N.Y. Times and ABC Plan News Helix for ’04 Campaign

The New York Times is trying to beef up its television-news profile in time to become a network player in the 2004 Presidential election campaign.

Last spring, the paper of record first announced a partnership to co-own and run the Discovery Civilization Channel; by December 2002, The Times had renamed it the Discovery Times channel and refitted the station with a very 43rd Street logo.

Now, sources tell The Observer , The Times is in negotiations with ABC News to coordinate coverage of the Presidential race with its cable-channel property.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said that the proposal is still in its theoretical stages. But among the possibilities thrown up, according to sources, is a network-to-cable relationship, similar to NBC’s relationship with MSNBC, in which the cable channel continues with wall-to-wall campaign coverage after the network television station returns to regular programming. The two sides have discussed a variety of scenarios that would bring a television profile to prominent Times bylines. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, The Times had a Webcast show called Political Points that ran concurrently on the ABC and Times Web sites; during that time, Times reporters also became regulars on Nightline . A deal with ABC might also play well to Discovery Times’ documentary style.

Such an agreement with ABC has definite advantages for The Times ‘ television efforts: It would go a long ways in establishing Discovery Times as a channel people actually, er, knew about and, you know, might actually watch. And, perhaps more importantly, it might give the channel some street cred in the third-floor newsroom, where it’s attained punchline status.

Times management has been eager for some years to extend the Times brand into Internet and television formats. But so far, that expansion-measured by The Times ‘ efforts with the Discovery Times channel-has been slow.

In May, television reporter Bill Carter appeared on The New Face of Late Night TV , a documentary that followed the staff of the Jimmy Kimmel show, and in June, Discovery Times aired a documentary on Presidential golf based on Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr.’s book, First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters, From Taft to Bush . Five days a week, Discovery Times features a nightly, three-minute segment called “Page One,” hosted by former Times reporter Sheryl WuDunn, which previews the next day’s headlines from the front page of The Times .

While certainly hard-charging-recent shows have examined Al Qaeda, Iraq, standardized tests and North Korea-most of the channel’s programming has been devoted to documentaries that could have appeared anywhere, or at least on the Discovery Channel, Times or no Times . (On Wednesday, Sept. 3, “Mortal Enemies,” a documentary about Yassar Arafat and Ariel Sharon produced for the Discovery Channel by Times Television won two Emmys.)

In 2001, a much-discussed nightly PBS news show done in conjunction with the NewsHour fell through. Earlier this year, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, another potential partnership to work with 60 Minutes II failed to materialize after several discussions.

During Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s term as company czar, the Times Company joined a group purchasing the Boston Red Sox in the fall of 2001; the move was less about scoring wicked seats at Fenway than gaining access to the sports station (the New England Sports Network) to show off the sports staff of the Times -owned Boston Globe .

During the second Gulf War, Times reporters also gave on-the-ground live reports for CNN, the AOL Time Warner–owned news network.

Former Times executive editor Howell Raines, in his July 11 interview with Charlie Rose, said that he tried to breed “active cooperation” from the newsroom with The Times ‘ television efforts. And upon his arrival in July 2003, new executive editor Bill Keller also expressed his interest in furthering the paper’s efforts when it came to TV.

An ABC spokesperson didn’t respond to a request seeking comment by deadline. When reached, Times assistant managing editor Michael Oreskes, the Times print-television liaison, declined to comment. Times Television president Bill Abrams likewise referred the matter to Times spokesman Toby Usnik, who said: “We do not have an election-coverage agreement with ABC. However, given our past productive relationships with ABC, we have discussed a possible agreement with them as well as with other potential television partners.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 9, The New York Times continued the Kellerization of the paper’s hierarchy when it named Allan M. Siegal as standards editor. Mr. Siegal, an assistant managing editor with the paper, will oversee internal issues of accuracy and ethics within The Times .

“One of the responsibilities of the job is to encourage people to speak up when they feel uncomfortable with doing so,” Mr. Siegal said. “That’s something people need to be told to do. That’s a challenge. People by nature are shy, not just here, but in all kinds of organizations. And if someone comes to me with a good point, it’s my job to stalk into [editor] Bill Keller’s office and make that argument as forcefully as I can. I guess that’s what I get paid for.”

Mr. Siegal’s new post is one of three new positions recommended in July by a 28-member committee-which Mr. Siegal headed-that examined the scandal created by former reporter Jayson Blair. The other posts, a public editor (who will act as a Times -style ombudsman) and a masthead-level editor in charge of hiring and career development at the paper, are expected to be named soon.

Like other Keller appointees, Mr. Siegal has bought into the 43rd Street love-in.

“There is an enormous reservoir of good will,” Mr. Siegal said, “not just for this position but for Bill and all the people he’s been appointing. Once the fever broke you could hear the massive exhale around here. People are pulling for all the leaders of the paper to excel.”

Perusing The Village Voice ‘s “Shortlist” section, where editors recommend events in their areas of expertise, over the last several weeks, readers might have noticed a new byline: De Krap.

The odd moniker has been lent to recommendations for, among other things, appearances by McSweeney’s habitué Rick Moody. But a particularly hearty recommendation came for an appearance by Heidi Julavits to promote her second novel, The Effect of Living Backwards .

“Whip-smart, weird, and dangerously readable, [Julavits] dares to carve out a space for the imagination in a literary age still overshadowed by the Big Terrible,” the mysterious editor raved. “Learn to tell apart Brain Worms from Incursionists, as the former VLS Writer on the Verge (and current Believer co-editor) reads from her beautiful monster of a book-detonating your funny bone, showing you fear in a handful of dust. Remember when fiction was supposed to be exactly this much fun?”

Sounds like a pretty nice notice for Ms. Julavits’ book, and that’s after the author drew a line in the stand accusing book reviewers of being snarky and uncharitable in their treatment of contemporary literary efforts. But where was it coming from?

Noticing a pattern here-Ms. Julavits, after all, works with Vendela Vida, Mr. Eggers’ wife, as editor of the painfully earnest new magazine, The Believer -Off the Record decided to do some digging.

It turns out that De Krap is actually Voice senior editor Ed Park, who just happens to work with Mlles. Julavits and Vida on The Believer .

Mr. Park told Off the Record that he doesn’t use the moniker to avoid looking like he’s pitching his friends to Voice readers, and pointed out that his praise has not been lavished on McSweeney’s types alone. (Robert Capa biographer Alex Kershaw, for instance, got a nice write-up, too.) He said he didn’t consider listings to have the same weight as reviews.

“It’s being a little playful,” Mr. Park said. “I like using the pseudonym because otherwise, it looks like I have too many bylines. It’s in the spirit of fun.”

Hoping to further oomph its coverage of the Coney Island Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, the New York Post has tapped Gersh Kuntzman to head its new Brooklyn bureau.

“We’re going to kick some ass out there,” said Mr. Kuntzman said from his home in, er, Brooklyn. “Professionally, I think it’s great to cover what’s still the fifth-largest city in the nation. We’re not looking to start crime bureaus. We’re out there to report really good community stories that reverberate beyond those communities.”

Mr. Kuntzman, who has written often about Brooklyn as a reporter for the Post and in his column, Metro-Gnome, since he joined the tabloid in 1993, said his unique relationship with Brooklyn borough president and head borough cheerleader Marty Markowitz would give the Murdochian tabloid a leg up against its arch-nemesis, the Daily News .

“Both Marty and I love Brooklyn,” Mr. Kuntzman said. “More importantly, we both love to eat in Brooklyn. I’m making it my governing mandate as bureau chief to explore the culinary options of Brooklyn with him. If Mike Bloomberg is the Mayor of New York, then Marty’s the king of Brooklyn. Marty and I will have a rigorous lunch schedule, because he and I need to keep close.”

Much to the chagrin of the staff, the Daily News has decided to move its Washington bureau from its Capitol Hill–adjacent offices to the wilds of Georgetown, where they’ll be bunking with staffers from fellow Zuckerman publication U.S. News and World Report .

Currently, the News ‘ Washington bureau, located in a building owned by Mr. Zuckerman’s publically traded Boston Properties, is near the center of the District (and in walking distance of the epicenter of the News ‘ Washington beats). In its new surroundings, however, bureau staffers will be in less-than-centric Georgetown, in a building that Boston Properties doesn’t own. The move, according to sources familiar with the situation, was done for number-crunching, not journalistic/synergistic, reasons by News chief legal officer Martin Krall, and was supported by chief executive Fred Drasner.

News Washington bureau chief Thomas DeFrank declined to comment and referred the matter to spokesman Ken Frydman, who said Boston Properties has already rented the current Daily News digs.

“We had very good available space” at the U.S. News quarters, Mr. Frydman said. ” U.S. News is very happy there, and we expect the Daily News Washington bureau to be happy there as well. We wanted to maximize efficiency.

“It’s a 16-block difference,” Mr. Frydman continued. “They have a giant research library. U.S. News has to cover everything the Daily News does. They’ll find it as convenient as their brethren at U.S. News has.”

For his part, Brian Duffy, editor in chief of U.S. News , did everything but shout “Let’s go, Hoyas!” to welcome Mr. DeFrank and his staff.

“The location is good,” Mr. Duffy said. “It’s in the heart of Georgetown, and you can get to different parts of the city pretty quickly. There are lots of good restaurants. You can’t argue with the location.

“We have a lot of space,” Mr. Duffy added. “It’s nice. It’s maybe not what they’re used to, but if they have to move, it’s a good spot to move to.”

Now for an Off the Record Sports Illustrated broken-quarterback-curse update: Since its inception in 1954, countless athletes and teams who’ve appeared on the cover of SI have fallen to the magazine’s mighty curse: finding hardship and loss after SI had celebrated their triumphs the week before.

In August, the spell seemed to reach new power, when the magazine selected and photographed Atlanta Falcons all-everything quarterback Michael Vick as the cover subject for its N.F.L. preview issue, only to see him break his right fibula before the issue could even appear. In his place, SI picked Kurt Warner, quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, whose first three spectacular seasons were marred by an injury-filled, ineffective 2002 campaign.

On opening day, Sept. 7, Mr. Warner came out against the Giants in the Meadowlands and embraced the SI omen: fumbling six times (losing three) and throwing an interception. In addition, he suffered a concussion on one of his six sacks.

“Of course it’s all my fault,” SI managing editor Terry McDonell said when Off the Record asked if he would take personal responsibility for Mr. Warner’s performance. He added: “Let’s just say we’re aware.”

Mr. McDonell said he was sure Mr. Warner would rebound. In the meantime, Mr. McDonell said, in its Sept. 15 issue, the magazine will re-introduce fiction to its pages with an excerpt from National Book Award winner Pete Dexter’s forthcoming novel Train , about a young black caddie at a lily-white golf course in 1950’s Los Angeles.

“I just think it’s a great piece of writing,” Mr. McDonell said of Mr. Dexter’s book. “It deals with golf, equality and race, and I just think it’s terrific.”

Going forward, Off the Record kindly requests that Mr. McDonell put Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox on the cover before the Sept. 21 Steelers–Cincinnati Bengals game. (Sample cover line: “Tommy Terrific! Tommy Maddox Shows Superman Skills in the Steel City.”) Eight-by-10’s, elementary-school photos and glamour shots of Mr. Maddox are available upon request. Go, Cincy.

Please, no spit-takes, but The New York Times Magazine has actually hired an editor without any prior relationship to Harper’s .

The individual taking up the mantle of the non–666 Broadway crowd is Vera Titunik, who, until Sept. 8, was a senior editor at Fortune , editing features while handling franchise lists like “America’s Most Admired Companies.” At The Times Magazine , Ms. Titunik will join the eight other general story editors, who include former Harper’s staffers Joel Lovell, Ilena Silverman and the hunka-hunka Paul Tough.

“She’s very smart, particularly in terms of business and finance,” said new Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati, himself a former deputy editor at Harper’s . “Not that we were necessarily looking for someone who was smart in business and finance, but that impressed us a lot. She’s also incredibly smart and engaging on the magazine itself. That was the key thing, too.

“This was a hire that was very much in works before I became editor,” Mr. Marzorati said. “I certainly was someone who wanted to hire her.”