It used to be that Jann Wenner only drove his own employees bonkers. Now he’s driving Time Inc. bonkers, too.
Sources at Time Inc. said that executives at the magazine giant are irked by the vats of publicity that Wenner Media gossip upstart Us Weekly has been getting lately-often at the expense of Time Inc.’s crown jewel, People -and they’re peeved that the Rolling Stone publisher’s been sniffing around Time Inc.’s talent, too.
In fact, sources said, the Time Inc. brass are so rankled by Mr. Wenner’s attempts to swipe their employees, they’re taking a bar-the-windows strategy to retaining staff.
And yes, it’s personal. “There’s something about Wenner and Wenner Media that people at Time Inc. don’t like,” said one Time Inc. executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There’ssomething about him that gets people going in a way it doesn’t with Hearst or Condé Nast or Forbes. There’s something deep down that’s disagreeable with the guy.”
“It’s almost a matter of pride to them not to lose any people to Wenner,” said another Time Inc. source said.
Butguesswhat: There’s no love lost on the other side, either. Mr. Wenner, who was traveling and unavailable for comment, is said to be ticked about losing former Us Weekly editor Terry McDonell to Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated in February, as well as a handful of Us Weekly staffers to People . Now that people are starting to talk about Us Weekly as something other than a punchline, Mr. Wenner’s taking pleasure in getting a little revenge, and in stirring up his competitors across the street.
“You can understand why Jann’s pissed,” one source said, referring to Time Inc.’s own poaching efforts. “He’s very happy with Us ‘s P.R. battle against People , and he wants to stick it in Time Inc.’s face.”
Though they occupy the same block in midtown Manhattan, Wenner Media and Time Inc. have always lived as Gatsby and Nick: neighbors who cross paths, but then return to vastly different roofs. Glimmering on the west side of the street is Time Inc.-the empire built by Henry Luce, whose magazines now serve as a unit of the giant, publicly held machine of AOL Time Warner. On the east side of the street, Wenner Media, the one-floor home of Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal , has the look and feel of a summer rental, though it’s run by a famously tight-fisted proprietor who can often be found straightening up the desks of his underlings.
Until recently, executives on the 34th floor of the Time Inc. headquarters had little reason to give much thought to Mr. Wenner, whose attempt to pummel Time Inc.’s People with Us Weekly seemed akin to challenging a cannon with a cap gun.
But then came Bonnie Fuller, whose antics (late closings, tawdry headlines) and results (increased newsstand sales) have generated more press for Mr. Wenner than any cameo in a Cameron Crowe movie ever could.
And, according to sources at Time Inc., the buzz has started to rub executives at Time Inc. the wrong way. Though they don’t deny Ms. Fuller’s spark, they point out that Us Weekly ‘s newsstand sales remain a fraction of People ‘s (394,000 to 1.4 million). “There’s a sense that the data has been misconstrued about Us, ” said a Time Inc. source. “They hate the perception that Us is doing well and People ‘s doing badly. They don’t need anything else to feed into that.”
Losing talent is an even bigger issue. Over the past couple of months, sources said, Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine and editorial director John Huey have been in lockdown mode, determined to keep their talent away from both the previously vacant Rolling Stone managing editor job (filled on June 12 by FHM editor in chief Ed Needham) and from Ms. Fuller.
“Norm and John want to know what’s going on,” one Time Inc. source said. “They get involved in these things; they’re not going to let talent walk out the door.”
To date, the Time Inc. honchos have been quite successful at hanging onto their gang. When People assistant managing editor LarryHackett-with whom sources said Mr. Wenner became enamored while interviewing him for the job eventually filled by Ms. Fuller-was offered the Rolling Stone gig by Mr. Wenner in mid-May, Mr. Huey and Mr. Pearlstine successfully intervened. The same scenario, according to Time Inc. sources, played out a few weeks later, when Mr. Wenner turned to Time senior editor Eric Pooley. Likewise, according to sources, when Sports Illustrated Scorecard editor Albert Kim came close to signing on as an executive editor for Us , Mr. Huey and Mr. Pearlstine, along with People managing editor Martha Nelson, convinced Mr. Kim to take an assistant managing editor job with People instead.
Both Mr. Huey and Mr. Pearlstine declined a request for an interview. A spokesperson for Ms. Nelson also declined to comment on the matter, saying, “We don’t comment on personnel issues.”
So far, the only ones willing to jump from Time Inc. to Wennerland have been Melissa Green, formerly of InStyle and now Us Weekly ‘s senior beauty editor, and Teen People articles editor Jeremy Helligar, whom sources said was given the same song and dance before deciding to sign on with Ms. Fuller. “That really upset Time Inc. people a lot,” one Time Inc. source said. “He’s really good.”
Mr. Hackett and Mr. Kim did not return repeated calls for comment, and Mr. Helligar could not be reached for comment either. Mr. Pooley declined to discuss specifics, but said: “We did talk; I had a serious conversation with Jann. When I told [ Time managing editor] Jim Kelly I was talking to Jann, he and Norm and John and I had some conversations about my future at Time Inc.”
Mr. Kelly declined to comment. But a Time Inc. spokesperson said: “We’re very fortunate to have very talented people. We’re not surprised people would try and lure them away. And we’re not surprised that people would stay, given the many titles we have and the opportunities people have here.”
Ms. Fuller said she wasn’t trying to raid the castle. “We’ve met and talked to a lot of talented people at a lot of magazine companies,” Ms. Fuller said. “I think when you’re hiring, that’s what you’ve got to do. We’re an equal-opportunity employer.”
Kent Brownridge,general manager for Wenner Media, agreed.
“Compared to AOL Time [Warner], we’re a very small company,” Mr. Brownridge said. ” Us Weekly may have fewer than 50 people on its editorial staff, and AOL Time Warner may have thousands on its various weeklies. It’s only logical and natural, in trying to beef up our staff, that we turn to them. It’s got nothing to do with ‘Let’s get them.’ The better question is, ‘Why haven’t you looked there? They’ve got everyone.'”
Mr. Brownridge, however, did seem to take the rejections to heart.
“We have been the greatest benefactors in the lives of these people!” Mr. Brownridge said, “Their salaries have been doubled! Six weeks’ vacation and four-day work weeks! I enriched their pensions!”
He added: “Our feeling is, if I wasn’t successful, I made it more expensive for AOL to keep these people. I have to wonder if the same kind of efforts would have been made if someone had said, ‘Gee, I have a better offer at Condé Nast or Hearst, I’m happy for the people. I’m happy for them and their families.”
Of course, Time Inc. may have started this in the first place. Mr. Wenner might never be looking to the corner of 51st and Sixth for people had Time Inc. not successfully lured Mr. McDonell from Us Weekly in February to become the new managing editor of Sports Illustrated . Time Inc. also had no compunction about taking Us Weekly staffers Todd Gold and J.D. Heyman to People , andgrabbingCharlie Leerhsen-whowas passed over for the top job at Us Weekly for Ms. Fuller-as the executive editor of SI . Moreover, Wenner sources expressed dismay over people from Time Inc. claiming to have offers-when none had been tendered-to advance their salaries at Time Inc.
For his part, Mr. Leerhsen, who’s done this switcheroo before-he originally left Time Inc. for Wenner in 1998-saw no bad feeling on the part of his new (old) employer.
“I don’t see this as being a company that’s unduly worried about Wenner Media,” Mr. Leerhsen said.
In that same vein, Mr. McDonell found nothing unusual about either Wenner Media’s recruiting Time Inc. talent or the Time Inc. talent’s refusal to bite.
“When I was at Wenner, I tried to reach out to several people at Time Inc., and I was not successful,” Mr. McDonell said. “I tried to recruit them because they were so good; the company’s a good place to be.
“I have friends at [Wenner],” Mr. McDonell added. “I hope they do well.”
Howell Raines scared some of the writersinhis newsroom, but it now appears that the New York Times executive editor has backed down from a controversial comment indicating his seeming intention to give the paper’s sleepy Times Books imprint the right of first refusal on books penned by the paper’s staffers.
A new Times book policy-issued in a union memo to staffers on Monday, June 17-looks kinder than what some of the paper’s staffers feared was coming when they read of Mr. Raines’ plan for Times Books in a June 10 New Yorker profile of the new executive editor. “The guts of it is we want first refusal,” Mr. Raines told the magazine.
That comment sent shivers through The Times, where dreams of publishing stardom usually involve mid-to-high-six-figure deals with imprints like Simon & Schuster-not a small-potatoes offer from the paper’s perennially unsuccessful joint venture with Henry Holt & Company.
“I would quit over something like that,” one Times staffer told Off the Record, “because that would really fucking suck.”
Well, cheer up, buddy-you won’t have to quit! “First refusal is not going to be the policy,” said Lena Williams, The Times’ representative for the Newspaper Guild of New York, who helped negotiate the policy.
According to the Guild’s press release, instead of first refusal, Times reporters, editors, critics and photographers simply have to “notify” management, “in writing, in advance of their desire” to publish a work of nonfiction gleaned from reporting. Under the new policy, The Times will have a “reasonable opportunity to make a competitive bid for the project,” but the staffer will have no obligation to accept the offer, even if they want to choose another publishing house offering less money.
Mike Levitas, director of New York Times Book Development, said that the initial distress inspired by Mr. Raines’ comments was unfounded. “If you have imaginary fears that are based on a single quote that wasn’t really revealing, there’s no limit to what nightmare you can imagine,” Mr. Levitas said. “Why should The Times be held responsible for someone’s fertile imagination?”
Ultimately, Mr. Raines’ ambitions are to juice the Times Books imprint with a few of those staff-penned best-sellers that have typically escaped to other publishers-like Judith Miller’s Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War , published by Simon & Schuster-thereby raking in a little ancillary profit.
If nothing more, Mr. Raines has succeeded in putting Times Books squarely on the radar of his staffers. Which would be a definite change, since some staffers never even considered it. Frank Bruni, the Times Washington correspondent and soon-to-be Rome bureau chief-replacing Melinda Henneberger, who resigned to write a book for, ahem, Farrar, Straus & Giroux-told Off the Record that when he got an offer from HarperCollins to write Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush , “I wasn’t aware that Times Books was an entity in the business of actually making bids on books by Times writers.”
The New York Post was treated to an old-fashioned newsroom rumble last week when reporters Al Guart and Murray Weiss physically went after each other not once, but twice. And guess who’s to blame? The late mob boss John Gotti.
Mr. Guart and Mr. Weiss are longtime rivals on the Post ‘s organized-crime beat, and sources at the paper said the conflict reached a boiling point on Monday, June 10, the day of Mr. Gotti’s death. According to sources, the trouble started after Mr. Weiss-who usually works out of police headquarters-came into the newsroom to work on the paper’s Gotti coverage. After Mr. Weiss was assigned to work on a story on Mr. Gotti’s last days, a source said Mr. Guart quipped: “That should be easy. Just read my clips for the last year.”
Oooo, snap ! Taking offense, Mr. Weiss, according to sources, splashed Mr. Guart with a bottle of Poland Spring. When Mr. Guart reached for the bottle, a struggle between the two ensued, but the metro-brawlers were quickly separated, sources said.
Round 2 began later that evening. Around 8 p.m., sources said, Mr. Guart waited for Mr. Weiss outside the men’s restroom with his own container of
Post colleagues weren’t surprised that it came down to a splishy-splashy battle. “He and Al hate each other,” one Post source said. “They don’t respect each other. They trash each other a lot-both to other reporters and to their sources.”
And even after the aqua-fisticuffs had ceased, the verbal battle raged on. On Wednesday, June 12, Mr. Guart could be heard bad-mouthing Mr. Weiss’ June 12 front-page story “to every reporter in earshot, and on the phone with sources.”
“Things got so bad,” a Post source said, “[metro editor] Jesse Angelo called both of them into his office to tell them to cut it out.”
When reached, Mr. Guart declined to comment. Likewise, Mr. Weiss declined to delve into the matter, saying only, “Let it rest.”
For his part, Mr. Angelo acknowledged the scuffle but declined to speak to any of the details. “The reality,” he said, “is you have two extremely competitive reporters, and some bad blood boiled over.”
Back in February, attempting to soothe his nerves, which had been rankled by all the honking going on outside his Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, apartment, a 32-year-old Web-site producer named Aaron Naparstek wrote a bunch of haiku about honking. Over the course of several weeks, Mr. Naparstek posted his “honku” on local telephone poles. It wasn’t long before his story was picked up by several New York periodicals, including The Observer and The New Yorker.
“Wow!” Mr. Naparstek told a reporter earlier this year, after his honkus were published in The Observer . “I’m a published poet! It usually takes people years to get to this point!”
Now the novice poet is bringing the art of honku to another level. In mid-May, Mr. Naparstek closed a deal with the Random House imprint Villard to produce a book of honkus. Tentatively subtitled “The Zen Antidote to Road Rage,” the book-which will be a small, trim-size hardback edition, very likely accompanied by illustrations-is due to be published early next summer. Though no one would give the specifics of his advance, it appears to be of fairly generous proportions. “For a small, quirky book, it was a very good advance,” offered Donna Bagdasarian, Mr. Naparstek’s agent at Vigliano Associates. “It was a nice five-figure deal,” said Tim Farrell, Mr. Naparstek’s editor at Villard.
O.K., but is there really a wider market for a collection of haiku about cars honking in Brooklyn? Ms. Bagadasarian and Mr. Farrell say absolutely. Mr. Farrell pointed to Calvin Trillin’s Tepper Isn’t Going Out . “People seem to like to read about traffic problems,” he told Off the Record.
Mr. Naparstek didn’t seem so sure. “Oh, God,” he said when asked what he thought the larger impact of his book might be. “You know-probably nothing.” But after a moment’s consideration, he changed his mind: “I should stand behind my honkus,” he proclaimed. “I think they do have the potential to calm down insane commuters all over the place … and foster world peace, potentially.”