How Frank Rich Came Back From His Times Elba

“I am someone who’s always changed my career a lot,” Frank Rich said. It was a substantial understatement-yet, in its own way, an overstatement too. Mr. Rich was on the phone from the New York Times Building, discussing his latest reassignment: At the end of this month, Mr. Rich will go from writing a showpiece Sunday column to writing a showpiece Sunday column.

Two years ago, when The Times needed an anchor for its redesigned Arts and Leisure section, it gave Mr. Rich a weekly essay on the front. Now, on April 10, the Sunday paper will add a full extra page of opinion-a move proposed and announced by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. And right there, in the new space, will be Mr. Rich again.

“I love Frank’s column,” said editorial-page editor Gail Collins. ” … I’m very excited about the idea of getting Frank back.”

And Mr. Rich loves his column, too. “As long as I can do the same column, I’m perfectly happy to do it as an Op-Ed,” Mr. Rich said.

The column isn’t the only thing Mr. Rich is keeping. In his present post, he has also served as an administrative advisor to The Times’ culture czars. That arrangement will survive his transfer to the opinion pages.

In a joint internal e-mail last week announcing the relocation of Mr. Rich’s column, executive editor Bill Keller and Ms. Collins alluded to “a custody battle only slightly less contentious than Solomon’s baby.”

The memo goes on to describe a cheerful compromise. Mr. Keller gave a little: Mr. Rich’s column will go to Ms. Collins’ pages. Ms. Collins gave a little: Mr. Rich will continue advising Mr. Keller’s culture department on coverage and personnel. And Mr. Rich … ?

“To me, it’s sort of a win-win situation,” Mr. Rich said.

Underscoring that point, the subject line on the editors’ message was “The Triumphal Return of Frank Rich.”

“We all hope this [opinion-page] expansion will create new interest and buzz,” the editors wrote, “and to ensure that, Gail and Arthur have asked Frank to return to the opinion pages.”

Though the specific duties of Mr. Rich’s job may not be changing much, their significance will. The new assignment confirms Mr. Rich’s singular status at the paper: He has grown to combine the inside- The- Times clout of an Arthur Gelb and the outside- The- Times fame of a-well, a Frank Rich.

Throughout his years on West 43rd Street, Mr. Rich has been something like a massive, ornate sofa-much admired, yet periodically turned around and moved from room to room, in search of a place he harmoniously fits.

He has already held three or four different Times posts that would have crowned (or finished) a regular mortal’s life’s work. First he made his presence felt as the paper’s all-powerful theater critic. Then he switched to being an Op-Ed columnist and magazine essayist. After a while, Mr. Rich said, “I really tired of it and didn’t like it.” So he switched again, to his twin duties on the culture desk.

This latest move, by comparison, looks like a minor repositioning: recasting his politics-tinged cultural column as a culture-tinged political column. But The Times had to knock out a wall to do it. By answering to Mr. Keller and Ms. Collins at the same time, Mr. Rich will be on both sides of The Times’ sacred news/opinion barrier at once.

Neither the Times authority structure nor the Times Building is designed for that arrangement. In a comic gesture toward the separation of powers, the paper announced that Mr. Rich will be given two offices, one on the fourth floor (Mr. Keller’s turf) and one on the 10th (Ms. Collins’).

“To me, he’s been a resource down there,” Ms. Collins said. “He’s not going to be an editor down there.”

Mr. Keller and Mr. Sulzberger didn’t return messages seeking their comment on Mr. Rich’s new arrangement.

Mr. Sulzberger’s expanded Sunday opinion pages will remain at the back of the Week in Review. Under the new layout, the editorials and letters will move from the last inside left-hand page to the right-hand page before it, creating a two-page spread for opinion pieces. Mr. Rich described it as “a version of the existing Op-Ed page, but in CinemaScope.”

Mr. Rich’s column will be some 1,400 words, twice the size of a standard Op-Ed. He said he prefers the longer form. Just delivering an opinion, he said, “was never the part of the job that interested me the most”-scant consolation to directors of the plays he closed down in his earlier years. What he prefers to do, he said, is “figure out how I got there.”

Those explorations will go on the newly vacated left-hand opinion page. They will be joined there by the public editor’s column, which currently runs on page 2 of the Week in Review.

But what is an Op-Ed if it’s no longer opposite the editorials? Will it be “Aft-Ed”?

“We’re calling it ‘Opinion’ on Sunday,” Ms. Collins said.

And what will go into Mr. Rich’s old space on the front of Arts and Leisure? “You have a good idea?” said culture editor Jon Landman. “I’ll take it.”

Before Mr. Rich was there, Mr. Landman noted, Arts and Leisure was where readers turned to find the illustrations of Al Hirschfeld. “It’s a big-shoe situation, for sure,” Mr. Landman said.

Mr. Rich said that he has “loved” writing his column for Arts and Leisure. But the section goes to press on Tuesdays, which has forced him to write his column days before it gets published. The delay between writing and hitting the newsstand was a sore point.

“I can’t say I liked having it sit there without being able to touch it,” Mr. Rich said.

So because the Sunday column started making its way to newsstands on Thursdays-and appeared in the International Herald Tribune on Friday mornings-Mr. Rich pushed up his Web publication. “I suggested, and others agreed, that we put it up Thursday morning,” he said.

But Mr. Rich did say that having to write in advance helped him “keep a little bit more of the long view.” Now that his deadline is Friday, does that mean he’ll be writing early?

Mr. Rich scoffed, cheerfully. “I’m not a journalist for nothing,” he said. ” … So the answer is no.”

And will he really be using both offices? “I’ll just roam,” he wrote in a follow-up e-mail.

Will his newest boss be looking for him on the 10th floor at any particular time? “A neat thing about being a columnist,” Ms. Collins said, ” … is that you have absolutely no restrictions on what you do.”

Gone are the quaint days when Condé Nast editors’ martini-fueled lunches were respite from the harrowing details of office life. And, if you’ve made it out of 4 Times Square for the evening and are settled into a bar drinking away the day’s frustrations with your friends, beware: You are not out of the reach of Anna Wintour or Graydon Carter or Jim Nelson. At any moment, you may just have to turn aside and start punching return e-mails to the home office on tiny keys with your thumbs.

The company is now offering staffers the latest electronic accouterment: the Treo 600, a cell-phone, e-mail, Palm Pilot gizmo that Fortune dubbed “the smartest of the smart phones.”

“For us, this is about being as responsive as we can internally and externally and about being a better operator of our businesses-both editorial and advertising,” Condé Nast spokesperson Maurie Perl said.

Treo 600’s first hit the market in 2003 and retail for $299. The device measures four and a half inches by two and a half inches and includes a color screen, cell phone, tiny keyboard, Internet browser and e-mail software; it also doubles as a Palm Pilot organizer.

While Condé Nast first began offering BlackBerries in 2001, the company won’t officially say how many staffers are using mobile e-mailing.

But it’s the Treos that appear to have recently gained traction in the ranks. Graydon Carter has one. Other Treo-ing editors include Cargo’s Ariel Foxman, Wired’s Chris Anderson, Glamour’s Cynthia Leive and GQ’s Jim Nelson, who got his first Treo 600 six months ago.

“I saw a couple people in Milan using them during downtime at the fashion shows and I thought: brilliant! I could be doing work instead of waiting for Alexander McQueen to get his ass in gear,” Mr. Nelson said in an e-mail (from his desk, not his Treo).


Wired senior editor Susan Murcko started Treo-ing last month, and recently attended a 45-minute “Treo Workshop” run by Condé Nast’s I.T. department in a sixth-floor conference room, where staffers are given a tutorial in Treo technique.

“I work remotely-the Wired home office is in San Francisco-so my Treo helps me manage my time better,” she said. “Chris uses it all the time. When I get an e-mail from Chris, I don’t know where he’s sending it from.”

Some staffers remain loyal BlackBerry users. New Yorker publisher and vice president David Carey has been using his BlackBerry since 2001 and was one of the first BlackBerry adopters at Condé Nast.

“It’s personal preference: I’m perfectly happy with my BlackBerry, other people like their Treos,” he said.

Some editors, like David Remnick, haven’t taken to either device.

Condé Nast appears to be ahead of the magazine-publishing field in using Treos. Hearst started using BlackBerries five years ago and now some 400 Hearst staffers e-mail on the go, according to a Hearst spokesperson. The monthly magazine, it appears, is moving faster than The New York Times, which has yet to adopt either device.

“Currently, reporters do not have BlackBerries, but we are constantly reviewing the tools we provide to our journalists,” a Times spokesperson said.

Still, too much Treo-ing may have its down side.

“You begin to walk and to Treo at the same time; to drive and Treo,” GQ’s Mr. Nelson said. “The other night I was watching Million Dollar Baby, and when the movie started getting a little predictable, I kept thinking about my Treo, about what exciting things it might have in store for me. Pathetic? Yes. But better than wasting time at the cineplex.”

-Gabriel Sherman

On March 1, The Wall Street Journal posted a sign at its World Financial Center headquarters counting down to the Sept. 17 launch of its weekend edition. The sign, white poster board on a tripod easel, sits outside the 10th-floor elevator bank leading to the newsroom, at the foot of the staircase to the executive suite.

Below a peel-off countdown number-186 days as of March 15-the sign offered the weekend edition’s tag line: “Weekends Will Never Be the Same.” Shortly after it went up, someone amended the slogan by scrawling “Your” in black ink at the beginning.

In a newsrooom still prickly after last year’s bitter contract negotiations, the graffito signals that the staff is on edge about the question of how the paper plans to staff the sixth edition.

“I’ve yet to hear how we are going to go from a five-day-a-week paper to a six-day-a-week paper with the staff we have,” said Theo Francis, an insurance reporter who serves as newsroom director for the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees Local 1096, the union representing Journal staff. IAPE 1096 hasn’t formally taken up concerns over the Saturday edition with Dow Jones management.

Journal staffers say executives haven’t clearly articulated how and when reporters will file copy for the Saturday paper, and whether the sixth edition will necessitate extra hours producing pieces for both Saturday’s paper and the Monday edition. Staffers also say they’ve yet to hear how many reporters will be hired, and what divisions will receive the extra reporting resources.

When The Journal announced the launch of the weekend edition last September, the paper said it planned to add 150 employees, with 75 of those placed in the news division. In an e-mail sent through a Dow Jones spokesperson, managing editor Paul Steiger said the paper will effectively expand staffing to match the expanded publishing cycle.

” The Journal will be adding staff in a variety of locations that I am confident will allow us to produce a superb weekend edition.”

A Journal spokesperson said that management had been unaware of the alteration to the countdown sign. “We just found out about it and are taking care of it,” the spokesperson said Tuesday afternoon. “There is a security camera in the area, and we are reviewing videotapes right now. The pen on the sign is very faint, and if you don’t look for it, you’ll miss it.”

-G.S. How Frank Rich Came Back From His Times Elba