Journal’s Newsroom: Sept. 11’s Sound Stage

On Sept. 11, a view of the empty sky and hollowed-out ground where the Twin Towers once stood will be broadcast to the nation from the offices of The Wall Street Journal . The paper, which only returned to its space at the World Financial Center in early August, will provide the terrace of its 10th-floor newsroom for use by what Journal managing editor Paul Steiger described as “half the TV anchors in the country.”

“You’ve got not just the national anchors,” Mr. Steiger explained, “but local anchors who want to come and do stand-ups. Everyone is going to be up there.”

The decision to allow the TV crews in, Mr. Steiger explained, began with the sight lines. The newsroom’s terrace offers what many people say are the best views of nearby Ground Zero. Mr. Steiger said that both government officials and The Journal ‘s landlord, Brookfield Properties, had wanted the paper to make its vista available. Since the paper has a relationship with NBC (Dow Jones, The Journal ‘s parent company, has a commercial agreement with the cable network CNBC), Mr. Steiger said, the paper made the decision to offer the electronic press access to the office.

Mr. Steiger said The Journal will provide the vacant 12th floor of the W.F.C.-which Dow Jones owns but is trying to sublease-to be used as a newsroom for the “NBC family” of networks, including NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. Brookfield, he said, will provide other news organizations with newsroom space within the building.

In order to ensure that no one strays into The Journal ‘s own newsroom, Dow Jones and Brookfield will construct a temporary wall leading from the 10th-floor exit to the balcony. And while security will be on full alert, Mr. Steiger said, “Just as you occasionally have a sports star denied access to a locker room, you might have a famous anchor denied access to the facilities. We’re taking a number of steps to prevent that, but that is a possibility.”

To be sure, The Journal will be caught in the direct whirlwind of what promises to be a heartrending and physically taxing day, with official daylong memorials planned and thousands expected in the streets of lower Manhattan as journalists flood the corridors of the World Financial Center. For his part, Mr. Steiger sent around a memo on Aug. 20 inviting his staff to a meeting at 1 p.m., where he will address everyone-including those in the bureaus, the copy desk and the pagination teams, which have now been permanently moved to South Brunswick, N.J. In that same memo, citing the “painful memories” many still have of Sept. 11, Mr. Steiger also gave most of his staff the option of working from home.

Mr. Steiger explained to Off the Record that this offer had both logistical and emotional purposes.

“Basically I said, ‘Anybody who wants to and who can work from home, it’s fine.’ That’ll cut down on the number of people using the elevator. On the other hand, we’re not picking out people saying, ‘You can work from home-don’t bother coming in,’ Mr. Steiger said.”

Mr. Steiger added that he was unaware how many people were planning to take advantage of this option, but he thought that relatively few would. Likewise, deputy managing editor Steve Adler said, “I don’t sense a groundswell. Some people will be here just to be here and take part in some feeling that we’re back; 9/11 is a good opportunity to focus on that.”

Mr. Adler continued, “I think that many of us will focus on the external reality of the day. The fact that we were displaced or inconvenienced, the fact that we were able to put out a paper that day, isn’t important. What’s important is that a lot of people died. It’s a tragic day. That will be at the center of people’s emotions.”

However, some sources at The Journal -while happy to be back with co-workers on a daily basis-say the staff has found it difficult to navigate through the tourists who come daily to look at the site of the fallen Twin Towers.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” one WSJ source said. “You see rings of people praying, crying, and then lots of tourists with backpacks just gaping. It’s like running a gauntlet every time you go to work.”

Another WSJ source said, “I understand why people want to see the site. However, for a lot of us coming from the subway, it’s clogged the way to work.” Of all the potential problems discussed before the paper moved back-asbestos debris, putting up the floor that had been the paper’s cafeteria for sublease-the source said: “This is something nobody brought up.”

Mr. Steiger said he hadn’t found tourists to be a problem, at least not yet.

“Certainly the next weekend and the weekend after, there’s going to be a crash of tourists,” Mr. Steiger said. “I think that will be a source of possible frustration. But I think that we all have to recognize that this is a place of remembrance, and people besides us have a right to it.”

The struggles and triumphs of the paper over the year have been well-chronicled: First, Journal staffers had to deal with their up-close view of the tragedy and the loss of their offices; then came the kidnapping and murder of reporter Danny Pearl. (About the paper’s foreign coverage, Mr. Steiger said, “We’ve been struggling a bit to figure out how to put our Middle East coverage back together” after Mr. Pearl’s death and other international staffing issues, but hoped to resolve the situation soon.) The Journal ‘s page-one editor, Mike Miller, summed it up this way: “Someone once told me that when you raise little kids, the days creep by but the years fly by. That’s how this year was: It went by so quickly, but we had some very long, terrible days.”

Asked what he would like the effect of the first Sept. 11 anniversary to be, Mr. Steiger said: “I would like to feel [that] we’re headed toward a more normal life. You have to be cautious about this, because you’re in the news business, [and] news is that which is abnormal. You’re certainly looking for that; that’s what you get paid to do.

“I think the expectation of abnormality,” Mr. Steiger continued, “is something that, as a nation, we might be in for for a while. But I hope it’s less for us next year.”

Bloomberg News-the news organization started by, well, you know who-took a public scolding recently after its parent company, Bloomberg L.P., issued an apology and offered to pay legal costs and damages to three Singapore leaders who threatened the company with a libel suit after being cited for promoting nepotism in a column written by Bloomberg News columnist Patrick Smith.

The most vicious words came from New York Times columnist William Safire, who wrote in a Aug. 29 column titled “Bloomberg News Humbled”: “In kowtowing to [Singapore’s] Lee family, the Bloomberg News Service-the feisty, aggressive newcomer to coverage of global finance on cable and computers-has just demeaned itself and undermined the cause of a free online press.”

Now Bloomberg News has some words for Mr. Safire… or at least The Times .

In his “Winkler’s Weekly Notes,” distributed internally to employees on Sept. 3, Bloomberg editor in chief Matthew Winkler addressed the matter. He pointed out that other news organizations-including Time Inc., Dow Jones, the New York Times Company and the Washington Post Company, which jointly own the International Herald Tribune -have in the past faced similar responses from Singapore, and in each case “belatedly capitulated.” He also noted that when the government’s the plaintiff, you’re just not going to win. Furthermore, he wrote, the piece in question was a column, not a news story, and “wasn’t reported or edited to our own standard.”

Mr. Winkler also writes that “Bloomberg LP has 180 employees in Singapore, including about 30 journalists …. Unlike the New York Times, whose assets in Singapore are limited to a reporter or two, Bloomberg has 2,695 customers in Singapore, using an array of equipment and services provided by Bloomberg. Most of our employees in Singapore are native to Singapore. They live there. They have families there. They have entrusted their professional welfare to Bloomberg. We are obligated to them as we expect them to be obligated to us.

“It would be irresponsible,” Mr. Winkler went on, “and cowardly if we defied the government and put our employees and their families at risk.”

Neither Mr. Safire nor a Times spokesperson had returned a call from Off the Record at deadline, and a Bloomberg News spokesperson declined to comment.

From 1994 to 2001, Alex Star was the personal embodiment of Lingua Franca ‘s sui generis identity, leading the magazine to four nominations for the National Magazine Award for General Excellence and becoming known as a regular presence on the brainy set’s party circuit. After moving to Cobble Hill from Washington, D.C., the boyish, bookish Mr. Star evolved into a fierce Brooklyn partisan who championed what were then the borough’s nether reaches, like Gowanus and Red Hook.

Now, the magazine that brought reporting and writing on intellectual matters out from staid academic journals to a vibrant magazine format is gone, and Mr. Star has moved from New York to his hometown of Boston, where he’s about ready to unveil a new section for The Boston Glob e. And, he says, that’s where he intends to stay-even as Lingua Franca ‘s publisher Jeffrey Kittay attempts to rescue the magazine from bankruptcy and give it another go.

“The first week I was here,” Mr. Star said, “is the week the Acela started to break down. That’s when I realized: ‘I guess I’m not going back.'”

On Sept. 15, Mr. Star’s new project will appear in the form of “Ideas,” a five-page section of the Sunday paper that both The Globe and Mr. Star envision as a weekly barometer of the academic and intellectual world.

“What I’d like,” Mr. Star said, “is reporting on the life of the mind: stories about what’s going on in the academic, intellectual world, that introduce thoughts and context and people.”

Back in New York, Mr. Kittay told Off the Record that he and the “friends who could help me out” were still in the process of negotiating to take control of the magazine from bankruptcy court. He said that no staff, office space or relaunch date had been determined, and he added that by the time the possibility of a relaunch seemed feasible, Mr. Star had already committed to The Globe . Sources told Off the Record that Mr. Kittay was considering redrafting other Lingua Franca editors, including former senior editor James Ryerson, now a senior editor at Legal Affairs .

That leaves Mr. Star watching from New England as he tries to launch his own five-page revolution.

It was just in October that Mr. Kittay’s backer pulled its funding from Lingua Franca . Like others at the magazine, Mr. Star was caught off-guard, prepping a December/January issue that would never run. While it was a jolt to the system, Mr. Star said that it beat spending the autumn as many in the magazine world did, “reading and hearing about your publication’s impending demise.” He spent a week or two clearing out his office, then took some time off while he edited the forthcoming antholog y Quick Studies: The Best of Lingua Franca and considered possible jobs in New York that he didn’t really want.

“There were certain things that came up,” Mr. Star said. “Nothing that involved the ability to really shape something in the area that I like to work in, that’d be comparable to what I have now at The Globe .”

In January, Globe deputy managing editor Peter Canellos approached him about coming to Boston to revamp what is currently a two-page section called “Focus” into something that would speak to the city’s professorial class. Mr. Canellos, who edited a prototype of the “Ideas” section for the Jan. 13 issue of The Globe , said that in seeking out Mr. Star, he didn’t want to “have the traditional shuffling of résumés.” Instead, he just called up friends, many of whom mentioned Mr. Star. On a search of potential candidates in New York and Washington, Mr. Star was the first person he met with. “We’re the ones who pursued him,” Mr. Canellos said. “He was our first choice.”

Both Mr. Canellos and Globe editor Martin Baron told Off the Record that the paper had been kicking around the idea since before the demise of Lingua Franca . Mr. Baron added that while the paper technically has oversight over Mr. Star, the section is “going to be shaped by his vision with consultation from other people.”

Mr. Star said a combination of freelance writers and Globe staffers would produce the section-“the kind of people you’d normally see writing for Lingua Franca , but hopefully based in Boston.” The section will include stories that range from a look inside the Little Orphan Annie Archives to an analysis of why left-leaning intellectuals can’t decide what they think about our upcoming war with Iraq. It will combine reportage with essays and lighter short takes.

So, Off the Record asked, what’s the difference between “Ideas” and Lingua Franca ?

“It’ll be much more topical,” Mr. Star explained. “Most stories you’d never see in Lingua Franca . The pieces will be shorter, and you’ll see stuff directly tied to a news event.”

To help him do that, Mr. Star has hired Jennifer Schuessler, a former assistant editor at The New York Review of Books , and Laura Secor, a former Lingua Franca senior editor who’ll work as a full-time writer for “Ideas.”

And while Mr. Star said he wants to have his five pages rooted in Boston, he also wants them to be part of the conversation that exists beyond Cambridge.

“I very much want the section to be distributed across the country,” Mr. Star said. “Hopefully, people will see this as something different than your typical newspaper section.” If all goes according to plan, “Ideas” will reverberate in New York, the place Mr. Star has just left. But, Mr. Star continued, “It’s only going to be possible to do that if people in New England find it satisfying for them.”

In what may well be deemed the best solution for all parties involved, former New York Times San Francisco bureau chief Evelyn Nieves has left The Times for The Washington Post .

Ms. Nieves confirmed the move to Off the Record, saying she’ll be joining The Post as a national political correspondent. Her beat will be loosely organized around politics and demographics. She’ll remain in San Francisco for another year, Ms. Nieves said, though she will likely relocate to Washington after that.

Ms. Nieves’ move finally settles what Times sources say had become a difficult position for both the writer and the paper. As Off the Record reported in July, Ms. Nieves was one of six correspondents or bureau chiefs from the national desk who were told earlier this year that they would have to move to either Washington or New York. But Ms. Nieves had, according to one Times source, come to an understanding with Times executive editor Howell Raines in March that would have allowed her to remain as the paper’s bureau chief in San Francisco into 2003.

However, Times sources said, Mr. Raines later offered the San Francisco bureau chief’s spot to the metro desk’s Dean Murphy, which he accepted. Ms. Nieves declined to speak on this matter, but she did say that at the time of The Post offer, she was mulling the possibility of joining the soon-to-be-beefed-up education section, now headed by former Paris bureau chief Suzanne Daley.

As for her departure, Ms. Nieves told Off the Record: “I’m leaving because I got a great offer to do the kind of journalism that I really want to do. It’s a good job, but quite frankly, The Post understands you have a life somewhere, and they aren’t saying, ‘Get out of here now, this second.'”

There’s a history of national correspondents for The Time s not wanting to leave their adopted cities. The former Los Angeles bureau chief, the late Bob Reinhold, left the paper when his tenure was up for the Los Angeles Times , where he became an editorial writer. Likewise, former San Francisco bureau chief Jane Gross joined the L.A. Times rather than accept a posting in New York, but eventually returned to both the paper and the city.

But Ms. Nieves’ departure is the fifth by a national-desk bureau chief or correspondent since the start of 2002. Earlier, Atlanta bureau chief Kevin Sack took a post with the L.A. Times that permitted him to stay in Atlanta, while former Los Angeles correspondent Jim Sterngold took a job with the San Francisco Chronicle , allowing him to remain in L.A. Seattle bureau chief Sam Howe Verhovek, meanwhile, left The Times for the L.A. Times , and former Boston bureau chief Carey Goldberg, who recently completed a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship, joined The Boston Globe .

While each of these departures had its own back story, some within The Times who spoke to Off the Record questioned whether or not the paper made a strong effort to try to retain a group that, only a year or two prior, represented the future of the paper.

Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd were unavailable for comment. However, Times associate managing editor Bill Schmidt said that no brain drain was taking place on 43rd Street.

“I don’t see it as a problem,” Mr. Schmidt said. “I think it’s absurd to suggest we don’t make an effort to try and retain talent. The fact is, Evelyn’s turn was up in San Francisco, we talked to her about possible new assignments, but at the end of the day she made a personal decision to go to The Washington Post .

“Most people at The Times ,” Mr. Schmidt continued, “stay at The Times for a very long time. There’s always going to be turnover. You’re always going to have people who don’t want to leave a place, and at the same time you’re going to have new people who come to The Times .” In addition to former L.A. Times Atlanta bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman, the paper recently grabbed the L.A. Times ‘ Justice Department and F.B.I. correspondent, Eric Lichtblau. Journal’s Newsroom: Sept. 11’s Sound Stage