Off the Record

During the war in Afghanistan, magazine editors used to covering celebrity gowns and dot-com Nerf fights scrambled for real reporters

During the war in Afghanistan, magazine editors used to covering celebrity gowns and dot-com Nerf fights scrambled for real reporters with war experience. Now, with George W. Bush indicating that war will almost certainly come to Iraq, editors from non-newsweeklies are once again hunting and assigning reporting talent, trying to tear off whatever piece of the story hasn’t been chewed through by the networks and newspaper.

It’s a tough task. War may garner ratings and sell papers, but for magazines it’s more complicated. Advertisers are loathe to have their copy run near pictures of wounded soldiers, and editors-who over the years have embraced the idea of appealing to select niche markets-hate feeling obligated to cover the same subject matter covered by the daily newspapers and similar competitors.

But David Remnick at The New Yorker -who already has a newsy shop-isn’t hesitating. He’s dispatched wartime assignments to many writers, stopping just short of sending Roger Angell to record the box scores of sandlot games by American troops. Jon Lee Anderson, who covered the war in Afghanistan, will be in Baghdad, while Jeff Goldberg, said Mr. Remnick, “will be in the region, too.” The magazine’s put Isabel Hilton in Jordan, Mary Anne Weaver in Egypt and Larry Wright in Saudi Arabia. Peter Boyer will be Mr. Remnick’s man in Kuwait, and spook-beat superstar Seymour Hersh will be in Washington, or wherever he damn well pleases.

Mr. Remnick told Off the Record that he thought the situation demanded a flood-the-zone approach.

“Under the conditions of war, with violence all around and officials trying hard to control the ‘story’ of that violence, the task is immeasurably more difficult,” Mr. Remnick said. “That’s why it’s impossible-and foolish-to leave it all in one reporter’s hands. I would hope that the sum of the pieces we have published and will publish- from Iraq, from the military, from Washington and so on-will begin to encompass the incredibly complex reality of things, but even that is asking a lot of everybody.”

Other magazines, too, have put their own star systems into use-hoping that recognizable bylines can reheat material that many will have already read by the time the issue comes out. Men’s Journal has employed Hampton Sides-who wrote Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission -to “embed” with troops currently stationed in Kuwait City. Vanity Fair , meanwhile, has called on Sebastian Junger, who reported for the magazine from Afghanistan, and also tapped reporter Janine di Giovanni. Both reporters shared a National Magazine Award for their reporting from wartime Kosovo. Ms. di Giovanni will report from Baghdad, where she’s currently located, while Mr. Junger will report from northern Iraq. Should things go according to plan, London-based V anity Fair contributor David Rose will report on the reconstruction of Iraq. Whether or not Christopher Hitchens will report from Iraq is still up in the air, a Vanity Fair spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a few lucky U.S. troops may wind up sharing a foxhole-or a cold one-with journalist and raconteur P.J. O’Rourke. Mr. O’Rourke will cover the war for The Atlantic Monthly , which has also dispatched its former editor, Michael Kelly, who reported on the first Gulf War for The New Republic . And while Mr. Kelly has embedded with the Third Infantry Division, Mr. O’Rourke will be, according to Atlantic managing editor Cullen Murphy, “left to his own devices.”

“Neither Mike nor P.J. has any explicit, defined agenda,” Mr. Murphy said. “We’re a monthly magazine, obviously not in the business of covering breaking stories, and both Mike and P.J. are adept at looking for and finding stories about topical events that will have a considerable shelf life.”

Likewise, Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper’s , said he’d found a solution to war stories that might be a month after the fact. Reporters Charles Glass and Paul William Roberts both know the region, he said. Mr. Roberts will drive from Jordan to Baghdad and “improvise,” according to Mr. Lapham, while Mr. Glass will try to enter the country through the north.

When asked if Harper’s considered applying for an embed position from the Pentagon, Mr. Lapham flatly said no-then asked Off the Record how many embed positions the Pentagon was handing out. When Off the Record said 500, Mr. Lapham said, “I don’t think anyone needs us to be the 501st.”

“I think a lot of those stories will be very similar,” Mr. Lapham added.

Bob Drury, one of two correspondents covering the war for GQ (Scott Carrier will also report for the magazine), shared Mr. Lapham’s sentiment. Mr. Drury said that he planned to enter northern Iraq using a visa from either Syria or Iran, because “that’s where the action will be.”

“I don’t want to be embedded,” said Mr. Drury, who covered the war in Afghanistan for GQ . “I don’t want to be stuck with some unit. Look at the Daily News today! Their guy’s stuck down in Texas!”

Rolling Stone managing editor Ed Needham said the last he heard from his reporter, Evan Wright-who’s planning to embed with a Marine division in Kuwait-he needed a new gas mask because “the one they instructed to buy us wasn’t the right one.” Mr. Needham said he was “satisfied” with having a reporter with American troops.

“I’d be quite nervous to allow somebody-a freelancer-to go it alone,” he said. ” Rolling Stone ‘s take is from the average soldier and his experience. He’s not there to put the whole thing in a geopolitical-context, is-this-a-war-about-oil type of thing.

“What we would like to do overall is overcome stereotypes,” Mr. Needham continued. “That might sound obvious, but most war reporting to me seems preordained, with bellicose language. You’ve seen a fair amount of it from the newspapers already, and I imagine you’ll see more of it as it goes on.”

After spending the last 20 years trying to redefine men’s style, it now seems that GQ editor Art Cooper can’t leave the office soon enough.

Following his forced retirement last month, Mr. Cooper announced that he would stay on till the beginning of June. (Condé Nast editorial director James Truman is still interviewing candidates for the job.) However, according to sources at the magazine, by Friday, March 7, Mr. Cooper had packed up his office, leaving the space awash in cartons and bubble wrap. According to one source, among the items Mr. Cooper left out on the giveaway table was a bottle of 1963 Fonseca Port, which Wine Spectator valued in its auction database at $247, and a 1990 bottle of Solaia, valued at $249.

“He just wants to get it done,” one GQ source said. “Everyone is shocked he didn’t pack up in May, but maybe this is just his way of saying goodbye.”

A spokesperson for the magazine said Mr. Cooper was away and unavailable for comment.

For months, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal has been hammering our allies, France and Germany, regarding their opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Now it’s the “Personal Journal”‘s turn to strike. On March 5, the advertiser-friendly service section of the paper ran a map assessing the risk for traveling abroad. While later editions of the paper ranked France as “No more dangerous than any other Western country,” readers of the first edition were treated to a slightly more snide remark, “France: Sure, as long as you don’t mind French whine.”

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for The Journal said that a senior editor had seen the earlier version and ordered it changed for the final edition.

Since the AOL-Time Warner merger in January 2001, much of the slightly anachronistic remnants of the old Time Inc. have been swept away. The company’s once-vaunted research center was broken up and services for the company mailroom were outsourced. Recently, Time essentially dismantled the letters department that once corresponded with every reader who wrote in to the magazine.

In the latest measure, the company has decided to close the Time Inc. photo lab, which for decades processed the award-winning photography of Life , Time and Sports Illustrated , among others. As a result, 22 workers will lose their jobs on June 30.

And while the Newspaper Guild can accept the reasoning (digital film has rendered the lab all but obsolete), Time Inc.’s Guild representative, John Shostrom, said that the move violated the spirit of a promise made to the union in November of 2001. According to Mr. Shostrom, Time Inc. pledged to keep the lab open until November of 2004, at which time the company would revisit the issue.

“I guess it’s true what Samuel Goldwyn said,” Mr. Shostrom said. “A handshake agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Peter Costiglio, a spokesman for Time Inc., said: “That was not the case-no promise was ever made regarding the Time Inc. photo lab staying open.”

Mr. Costiglio called closing the photo lab a “tough decision” because of its importance to Time Inc. and the history of photojournalism in general.

“But there’s very little demand for the kind of processing the lab did,” Mr. Costiglio said. “It’s no longer feasible to run.”

Allen Barra, a former sports columnist with The New York Observer who, most recently, has written the weekly “By the Numbers” column on sports statistics for The Wall Street Journal , has joined the sports staff of The New York Times .

In an interview with Off the Record, Mr. Barra said that he would write a weekly essay for the Sunday edition of The Times that he imagined would “incorporate statistics-which I wouldn’t say I perfected, but is something I used at The Journal for a number of years.”

Mr. Barra grew up and went to college in Birmingham, Ala., where he worshipped Times executive editor Howell Raines’ early career. “Everyone wanted to be him. He was so cool,” Mr. Barra said. He added that he approved of The Times ‘ recent push toward a broader national audience by focusing more attention on non-New York sports stories, like college football.

“The problem is that the paper is rooted in New York, and you have to give space to New York issues,” Mr. Barra said. “But that’s not necessarily what the country’s interested in. Generally speaking, people in the Midwest care more about the Notre Dame-Purdue game or the Ohio State-Michigan game than the Super Bowl. And I know people in Alabama care about the Alabama-Auburn game more than the Super Bowl.”

O.K., O.K., you have the job, Allen! Meanwhile, the continued changes within the sports department have left several key vacancies open. In the past year, Jere Longman and Mike Wise have left the Olympics and N.B.A. beats to become general-feature writers, and Selena Roberts has abandoned tennis for a columnist position. So far, no permanent replacement has been found for any of the three slots, though Mr. Wise continues to write a column on the N.B.A. for the Sunday edition.

New Times sports editor Tom Jolly referred an interview request from Off the Record to a Times spokesperson, who said that The Times was not “in a position to discuss searches that may or may not be going on.”

Off the Record