Times Brushes Up On Hillary Races With New Beat Star

How can you tell how seriously to take Hillary Clinton’s Presidential aspirations? Gamblers have the London bookmakers, who gave the junior Senator from New York 5-to-1 odds as soon as the 2004 election ended—better than all the other potential candidates, including Rudolph Giuliani.

Or there’s The New York Times, which is laying its own big bet on Mrs. Clinton: The paper has assigned reporter Anne Kornblut, a veteran of the 2000 and 2004 Bush campaign trail, to cover Mrs. Clinton’s 2006 Senate run—and whatever comes after.

The assignment signals a formal shift in the coverage of Mrs. Clinton from local officeholder to national personality. Until now, the Senator had been covered through the paper’s Metro desk, by Raymond Hernandez. Ms. Kornblut will cover Mrs. Clinton from the Washington bureau, reporting to deputy bureau chief Richard Stevenson.

Ms. Kornblut declined to discuss her new assignment.

On March 13, Ms. Kornblut met with Mr. Stevenson, managing editor Jill Abramson and assistant managing editor Rick Berke in New York to work out the logistics of the paper’s Hillary coverage.

Ms. Kornblut joins a scrum of no fewer than four Times reporters following Mrs. Clinton. According to Times sources, Mr. Hernandez will continue to cover Mrs. Clinton as part of New York’s Congressional delegation for the Metro desk. Mrs. Clinton is also prime territory for Adam Nagourney, The Times’ chief national political correspondent, as well as for Metro’s chief political correspondent, Patrick Healy.

In addition, the paper has first serial rights to the investigative biography of Mrs. Clinton currently being reported by Don Van Natta Jr. and former Times reporter Jeff Gerth. That book is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2007, when the paper will have the option of running any news the authors may uncover.

“I think any paper that’s got a home-state candidate who’s also a potential Presidential aspirant is going to pay a great deal of attention,” Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman said by phone on March 14.

Ms. Kornblut, 33, arrived at The Times in 2005 from The Boston Globe, where she was based in D.C. since 1998 and covered the 2000 Presidential campaigns. In 2002, she won the White House Correspondents’ Association Aldo Beckman Award for her coverage of President Bush’s first year in office. Most recently, she covered lobbying for the paper, handling the Jack Abramoff scandal. Former Washington editor Kate Phillips is taking over the lobbying beat with Ms. Kornblut’s reassignment to cover Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton’s camp declined to discuss The Times’ increased attention.

“We don’t control how the media covers us,” said Howard Wolfson, a senior adviser to Mrs. Clinton. “We’ll continue to deal with The New York Times as we have in the past.”

Mr. Stevenson declined to discuss personnel matters, but said the Hillary Clinton coverage reflected the upward trajectory of the former First Lady’s political ambitions.

“She’s a very compelling national figure,” Mr. Stevenson said by phone on March 14. “We’re well aware of the fact that this could be the beginning of a two-and-a-half-year marathon. But we’re not predicting what’s going to happen to her and what decisions we’ll make should she end up running for President—though there’s a high probability that she will. If she does, we’ll be in a good position to cover her.”

During Fortune editor Eric Pooley’s first year on the job, according to sources at the magazine, he would post a sign on personal stationery on his office door saying, “If the door is closed, I’m busy. Do not knock.”

But on March 8, Mr. Pooley, 46, assembled his writing staff and told them he planned to start holding “office hours” every other Thursday, for two hours.

Mr. Pooley was announcing his door-opening policy one day after Fortune senior editor Daniel Roth clocked his final day at the office. Mr. Roth is bound for Condé Nast, where he’s set to be a senior writer for the company’s yet-untitled business magazine. The deputy managing editor is another Fortune alumnus—ex–assistant managing editor Jim Impoco, lately chief of the New York Times Sunday business section.

Mr. Pooley, then, finds himself squeezed between the looming Condé Nast threat and the in-house budget cuts at Time Inc. So with the competition hiring and his own company coming off two rounds of layoffs, the formerly inaccessible editor is reaching out to his staff.

In the March 8 meeting, Mr. Pooley told writers—editors weren’t invited—that he wanted to improve communication. Besides the door sign, staffers said that Mr. Pooley often hasn’t returned e-mails; one recalled that when he took over the magazine last year, he solicited detailed critiques of Fortune from the staff, then never replied to their assessments.

Fortune staffers also said that Mr. Pooley has kept them working into the early-morning hours during the magazine’s biweekly closes—perhaps a carryover from the weekly publishing schedule of Time, where he was managing editor of the European edition.

Mr. Pooley attributed some of his managerial absence to Fortune’s pressing business concerns—advertising pages were down 11.8 percent last year. But he told the staff that those drains on his time have been reduced lately.

And Mr. Pooley discussed reader dissatisfaction with recent celebrity covers, featuring Martha Stewart and teen golf sensation Michelle Wie.

“Eric is a really good editor, but he hasn’t communicated sufficiently,” said senior editor David Kirkpatrick, a 22-year Fortune veteran who conferenced into the meeting by phone. “Here’s a guy who’s willing to admit when he’s wrong and had shortcomings …. He gets a high grade for effort for starting a process.”

Some present and former Fortune staffers said they saw Mr. Pooley’s diplomacy effort originating with Time Inc. editor in chief John Huey, known as a hard-driving manager himself.

“Everyone is upset Dan is leaving, and this is the response to that,” a Fortune staffer said. “Probably it came from above. They don’t want anyone else to defect, and they want to make sure everyone is happy.”

Through a spokesperson, Mr. Pooley said: “Being managing editor of Fortune is a job with a lot of parts. The best and most important part is working with these exceptional people. Nothing else comes close. But too often the best part gets crowded out by other demands, so I’m making some small changes that ought to help. Since the details can’t be of interest to anyone who doesn’t work at Fortune, I’ll leave it at that.” Mr. Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, said he didn’t see Mr. Roth’s departure to Condé Nast as presaging a trend.

“Dan was one of my best friends on staff, and I was sorry to see him go. It’s exciting to join a new magazine, and I can’t blame him,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said. “There won’t be a mano a mano …. It’s good to have good competition. It keeps you on your toes.”

—G.S.

The public estrangement of author Stacy Sullivan from her publishing house, St. Martin’s Press, has become official. Two weeks ago, Ms. Sullivan’s agent asked St. Martin’s to return the paperback rights for her debut book to the author, and St. Martin’s has tentatively agreed.

Thanks to a profile in the Columbia Journalism Review in the fall of 2004, Ms. Sullivan and her book, Be Not Afraid for You Have Sons in America: How a Brooklyn Roofer Helped Lure the U.S. into the Kosovo War, had become a case study in the pitfalls of modern publishing.

Every aspiring book author who read “The Education of Stacy Sullivan” was a little bit traumatized by it.

The story laid out the arduous journey Ms. Sullivan had taken in writing and publishing her book with St. Martin’s in May 2004. It described how Ms. Sullivan, after reporting on the war in the late 1990’s and writing pieces for Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine, had landed an agent and a modest nonfiction book deal. Then came the isolation, the virtually absent editor, the barely touched manuscript (prompting Ms. Sullivan to hire a freelance editor out of her $35,000 advance)—and finally the indignity, after a 5,000-copy press run and no publicity, of submitting her book to New York Times Book Review boss Sam Tanenhaus herself, complete with a pleading note.

Helping portray one’s publisher as the embodiment of the heartless modern publishing machine was not, it turned out, the best way to promote a book.

“After the piece came out, I was a little sheepish about talking to them,” said Ms. Sullivan, adding that she herself was startled by the piece and its exclusive focus on her. “At that point, my relationship wasn’t very good with my editor, such as there was one.” She telephoned said editor—Diane Higgins, who has since left St. Martin’s—anyway, to ask if any reprints were planned before a 60 Minutes episode in which Ms. Sullivan had been interviewed was due to be broadcast.

“I happened to get her on the phone,” said Ms. Sullivan. “She was just really cold and said, ‘There will be no reprint and there will be no paperback.’” They did do a small reprint, Ms. Sullivan said. But there was indeed no paperback. (And she never spoke to her editor again—although, she added, they had only spoken about three times in the first place.)

So now Ms. Sullivan has asked for the rights back. The author said that her understanding was that the house was just “giving them to us” for no fee. She said she doesn’t know yet what she’ll do with them.

The tale was not altogether surprising to some in the publishing business.

“That’s becoming very common and kind of distressing, actually,” said one publishing executive. “More and more books are selling what you’d expect them to sell, and that’s not enough any more. In the old days, a year later you’d just see the paperback come out as a rote thing. [Now], if a book doesn’t perform in hardcover, it’s very, very difficult to get it out in paperback.”

At least one other author, Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn, is currently trying to negotiate her paperback rights back from her publisher. The Scribner unit of Simon & Schuster acquired The Empty Room: Surviving the Loss of a Brother or Sister at Any Age for a low six figures after a bidding war in which several houses made offers. The book was published in 2004 and sold a less-than-spectacular 9,000 or so copies—apparently not enough for the publisher to rush the title into paperback. The author inquired about taking back the softcover rights, but the publishing house has so far resisted. (Ms. DeVita-Raeburn confirmed the details of her book deal, but said that she was in the middle of negotiations and couldn’t comment further. Susan Moldow, the publisher of Scribner, did not return calls from The Observer.)

When asked whether she has any interest in working on another book, Ms. Sullivan sighed. “I’ve said I will never do another book again,” she said. “Now I’d say I would definitely have to do it with a publisher who was really behind it, where it had a lot of support. I wouldn’t do another book like the last one. That’s the loneliest, most miserable, alienating experience.”

—Sheelah Kolhatkar