Perfection eludes us,” said Col Allan, editor in chief of the New York Post. “That’s the challenge of producing daily newspapers. We’re always trying to make it better.”
Perfection? Half a year ago, Mr. Allan had a less sublime quarry in his sights: the Daily News. But then, after years of slow-closing pursuit, he overtook it—the rowdy pirate ship of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. passed Mort Zuckerman’s wheezing steamer in daily circulation. For those who missed the news splashed on a Times Square jumbo screen, Mr. Allan’s paper went from being known as No. 2 in the New York tabloid market to being No. 5 among American dailies.
Now the Post editor—who was never shy about lobbing cannonballs and flaming pitch when the Daily News was in front—was reluctant to speak ill of the competitor.
“The Post’s circulation continues to grow,” Mr. Allan, 53, said by phone on Feb. 20. “I think that I’m hopeful that the March numbers will show some further growth.”
With a new year on hand and open seas ahead, Mr. Allan moved some officers up on the quarterdeck. On Jan. 25, metro editor Jesse Angelo, 33, became a managing editor and Mr. Allan’s second in command; business editor Dan Colarusso, 40, took Mr. Angelo’s place on metro. The evening of the newsroom announcement, Mr. Allan took the two to dinner at Elaine’s.
The same day that Mr. Angelo and Mr. Colarusso moved up, executive editor Colin Myler left to edit Mr. Murdoch’s News of the World in London.
“These changes were not brought on by the departure of Colin Myler,” Mr. Allan said. “I intended to make these appointments back in early December.”
Mr. Angelo is a young man, but an old Murdoch hand: He got to know Mr. Murdoch’s son James in kindergarten, at the Trinity School in Manhattan, and he served his early years in the journalism trade under Mr. Allan at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
Mr. Angelo came to the Post as a Page Six freelancer in 1999, then advanced through the ranks in the business department. In June 2001, Mr. Allan—shortly after taking charge of the Post—promoted Mr. Angelo to metro editor, coinciding with the firing of five senior staffers in what was dubbed the “Friday morning massacre.”
“I think his instincts are very good,” Mr. Allan said. “He is a New Yorker by birth and life. He’s had tremendous newspaper experience abroad. He’s the kind of young man who would be successful anywhere. The instincts that he has, and the leadership abilities he has, make him uniquely able to be a terrific newspaper executive.”
Mr. Allan said that Mr. Angelo isn’t a direct replacement for Mr. Myler. “Colin Myler was an accomplished newspaper editor in the U.K. before he came here,” Mr. Allan said. “So I think Jesse’s role is a little more different that Colin’s was. He’s running the back bench, and he’s working with the other editors.”
Officially, Mr. Angelo is one of three managing editors. The others are Joe Robinowitz, who divides his time between the Post and News Corp.’s community-newspaper group in Brooklyn and Queens, and Chris Shaw. “Chris works with Lauren Ramsby on the weekend section,” Mr. Allan said. “He has principal carriage on our Web site.”
Mr. Angelo declined to comment on his new duties.
“It’s a bit like the military,” said the 40-year Murdoch-veteran reporter Steve Dunleavy. “When there’s a vacant spot, and there are people who have proven themselves brilliantly, they move up.”
“There was no gossip around the water cooler,” Mr. Dunleavy said.
(Water cooler, Mr. Dunleavy?)
There has been some staff grumbling about deputy metro editor Michelle Gotthelf missing out on the top metro spot—though a staffer made a point of not criticizing Mr. Colarusso, who is widely viewed as a very capable editor.
“Michelle’s been in the seat and doing the job,” the staffer said. “She probably deserved it.”
But a senior Post staffer had a different take. “People who work on the [metro] desk, including Michelle, have sat in that seat, and had many opportunities to prove they could do the job,” that staffer said. “I’d be surprised if anyone felt that really, truly, she was more capable than the person who got the job.”
“Michelle’s a star,” Mr. Allan said. “She’s really a terrific editor. Her career in this place has not peaked by a long shot.”
Regardless, Mr. Allan appears to have the crew he wants for the Murdoch flagship.
“I think News Corp. has a deep newspaper culture,” Mr. Allan said. “A lot of companies have a good newspaper culture, but they have not been as successful at selling newspapers.”
Prodigal Sun Staffer to Launch Politics Site
Ryan Sager is a young conservative in a hurry. The 27-year-old journalist published his first book this past August, on rifts within the Republican party, and already has another one in the works: a John McCain biography due later this year.
But at the same time, Mr. Sager is going back to where he started: He has been hired as the online editor of The New York Sun—the daily broadsheet where he was one of the founding staff members in April 2002.
The previous online editor, Daniel Freedman, vacated his post on Feb. 14. That was also the date of his last post on The Sun’s “It Shines for All” blog.
Reached by phone on Feb. 19, Mr. Sager said that he wouldn’t be taking over Mr. Freedman’s blogging duties. Instead, he’s planning to launch a new political Web site next month, NYSunPolitics.com.
Managing editor Ira Stoll said that Mr. Sager’s original job interview at The Sun predated the arrival of office furniture.
“I think we were sitting on cardboard boxes,” he said.
Mr. Sager, whose author photo displays near–Christopher Hitchens–grade rumpling, joined the fledgling Sun as a news assistant a year after graduating from George Washington University. His duties at the startup included writing editorials, editing copy and proofreading pages.
“In typical Sun fashion,” Mr. Stoll said, “we had one person doing about five jobs.”
After ascending to the position of editorial-page editor at The Sun, Mr. Sager decamped for the New York Post, where he spent two years on the editorial board. In 2005, he signed a contract with John Wiley & Sons for his first book, The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle to Control the Republican Party. When the publication date was moved up to before the 2006 midterm elections, Mr. Sager said, he had to leave the Post to write full-time.
According to Nielsen BookScan, The Elephant in the Room has sold 1,300 copies.
Mr. Stoll described the process of rehiring Mr. Sager as a “longtime mutual courtship.”
“We’ve been trying to get him back since he left,” Mr. Stoll said.
Mr. Sager said he approached Mr. Stoll and editor in chief Seth Lipsky in December with the idea of an all-politics Web site. He described The Sun as “a young, nimble paper.”
Mr. Sager said he expects the site to include political blogging, dispatches from political correspondent Josh Gerstein and writing by Sun columnists. He plans for it to compete not with the other New York dailies, he said, but with the sites aimed at politics junkies, such as RealClearPolitics.com and the recently launched, lavishly bankrolled Politico.
“We certainly come at things without the immense backing that Politico has,” said Mr. Sager. “It’s a more specialized site, trying to take advantage of our connections in New York.”
What advantage might a New York perspective give in the 2008 election?
“[A]ny New York newsman worth his salt,” Mr. Sager wrote in an e-mail, “has to be pulling at this point for the perfect home-state storm: Rudy for the Republicans, Hillary for the Democrats and Bloomberg for the yet-to-be-formed Michael Bloomberg Party.”
And what about that other free-range Republican? Mr. Sager’s McCain book is slated for publication in October 2007, with Palgrave Macmillan. He described it as “the first non-hagiographic book ever published” about the senior Senator from Arizona.
That gives Mr. Sager’s past and future boss eight months to get through his previous volume before the new one arrives. “I have to admit, I haven’t read every word of his book,” Mr. Stoll said. “Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m busy running the newspaper.” (Mr. Stoll also became the father of twins earlier this month.)
However, Mr. Stoll said that he’s acquainted with the book’s premise of a conflict between religious and economic conservatives. “Personally, I’m not as sure as he is that the conflict is irresolvable, or guaranteed to result in some great schism,” said Mr. Stoll.
“There is room at The New York Sun for people who disagree with me,” Mr. Stoll added later.
Portƒolio Still Expanding
With only two more shopping months till Portƒolio launches, the Condé Nast business glossy is still grabbing staff off the shelves of other media outlets. Latest in the cart: Bob Roe, most recently an assistant managing editor at Sports Illustrated.
“It’s the chance to do a great magazine,” Mr. Roe said.
It’s also a chance to leave the cost-chopping old titles of Time Inc. for Si Newhouse’s spend-money-to-make-money startup. Was Mr. Roe drawn by the pioneer spirit of a magazine launch? The chance to be there at the beginning?
“No,” Mr. Roe said. “I wouldn’t mind coming over here after they’ve slayed every dragon and it’s widely acknowledged as the best magazine ever published.”
Portƒolio editor Joanne Lipman (the ƒ is for ƒavings!) declined to comment on the latest acquisition.
Before going to Sports Illustrated, Mr. Roe was executive editor of Los Angeles Magazine.