on Monday, Dec. 30, a spokesperson for The Times confirmed that Mr. Akers is still a member of Augusta National, saying, “The editorial opinions of The New York Times newspaper, as well as the editorial opinions of the Company’s many other newspapers, do not reflect the opinions of individual board members or the board as a whole. We make every attempt to make certain that our journalistic judgments remain completely independent.” However, this is the same newspaper that called upon Tiger Woods to protest Augusta’s practices by boycotting the Masters. The Times further called upon Mr. Chenault and others to “lead the way by resigning from the club.”
When asked about the matter, Times editorial page editor Gail Collins said she hadn’t known about Mr. Akers’ membership and said it wasn’t something she would address in an editorial, adding that Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. “tells us constantly we should never be influenced on what we think by the business side of the paper.”
Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, has been railing against Augusta National’s membership policy for months. Asked what she thought of Mr. Aker’s membership in the club and on the newspaper’s board, she said: “My thoughts when it comes to a board member of The New York Times are the same as a board member of any other corporation. They ought not to be members of Augusta. As board members, they represent the organization. And this is not a good way to represent the organization.”
Late on the night of Jan. 3, either Larry Coker, the head football coach for the University of Miami, or Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will hold the Division I-A national championship trophy following their match-up in the Fiesta Bowl. Yes, it’ll mark the end of a perfect season for one of the two men (both teams were undefeated in the regular season). But, for The New York Times , it’ll mark the culmination of an important few months in its ongoing transformation.
Once the below-the-fold, inside-page beaten-stepchild of the Yankees, Giants, Nets, Devils, Rangers (and whatever other New York-area team you’d like to bring up), college football has stepped out of the darkness for The Times sports section-becoming the center attraction for a paper looking to redefine itself to an audience beyond the Palisades.
While the New York Post and Daily News have spent their pages with the blow-by-blows of skirmishes in Jets practices and asking whether Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey should really be acting like the male Anna Kournikova, The Times has hit the road: to Ann Arbor, Mich., and Boulder, Col., to Lincoln, Neb., and South Bend, Ind., to the college-football crazed towns of the deep South and Midwest. From splashy features on the use of sex in recruiting to analytical pieces on the troubles of once-mighty Nebraska, The Times has made college football, for better or worse, the first thing many men see when they eat their Grape Nuts. What’s more, The Times ‘ effort has brought to light the national agenda and interest of executive editor Howell Raines, who is now in his second year.
“Howell’s from Alabama and he has a great interest in college football,” Times sportswriter Jere Longman said. “As anyone who grew up in Alabama would, he has a great respect for what [former University of Alabama coach] Bear Bryant did for college football. It’s an attempt to raise the national circulation. He wants the section to be more national and that’s one way he feels he can do it.”
Times columnist Serena Roberts described the new philosophy this way: “We’ve certainly become more aggressive in our approach to college football. And that’s part of the national push that we’ve gone through. We’re trying to be a paper that delivers to every region and not just one. We’ve certainly been more intense about being at games and more vigilant about being on top of subjects that are at the heart of college sports.”
At its heart, the whole thing seems simple. College football, unlike any other sport, is followed in regions that, um, the Mets are not-particularly in high-growth areas like Florida, which features three national powerhouse teams. Not only would The Times like to woo readers away from their local papers, but also from USA Today , whose bite-sized morsels about the big UCLA-Cal matchup have tried to satisfy the needs of college football fans on the go.
Implementing the change, however, hasn’t gone smoothly within the sports department, where Mr. Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd have been keeping a close watch. According to sources, even before the pair riled the department and journalists everywhere by spiking columns on the Augusta National Golf Club by Dave Andersen and Harvey Araton, they created a great deal of internal ill will by, as one source described it, “shoving this college football thing down our throats.” According to sources, sportswriters have become frustrated over the scarcity of real estate to write in the Friday-through-Sunday editions of the paper, due to the section’s new favorite subject.
“Because we have so many columns, so many inches devoted to this,” one Times source said, “writers are being told there isn’t enough space because they have to get 200 words into the paper on the Bucknell-Lehigh game or something.”
Moreover, many have questioned whether the paper has risked alienating its home audience. The nearest big-time college teams are Syracuse, Penn State and (if you look only at the ambitious schedule and not at the awful results) Rutgers. None holds a place in the imagination of New York sports fans. Within the city, Columbia’s Ivy League contests don’t exactly pack in the crowds uptown, and Fordham University-long removed from the glory days of a block of granite named Vince Lombardi – this year made the Division 1-AA playoffs but inspired no great rush on the grandstands of Jack Coffey Field in the Bronx.
Nevertheless, college football has become a fall classic at The New York Times .
“It’s outrageous,” one Times source said. “That’s the only way to describe it. Howell Raines is a big sports and college football guy and we devote unnecessary and excessive coverage to a sport that is not big in New York or the Northeast. I understand we’re trying to be a national paper, but I don’t know that The Times will ever be known as a college football bible … which right now it’s trying to be.”
For his part, Mr. Longman recognized the dilemma, and said the directive posed new challenges for The Times .
“The question always is how much this plays in New York City,” Mr. Longman said. “You have to strike a balance between what your New York audience wants and what the rest of the country wants.
“But another big question is, if someone’s interested in the Nebraska game,” he continued, “are they going to read The New York Times , or are they going to read the Lincoln paper, which will have four pages devoted to it? It becomes a struggle to provide something in a different way-to make a game story more like a review or full of interpretation or if you can featurize it, you have to give them a reason to want to read it.”
There’s no question that the paper’s new emphasis on college football won a lot of attention from people across the country … to the chagrin of some within The Times . After its computerized poll consistently and inexplicably ranked Notre Dame (the one big-time team, incidentally, with a large New York-area following) ahead of the then-consensus top teams, papers across the country-including Newsday and The Boston Globe -took their shots at The Times . The heckling got so loud, The Times addressed the issue itself in an Oct. 14 story by Mike Wise titled “Times’s Ranking Leaves Many Mystified.”
But while the poll proved embarrassing for some, according to sources, Mr. Raines lapped it up. According to one Times source, when people expressed concern to Mr. Raines, he was “very pleased it was getting that kind of attention.” According to the source, when it was suggested that “it shouldn’t be doing this and creating news,” Mr. Raines said this was exactly the kind of attention which The Times should want. [A Times spokesperson said Mr. Raines was unavailable for comment and outgoing sports editor Neil Amdur didn't return a phone call seeking comment.]
Following the trend they’d set all season, The Times treated the week leading up to the Fiesta Bowl with a kind of fervor it had previously reserved only for the week before the Super Bowl. In the space of three days, from Dec. 25 to 27, the section fronted a feature on the mother of Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey, a profile of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, and a column by Ms. Roberts featuring Ohio State player Ben Hartsock and Miami defensive lineman Jim Wilson.
“I think our attention to the national championship game is much more so than it was in the past,” Ms. Roberts said. “And that’s just part of our overall philosophy on how much coverage we do to certain things. Sometimes we do too much. But I think you have to give some sort of leeway to the adjustment period of time that window, and I think that’s a process that’s not done in one season. That’s what we went through this year. We have to find our right balance. It’s a work in progress.”
Since October, when The New York Times announced its takeover of the International Herald Tribune from its ex-partner, The Washington Post, high-ranking members of the paper’s brain trust, including executive editor Howell Raines and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., have been whisking (via the corporate jet) to the Herald Tribune’s offices in Paris. Meanwhile, as The Times announced Herald Tribune staffing changes-most notably that Walter Wells would replace David Ignatius as Herald Tribune executive editor- Times staffers wondered what the changes would mean for them.
They got an answer on Dec. 26.
In a memo sent to members of the foreign staff, Times business editor Glenn Kramon and foreign editor Roger Cohen laid out the first in what promises to be a series of major changes for The Times , following completion of the sale from The Post on Jan. 2.
“We have always tried to help the IHT when we could,” the memo said. “Now that good will becomes an obligation.”
First among the changes, according to the memo, is the conversion of the foreign and business desks to a “24-hour operation” that’ll be overseen handled during the sleeping hours by overnight joint editor David Rampe. Further, the memo, said, The Times plans to create rewrite banks in New York and Washington, and are discussing “long-term increases” to the paper’s staff in Europe and Asia to further beef up the Herald Tribune .
Mr. Kramon did not respond to a call seeking comment. Mr. Cohen referred the matter to a Times spokesperson, who didn’t respond for comment by press time.
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