Zuckerman Gets Old Tabloid Guy to Run the News

Martin Dunn, who headed the Daily News as editor in chief following one of the most turbulent periods in the paper’s history, will return to the News in a newly created high-level position, sources familiar with the matter said.

Beginning whatpromises to be a dramatic makeover of the paper, Mr. Dunn will return to the News as a kind of editorial director: a new post that’s above the editor-in-chief position currently held by Edward Kosner, who is set to retire in March 2004. (The official title of editorial director has been vacant since Harry Evans left the News in 1999)

Mr. Dunn’s role, according to one source, would be to “make it work, and provide some unifying vision” for the tabloid.

On one hand, the Daily News must cater to its blue-collar readership with articles on topics like drinking regulations in city parks. At the same time, the News has tried to reach out for the same kind of Q-rating that has made its rival, the New York Post , a must-read in the cubicles and boardrooms of Condé Nast and Miramax.

First, the paper tried (and later ditched) a Sunday column by Michael Gross, digging dirt on the power elite. Soon it will unveil a new weekday gossip column by Lloyd Grove, currently making the nightly rounds on the Forbes yacht, the front room at Elaine’s and after-parties at Brasserie 8 1¼2.

What all this means for the still-unfilled editor-in-chief position, as well as the Sunday-editor job, remains unclear. Following his performance during the August blackout, sources with knowledge of the situation said, current executive editor Michael Goodwin became the front-runner for the top job. But whether that status changes with Mr. Dunn’s appointment was still unknown, sources said.

When reached, Mr. Dunn-who currently works in London as the managing director of DMG Front of Mind, a small editorial-services company-declined to comment. Ken Frydman, a spokesman for the News , also declined to go into the matter, but acknowledged: “We have been in conversations with Martin Dunn.” Mr. Frydman would not specify the nature of those conversations.

The return of Mr. Dunn to the News ‘ corridors would likely re-ignite the tensions and rivalry of the tabloid war that’s raged since the early 1990’s between the News , owned by Mort Zuckerman, and Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post . Mr. Dunn originally came to the News in 1993, six months after Mr. Zuckerman’s purchase of the paper, which had gone bankrupt after the drowning death of its previous owner, Robert Maxwell. Just 38 years old at the time, Mr. Dunn had been the editor of the tabloid Boston Herald for only four months before Mr. Zuckerman tapped him for the job. A Fleet Street veteran, Mr. Dunn had also edited the tabloid Today and done time at the Sun , Daily Mail and the Murdoch-owned News of the World -and during his tenure, the Daily News reflected the spirit and wackiness of those publications across the pond. The News left its longtime Art Deco headquarters in midtown for the wilds of 10th Avenue and became a daily festival of celebrities and stunts. The British royals became News regulars. The paper left wallets in taxicabs to see how many were returned; it also bought and then parked a car on a street to watch it get stripped to its shell.

In 1996, Mr. Dunn left the News to oversee the cable and new-media operations of the British-based Associated Newspapers.

Following Mr. Dunn’s departure, the newsroom was left in disarray. With much fanfare, Mr. Zuckerman introduced the grizzled columnist- cum -poet Pete Hamill as Mr. Dunn’s replacement, with Mr. Hamill promising to return the New York blue-collar sensibility to the News . He lasted nine months. In March 2000, Mr. Hamill’s replacement, Debby Krenek, read that Mr. Zuckerman planned to replace her with Mr. Kosner, then the paper’s Sunday editor, in a Post column by the late Neal Travis. Two days later, Ms. Krenek said goodbye to her staff and virulently refuted a public claim by Mr. Zuckerman that she had resigned of her own accord.

Mr. Dunn will rejoin the News at an immensely important time. According to numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, in the period from March 2000 to March 2003, the News ‘ average weekday circulation grew just 1 percent, from 730,542 to 737,030. During that same period, the Post -aided by a price cut to 25 cents on weekdays-grew its average weekday circulation 42 percent, from 436,544 to 620,080. In July, Mr. Kosner announced his retirement from the News , amid reports in the Post that Mr. Zuckerman had forced top news editors to attend an off-campus meeting with former National Enquirer editor in chief Iain Calder, where he critiqued the paper. Soon after, rumors about Mr. Zuckerman wooing Steve Coz, formerly the editorial director of the American Media tabloids, also appeared in the Post .

The confusion and uncertainty, compounded by a lack of raises, has left the newsroom disillusioned while putting the direction of the paper in question.

Mr. Frydman told Off the Record that there was still no timetable for naming an editor in chief.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Mr. Fryd- man said.

On Sept. 11, 2003, the second anniversary of the single worst day in New York City history, New York’s warring tabloids waged a pitched battle to get the right front page. That day, the Daily News and the New York Post , so often in agreement on what makes a front page, took decidedly different-and differently off-putting-tacks.

The Daily News , in an odd move, ran a captured video image of Osama bin Laden on its front, with the headline: “9/11 Anniversary: Osama’s New Threats.” Above, a giant mug of Jennifer Lopez was accompanied by “J-NO: Wedding with Ben ‘postponed.'”

In what can only be described as the gaudiest use of Photoshop ever, the New York Post reconfigured the image of the Twin Towers as two giant candles while declaring “September 11, 2003: Today, New York … REMEMBERS 3,016 innocent lives taken 2 years ago but WON’T FORGET their evil killers.” Running across the bottom, the Post advertised its “New Collectors Magazine” celebrating 100 years of the New York Yankees’ tyrannical hold over Major League Baseball.

“We went with the news, which was Osama,” Mr. Kosner said of his decision for the 9/11 edition. “Rather than do a lot of advance stuff that came before the actual day, we thought we would concentrate our coverage of 9/11 for the 9/12 paper. We went with the news, which was Osama and J. Lo, and would bring our real coverage of the news of the day for 9/12.”

Post editor in chief Col Allan likewise defended his paper’s treatment.

“We have a commitment for the Yankees thing, and we ran it across the bottom significantly smaller than we have been running it,” Mr. Allan said. “There’s no doubt what dominated our page. In my mind, we presented a respectful image that understood the importance of that day in history.”

The following day, the Post advertised “Another Fantastic Yankees Magazine” across the top, and ran a front-page story on Yasir Arafat and a picture of the daughter of a FDNY chief holding up a photo of her dad. In its letters section, under the head “The Daily News ‘Remembers’ 9/11,” Joe Nugent from Staten Island wrote that it was “hard to control my anger at the stupidity of the New York Daily News” for its cover, while Mike O’Grady, writing from Oakland Gardens, said: “All the newsstand people here in Bayside were appalled, upset, dismayed and ticked off-but decisive in their disgust for the Daily News, at least this morning’s Daily News.”

That same morning, the News had a single image that took up the entirety of the front page: Natalie Jenkins, 6, whose grandfather died in the south tower.

“It was an extraordinary day,” Mr. Kosner said. “I think people were surprised about how moving the day turned out to be. I know I was. We did a lot of coverage from the news of the day. That’s where our emphasis was.”

Mr. Allan, needless to say, felt differently.

“My feeling is that it’s the 12th of September,” Mr. Allan said. “I’m not confused about the days here. Three thousand people lost their lives on Sept. 11, and we will always respect that day.”

Sweet Moses, white or black, who will remember? Like many of the other ghostly stages upon which the city’s greatest dramas have unfolded (Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds), the office of former Us Weekly editor in chief Bonnie Fuller-where a thousand Ben and J. Lo captions were hatched-will soon disappear, another victim of history giving way to progress.

With no present occupant, the six staffers working hard on the guilty, under-the-tents pleasure known as the Us Weekly Fashion Extra have taken refuge in Ms. Fuller’s former abode. Once Fashion Week ends, construction will begin the week of Sept. 21 that will divide the landmark into two separate rooms.

Current Us editor in chief Janice Min, who served as executive editor for Ms. Fuller before her infamous leap to the editorial directorship of the tabloid empire American Media, said the move would eliminate an office shortage that Us currently faces. Asked why she decided to not upgrade to the digs herself, Ms. Min said: “I like my office. I like seeing everyone. The view is better. And I hate moving. I’ve moved personally three times this year, and I don’t feel like moving my office.”

On Sunday, Sept. 14, writing in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times , Guy Trebay was flummoxed. “What exactly was it that drained the excitement out of this fascinating, frivolous, inspiring, transformative, gossamer and endlessly diverting business, one that also happens to be among the largest employers in New York City?” he asked in an article titled “Is Fashion Still Cool?”

On Monday, Sept. 15, fashion-or at least fashion’s great avatar-struck back.

Sitting next to Stephanie Seymour at the Marc Jacobs show at the New York Armory, Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour told Off the Record special fashion correspondent Noelle Hancock exactly what she thought of The Times ‘ fashion postmortem.

“Rubbish,” Ms. Wintour said. “Total rubbish. The Times is always down on fashion. Always! I don’t know why. I love a lot of what I’m seeing in these shows-so much color and femininity. There are wonderful things happening in fashion. The Times should be celebrating it. Just look at the scene here tonight!”

Ms. Wintour then gestured to the overflowing bleachers at the show. When told of Ms. Wintour’s remarks, Mr. Trebay declined to comment.

The caustic contract negotiations between Dow Jones, the parent company of The Wall Street Journal , and its union now have a face. And that face belongs to Dow Jones chief operating officer Rich Zannino.

Using the latest in super-duper Internet technology, IAPE Local 1096, the union representing Dow Jones employees, recently posted a picture of the über -nifty Mr. Zannino with the words “Hi, I’m Rich” beneath. But in a flash the words become: ” … but I’ll be richer if you accept my contract proposals.”

IAPE president Ron Chen said: “The company, since April, has conducted itself increasingly like it’s the emperor of some kind of fiefdom, like all it has to do is ram things down people’s throats and they’ll have a happy and productive work force. It’s increasingly clear that they view this as a one-sided relationship. It’s time for us to take the gloves off.”

Mr. Chen said Mr. Zannino was the “first target” of the union’s campaign.

“He has the reputation for being a bean-counter,” Mr. Chen explained, “with no sense of what it means to be part of a culture where people go the extra mile to put out products that Dow Jones prides itself for putting out.”

When reached, Dow Jones spokeswoman Brigitte Trafford declined to comment on the Katzenjammeresque tomfoolery. As for the talks, Ms. Trafford said, “We continue to negotiate in good faith.”

Alex Storozynski, a member of the Daily News editorial board that captured a Pulitzer Prize in 1999, will become the editor of the upstart free daily, amNew York , which the Chicago-based Tribune Company plans on launching later this year.

“The potential is that right now, there are young people in this city who are not reading newspapers,” Mr. Storozynski said. “There’s an opportunity to reach them with a newspaper right now. There are about 70 free dailies around the world. London, Chicago and Washington all have free papers. Sooner or later, it was going to come to the Big Apple.”

Mr. Storozynski, 42, will oversee a bare-bones staff out to reel in the ever-elusive 18-to-34-year-old reader.

While it’s an admirable goal, Off the Record shudders at the thought of youth-oriented headlines like “W’uz Up With the Weapons of Mass Destruction?” and “Congress Disses Wack Appropriations Bill.”

“You can’t talk down to readers,” Mr. Storozynski said. “You can reach younger readers with shorter, snappier writing. We’re going to have a young staff that’s going to be writing for their own generation.”