Off the Record

Shortly before 10 p.m. on Monday, July 21, staffers at the Daily News , most of whom had left the office for the evening, received a message via e-mail from News editor Ed Kosner announcing his retirement from the position.

As departures go, Mr. Kosner’s seems like children’s hour compared to the weeks-long soul-thrashing that led to the departure of New York Times executive editor Howell Raines-or the machinations that led to the ouster of the News ‘ own Debby Krenek three and a half years ago.

(In March 2000, Ms. Krenek read that she would be replaced with Mr. Kosner in a New York Post column by the late Neal Travis. Two days later, on March 23, Ms. Krenek said goodbye to her staff and refuted a public claim by Mr. Zuckerman that she had resigned.)

According to sources, Mr. Kosner’s announcement-which most ended up reading in the News while eating their morning Nutri-Grain bars on Tuesday, July 22-fits with the retirement schedule he has laid out from time to time over the years, in which there would be an extended period between the announcement and his actually leaving the paper.

But, for jumpy staffers, with the memory of four editors in four years from 1997-2000 still part of the active institutional memory, the announcement wasn’t treated lightly. As one staffer sighed, “Here we go again.”

Still, the announcement ended a relatively brief jag of speculation about the remaining length of Mr. Kosner’s time at the tabloid-which, according to Mr. Kosner, explains the timing, some eight months in advance of his actual departure.

“I didn’t want a whole lot of other stories,” Mr. Kosner said. “I talked to people I’m close to here; they knew about it.”

But he wasn’t able to beat some reports that had Mr. Kosner bowing out in a rather more spectacular regime change. Earlier this month, word had leaked out in the News ‘ Lex Luthor, the New York Post , of a field trip that editors, including Mr. Kosner and News executive editor Michael Goodwin, took off-campus to meet with former National Enquirer editor Iain Calder, supposedly at the behest of the News ‘ publisher, Mort Zuckerman. According to sources within the meeting, Mr. Calder offered several critiques of the News , including, um, not portraying Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes as a reformer and a modern Thomas Dewey for his prosecutions of the Brooklyn bench.

Speculation only grew when it was reported that Steve Coz-the editorial director for the tabloids owned by American Media, whose title was effectively neutered with the hiring of former Us Weekly editor in chief Bonnie Fuller as American Media über -boss-had been in talks with Mr. Zuckerman about a high-ranking position with the News .

Was Ed Kosner being sacked in favor of dethroned tabloid king Steve Coz?

Mr. Kosner’s memo sought to deflate those rumors: Saying that News chairman Mort Zuckerman asked him last December for a “long advance notice” if he ever thought about retiring, Mr. Kosner said he told Mr. Zuckerman right after the July 4 weekend that he planned to do just that, in March of next year. And while he said he’d help Mr. Zuckerman with the transition-unlike fellow editor Tony Marro-no successor was named.

But the truth will out, and some News staffers wanted to know why Mr. Kosner’s retirement didn’t come with a sister story naming Michael Goodwin as his replacement. Mr. Goodwin, the former editorial page editor, who won the News a Pulitzer in 1999, has emerged as a divisive figure during his time as the paper’s second in command: a person who played hardball in office politics and, during the Giuliani administration, was accused by many inside the paper of tilting its coverage to favor the Mayor. According to a Daily News source, since the meeting with Mr. Calder, Mr. Goodwin has pushed for more “sassy” stories to appear on page 1. (Mr. Goodwin didn’t return a call seeking comment).

Of his successor, Mr. Kosner noted that it was “not for me to say. That’s Mort’s decision.

“I’m saying that not as any reflection on Michael,” he elaborated. “Michael and I have worked together incredibly well these past few years. We’ve worked together with harmony and effectiveness. We’ve never had a disagreement in that time. But I’m not advancing anybody, nor am I holding anybody back. It’s not my place to do that.”

Daily News spokesman Ken Frydman said that Mr. Zuckerman was unavailable for comment. Asked about the potential replacements-i.e., Messrs. Calder, Coz and Goodwin-Mr. Frydman said: “We don’t comment on any individual names. Mr. Kosner has given Mr. Zuckerman a lot of advance notice, allowing him ample time to plan for an orderly succession.”

Reflecting on his tenure at the paper, Mr. Kosner said: “It’s hard to call it fortunate, but I’ve been here during the greatest run of news in recent memory-starting with Sept. 11 and the Presidential election that ended in a tie, two wars, a Subway Series and all those big local stories that we had. So it’s just been a fantastic run of news, and I think we’ve done very well with that.”

But as if to show that he wasn’t out the door just yet, Mr. Kosner indulged in a bit of the Daily News editor’s favorite pastime: Post -bashing.

Addressing the Post ‘s journalistic tactics, Mr. Kosner said that “the problem” with the Murdoch-owned paper is that it “operates on standards below everyone else’s.”

“They’ll slap anything in there,” Mr. Kosner said. “One example is last week, when the D.A. broke up a ring of women who were marrying immigrants to help them get a green card, and there was one woman in particular who had gotten 27 marriage licenses. So I pick up the Post and see ‘Married 27 Times,’ which she wasn’t. Even the story in their own paper pointed out she had only gotten marriage licenses; nobody knew how many times she got married. That’s a great story, but those folks just push it.”

Moving on, Mr. Kosner went back to May, when “that little bomb exploded at Yale and page 1 said Bush was nearby. Now, Yale is in New Haven; Bush, five hours earlier, had been in New London, which is 48 miles away. That’s not nearby. But they’re constantly doing that kind of stuff, and that’s a problem, in a way, because people don’t often read close enough to see there’s very little behind these stories.”

Indeed, while Mr. Kosner touted the News as “the working man’s paper of New York,” with both the highest number of single-newspaper readers in the city and the largest proportion of African-American and Hispanic readers, it was hard not to see the internal tug-of-war that defines the Daily News : the contention between covering the city’s elite, and covering the working-class issues that concern most of the News ‘ readership. While it’s broken important stories like the Hale House scandal, this is also the paper that hired Michael Gross to follow Calvin Klein and Steve Florio’s bowel movements, and most recently plucked Washington Post Capitol Hill gossip Lloyd Grove.

There’s no question that under his watch, the paper’s rivalry with the Post has intensified. In many ways, the Post -which, with the help of its move to color presses and its reduced newsstand price, has increased its circulation from 436,796 to 620,081 since September 2000-has become a unholy force of nature, the topic of dinner parties in Manhattan as well as in the outer boroughs.

And then there’s the issue of the Post ‘s circulation gains. Much ballyhooed around the News Corp. building on Sixth Avenue, the matter has become a sore point with the News , which has attributed the rise to the paper’s dropping its price from 50 cents to a quarter on weekdays.

Indeed, even in the July 22 story announcing Mr. Kosner’s retirement, the paper said: “The News’ audited daily circulation increased to 737,030 from 723,148 and held steady on Sundays at more than 810,000 despite unprecedented price-cutting by the New York Post, which has been forced to sell its papers at half The News’ price in order to compete with The News.”

Following that same method of attack, Mr. Kosner said, “They’re practically giving the paper away.

“My daughter took an apartment, took a new telephone and before she knew it, she was ‘gifted’ with eight free weeks of the Post , which she didn’t want,” Mr. Kosner said. “So, at the end of it, she tried to get them to stop sending it, and they wouldn’t stop for another eight weeks.

“But they’re not going to catch the News ,” he added. “They can spend whatever they want; they won’t be able to do it.”

(A spokesperson for the Post declined to comment.)

Mr. Kosner said he expects to stay until March, but would “do whatever Mort wants me to do.” When asked what his successor would have to do differently, Mr. Kosner said he didn’t feel that “there’s a strategic or critical difference. It’s every edition and every day, to put out the sharpest and most appealing paper that you can. But I won’t have to worry about it.”

Weeks after Entertainment Weekly managing editor Rick Tetzeli canned Joel Stein’s Hollywoodd “humor” column on the magazine’s back page, like the original, it continues to live in the hearts and minds of millions!

In the August issue of Stuff , featuring marginally clothed former Wild On host Brooke Burke on its cover, those randy guys at Dennis give their own answer to a fan letter for Mr. Stein printed in the May 16 issue of EW from Charles H. Bryan of Flint, Mich. Mr. Bryan wrote that he “truly appreciated Joel Stein’s moral defense of downloading. It was a wonderful wrap-up to one of the best issues of EW I’ve ever shoplifted. (Just kidding).”

Stuff shot back: “You shoplifted our emotions with that heartfelt letter, Charles. Joel Stein really is a national treasure. That’s why we’re asking each child in America to send us a dime to construct a granite monument to Mr. Stein. When it’s completed, we’ll drop it on his head.”

Reached on July 21 as he was preparing to see Winged Migration -the heartwarming story of birds who keep getting chased around from perch to perch by inclement weather-Mr. Stein, who still works for Time , said: “That just means they’re not going to hire me either.

“Even though they were mocking me, my ego’s so huge, I felt honored,” Mr. Stein said. “And I learned quite a few things about Brook Burke that I didn’t know. Even though I thought I knew Brooke from Maxim , Stuff really showed me what’s going on with her, the active life she leads, what makes her tick.”

Students shelling out $4,200 to attend the Columbia (formerly Radcliffe) Publishing Course this summer might have gotten their money’s worth had the previously scheduled, and currently still listed, panel of Wenner Media chairman Jann Wenner, former Us Weekly editor in chief Bonnie Fuller and dreamy Wenner Media publicity director and sometimes Friar’s Club aerobics instructor Stuart Zakim taken place on July 28.

Ms. Fuller, who pulled the great walkout of 2003 when she left her unsigned seven-figure contract for the riches of the suddenly buzzy ( Natural Health ! Men’s Fitness !) American Media on June 26, could have treated students to a demonstration of the all-important publishing maneuver.

But, sadly, Mr. Zakim said, there will be no Dean-and-Jerryesque reunion of Mr. Wenner and Ms. Fuller on stage: Another Wenner panel has been convened in its place, featuring Wenner magazine heads Janice Min, Ed Needham and hunka-hunka Bob Wallace.

“The talk is about Wenner Media,” Mr. Zakim said when asked why Ms. Fuller couldn’t just come back for a quick lap, “and she no longer works here.”

And, speaking of Janice Min …

Perhaps taking a cue from her former boss, Ms. Min, the heir to the throne of the photo caption and Ashton Kutcher vehicle Us Weekly , has yet to sign her contract.

(Ms. Fuller, who had reached a deal with her boss for a circulation bonus and three-year, seven-figure contract, hadn’t actually signed her contract when she left for American Media.)

Ms. Min did not return a call at press time, and Wenner spokesman Stu Zakim declined to go into details.

“It’s imminent,” Mr. Zakim said.