Off the Record

Media watchers who had hoped to use the first issue of New York magazine as a Rosetta stone to determine Adam Moss’ plans for the magazine got an eyeful when they spotted a breezy social analysis of the Martha Stewart trial by none other than Kurt Andersen, who edited the magazine in the mid-1990’s, until he was ousted and turned to novel-writing and radio-hosting.

“I wrote occasionally at the Times Magazine for Adam Moss, and that was always a very pleasant experience,” Mr. Andersen said on March 8. “He called me last week and had this good idea and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have you in my first issue?’, and I agreed.”

The opportunity to write on Martha Stewart was “a delightful, serendipitous thing,” said Mr. Andersen, who has said he stepped down as New York ‘s editor after clashing with its investors over the magazine’s Wall Street coverage.

So will he be a regular?

“I have a book to finish this summer, and I hope, sure, maybe after that,” Mr. Andersen said. He called Mr. Moss “a great editor.”

Mr. Andersen has already taken on another gig, though. In November, the Spy magazine founder became editorial director of Colors , the storied glossy published under the auspices of Benetton, which is expected to become a quarterly starting with next month’s issue. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t be weighing in at-and writing for-his alma mater in the future.

“We just had a very general conversation that he’d like me to contribute,” he said, adding that Mr. Moss “very flatteringly took my advice, but he doesn’t need it.” And just what was his advice? “It’s between the two of us,” Mr. Andersen said.

Indeed, many New York staffers would pay dearly to be a fly on the wall in one of the private conferences between Adam Moss and his trusted confidants in the media world: Just what did he and Hollywood-wrangling ace Lynn Hirschberg chew over at Balthazar last month? And if the rumors aren’t true that Mr. Moss is trying to hire New York Times culture columnist Frank Rich, it’s likely a given that Mr. Rich has offered a few ideas about New York ‘s editorial direction.

Mr. Moss has made one hire, naming Hugo Lindgren as deputy editor just weeks after Mr. Lindgren, a features editor at The New York Times Magazine -who had begun covering book publishing for The Times , and was about to be officially assigned to the beat. At The Times Magazine , Mr. Lindgren co-founded “The Way We Live Now” section, one of the hallmarks of Mr. Moss’ editorship there. Indeed, Mr. Andersen’s byline says one thing loud and clear: Mr. Moss has a reserve of talent, and he’s going to tap into it! He’ll need it, as he is said to have inherited a magazine without vast reserves of stories in the bank.

New York staffers described the atmosphere in the office as tense, although surprisingly congenial given the circumstances. It hasn’t quite turned into a game of Survivor , although in recent weeks has been handicapping the New York masthead, betting on which editors will get the ax and which will stay.

New York staffers said that Mr. Moss had asked the magazine’s editors to come up with 10 story ideas-to understand how they think and so they can understand how he thinks, the staffers said.

The auditions, it seems, are ongoing.

-Rachel Donadio

After nearly eight months of silence, Jeffrey Kittay, the owner and editor of the late Lingua Franca , has found his tongue.

In a brief e-mail written on March 5, he spoke for the first time about the lawsuit that has engulfed 27 of his former freelancers, offering his first words of support to the writers and artists who are being sued by a bankruptcy trustee for payments they received shortly before the magazine went bust in October 2001.

“I and my associates who have funded [ Lingua Franca and University Business magazines] continue to be distressed that the trustee has sought to reverse these payments,” Mr. Kittay wrote in his e-mail to the freelancers. “The bankruptcy trustee is appointed by the bankruptcy court and acts independently. We have no control or influence over his actions, and have had no contact with him regarding the pursuit of anyone who has received payments.”

Mr. Kittay’s e-mail slid into the freelancers’ in-boxes just as several of them had begun to question, both privately and in print, why their former editor hadn’t spoken up for them. Mr. Kittay had always been something of a guru to the Lingua Franca brood-even after the magazine folded, they murmured his name in hushed tones-so his silence puzzled them. And it began to raise questions.

“There’s been no vote of support, no attempt at well-wishing, no hint that [Kittay’s] committed to ensuring that everything comes out okay in the end,” wrote Gavin McNett, a former freelancer, in an angry Feb. 4 column for “Kittay has been a cold, distant moon, plying his orbit on his own behalf.”

As a former partner in Lingua Franca , Mr. Kittay is in the prickly position of being one of the named creditors in the lawsuit against the freelancers. This means that any money the freelancers are forced to cough up could go into his coffers. True, Mr. Kittay has no control over the bankruptcy proceedings or the court-appointed attorney, but the attorney is still working in his name, and so a few freelancers began to wonder whether he didn’t secretly support the suit. His silence smacked of betrayal.

Mr. Kittay clearly felt these rumblings. In an interview with The Observer , he hinted that he would have liked to have come forward sooner, but that as a creditor in the suit-as well as the principle debtor for the defunct magazine-he was in a rather thorny legal position.

“There is a bit of a constraint on me,” he finally acknowledged. “But when it began to appear that [the bankruptcy lawyer’s] actions were being interpreted as expressive of my motives, I went back to my advisers and said, ‘How can I clarify that?’ When I realized that I could express an opinion, that’s what I did.”

That opinion-though as carefully worded and formal as a court summons-has cleared the air a bit. For some freelancers, it was a pleasant surprise; for others, a downright “relief.”

“I feel so much better knowing his position on the proceedings,” said Joanna Smith Rakoff, a freelance writer and novelist who is being sued for $1,550 for an article on a Quebec community college that was published in the fall of 2001. “I just wanted him to do something, to let us know what his role was.

“Still,” she added after a pause, “I don’t quite understand why he sent it now, rather than months back. Why did he wait so long?”

-Lizzy Ratner

More than 100 years after Abraham Cahan founded the Yiddish Forverts as the voice of the Jewish worker, the paper’s latter-day English offspring, the Forward , has given birth to a union.

By all appearances, it was one of the most bloodless union drives in labor history.

On Nov. 24, 2003, members of the Forward ‘s 11-person editorial department presented the Forward Association, the paper’s management, with a stack of signed union cards, union members said. The management had been expecting the cards, and a few weeks later it recognized the Newspaper Guild of New York as the members’ bargaining agent. VoilĂ  , the union was born.

“We’ve always held the door open for any employees who want to be represented in collective bargaining by a union,” said Samuel Norich, the executive director of the Forward Association. “So when our employees say they want to be represented by a union, we don’t say maybe, we say yes.”

“We started a union for the same reasons the Forward has historically supported unions,” said Erica Brody, the union’s unit chairwoman and the paper’s features editor. “By bargaining together, employees have a greater say in working conditions and their future generally.”

But if this wisdom has guided the Forward for more than a century, why did it take so long? According to two sources, more was at stake than a greater say in working conditions: Frustration over low and nonstandard starting salaries and widespread wage discrepancies between writers-which is pretty standard at small weeklies-were part of the mix. And let’s face it: Tsuris , not harmony, is the engine of union drives.

“We don’t think the starting wages are where they should be, and people can go two or three years without getting an increase,” said Bob Townsend, the union’s Newspaper Guild representative. “The workers want a say in the working conditions at the Forward , and they want more bargaining power.”

That new power could get its first big test as early as this spring. The union has said it plans to meet with Mr. Townsend before the end of the month to begin discussing contract demands that it can present to management. When that happens, the grievances will get their airing, the bargaining will begin and-if recent events at The Wall Street Journal can portend-the smooth surface of labor-management bonhomie may yet have its greatest test.

For now, management remains ostensibly supportive of the unionization drive. If the decades have leached much of the old Bundist spirit from the Forward ‘s pages, the Forward Association remains avowedly pro-union, and the paper’s editor, J.J. Goldberg, has his workers’-rights credentials lined up: As a child, he belonged to the Labor Zionist youth movement, Habonim-Dror; as an adult, he was a member of a kibbutz, that vaguely socialist, vaguely collective phenomenon that still flourishes in Israel.

“I think a union’s a good thing,” Mr. Goldberg said. “I haven’t dealt with the Newspaper Guild, but my understanding is that it represents the people who work here, and the people who work here are great people, so I assume that we’ll get along.”

As Abraham Cahan might have said, Hof un Gleyb . Hope and Faith.


Off the Record