A good way to tell that the world is easing back toward normalcy is when The New York Times sports section starts appearing right side up. On Sunday, April 20, The Times will end its “A Nation at War” special pullout, which has run since the first bombs hit Iraq. The upside-down jock page will rotate 180 degrees.
Washington Post executive editor Len Downie, whose paper has run a section called “War in Iraq”-but declined to turn its own sports section upside-down-said The Post also expects to end its special pullout shortly.
“We’re going to continue it through this week and see where we stand,” Mr. Downie said. “We may end them on Sunday. My inclination is that, if we’re going to not do a daily, then we’ll do them only on Sundays from then on.”
After nearly a month of sending their own troops into the dangerous fray, as well as profligate spending in a dour advertising economy, newspaper and newsweekly editors are gratefully acknowledging that the war in Iraq is mostly over for them. Though the fighting lasted a relatively short time-and a critically important rebuilding story remains-the Iraq war was a 24-hour endurance test, and worn-out staffers are grateful that the major battling appears done.
“Everyone is understandably exhausted,” said Time managing editor Jim Kelly, who, like many editors, recently began pulling his embedded correspondents out of their assigned military units. “If the war was still going in high gear, I might be bringing new people in. But we’re not going to do that.”
Barney Calame, deputy managing editor for The Wall Street Journal , said his newspaper intends to maintain the same number of unilateral (unassigned to any military unit) reporters in the region, but has cut its embedded reporters from six to two. Brian Duffy, editor of U.S. News & World Report , said that he had already planned to scale back the 80 to 85 percent of his pages devoted to the war this week. He said many of his reporters in the region were “pretty beat-up,” and he wanted to get those who were ready for a respite “a hot shower in Kuwait City, and then on a plane home.”
“The rebuilding of Iraq’s an important story,” Mr. Duffy said. “But we don’t need reporters embedded in construction units.”
Indeed, though it’s unlikely to be as riveting as the war, coverage of the continued military occupation will be just as critical, editors said.
“For us, the story of the occupation will continue to be a huge story,” said Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker. “Or the transition , if that’s what they want to call it.”
There will be other stories, too, as the U.S. assesses the success of its military operations and its reasons for invading Iraq. Said Mr. Downie: “We always thought the most important stories were enterprise pieces that dealt with important questions. Where’s [the weapons of mass destruction]? How’s the country going to be reconstructed?”
Boston Globe editor Martin Baron, whose paper ended its eight-page, advertiser-free section devoted to the war on Sunday, April 13, said the transition from high-octane battle coverage to other kinds of pieces from Iraq has been challenging.
“People were so focused on combat,” Mr. Baron said. “And now it’s no longer a story about combat, and people have had a hard time preparing for that. It’s as if everyone expected this series of combat-related stories, and they’re not there.”
War coverage was also financially costly. Mr. Baron rattled off a list of expenses that the Globe incurred while in pursuit of its war coverage: hazardous-duty training for reporters, bullet-proof vests, chemical-weapons suits, gas masks, translators, hotels.
“We knew it was going to be expensive,” Mr. Baron said. “And the expenses escalated.”
In some cases, costs escalated into the seven-figure area. According to sources within Time Inc., Time spent between $2 million and $3 million on its war effort.
One Time Inc. source said Time spent “several hundreds of thousands of dollars” on insurance for its reporters in the region. Asked about those figures, Mr. Kelly would only say: “Suffice it to say that we have significantly higher insurance costs than we did a year ago.”
Asked how much his magazine has spent, U.S. News ‘ Mr. Duffy told Off the Record: “I don’t even want to think about it.”
But he added that the embed program established by the Pentagon may have helped to keep costs in check. Mr. Duffy estimated that the war itself cost less than many high-profile political campaigns, including a Presidential campaign.
“With embeds, you have no costs,” Mr. Duffy said. “They’re traveling with military personnel, so there are no traveling costs, and they’re eating M.R.E.’s.
“We’re going to be talking about embedding as a concept for a long time,” Mr. Duffy continued. “The fact that costs were so much lower is probably an afterthought. But it’s not unwelcome.”
Pending approval from the Columbia University board of trustees, Nicholas Lemann, who currently writes “The Letter From Washington” for The New Yorker , will become the next dean of the university’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Mr. Lemann’s appointment ends a months-long affair, fraught with hand-wringing, name-calling and finger-pointing. Just weeks into his tenure as president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger-formerly the president of the University of Michigan-announced on July 23, 2001 that he had suspended the school’s search for a new dean, saying that he wanted to reassess “what a modern journalism-school curriculum should look like.” That included re-examining the program’s mix of journalism theory and actual hands-on experience.
On Sept. 23, Mr. Bollinger announced the creation of a 33-member Columbia Journalism School “task force” to examine the school’s future. It included star journalists like Mr. Lemann, Ken Auletta, Bob Woodward, Anna Quindlen, Sylvia Nasar and Clarence Page, to name a few.
Mr. Bollinger, along with his appointment of Mr. Lemann, issued the results of his task force in a 10-page treatise on August 15, in which he suggested extending the school’s one-year journalism program into a second year.
“It is very difficult, although not impossible, for this to occur in a year’s duration or less,” Mr. Bollinger wrote. “Over time our aim should be to extend the curriculum into a second year, as virtually every other master’s degree program in the university has done.”
Mr. Lemann did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
On Thursday, April 9, Laura Landro, an assistant managing editor with The Wall Street Journal , flew into Los Angeles, where she hoped to see senior special writer Tom King. Since 1991, when King first arrived in The Journal ‘s L.A. bureau, Ms. Landro never visited the city without getting together with him.
This time would be different. King and Ms. Landro exchanged e-mails, but he was flying to the East Coast, and they couldn’t plan a meeting before he left.
“The last thing I wrote to him was, ‘I miss you,’” Ms. Landro said. “I’ll be saying that for the rest of my life.”
On April 13, Tom King-who was visiting a friend in the Hamptons-suddenly collapsed and died. Initial reports said that his death was due to natural causes.
Stunned friends and colleagues described Tom King as a man of outwardly perfect health-and a bona fide star at The Journal . They remembered his rise, starting as a fresh-from-Iowa copy reader and to become one of the most important and influential journalists in Hollywood.
“He was an incredible talent,” said Journal deputy managing editor Joanne Lipman. “We’ll miss him so much.”
King first came to The Journal in 1986 as a copy reader on the paper’s “monitor desk.” Before long, he earned people’s attention. When the paper published, on page 1, a first-person piece about his ordeals as an extra in the Metropolitan Opera production of Sleeping Beauty , Ms. Lipman said that “everyone read it and was amazed …. We all wanted to know, ‘Who is this guy?’”
In 1989, The Journal promoted King to a reporter’s post, working under Ms. Lipman, then the paper’s advertising columnist. Two years later, the paper transferred him to the Los Angeles bureau to cover entertainment.
It was there that King, a self-avowed pop-culture freak, blossomed. He covered the show-biz beat with aplomb, and later would cement his reputation as a smart but tough Hollywood writer with The Operato r, a meticulous, scathing 688-page biography of entertainment mogul David Geffen, published in 2000. The truculent Mr. Geffen had originally agreed to participate on the book, only to back out and barrage the reporter as King attempted to finish it.
“He started out to write a book about the most interesting guy in Hollywood, and he went where the reporting took him,” Ms. Landro said. “Tom was a very special kind of reporter. The fact is, he would follow a story no matter where it went. The book is very true to the reporting, and he was very confident about that. He was very confident about the facts.” (Mr. Geffen did not return a call to his office seeking comment.)
Ms. Landro said that King was “born” for his current gig at The Journal , writing the paper’s “Hollywood Journal” column, which gave “executives across America who had nothing to do with entertainment-people in the machine-tool industry-an insider’s view of Hollywood.
“It’s an inconceivable loss to me,” Ms. Landro said.
The New York Times is looking for a new Hollywood reporter, after the recall of Rick Lyman to New York by new Times culture editor Steve Erlanger.
According to sources at The Times , Mr. Lyman’s replacement will split his or her time between the business and culture sections, though Mr. Erlanger will have the final say on the hire. Among the outside candidates under consideration, sources said, is Los Angeles writer Amy Wallace, whose September 2001 profile of Variety editor in chief Peter Bart resulted in his brief suspension from the entertainment trade publication.
When reached by Off the Record, Ms. Wallace declined to comment. Likewise, Mr. Lyman and Mr. Erlanger didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Gardiner Harris, who’s covered health care and the pharmaceutical industry for The Wall Street Journal , is heading to The New York Times . Mr. Harris will continue his beat for The Times and will start at his new post in May.
“He is a star,” said Times business editor Glenn Kramon of his new charge. “We’re very excited to have him.”
They’re straightening up at Vanity Fair !
According to sources at the magazine, Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter recently took time to tour the offices with his architect Basil Walter, who each year designs the libertine palace that is the magazine’s Oscar Party at Morton’s.
Soon after, according to sources, a few edicts came down through managing editor Chris Garrett: Throw out anything you don’t need. If there is something you had been meaning to take home, well, take it home. Bits of paper should be removed from the walls. Books and papers in view of people should be organized. People were encouraged to “work on cleaning up and streamlining your office space.”
Mr. Carter was unavailable for comment. However, a Vanity Fair spokesperson said the new directives weren’t related to Mr. Carter’s walkabout with Mr. Basil.
“Sometimes things accumulate, and people get too busy to deal with them,” the spokesperson said. “This is something Chris Garrett does about twice a year, so people can go into their space and clean it up.”