Times Sux Sox: Paper Coddling its Boston Team

“We’re sitting up there looking at each other, wondering, ‘What’s going on?’” said Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck.

It was two days after he’d witnessed the brawl of the fall: the American League’sbest pitcher, Pedro Martinez, taking down 72-year-old Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series followed by a bull-pen skirmish that could result in criminal charges for Yankees pitcher Jeff Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia.

It takes a lot to surprise Mr. Buck, who since 1996 has been the voice of the Yankees’ October championship runs.

“We all looked at each other and asked, ‘What in the world did we just witness?’” he said. “It was just weird.”

It was also the sourest note in what was otherwise a good, clean, if bare-knuckled fight between, arguably, the only two cities that love to hate each other more than Los Angeles and New York: Boston and New York. Sure, the Red Sox have their fans here-especially disgruntled Mets fans-but in a championship series, a city stakes its reputation on its home team, and neither Boston nor New York is ready to give up its good name without a fight.

Which is why so many New Yorkers felt like they’d gotten a 100-mile-an-hour knuckleball to the head when they read the editorial in The New York Times on Oct. 8. Propitiating the gods of objectivity, the board weighed in with a hopeful essay pining for the defeat of the New York Yankees, so that the Boston Red Sox could advance to play the Chicago Cubs in a tearful, one-of-them- has -to-win-now Boston-Chicago World Series.

“With all due respect to our New York readership-Yankee fans among them-to George Steinbrenner and to the Yankees themselves,” the editorial read, “we find it hard to resist the emotional tug and symmetrical possibilities of a series between teams that seem to have been put on earth to tantalize and then crush their zealous fans.”

Take it as one more sign that The Times is reaching out to a national audience. For New Yorkers who thought of The Times ‘ “other” readers as vicarious consumers of New York’s politics, culture and ideas, it was a rude awakening. New Yorkers are some of The Times ‘ readers; in fact, they deserve some special consideration from time to time, whether or not that extends to the economic boon and civic uplift of a World Series championship. If the Yankees don’t win, it’s a shame-but look at the dramatic possibilities for the national audience!

The Times ‘ Boston readership is also a consideration. After all-though The Times didn’t mention it in the editorial-the Red Sox are the New York Times Company’s team, bought (with a consortium of partners) just before last season, and the Sox’s cable-television channel became the broadcast outlet for the Times Company’s stable of Boston Globe columnists and reporters. ( The Times also owns the Globe .)

“It is our policy to always inform our readers of The Times ‘ business interests in an issue when we are attempting to actually influence the outcome of something,” said Times editorial-page editor Gail Collins when asked about the nondisclosure. “As much as we like to feel that the Times editorial page is influential, I do not think God is planning to decide how this particular series is going to work out based on our editorial.”

There’s always hope.

Of course, at The Times the editorial page and the newsroom remain as far apart as Metropolis and Krypton. And one might have forgiven The Times , if its coy equanimity and interest in baseball’s dramatic possibilities-for other cities-didn’t actually spill off the editorial page and onto the dress pages of the Sports section.

There, during these playoffs, Times readers have been treated to “A Boston View” of the series, with different Globe columnists taking top billing to wax poetic or prosaic on the preceding night’s events, beneath schoolmarmish headings applauding both sides for keeping their tempers cool during the Oct. 13 match that squared the series between the Yankees and The Times ‘ home team, the Red Sox.

Michael Holley and Dan Shaughnessy are Red Sox fans and great sportswriters-with all due respect to our Boston readership-for Boston. Writing before former Red Sox hero turned Yankees avatar Roger Clemens’ last Fenway appearance, Mr. Shaughnessy (in what was incidentally a great piece of writing) asked in The Times : “Anyone in Boston remember Larry Bird’s last game?” Times Sports editor Tom Jolly said he had “heard from people who really enjoy what the Boston view is.

“There’s no deeper meaning to this, except this is the Red Sox–Yankees, and it’s a great series and, of course, a great standing rivalry, and we thought this would give a fresh twist to our coverage.”

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said he wasn’t thinking about The Times ‘ stake in the Red Sox or the Globe when he came up with the idea of the “Boston View” and contacted Globe editor Martin Baron, on vacation in Turkey, to see if it could happen.

“I always forget about that until I read it somewhere,” Mr. Keller said. “It’s nothing that crosses my mind. It’s a kind of bookkeeping oddity.”

Whether the owners of The Times would call their considerable stake in Boston a “bookkeeping oddity” seems doubtful.

Mr. Keller said he had been hoping to generate more sparks on the page, and was happy on Monday, Oct. 13, when Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy weighed in with the best and harshest commentary of the series, chiding both Mr. Martinez and the fans that foolishly cheered him on.

“I thought there would be a little more head-banging than there’s been,” Mr. Keller said, “that the columnists would maybe go at each other a little bit, and I guess I thought the columns would be a little bit feistier.”

Sounds like the Boston view. Perhaps in the near-and far-future, any new toy The Times tries out will undergo the Howell test. Under former executive editor Howell Raines, efforts were made to spruce up the sections and offer, as it were, a view from the top; the question was always whether The Times could maintain its identity, its sense of place, and appeal to the hinterland at the same time.

Was Mr. Keller viewing the series from the point of view of his New York readership?

“We can’t not be a New York paper,” Mr. Keller said. “And some aspects of New York, including our sports franchises, rise above provincial local interest …. If the Yankees are in the World Series, it might be fun to try it in the Series with Chicago or Florida.”

But The Times doesn’t own the Chicago Sun-Times , the Cubs, the Marlins or the Miami Herald .

Nor is New York or the Yankees locked in the same kind of culture war with Chicago or Miami as it is with Boston or its Red Sox.

All of which makes this an awkward time for The Times to make its most significant public alliance with the Globe since buying the paper from the Taylor family in 1993. Until now, 43rd Street-at least in print-had treated the Globe like The Times ‘ cousin in Millville, Ohio: a once-every-other-summer kind of affair. Not for long.

“We’ve talked about whether there’s some way for newsroom cooperation for the conventions, because the Democrats are there and the Republicans are here,” Mr. Keller said of further projects with the Globe . “But we might find some way to benefit from each other’s writers.”

For now, though, we’re treated to the benefit of mini-Boston invasions, like the one that occurred in The Times ‘ Sunday Styles section on Oct. 11, where Globe columnist Alex Beam, in a piece called “Who You Calling Quaint? Two Cheers for Boston,” lobbed a greased-up grounder at the New York way of life.

“I am home at a decent hour,” Mr. Beam wrote. “My children know me well enough to know my many shortcomings.”

Well, that’s nice. Mr. Keller said he’d been unaware of Mr. Beam’s piece until it ran, but said he thought it was “cool”: “I don’t think The New York Times will die from an excess of playfulness.”

Mr. Beam-who said he’d actually gotten the assignment after a Styles editor called someone at The Atlantic Monthly , who in turn recommended that he write the piece-seemed to have the proper prespective.

“It’s a little like looking through a telescope,” Mr. Beam said. “When we look at them, they seem very big. When they look through our end, we look very small.”

Early in the afternoon on Oct. 10, Ed Kosner, the man who has edited the Daily News since March 2000, quietly walked out of the newsroom, presumably for good and forever.

Weeks after announcing his forthcoming retirement in March 2004, Mr. Kosner sent out an e-mail on Oct. 2 telling people that he would be leaving to “clear the decks for the new leadership” of the paper, which-so far, at least-includes former editor in chief Martin Dunn, who returns as editorial director, and Arthur Browne, once the paper’s senior managing editor, who’ll now be the News ‘ editorial-page editor.

In his first interview since his departure, Mr. Kosner said he didn’t see anything sudden in leaving months earlier than he had originally planned.

“[ News owner Mort Zuckerman] figured out his next arrangement earlier than expected,” Mr. Kosner said. “That’s all there was to it. There’s no way of knowing how long it would take. People knew for about a month that there was going to be a new arrangement. I don’t think it’s a surprise.”

During his last days, Mr. Kosner-who was joined on his way out the door by managing editor Michael Kramer and columnist Pete Hamill-quietly met with staffers, but to the surprise of many within the newsroom, he refused large-scale commemorations or even a punch-and-cookies session around the Xerox machine.

“I decided I’d been to so many of those,” said Mr. Kosner, laughing, “I didn’t feel like having one. They all wanted me to. They kept coming in and kept pleading with me, and I didn’t want it.”

Predictably, given recent events, News staffers-whose overall outlook on life ranges between dour and really goddamn depressed-have become weary over a potential return to the kind of turmoil that battered the paper during the late 1990′s, when the paper went through four editors in the span of four years. Indeed, the tabloid war with the hated New York Post promises to get even nastier beginning Oct. 15, when Mr. Dunn-who fought off the Post with a series of stunts and near-daily coverage of the British royal family-arrives at the paper.

Mr. Kosner said, for his part, that he didn’t fear for his former troops. His thoughts on Mr. Zuckerman’s decision to reinstall Messrs. Dunn and Browne?

“I have no thoughts on it at all. It’s Mort’s prerogative to choose whomever he wants to run the paper.”

The Leo Burnett set recently found a pleasant surprise wrapped up in their business-to-business bible, Advertising Age : Tiki Barber! The Giants’ running back was smiling at them through clear cellophane from the cover of the current issue of Men’s Fitness , which was given away with Ad Age ‘s Oct. 13 issue. (Advertising “31,722 words inside!”, Men’s Fitness made a stark contrast to the text-heavy industry newspaper.)

But wait: There’s more Tiki. The same Men’s Fitness cover was splashed over Ad Age ‘s back page in an ad for the magazine-part of publisher American Media’s campaign, under chief executive David Pecker, to overpower the abs-and-ads dominance of dreamy David Zinczenko’s Men’s Health .

That Men’s Fitness should buy a back-page ad and an insert in Ad Age is not, in itself, a novelty. But the flashy promotion also shipped with an issue in which Ad Age covered the magazine’s relaunch in a piece by reporter Jon Fine that, like the advertisement, featured the Men’s Fitness cover.

Advertising Age editor Scott Donaton said he first became aware of the promotion when the newspaper showed up at his house on Sunday, Oct. 12. Perhaps surprisingly, he called the matter a “total illustration of church and state” at Advertising Age . He said the piece was run and placed on page 4 of the paper without any knowledge of what the business side of the newspaper had in mind.

“Ideally, as an editor, do you like to see it?” Mr. Donaton asked rhetorically. “Of course not. But to me, it’s as much a violation of church-state to make a decision either way, to do something or not do something. We cover the magazine industry, and the magazine industry is part of our ad base. The same goes for the television industry.

“We don’t let the sales side know about a negative story,” Mr. Donaton continued. “And that’s been the case where we do a negative story on a television network or a publishing house and they have an ad in the book. We decided a long time ago that we couldn’t let it be a factor, one way or another.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, the post– Kingdom and the Power crowd-the one that gave form to the vision of The New York Times through the 1970′s beneath former executive editor Abe Rosenthal and culture czar Arthur Gelb-came together to mark the publication of Mr. Gelb’s memoir, City Room , at Sardi’s (of course), in what one attendant described as the “biggest reunion of the old Abe/Arthur New York Times in many, many years.”

Indeed, the guest list might have well been a database for the bylines that defined The Times during the Rosenthal-Gelb era. Edith Evans Asbury and John Corry were there. So were Clyde Haberman and Sam Roberts, Gerry Schoenfeld and Marty Segal, Rocco Landesman and Bernard Gersten. Sydney Schanberg made an appearance, as did John Kifner, Richard Reeves, Frank Prial, Fred Ferretti, Lesley Oelsner and Lucinda Franks. And what about Seymour Topping? Yes, dear, he was there, too.

Following remarks by former publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Mr. Rosenthal spoke, eventually leading the ol’ gang in a chant of “Gelb! Gelb! Gelb!”

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Mr. Gelb said later. “There was a lot of affection and warmth, and I felt very, very moved by it.”