Coming to Blows: Sports Illustrated vs. ESPN Magazine . . . Forbes vs. Fortune

The brewing rivalry between Sports Illustrated and its soon-to-launch competitor from ESPN has just gotten hotter. Steve Wulf, a Time senior writer and veteran of Sports Illustrated , is heading to ESPN Magazine to be its executive editor. But his good fortune could cost his wife, Jane (Bambi) Bachman Wulf, Sports Illustrated’ s chief of reporters, her job.

Henry Muller, Time Inc.’s editorial director and the aide-de-camp to editor in chief Norman Pearlstine, has informed Ms. Wulf that it would be better for all concerned if she moved to another magazine in the Time Inc. empire, company sources said. “She’s not leaving the company, nor was she ever asked to,” said a source. But Ms. Wulf, sources added, believes that after nearly 21 years of service at the sports weekly, there’s no reason to question her loyalty four months before ESPN Magazine even exists. Which is to say, she’s not budging.

Concerns about sleeping with the enemy are strong at Sports Illustrated , which is taking very seriously ESPN’s entry into a very profitable field it’s had to itself for many years. Even though ESPN Magazine will come out every two weeks, Time Inc. executives do not take lightly the synergistic power of ESPN’s majority owner, the Walt Disney Company, to slice into their magazine’s $115 million in annual profits.

Ms. Wulf sits in on the twice-a-week editorial meetings and, as chief of reporters, is at the center of Sports Illustrated’ s information web. “It’s an untenable situation for everyone,” said one Sports Illustrated source. “Every time we’d see something end up in ESPN that we were working on, there’d be a suspicion, warranted or not.”

Still, the Muller maneuver smacks of paranoia to some. For instance, Time’ s No. 2 editor for its Asia edition, Adi Ignatius, is married to Newsweek ‘s Hong Kong bureau chief Dorinda Elliott, and neither magazine has a problem with the arrangement. “The fact that Steve’s wife works for Sports Illustrated doesn’t bother me in the least because I trust Steve knows where his job ends and his personal life begins,” said ESPN Magazine editor in chief John Papanek, himself a former Sports Illustrated managing editor who was forced out of the job after much corporate interference in 1992.

Mr. Wulf said only, “We have four children, so we have other things to talk about.” Ms. Wulf declined to comment. Bill Colson, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, said he would not comment on anything regarding ESPN, but did say that Ms. Wulf has been a “terrific employee.” Mr. Muller, through a spokesman, also declined to comment.

You can look at the escalating name-calling going on between Forbes and Fortune as capitalism at its dog-eat-dog best. Or maybe it’s just more like high school-level clowning with lawyers involved.

Responding to the latest taunt from the Fortune gang-an advertising campaign that paints Forbes as a stodgy competitor-the marketing department at Forbes decided to have some desktop publishing fun. Hence the “‘A Good Slogan Is Hard to Find’ Contest,” which pokes fun at the four advertising tag lines its Time Inc. rival has gone through in the past four years. With some cheesy Monopoly-like characters illustrating the contest, Forbes asked about 2,800 recipients of the mailing, which went out to advertisers and ad agencies, to match the Fortune slogan with the editor who instituted it and to predict the magazine’s next slogan. To make the contest even easier, Forbes thoughtfully provided the answers. The first 300 respondents will receive Swiss Army Renegade watches (a $90 value).

When informed of the contest, John Huey, Fortune’ s managing editor, decided to have some fun of his own. “When you compete against morons, it’s a chance to be back in the 10th grade for a moment,” he said. Then he added: “Their magazine sucks, but you’ve got to love them.”

A Forbes spokeswoman said Mr. Huey’s comments were too sophomoric to address.

This latest spat had its origins in September, when Forbes learned of Fortune’ s new “Younger & Wiser” tag line, and then poked fun at it in a mailing to advertisers. Time Inc. then dispatched a not-so-friendly cease-and-desist letter to Forbes . But Mr. Huey is doing his best to make sure the cold war continues. He’s encouraging everyone at Fortune to enter the Forbes contest. His entry for Fortune ‘s next slogan? “We buried Forbes .”

Pushing through changes to the editorial rituals at The New York Times can be as difficult as guiding canonical revisions through the Vatican. But a recent development on the controversial issue of double bylines may well help some reporters reconcile themselves to The Times ‘ idea of selflessness.

For years, The Times refused to attach more than one reporter’s name to an article, no matter how many contributors there were to the holy text. Multiple bylines looked ungainly, the high priests ruled, and they diverted responsibility from the main author. But then with the 1980’s came the liberalizing apostasy of former executive editor Max Frankel. His regime allowed a second name to be conjoined to the lead reporter by a “with.” Of course, that second name could appear only in smaller type, and many hurdles needed to be leaped-including both reporters spending at least three days on the story-before a second byline would be handed out.

It was not enough for the faithful, who still chafed at the unduly rigid rules. Sins of pride crept into the newsroom, and the team effort valued at the paper sometimes faltered. “It often worked against people cooperating very much,” said one Times reporter. “Why are you going to invest time-in some cases, a lot of time-if you’re not going to get credit? We all live to have our bylines in the paper.”

But in a time of six sections and color pictures, miracles can indeed happen at The Times . A delegation of department heads and recent former reporters agonized for months over what changes to make. The new order was settled on at the Tarrytown editorial retreat back in September. Assistant managing editor Allan Siegal, the reigning cardinal of all matters dogmatic, delivered a memo to the news staff late last month that announced the overhauling of the joint byline policy.

“Double bylines should be used to recognize substantial reporting or writing contributions to substantial stories,” Mr. Siegal wrote. But what is deemed substantial? Here’s Mr. Siegal: “A ‘substantial’ contribution elevates the story above the ordinary; furnishes authority, expertise or exclusive access; supplies the lead element, or otherwise accounts for a large part of the story’s news value. There is no requirement for a particular story length, position in the paper, or amount of time spent on reporting.”

However, efforts routinely rewarded at other newspapers-making telephone calls for reaction or supplying quotes or covering public events-won’t cut it. ” The Times remains fundamentally a collaboration,” Mr. Siegal wrote in his memo. “A certain amount of team effort-legwork, phone calling, advice and expertise, given one day, repaid the next-is a responsibility of all hands. So we don’t expect to see a great proliferation of ‘and’ bylines.”

Charges of political correctness against the New York Post are about as rare as headless bodies in topless bars. But Scott McConnell, the recently fired editorial page editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper, is hurling such an allegation in the pages of a right-wing rag run by 60’s radicals-turned-conservatives. In the latest issue of Heterodoxy , the monthly newsletter from David Horowitz’s and Peter Collier’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture, Mr. McConnell tells the story of his final days at the newspaper in a piece entitled, “P.C. Firing at the Post : How I Wrote About Puerto Rico and Lost My Job.”

Mr. McConnell knew his July 14 editorial urging Congress to proceed cautiously before making Puerto Rico the 51st state would be controversial. But the newspaper prided itself on having no sacred cows, Mr. McConnell thought. He was wrong.

“I think the collision between me and my bosses ( Post publisher Martin Singerman and editor Ken Chandler and-at a great distance-Rupert Murdoch) was due to deeper shifts within American society,” Mr. McConnell wrote. “If the traditional duty of the press is to inform and to provoke, the unspoken but ever more enforced imperative of multiculturalism, even for a ‘conservative’ paper like the Post , is ‘Do Not Give Offense.’ These aims clash, and as I found out, people like myself who commit an unwitting sin against ‘diversity’ have to pay the price.”

At first, all seemed well. “Then came the lunch,” Mr. McConnell wrote.

The Post occasionally holds outreach lunches with the city’s minority communities as it tries to overcome its reputation of indifference-even racism-among blacks and Hispanics. But this meal, on Aug. 15, was more like a show trial, Mr. McConnell claimed. About 30 politicians, university officials and others from the Puerto Rican community took turns railing against the editorial, he wrote, claiming that it was riddled with stereotypes and was even an incitement to racism. Mr. McConnell did not apologize. Afterward, Mr. Singerman called him to his office and told him he had no right to speak for the paper on the issue of Puerto Rican statehood. On Sept. 11, after a scheduled two-week vacation in which he was told to think things over, Mr. McConnell was fired.

When contacted by Off the Record, Mr. McConnell didn’t seem too thrilled with the headline Heterodoxy put on his piece. “Political correctness is kind of a tired phrase,” he said. But, he added, “there are increasing limits on normal political discourse … and I think that’s kind of what happened here.”

Joe Dolce, the editor of Details who angrily quit his job in April when he found out his boss James Truman was shopping it around, has landed a part-time gig at Playboy . On Nov. 11, Mr. Dolce became an editor-at-large for Hugh Hefner’s baby. “I’ll be kind of like a cultural radarscope,” Mr. Dolce told Off the Record, scanning the film, art and sexual landscapes for the kind of stuff he can’t do anymore for Condé Nast Publications.

Coming to Blows: Sports Illustrated  vs. ESPN Magazine . . . Forbes  vs. Fortune