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Course(s) for Adventure

GREEN LIVING

With locations in DUMBO, the East Village, and now Long Island City, Recycle-A-Bicycle offers Free Bicycle Repair workshops. It’s Tuesday nights for ladies and Thursdays for the rest of you. The L.I.C. location hosts Bike New York’s Savvy Cyclist to help you pedal down busy streets. recycleabicycle.org

Bring your wheels down to Battery Park for some tips on keeping things in tip-top shape at the Fix Your Own Bike workshop. 212-267-9700, bpcparks.org

The city’s numerous CSA clubs—that’s community-supported agriculture for you neophytes—can seem like a godsend for a certain organic-loving crowd. But CSAs still invite a certain level of moaning, as in, “I’m paying this much for radishes?” or, “I’m too tired to go pick it up, you do it.” Quit whining and join Just Food, where they’ll teach you to become a community chef. Learn to guide workshops on local and seasonal eating and cooking. Help other New Yorkers learn the basics of nutrition, food storage, and more. There’s a $100 fee for training, but each workshop you lead earns you a $100 stipend. 212-645-9880, justfood.org

Like a homegrown version of the Discovery Channel’s Bear Grylls, “Wildman” Steve Brill leads visitors on Wild Food Tours into the savage depths of the city’s many public parks. Learn to identify and harvest wild plants like herbs and mushrooms for food and medicine. Brill forages through the wilds of Central Park, Prospect Park, and Inwood Hill Park. 914-835-2153,

Thinking big—really big? Columbia University and Barnard College serve up a diverse selection of à la carte courses and full degrees for students interested in the environment. The Earth Institute at Columbia University offers choices from a B.A. in Environmental Biology to an M.A. in Climate and Society or an M.S. in Earth Resources Engineering. 845-365-8565, earthinstitute.columbia.edu


MUSIC

With courses like Theory, Ear Training, and Vocal Pedagogy, Mannes College is like Hogwarts for the city’s musical types. The fearless profs tackle subjects most of us can’t comprehend. Luckily, they also teach Stress Managment & Yoga for Musicians, Paris in the 1920s, and History of Jazz for the more casual music fan. 212-580-0210, newschool.edu/mannes/default.aspx

As warm weather fades and autumn turns into the winter, you can still make it feel like West Indian summer with Salsa, Soca and Reggae: Popular Musics of the Caribbean. Learn the history and cultural context of these popular styles. 212-854-9666, ce.columbia.edu

“Baby come back . . . bah, dah, duh.” Got a half-formed lyric in your mind, or a melody you can’t stop humming? Take a course in Songwriting at NYU and learn to shape those fragments into bona fide ear worms. You never know—maybe next year every summer party will be jamming to your hits. 212-998-7200, scps.nyu.edu


THEATER

With On the Edge: Learning to Give Peak Performances, practice your prac- ticing. Learn to get the most out of your rehearsal time and save friends and family the awkward-ness of faux-complimenting the program at your next show. 212-799-5040, juilliard.edu

According to Stephen Rosenfield, there are two rules to making it in comedy: “Get good and get seen.” The American Comedy Institute’s Stand-Up Workshop will put you in front of a crowd; the rest is on you. Learn to structure your writing, create a persona, and deal with stage fright. 212-279-6980, comedyinstitute.com

New York’s theater choices are so numerous, it’s tough to know what’s worth seeing and what to avoid. Trust Columbia’s
New York Theatre course to guide you. In addition to attending performances, you’ll go to weekly meet-ings where you can howl about whatever tripe you’ve just seen. 212-854-9666, columbia.edu


ART AND ITS APPRECIATION

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a range of classes from the specific (Warhol and His World, Claude Monet) to the more general (History of Photography, Art and the City), with the added pleasure of getting to visit the museum after hours. Check the schedule for upcoming courses. Move quickly—they tend to sell out. 212-708-9400, moma.org

Gallery-hopping through Chelsea is one of the most pleasant and cost-efficient ways to spend an evening. But most people spend their time gazing into their free wine and at each other instead of at the art. After NYU’s The Art Scene: Fall 2007, you’ll be able to chat confidently and maybe even impress one of those intimating gallerinas. 212-998-7200, scps.nyu.edu

With classes from morning to evening, the Arts Students League of New York has what you’re looking for, at a price you can probably pay. You’ll find drawing, painting, and sculpture. 212.247.4510, theartstudentsleague.org

Unleash your artistic impulses with municipal sketching classes downtown: Drawing in the Park, Elements of Nature Drawing, and Figure al Fresco. All materials will be provided. 212-267-9700, bpcparks.org

Take your Halloween decorating to the next level and sign up now for the Glass Pumpkin Workshop at Urban Glass. You’ll learn to create handblown pumpkins that say, “I am an adult and I take this children’s holiday very seriously. You got a problem?” Classes are also available in creating your own jewelry, as well as neon signs. 718-625-3685, urbanglass.org


PHOTOGRAPHY

Got a fancy digital camera but no clue how to use it? Try the International Center of Photography, with courses like
Principles of Black-and-White and Color Photography, and Fundamentals of Digital Photography for Beginners. 212-857-0001, icp.org

Dorothea Lange said that “the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” NYU’s
Great Photographers course examines the work of those who so deeply influenced the way we see today. Study the work of masters like Walker Evans, Alfried Stieglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and others. Guaranteed A+ for anyone who manages to truss the Cobrasnake and force him to attend. 212-998-7200, scps.nyu.edu


GOT KIDS?

Make history come to life at the New York Historical Society. At The Life and Times of a Civil War Soldier, kids can talk to period “soldiers” stationed throughout the museum. 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org

You don’t have to be Scandinavian or even blond to drop by the Heimbold Family Children’s Learning Center at Scandinavia House. Kids can learn a bit of history and culture while romping about with the books and toys. 212-879-9779, scandinaviahouse.org

Budding artists can nab a free introductory lesson at the Artistry Project. With ongoing choices like
Fast Forward to the Future, and Ahoy! It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me, there are enough options to keep a range of ages returning. 718-858-0217, artistryproject.com

The inventive Mark Morris has performed, choreographed, and directed all over the world, scooping up accolades along the way. His
School at the Mark Morris Dance Center offers tap, jazz, hip-hop, modern, and ballet for hoofers from ages four to 17. 718-624-8400, markmorrisdancegroup.org/the_school

While the adorable little demons on Supernanny make for good TV, having some in your house is a different story. The NYU Child Study Center offers instruction for beleaguered parents—programs like Getting a Good Start for those with infants and
Thriving Teens for the later years. 212-263-6622, aboutourkids.org


FILM

Learn the essentials of any screenplay, from plot to conflict and theme with NYU’s The Screen-writer’s Craft. 212-998-7200, scps.nyu.edu

Left uninspired by the selections down at the local cinema? Then sign up for Independent Filmmaking from A to Z. It’s a complete crash course, with lessons on acquiring financing, breaking into the festival circuit, and eventually securing distribution and release. This stuff isn’t just book learning either; you’ll be putting together a low-budget—or no-budget—project of your own. 212-229-5690, generalstudies.newschool.edu

Makor offers a seminar on the depiction of the unusually talented in The Portrayal of Genius and the Exceptional Person. Films like Shine, Searching for Bobby Fischer, and A Dangerous Mind show the gifted as particularly subject to despair and madness. Includes screenings of various American and foreign films. 212-601-1000, 92y.org


FASHION

Fashion and commerce come together in FIT’s Design: The Fine Art of Business. You’ll learn to market your designs to industry experts at trade fairs, shops, showrooms, and the like. Curmudgeons take note: Humor and enjoyment are emphasized alongside time management and salesmanship. 212-217-3760, fitnyc.edu

Standards of decency in women’s fashion have varied widely over time. Once the sight of bare ankles was considered scandalous; today certain celebrities seem to be collecting merit badges in the art of flashing their total business.
Fashion, Pop Culture, and the 20th Century traces the evolution of fashion and pop culture in relation to politics, economics, and art. 212-229-5690, generalstudies.newschool.edu

Knowing the potential pitfalls of starting your own business is a great first step toward avoiding them. Sign up for a class like
Finance for Fashionistas or Costing: How to Win the Garment Game and learn the sweet sounds of terms like “reducing financial risks,” “achieving return on investments,” and “increasing net profitability.” 212-217-3760, fitnyc.edu


WRITING/MEDIA

Try your hand at feature reporting, copywriting, advertising, fund-raising, writing for TV and radio, and more with
Writing Across Media. 212-229-5690, generalstudies.newschool.edu

If you were to mention podcasts two years ago, most people would have responded with a blank stare. Then along came The Ricky Gervais Show and with it, a little bald-headed genius named Karl. Millions of downloads later, fans are obsessed and a slightly daft-sounding technology (you mean it’s just a long MP3?) has risen to iTunes supremacy. Producing Podcasts will teach you to prepare audio and video content for your own show. 212-229-5690, 212-229-5690, generalstudies.newschool.edu

“Oh my God, the funniest thing happened.” Get beyond the barstool anecdote with the Craft of the Comic Essay. You’ll learn to use pacing, dialogue, structure, and detail to make your material killer. 212-563-7488, the pit-nyc.org

If, as the expression goes, everyone really does have one novel inside him or her, what’s yours? A techno-thriller, a bad-bosses-go-to-hell revenge story (no more, please), a serious post-collegiate coming-of-age story (ditto)? NYU’s Beginning Your Novel will help you turn short stories into longer fiction. 212-998-7200, scps.nyu.edu

Experienced writers looking for a community of fellow scribes as well as feedback on troublesome pieces can apply to the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop for courses like Advanced Fiction Writing. They also offer an MFA Application Workshop to help ease the stress of the application procedure.sackettworkshop.com

Potential writers in search of a little guidance should check out the courses like Writing From a Woman’s Point of View and Writing for Newspapers and Maga-zines. One course will help you create believable female characters, while the other will teach you to form pitches for news stories, essays, and reviews. 646-505-4444, jccmanhattan.org”>jccmanhattan.org


HEALTH/BODY/WELLNESS

The New York Open Center’s mission is “to heal the body, nourish the soul, and awaken the spirit.” It has Hatha Vinyasa–style Drop-in Yoga, with free mats for borrowing, and with Introduction to Reflexology. Anyone for The Language of Compassion: An Introduction to Nonviolent Commun-ication? 212.219.2527, opencenter.org

The 92nd Street Y teams up with the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross to offer certification programs in Child and Adult CPR, and basic First Aid. Go ahead, save a life. 212.415.5500, 92y.org

The Ski Conditioning Workshop gets hardcore snow bunnies ready for the season with the latest in technology and exercises. 212.415.5500, 92y.org

Students of the Korean martial art hapkido learn the principles of Yu, Won, and Wha, or flowing water, circle, and harmony, respectively. Guided by their sabumnim, Korean for “master,” acolytes at the World Martial Arts Center are exhorted to “Be unusual. Be extraordinary. Be a martial artist. Let your light shine.” If Chuck Norris were a Quaker, he’d study here. 718-855-9898, happykicks.com

Living in this city can have peculiar effects on one’s peace of mind. Is it better to move or just ignore that scary guy in the subway car? How about the kids blocking the door to your building? The Kokushi Budo Institute offers training in self-defense for the paranoid and the prudent alike. Based on the principles of Jujitsu, the course is pared to basics like defense and escapes. 212-866-6777, kokushibudo.com


COOKING/FOOD

Whether you’re an experienced home cook or an ambitious newbie, the New School offers a range of courses to suit your needs. Start with the Master Class in Cooking for essentials like knife handling. You’ll become comfortable enough in the kitchen to create your own recipes as well. Move on to a Personal Chef Master Class and acquire the business acumen to turn your newfound skills into well-earned dollars. Experienced back-of-house vets can check out Restaurant Management, designed to teach the ins and outs of running your own joint. Learn to manage a staff, jump through legal and insurance hoops, and make effective purchasing and pricing decisions—aha, so that’s why they mark up the wine 300 percent! 212-229-5690, generalstudies.newschool.edu

The options at your local greenmarket can be baffling. One week it’s all about ramps, with their mayfly-like lifespan, the next you’re up to your eyeballs in summer squash and Thai lemon basil. Join author Richard Ruben for Cooking in the Moment: Greenmarket Cuisine, sponsored by the Institute for Culinary Education. Meet up at the market, and he’ll guide you through the day’s offerings before heading to the kitchen and showing you how to turn your buys into a feast. 888-354-2433, iceculinary.com

Kitchen klutzes and hardened pros alike can learn something in the classes at the Jewish Community Center. Try a course like
Master- ing Cookbook Cooking, whether you’re leaning the difference between tablespoons and teaspoons or just want some tips on making last-minute substitutions. 646-505-4444, jccmanhattan.org

Next time you order an iced and frothy choco- late confection from Starbucks, take a minute to think about all the years of exploring and adventure it took to bring together these two ingredients from the Old World (coffee) and the New World (chocolate). At least that’s what author Clay Gordan would like you to do in How Chocolate Gets Its Taste, where participants learn about the production of cacao in various countries around the world.
212-998-7200, scps.nyu.edu

Armed with spoons, brushes, squeeze bottles, and the techniques you pick up in the French Culinary Institute’s course in Plating & Food Styling, you can transform even the most humdrum plate into a work of art. 888-324-2433, frenchculinary.com


COMPUTERS

Photoshop has so many more capabilities than just cropping pictures and designing ransom notes. Photoshop Basics will help you get the most out of the program’s features and tools. 212-229-5690, generalstudies.newschool.edu

In addition to hosting computer recycling programs in low-income communities, the Per Scholas organization runs the
Computer Technician Training Program. It strives to prepare students for the A+ Certification test, training them for careers in a lucrative field. Tuition and materials are free. Graduating students receive a Pentium III computer to refurbish and keep. 800-877-4068, perscholas.org

The Pace Computer Learning Center
offers everything you might need to become a techno whiz, from the basics like Excel and PowerPoint to programs like Dreamweaver and Flash. Classes are also available in Java, A+, and Linux for the truly technical-minded. 212-346-1222, pclc.pace.edu/pclc

“Only buy a laptop computer that you can return for a full refund” is the mantra taught in Buying and Owning a Laptop Computer. You’ll cover buying new vs. refurbished, networking devices, portable printers, screen care, and security. 212-650-3850, ce.hunter.cuny.edu

Designed to rid you of that “Dammit, there must be an easier way to do this” feeling, Excel: Advanced Tools and Techniques will turn you into a “power user.” 212-998-7200, scps.nyu.edu


FUN WITH LANGUAGE

From the loveable Apu on The Simpsons to the execrable joke-stealer Carlos Mencia, people with funny accents are a staple of comedy. Hunter College’s Accent Reduction for Non-Native Speakers of English will help students get the last laugh by identifying their pronunciation difficulties and learning the rhythms of informal everyday conversation. 212-650-3850, ce.hunter.edu

The standard curriculum for studying German at the Deutsches Haus at NYU reads, Level 1: Travel in a German-speaking country. Read a love letter. Write a card to your friends or your family. Go shopping. Talk about yourself and others. Level 2: Talk about likes, dislikes, and needs. How to get around in a German city and ask for directions. Talk about your job and your hobbies. Telling time and date. Schisse! That’s probably more excitement than you’ve had in ages—what are you waiting for? 212-998-8660, nyu.edu/deutscheshaus

The Japan Society offers two workshops for novices in Japanese, plus a slate of courses in the country’s arts and culture. 212-832-1155, japansociety.org

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Ashcroft in Conference

In the hours and days immediately following [the September 11] attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft . . . directed that FBI and INS agents question anyone they could find with a Muslim-sounding name . . . in some areas . . . they simply looked for names in the phone book. . . . . Anyone who could be held, even on a minor violation of law or immigration rules, was held under a three-pronged strategy, fashioned by Ashcroft and a close circle of Justice Department deputies including criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, that was intended to exert maximum pressure on these detainees . . . —From a summary of Ashcroft strategy sessions contained, in further detail, in Steven Brill’s After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era (Simon & Schuster)


I came to respect Steven Brill’s reporting skills years ago, when his 1978 book, The Teamsters (Simon & Schuster), exposed the scrofulous inner workings of one of the country’s strongest unions. Later, he founded The American Lawyer and its chain of siblings; Court TV; and Brill’s Content. No longer associated with those influential stimuli to the media, Brill is now a columnist for Newsweek. He returned to reporting in his current book, After, which—with clear source notes—lets us in on strategy sessions at the Justice Department in the weeks after 9-11.

These revelations add further critical weight to the June 3 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which, in my view, raises powerful questions about Ashcroft’s fitness for office—not to mention his revisions of the Constitution in the subsequent USA Patriot Act and executive orders. The report was based on internal documents and over 100 interviews with detainees and government officials.

In fairness to Brill, I should point out that he does not agree with my assessment of Ashcroft, specifically the attorney general’s roundup of hundreds of detainees whom he kept in prison for weeks, sometimes months, often under harsh conditions, by turning the American rule of law upside down. Under Ashcroft’s orders, the prisoners were presumed guilty until proved innocent. But Steve Brill told the June 3 New York Times:

“We have to acknowledge that we stood the system on its head. But maybe it was for a good reason. It was a national emergency. Ashcroft’s view was that he would rather put 762 people away for some number of months if two or three of them are guilty or can prove others are guilty.”

Yet, by contrast with that conception of justice, one New Jersey FBI agent told Brill: “I’m an educated person, not some bigoted Southern sheriff from the sixties.”

A section in After, “Saturday, September 29, 2001,” starting on page 145, is based, says Brill in the source notes, on accounts from “two of the people who are closest to Ashcroft and were directly involved in these discussions [in the Justice Department].” The material is further confirmed, Brill adds, “by a White House official familiar with Ashcroft’s articulation of the strategy in White House meetings.”

Central in formulating this strategy was Michael Chertoff, assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division. Recently, Chertoff has been confirmed by the Senate, 88 to 1, for a seat on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (a level directly below the Supreme Court). The one opposing vote was from Senator Hillary Clinton, Democrat of New York, because Chertoff was the lead lawyer in a Senate investigation of the Whitewater affair. Senator Pat Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said Chertoff merited the honor of a unanimous vote.

You decide, from what follows, whether Michael Chertoff is fit to be a federal appellate judge. Worth keeping in mind is what Democratic congresswoman Linda Sánchez of California said during John Ashcroft’s June 5 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. She skeptically asked Ashcroft to comment on a pledge she says Chertoff made during the roundup of immigrants that “every one of the detainees has the right to counsel, and every one of the detainees has the right to make phone calls to attorneys.”

The attorney general did not respond to her request for an answer.

In his book After, Steve Brill, based on his sources, reports that in the strategy sessions at the Justice Department, Chertoff, agreeing that the detainees should be held for long periods of questioning, said that even if some got a hearing, “the hearings could not only be done in secret, but also could be delayed, and that even after the hearings were held and they were ordered deported [usually for only minor immigration violations], there was nothing in the law that said they absolutely had to be deported immediately. They could be held still longer.”

As for the detainees’ right to contact lawyers, Chertoff and the others in the room, reports Brill, knew that under INS rules, the prisoners “were entitled to call a lawyer from jail, but the lists the INS provided of available lawyers invariably had phone numbers that were not in service.” (Emphasis added.)

Brill adds that “according to one person who says he was there, someone in the room remarked that the government should not try too hard to make sure these people could contact lawyers. ‘Let’s not make it so they can get Johnnie Cochran on the phone,’ another lawyer added.”

In view of the considerable number of reports from families of detainees who were able to get lawyers (many were not) and from the lawyers themselves, there was indeed a deliberate, pervasive blocking of detainees’ right to phone lawyers. And those orders, as Brill’s book reveals, came from the top. At the very top, next to Ashcroft, was Michael Chertoff.

From page 148 of After: “Chertoff reasoned that while they were being held they would be discouraged from calling lawyers, and could be questioned without lawyers present because they were not being charged with any crime.”

All these imprisoned were presumed guilty until proved innocent, as if they were in Zimbabwe, China, or Cuba.

Months later, at the House Judiciary Committee hearing at which John Ashcroft testitifed, the ranking minority member, John Conyers of Michigan, accused him and the Bush administration of assuming the “role of legislator, prosecutor, judge, and jury.”

The attorney general claimed, in his testimony, that the president does have the power to arrest citizens on any American street, designate them “enemy combatants,” and imprison them indefinitely, without access to lawyers or their families.

After all, Ashcroft said, “The last time I looked at September 11th, an American street was a war zone.” So, all of us, not just aliens in America, can become the disappeared.

The Justice Department still will not name the “detainees” in the previous roundup. It’s necessary, said Ashcroft, “to protect their privacy.”

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Are We Dead Yet?

A New Yorker I know recently compared U.S. media companies to a forest of saguaros, the giant cacti that grow in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. With their fat arms raised to the sky, the saguaros throw grand shadows and can stay alive for hundreds of years. But scientists say these cacti can be dead for five to 10 years, and you wouldn’t know it until they fall down.

Like the saguaros, many Web sites, newspapers, and magazines are standing tall these days but dying slowly from within. While symptoms have been noticeable for months, the blight began looking like an epidemic last week, when economists admitted that the U.S. is in a recession. Not only did the gross domestic product shrink during the third quarter, but unemployment also rose sharply, and 400,000 Americans lost their jobs in October alone. In the media sector, an estimated 100,000 media jobs were eliminated in the past year or more, according to IWantMedia.com—and many editorial types fear a new wave of layoffs any day now.

Last week, the major dailies were careful to mask the bad economic news, putting unemployment stats on the front page but burying the inevitable conclusion. While The Wall Street Journal was optimistic, one of The Washington Post‘s stories waited until the fourth graf before quoting an expert who declared us to be “in the throes of a nasty recession.” The New York Times avoided the R-word in headlines, and over the weekend, Times writers insisted the recession was “mild” and not yet official.

A few theories to explain this timidity: First, journalists are wary of delivering another scintilla of bad news, what with wacky anthrax and no sign of victory in Afghanistan in sight. Second, since only consumers can save the economy, editors may feel that it’s patriotic to withhold news of the recession, in the hopes that an ignorant public will continue to part with its money. Finally, media companies may be in denial about their own financial health and determined to put a good face on an industry whose services are no longer so much in demand.

Space constraints make it impossible to list all the editorial products that have gone out of business of late. Some of the more prominent ones include the political magazine George, which folded in March; Feed, Suck, and The Industry Standard, which fell to earth this past summer; and the doomed troika of Brill’s Content, Lingua Franca, and Mademoiselle, which burned down in the wake of the twin towers this fall. In a feat of cosmetic legerdemain, the aptly named Salon has kept its skin fresh while constantly purging from within: 25 people lost their jobs last winter, three slots were shed from the unlaunched radio show this spring, and 14 were sacrificed in August to appease investors.

Layoffs are caused by myriad factors: In 2000, after the dotcom bubble burst, ad sales began to plummet; this year, the costs of printing, mailing, and distribution rose, while media companies’ ad revenues and circulation declined. For executives at AOL Time Warner, layoffs were a necessary, if brutal, part of restructuring. No one expected the terrorist attacks, and now the recession feels like a knockout punch.

“I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news,” says Patrick Phillips, founder of IWantMedia.com, “but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is just the way things are going to be for a long time. Media companies are going to be run very lean from now on. It may be more comfortable to ride in a car with four wheels, but if companies can get by on three, that’s what they’ll do.”

“Because of unprecedented growth in the 1990s,” concurs magazine analyst Samir Husni, “we forget that for every seven good years, there are seven bad years.”

Last January, when the dotcom blues had begun spreading to broadcast and print media, Phillips launched a Web log linking to news reports about layoffs. He includes editorial, business, and support staff in an attempt to be comprehensive, but an exact count is impossible because some layoffs are estimates and others are never announced. The anecdotal evidence is stunning. “Sometimes,” says Phillips, “it’s just unreal. Every day there’s another one.”

Herewith a sampling of the magazine companies that announced layoffs this year, according to Phillips’s log: Wenner Media (more than 40), Hachette Filipacchi (about 50, not including 39 jobs from George), U.S. News & World Report (58), Playboy (90), and Cahners (about 500). Another 90 people lost their jobs when Condé Nast shut down Mademoiselle, and Primedia sent 38 packing from Brill’s Content and Inside.com. Even Brill‘s editor in chief David Kuhn is gone.

Many newspapers also announced layoffs this year, including: The Wall Street Journal (16), the New York Daily News (36), Newsday (30 to 50), Morning News (73), The Orange County Register (105), The San Jose Mercury News (120), Financial Times (150), The Miami Herald (180), The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News (200), and The Seattle Times (300). The New York Times cut 69 jobs last January, 47 more in April, and about 1200 in June. Knight Ridder expects to shed 1700 this year; Reuters, a few hundred.

God knows how these people are paying the bills; they must have fumed last week when Bush said there would be no “instant gratification” for this economic crisis. Of course, the compassionate conservatives would rather give tax cuts to corporations than subsidies to individuals in need. And no one expects the once altruistic Steve Brill to bankroll a 21st-century equivalent of the Works Progress Administration, a program launched by President Roosevelt in the 1930s that paid creative types modest wages to practice their art.

Meanwhile, media companies continue their slow process of dying from within, a/k/a belt-tightening. This can be more or less subtle. At Primedia, there is talk of selling off New York magazine, though execs deny it. New Yorker employees can no longer use a car service unless they pay first with their own credit cards, and their expense account lunches are now subject to infinite restrictions. Last week, two days after the Daily News began soliciting pro-Giuliani display ads from readers, the New York Post did the same. And here at the Voice, offices are now closed on weekends—a decision which management attributes to “security,” but which most regard as a cynical money-saver.

Industry-wide, complaints have been muffled; everyone who’s ever collected a salary knows the price of dissent. But last week, shortly after Time Inc. canned the remainder of its mail-room staff, 351 employees sent a petition to CEO Don Logan, demanding that he put a stop to the layoffs that have been roiling Time Inc. all year. It was the loudest anti-layoff protest since March, when Jay Harris, publisher of The San Jose Mercury News, resigned on the ground that oncoming layoffs would compromise his editorial product. The owners didn’t blink, and 120 people lost their jobs two months later.

Welcome to the desert. Are we dead yet?


Unemployed media types with stories to tell, please contact ccotts@villagevoice.com.

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A Peach of a Contract

This month, Vanguarde Media honchos Roy Johnson and Keith Clinkscales fulfill a dream by launching Savoy, a glossy mag that bills itself as “the smart, provocative voice of today’s new black power.” But even as the first issue is hitting the stands, Savoy has made one power dynamic perfectly clear: its contractual relationship with freelancers, who one critic says are being treated like “indentured servants.”

Savoy freelancers are in for a rough time, judging by the terms of their current contract, which was faxed to me anonymously last week. In clause two, for example, the contract says that if you miss the deadline, your fee will be reduced by 25 percent for every five business days that you’re late. Clause eight says you can’t sell an article on the same subject anywhere else until six months after it runs in Savoy; and clause 11 gives the publisher the right to seek an injunction if you sell that piece or breach any other clause of the contract.

“At the end of the day, do they shoot you?” asks Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union and a prominent defender of freelance rights. While Tasini advises Savoy freelancers to renegotiate the terms of this “shameful” contract, another writers’ advocate takes it a step further.

“I’m calling for all freelancers to boycott Savoy until they revise this contract,” says David Wallis, CEO of Featurewell.com. “It’s the most punitive contract I’ve ever seen in my life, and we need to use some of the tactics of the civil rights movement to fight it. All I can say to the publisher of Savoy is, ‘Set my people free.’ ”

Wallis points out that there are legitimate reasons to miss a deadline, and both critics pose hypothetical variations on the contract. In response to clause two, Tasini asks, “Does that mean for every week the magazine delays publication, the fee doubles and triples and quadruples?” Wallis wonders whether, a month after a missed deadline, the writer ends up owing Savoy money, instead of the other way around. In response to clause 11, Tasini asks if Savoy would give authors the right to seek an injunction if the publisher breaks the terms of the contract.

Of course, Savoy is not alone here; freelance contracts are becoming more abusive industrywide. Wallis blames the trend partly on media conglomeration, which is so profit-oriented that some publishers “view writing as just another product.” But the writing process is “different than widget-making,” he says, and good working relationships require that writers are treated fairly. “If I got this contract,” he said, “by the end there would be so much black ink that they would get back something that looked like a redacted CIA file.”

The contract is “obviously pro-Vanguarde,” says Vanguarde general counsel David Tripodi. He calls the diminishing-fee clause “common sense” and points out that for a company that generates magazines, newsletters, and Web content, it’s “important to have some rational system in place” to protect its product. But he says the contract is open to negotiation.

View actual contract


Brill Power

Some readers will remember that last summer I accused Steve Brill of a “copyright scam,” because Contentville.com was selling Voice stories for $2.95 a pop, although Village Voice Media had never given him the right to do so. Well, now the Voice contraband is gone, and it looks like other companies have wised up and asked Brill to remove their content from his site.

Back in July, Brill claimed he had secured the rights to much of his online content from EBSCO Publishing, a company that licenses content directly from publishers and sells electronic databases to libraries by subscription. But some EBSCO contracts preceded the Internet boom, and EBSCO general manager Tim Collins told me he “could have done better” at informing publishers that Contentville was buying their archives.

But if Brill was confident his EBSCO deal gave him carte blanche, others were not, including John Lerner, vice president of VNU eMedia, which publishes MediaWeek, AdWeek, and Editor & Publisher. “I was not aware that EBSCO was licensing our content to Contentville,” Lerner told me at the time. Voice CEO David Schneiderman blew his stack, asking me, “Why should we let Contentville sell this stuff to readers who can get it on our Web site for free?”

Today, Contentville users can still purchase articles from consenting publishers, including Time Inc. and The Christian Science Monitor. But you won’t find a word from a Voice or VNU publication. And several pubs whose content was apparently being fenced are now offering Contentville readers the real thing—a subscription. These include The New Republic ($34.99), Harper’s ($10.99), MediaWeek ($149), and four editions of AdWeek ($149 each). Ironically, two of the companies with whom Brill says he worked out licensing deals directly are no longer represented on the site: The New York Times and U.S. News & World Report.

Back in July, Brill posted an e-mail on Jim Romenesko’s Web site, saying, “I don’t think we should be cast as the bad guy here for trying to create a market for this stuff.” Last week, he declined to comment on the propriety of his licensing deals.


Picking on Scabs

Gersh Kuntzman’s February 12 column in the New York Post reported on the debate over term limits on New York’s City Council, but it was his swipe at unions that got the most buzz in city newsrooms, bringing together old foes of the columnist who calls himself “Metro Gnome.”

At the end of the column, Kuntzman quotes a political insider who predicts that if they can get rid of the incumbents in the City Council, a lot of “high-quality people” will run. Then the insider names three likely candidates, to which the columnist responds that only one of the names is legit, the others being a “political hack” and “a union guy.” Then comes one of Kuntzman’s patented wisecracks: “Yeah, I always search union halls when I’m looking for the most qualified, most broad-minded candidates.”

If Kuntzman deplores the unions, the feeling is mutual. During the Daily News strike in 1990, at a time when everyone else was on the picket line, he took a job as a “replacement” worker at the News. That’s the kind of wound that never heals, and a few union men would like to remind Kuntzman of Jack London’s definition of a scab:

“After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful stuff left with which he made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water-logged brain and a combination backbone made of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles. Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared to a scab. For betraying his master he had the character to hang himself: The scab hasn’t. There is nothing lower than a scab.”

Kuntzman was out of town and could not be reached for comment.


ccotts@villagevoice.com

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‘Street’ Fighting Man

On August 2, financial guru Jim Cramer fired off an e-mail about TheStreet.com with the dramatic title “The beginning of the decline.” It was supposed to go to Street CEO Tom Clarke—but accidentally landed in the in-box of two editors and the copy department. Oops!

“I always date the beginning of our decline as a firm to a retreat . . . When English first took over,” the e-mail began. That would be Kevin English, Clarke’s predecessor. Cramer once sang English’s praises as “the greybeard every Net company needs,” but English left quietly last November. These days, Cramer calls Clarke “the best thing that ever happened” to The Street.

In the e-mail, Cramer blamed English and Dave Kansas, editor in chief of The Street, for hanging on to a print model at a time when they needed “to think like t.v.” That meant hiring a daytime and nighttime producer who would “make sure the site was current and uptodate” and would “be an intermediary between ad sales and edit.”

But English and Kansas nixed the idea, Cramer wrote, creating “what we have now: a newsroom that is expensive and doesn’t produce pageviews.” The solution: make the company’s new chief operating officer a “producer/director” who could “take back that newsroom.” Cramer’s candidate: Roone Arledge, the retired head of ABC News.

Take the e-mail with a grain of salt: That’s what most folks at The Street did when they read it. Some staffers laughed; others were relieved to hear someone finally talking about The Street‘s fate without the sugarcoating. But not everyone was amused.

“I made a mistake,” Cramer told the Voice last week. He was “mortified” to learn of his boo-boo, he says, and wishes he hadn’t spoken of “taking back” the newsroom, because they’re doing a “fabulous” job. While Cramer is keen on keeping the site up-to-date, he realizes that “if you send an unvarnished memo you run the risk of hurting people’s feelings,” and that’s “not the best way to build a coalition.” He promises to be “more restrained” in the future.

Those are abject words from Jim Cramer, who by day is a hedge fund manager and tireless self-promoter. He founded The Street in 1996 with New Republic publisher Marty Peretz, and is now a Street columnist and board member. The way he usually talks, he makes it sound like he runs The Street and it’s a hot stock to buy.

In fact, the company continues to lose money with the subscription model Cramer once staked his name on. Its stock leaped to $71.25 on the day it went public last year, but is now hovering at $5, which is barely more than the 52-week low. Overhead is high, and the company is rumored to be on the block. In response, management announced a plan last January to split into free and paid sites, posting breaking news for free at TheStreet.com while offering commentary from Cramer and others by subscription at RealMoney.com.

Page hits are rising. But it didn’t help the company’s public image this past spring when Cramer went on The Street‘s Fox TV show and encouraged viewers to buy stock in The Street. Fox cracked down, saying that even with full disclosure, Cramer should not be promoting stock that he owns or manages. Kansas agreed, and The Street canceled the show.

So what does Kansas think of Cramer’s latest jive? He laughs it off, calling his product “high quality” and his page views “strong.” “We’re very active in updating the markets coverage and corporate coverage between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.,” Kansas says, but admits they could do better. Clarke says the site aims to generate 75 percent of revenue from ads under the new model, and “you need page views to drive that.”

Clarke and Kansas both reject the idea of a COO who functions as an “intermediary” between business and edit. Kansas says, “We are going to write without fear or favor about things that we think are important, and if someone wants to change that, it’s not something that I would accept.”

Cramer denies trying to compromise edit’s integrity: “I have never picked up the phone and said, ‘Dave, I want you to do a story about this.’ ” If he had been caught sending an e-mail that said “I own Nokia and I want you to change the Nokia coverage,” Cramer says, “then you could send me to the journalism jail!”

Should Kansas be worried about his job? Absolutely not, everyone insists. Kansas: “I feel very confident that the person I work for is happy with the job I’m doing.” Clarke: “As long as I’m CEO, Dave is secure.” Cramer: “I’m a writer. Kansas is my boss. I hope Kansas doesn’t fire me.”

Larry Kramer is CEO of CBS MarketWatch.com, a free site that competes with The Street. He says The Street does “good journalism, so they’re feeling beat-up because they haven’t gotten rewarded on that.” But he says there are only two viable models for financial news: Bloomberg data, which professionals will pay anything for, and “real-time news,” which everyone else wants for free. Kramer says The Street will have to make a “huge effort” to generate mass-market appeal, and “culturally, I don’t know if the staff is suited to that.”

Enter Roone Arledge, who took a liking to Cramer when the hirsute day trader pitched a show to ABC in 1996. Cramer says he suggested Arledge only as a type, someone who favors doing stuff that is “new and radical” to capture the ever shorter attention span of viewers.

Asked if he would hire Arledge as COO, Clarke says, “We’d love to talk to him.” So wherever you are, Roone, phone home.


‘Content’ Manager

Speaking of broadcast legends, Steve Brill has tapped former NBC News president Michael Gartner as the new ombudsman for Brill’s Content. “There is no mail,” Gartner begins his first column. “The past couple of issues . . . have apparently been perfect.” Gartner goes on to spank the magazine for its liberal use of anonymous quotes, in violation of its own policy. But he lets the watchdogs weasel out of it. “[We always] try for nonanonymity,” begins the nonresponse—which is signed by some anonymous “editors.”

If Brill was looking for a soul mate, Gartner is the perfect choice. In Gartner’s heyday, Spy called him “a journalist, a media entrepreneur, an aggressive self-promoter.” During the Gulf War, he accepted the Pentagon’s squelching of press coverage when other networks were protesting it. And it was on his watch that Dateline NBC faked an explosion of a General Motors truck. Gartner denied any wrongdoing until GM sued, after which he apologized—and was promptly fired. In April 1993, Brill penned a long defense of Gartner for The American Lawyer, and Gartner returned the favor this past March, raving about Brill’s Content in the Columbia Journalism Review. Logrolling in our time?

By hiring Gartner, Brill seems to be saying that truth is the goal, but sometimes it’s too high a standard. Or as an NBC employee told Gartner when the boss got the boot, “When in trouble, lie.”

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Partners in Copyright Scam

Last week, you could hear lots of honking and yelling on the road to Contentville, the new Web site that sells books, magazine subscriptions, and collected news articles, inviting its readers to “rejoice.” But this was a case of road rage—with an angry phalanx of writers, from ph.D. Scholars to Harper‘s contributors, accusing contentville of selling their work without asking permission. The complaints first surfaced on Jim Romenesko’s Web site, with many demanding that their content be taken down immediately.

On July 19, Contentville founder Steve Brill took the time-honored step of e-mailing Romenesko, braying his commitment to “decent ethics” and his intention to work out a deal with the National Writers Union whereby freelance authors could be paid royalties. Meanwhile, Contentville reassured writers of its legal standing, and by the end of the day, MSNBC.com posted a story declaring Brill’s hawking of Ph.D. dissertations to be “all perfectly legal.”


Steve Brill’s experiment is only a few weeks old, and at least one publishing company has accused him of stealing its intellectual property.


MSNBC’s snap judgment was a little suspect, given that Microsoft and NBC are partners in Contentville. (No mention of this in the story.) But forget the conflicts of interest, and forget the little people who felt violated by the media watchdog. Brill’s experiment is only a few weeks old, and at least one publishing company has accused him of stealing its intellectual property.

“How the hell did they get our archives?” fumed David Schneiderman, CEO of Village Voice Media, upon learning that Contentville is selling hundreds of Voice articles, including the work of Michael Musto and Nat Hentoff along with that of scores of freelancers who retain the rights to their work. Individual articles are going for $2.95 a pop, prompting Schneiderman to ask, “Why should we let Contentville sell this stuff to readers who can get it on our Web site for free?”

On July 21, upon learning that an obscure company called EBSCO holds the right to market Voice archives to libraries, the Voice lawyer fired off a letter to Brill, claiming that EBSCO’s 1994 contract with the Voice was intended for educational and research purposes, and that the contract was rendered void by the sale of the Voice earlier this year. She requested that Brill remove “any Village Voice material” at once.

EBSCO Publishing, based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, is a Contentville partner, along with NBC, CBS, Microsoft, and so on. In addition to selling magazine subscriptions, EBSCO has traditionally been a middleman, licensing content from hundreds of publishers to build electronic databases and offering those archives to libraries by subscription. By getting EBSCO out of the library, Brill has created a kind of poor man’s Nexis, giving anyone with Internet access and a credit card the means to do quickie research. (Contentville has no connection to Lexis-Nexis, which charges high rates for a superior service.)

Despite the questions, Brill is confident that everything’s on the up-and-up. “EBSCO guarantees the validity of third-party contracts,” he said in an interview last week. “They’re selling all this stuff now and they’ve been selling it for 10 years to libraries. Our due diligence was, they told us we have the right to sell this to you.”

However, due to a lack of transparency on the site, the provenance of the Contentville archives remained a mystery last week. From The New Republic to U.S. News & World Report to Adoptive Families magazine, few seemed to know how Contentville had acquired their content.

“I was not aware that EBSCO was licensing our content to Contentville,” said John Lerner, vice president and general manager of VNU eMedia, whose stable includes MediaWeek, AdWeek, BrandWeek, and Editor & Publisher. Lerner says that at this point, he doesn’t know whether EBSCO is acting within its rights.

A source at the Christian Science Monitor said that on first glance, Contentville’s use of the paper’s archives appeared to be valid under an EBSCO contract and under the paper’s standard freelance contract, which assigns nonexclusive electronic rights to the Monitor. According to the source, the Monitor goes out of its way to respect freelancers’ rights because it is owned by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, whose purpose is “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”

If only the same could be said of Steve Brill. Brill says his site has made “direct contact” with major media companies to secure explicit permission to market their archives. Condé Nast turned him down, but Mort Zuckerman, who owns U.S. News & World Report, said yes. Contentville is currently negotiating a deal with Time Inc. that would allow the new site to sell articles from Time and Fortune. Harper‘s now says a legitimate EBSCO contract exists.

Brill says his people approached The New York Times directly, and a spokesperson for New York Times Digital confirms that the paper has a “distribution arrangement” that lets Contentville sell articles from the last 365 days of its archives. (The archives of other major papers, such as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, are not being sold on the site.)

Tim Collins, general manager of EBSCO Publishing, declined to comment on whether EBSCO is exposed to contract disputes. When asked how publishers were informed that EBSCO planned to market their archives via Contentville, he said EBSCO notified more than 100 companies in its quarterly newsletter, which was sent out with the two most recent royalty checks in 2000. Asked if he considers that sufficient notice, he said, “EBSCO could have done better.”

Collins says EBSCO pays royalties to the publishers, who are responsible for paying their writers. If a writer indicates that he or she owns the copyright to an article, EBSCO removes the article from its database. He says if the Voice requests the removal of its archives, it will take about “two weeks.”

Brill says that will happen, unless he can persuade the Voice to sign on. Asked how he justifies selling readers something they can get elsewhere for free, he says people will pay for the “convenience” of having so much material in one place. However, if you read the fine print, Contentville promises readers that “we’ll tell you” if material for sale there is “available elsewhere for free.” But look up a Voice article, and you’ll find no such notice.

Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, is scheduled to meet with Brill July 25. Based on his talk with Brill last week, Tasini believes the media watchdog is “genuinely interested” in achieving a fair resolution. “He’s a leader on the issue of ethics in journalism, and the improper use of writers’ work on the Internet is an ethical question,” says Tasini. “If we come to an agreement, he can be a megaphone to the rest of the industry.”

But David Wallis, a New York-based writer who is planning to launch an elite freelancers agency, sees Brill’s cozying up to the National Writers Union as a “dodge,” and a reaction to the “terrible publicity and backlash” of last week. “As a media watchdog,” Wallis says, “Steve Brill has rabies.”

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Inspecting Ourselves

The pooh-bahs of media criticism have quietly reached a consensus: a news outlet’s best guard against breaches of journalistic ethics is to appoint an ombudsman or internal investigator. Who better than a trusted insider to ferret out bad media behavior?

Steve Brill is ahead of the curve. In the April issue of Brill’s Content, he suggests that as media companies form partnerships, they should be required to appoint an ombudsman to monitor their business and editorial practices for conflicts of interest, or else give up valuable government benefits.

By way of example, Brill has asked Bill Kovach, curator of the Nieman Foundation and the magazine’s “independent ombudsman,” to “expand his portfolio and now also be prepared to receive and report on any complaints from anyone on our editorial staff concerning our treatment of the media companies with whom the magazine now has a connection.” Brill refers to the many companies that are his partners in Contentville, a new e-commerce site.

Meanwhile, the new Columbia Journalism Review features a first-person narrative by the Los Angeles Times‘s David Shaw on “How I Got That Story”—that is, how he investigated his bosses’ decision to share profits from a special magazine section with the Staples sports center in L.A. Shaw, a Pulitzer prize-winner, expresses little self-doubt about his own methods; indeed, NYU journalism chair Jay Rosen proposes in a sidebar that Shaw’s model for self-scrutiny may constitute “the next frontier in credibility.” Rosen goes so far as to suggest Pulitzer prizes should be given out for “outstanding self-examination.”

I’m not implying that Shaw’s report is flawed—just that the coverage sounds a little self-congratulatory. The backslapping continued last week, as a Harvard think tank gave Kovach its annual award for “Excellence in Journalism.” I’m not suggesting Kovach doesn’t deserve it. But given that he’s so well-equipped to judge the implications of Brill’s business partnerships, why didn’t Brill have him tackle that subject in the current issue instead of filing a history lesson with no news hook? Brill Media came under fire by outsiders last month, but apparently Brill considers a complaint important only if it comes from someone on his editorial staff—a prospect he deems irrelevant “either because we will never deserve such complaints or because no employee will have the gumption to lodge one.”

Maybe the pooh-bahs are right. But shouldn’t they be more skeptical about the risk of bias that attends any insider asked to carry out an investigation? For example, the cover story in the same Brill’s Content, on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s coverage of bombing “suspect” Richard Jewell, is written by a woman who worked at that paper for 13 years. It’s a fascinating story, based in part on unpublished internal interviews with the editors and reporters involved. But the piece never explains how the author obtained the interview transcripts, or whether she relied on anonymous sources who work for her former employer. (This is doubly relevant because anonymous sources are the crux of the Jewell story.)

Internal investigators might produce better-informed conclusions, but they could also lapse into whitewash. For evidence of that, consider the LAPD’s failure to discover corruption within its ranks, or the Justice Department’s decision that Al Gore’s role in the Buddhist temple scandal did not merit the investigation of a special counsel.

I have my own grievance against the Columbia Journalism Review. The new issue fronts an 18-page “special report” on the proliferation of media critics, yet omits any mention of Press Clips. It’s not for lack of context—they might have stuck me between Russ Smith and Eric Alterman in “Other magazines,” or perhaps in their feature on “Alternative papers,” somewhere among Rick Barrs, Dan Kennedy, Jack Shafer, David Carr, and the other guys.

Ironically, the illustration for the cover story depicts diversity of gender and race in a newsroom—a principle apparently more honored in the breach than in the practice at CJR. Indeed, the editors gave 10 out of 11 bylines in this special report to men. (The only girl in the club is a CJR assistant editor who coauthored a sidebar.)

CJR senior editor Mike Hoyt takes the blame. He says the author of the piece on alternative papers originally wrote that most alt-media critics are “white and male,” noting me as an exception. Hoyt says he wasn’t sure if I was not-male or not-white or both, so he cut the reference at the last minute.

For the record, I’m white.


Blood Wedding

On Monday, media crits got another occasion for self-examination, when the Tribune Co., owner of The Chicago Tribune, announced it is taking over Times Mirror, which owns the L.A. Times, Newsday, and The Baltimore Sun. The L.A. Times reported that the deal will cost Times Mirror publisher Mark Willes his job—an unexpected defenestration that let Times reporter Shaw call the Staples deal a “flagrant violation” of editorial independence.

Reporters were given lots of numbers to grind out—how much the new monster cost, how many old and new media outlets it controls, and how much it’s expected to make. And executives seized the day, telling us the deal does not require FCC approval, and that it was spurred in part by a belief that Internet revenue can sustain the quality of newspaper content. But while some Times Mirror folks welcomed the merger (“Everyone from guild members to managers with vested stock options will get something,” said one), Trib employees fretted as their stock dropped seven points in one day.

It’s unclear which paper will suffer the most cuts under the new regime. The L.A. Times will be first, according to one newsroom pundit, “because it has the most fat.” But despite promises that no layoffs are in sight, the editor and publisher jobs in this merger are by no means secure. For example, Newsday publisher Raymond Jensen and editor Anthony Marro heard about the deal in advance, but how will they react if the new owners want to reenter the New York newspaper market, which Trib execs sound eager to do?

David Laventhol, a former publisher of New York Newsday, recalled that the Tribune lost money when it owned the Daily News in the 1980s, just as Times Mirror was unable to sustain New York Newsday, which it closed in 1995. “I don’t know what they’ve got in mind” for the New York City market, said Laventhol. “We’ve been down that road already, and so have they.”

At the Baltimore Sun, publisher Michael Waller has promised no layoffs, but does not know whether he personally will be asked to stay. To be sure, Sun staffers face a double whammy, fearing they might lose both Waller and their beloved editor John Carroll. It’s no secret that Carroll has a shot at becoming curator of the Nieman Foundation when Kovach steps down in June.

Said Carroll, “It’s still early in the process. . . . Nobody’s offered me a job and I have no idea what I’d do if they did.”

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Business and Edit: A Perfect Fit

February 2 was a day of harmonic convergence on the media beat. It might have been cosmic (02-02-00 is a near palindrome) or just a coincidence. But anyone who was watching will never forget it.

On the bright side, it was the day after the Poynter Institute took over MediaGossip.com, giving the popular site new legitimacy and bringing out a fine mix of media writers, including sycophants, parodists, and pseudonymous assassins. But it was also the day Steve Brill announced that his e-commerce site had partnered with CBS, NBC, and so on. The next day, he appointed David Kuhn as editor in chief of Brill’s Content (BC) and the e-commerce site. This came as a shock: Few expected Brill to get in the tank with CBS and NBC, let alone to place Kuhn, an untested EIC, at the helm of both business and editorial. But Brill seemed deaf to complaints about conflict of interest, leaving Kuhn to dismiss them as “ridiculous.”

Since it launched in 1998, BC has been touted as a watchdog that would restore integrity to journalism—a noble, if unattainable, goal. The “What We Stand For” manifesto, printed in every issue, contains four tenets: Accuracy, Labeling and Sourcing, Conflicts of Interest, and Accountability. But as part of the magazine’s ongoing facelift, I propose a new set of tenets: Subjectivity, Suppression, Synergy, and Secrecy.

Subjectivity, because most journalism is arbitrary, a reflection of the individuals who choose the subject, invent the concept, and select details to support the concept. Suppression, because most journalists’ instinct is to minimize the credit we give when passing off others’ ideas as our own. Synergy, because smart publishers always try to advance the agendas of advertisers and business partners. And Secrecy, because we prefer to disclose next to nothing about how we got here and how we get the job done.

At least, that would approximate the truth about for-profit journalism. But in its bid for commercial appeal, the magazine that strove to be honest now seems to be trading credibility for hypocrisy. Not that BC isn’t making progress: The new issue looks great and has some ambitious and solid stories in it. But the book is still thin, with only 29 full-page ads. Several ads were taken out by e-commerce partners (CBS, Primedia, and TheStreet.com), and business partners feature prominently in the editorial.

For example, the cover story promotes The West Wing, a sitcom produced by e-commerce partner NBC. Brill does an unskeptical Q&A with Bob Pittman of AOL Time Warner, a company in which Brill owns valuable stock. And two critiques focus on shows produced by nonpartner ABC.

The West Wing piece is a profile of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who is said to have created a show that’s superior to political journalism in its educational value. (Sorkin rejects this thesis.) Another claim: He succeeds because he is not cynical. Would that the same could be said for the editors. They put West Wing star Martin Sheen on the cover—although Sheen barely appears in the piece. And the cover photo has been altered to include a presidential seal.

Perhaps BC sees this kind of thing (as a recent issue put it) as “synergy working well and harmlessly; a good time was had by all.” But the mag has to get sharper and more self-conscious than that if it wants to tell the truth about this industry. Otherwise, it risks becoming just another bunch of agenda-serving, beautifully produced lies.


Down, Bad Girl! Down!

Censorship at The New York Times? That’s what some readers thought on January 30, when the Times Magazine ran a piece about the “bad girls,” four New York artists who use sexual imagery in their work. The text, by art critic Deborah Solomon, was accompanied by four photos of artwork that contained images of either breasts or penises. But in apparent haste, the Times slapped big black bars across the offending parts, as if to say, This work is so naughty that even we can’t publish it!

The bars raised questions: Why’d they do it? Did the artists know in advance? So I called the galleries that had supplied the photos in order to promote shows by Cecily Brown, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sue Williams, and Lisa Yuskavage. No one would talk, except to say the artists were all surprised by the Times’s decision to censor their work. But at least one artist felt she’d been misled, and one artist’s rep felt the piece was “demeaning” toward women. Another artist’s rep had learned there is no recourse when a mass-market publication reproduces artwork in an altered form.

These days, it’s an unspoken rule that you have to get publicity to sell art, and Cecily Brown seems to get it. On February 1, Brown talked to Artnet.com about the painting the Times chose, which depicts a guy jerking off. “It’s a shame that something so beautiful and natural should be covered up in The New York Times,” she said, obviously tongue-in-cheek. (This is the same woman who vamped on her studio floor for the February issue of Vanity Fair.)

Deborah Solomon seems to get it, too. On September 26, just as the Brooklyn Museum unveiled its “Sensation” exhibit, she published a flattering profile of Sensation backer Charles Saatchi in the Magazine. (Saatchi has bought or shown work by most of the “bad girls.”) Dismissing charges that Saatchi is a poseur and profiteer, Solomon wrote that “we can no longer pretend that art and advertising inhabit firmly divided spheres.” She didn’t foresee any problem for the Brooklyn Museum, which the Times later blasted for allowing Saatchi to engineer a show in a way that must have increased the value of his collection.

But that was the news department, and “the Times, is not the monolith people think it is,” explains Katherine Bouton, deputy editor of the Magazine. Bouton says the “bad girls” piece was intended “to show our readers something that’s happening in the art world.” But the editors couldn’t run the full pictures, they thought, because of a century-old Times policy against frontal nudity. So they settled on the black bars, an approach they deemed both “fair” (think of expletives deleted from a quote) and “lighthearted.”

Thus, what started as an artistic showcase became an exercise in editorial theory. “Those bands. . . became an element in the design that made a point about . . . what can be shown and what can’t,” says Bouton. In other words, if the “bad girls” thought the joke was on them, they got it wrong. The joke’s on us, insists Janet Froelich, art director for the Magazine. “We were mocking ourselves [by] making the bars larger than they had to be.”

Solomon says the piece was intended to be “supportive” of four artists who “deserve serious consideration.” She denies that it was any more sensational than the work itself (“We’re just mirroring what’s out there”). And she hopes no one was offended by the “bad girl” label, which has “been floating around for some time.” Besides which, it was meant to be “ironic.”

Apparently, the Times’s nudity policy is also ironic. When the Voice called to confirm it, we found out it doesn’t exist.

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Inside the ‘Content’ Factory

Steve Brill is on a hiring spree. After commissioning Luke Hayman of Ogilvy & Mather to redesign the print version of ‘Brill’s Content,’ Brill signed Hayman to give a unified look to his advertising, print, and Internet ventures. Another new hire is executive editor Ramsey Flynn. And this spring, Brill says, he’s going to hire ’30 people in editorial,’ as he ramps up to launch his new e-commerce venture and online magazine.

Thanks to the redesign and a $1 million ad campaign, people are definitely talking about the February issue. But is Brill paying too much attention to packaging Content and not enough to the people who create it? In November, the mag lost senior editors Lorne Manly and Nicholas Varchaver. Two more writers, Michael Colton and Matthew Heimer, left last week. Varchaver went to Fortune and Manly to Powerful Media; Heimer will be writing for SmartMoney, while Colton is launching an online humor mag. The exodus of Content providers looked like a coincidence until last Friday, when staff writer Ted Rose quit to freelance, turning it into a certifiable trend.

Of course, Brill’s accomplishments are impressive. A brilliant editor and entrepreneur, he has singlehandedly launched a revolution in media reporting—and he is said to have used his stock in Time Warner to make millions on the AOL deal. But no one has ever called him a nice guy, and his company’s top-down management style continues to demoralize some employees.

The latest round of complaints came last fall, after Elizabeth Lesly Stevens, a senior writer with good story ideas and the moxie to stand up to Brill, was named executive editor. Stevens reorganized editing assignments, in hopes of giving editors more ownership of their sections. But Varchaver, whose job included feature editing, got upset when Stevens proposed keeping features to herself and one other editor. By the time the plan was revised, Varchaver had lined up another job. Brill says Varchaver never gave up feature editing. Varchaver declined to comment.

The next victim: Howard Witt, the former editor of the Chicago Tribune’s Web site, who was hired to edit Brillscontent.com. After starting in September, Witt inherited a small staff, and was told he would be in charge of an autonomous operation, with the resources to hire about a dozen more. (The Web site had not evolved much since 1998, when The Industry Standard called it a “low-quality bulletin board.”)

Then in November, Brill hired David Kuhn, formerly of Talk, to be editorial director of e-commerce. Sometime thereafter, Brill put the online mag on hold. Witt’s budget was shifted into e-commerce, and he commenced work on that project. Insiders say that Brill broke his promise to Witt. “Basically,” says one source, “he was screwed.” Another source says that as of January, the online mag was “abandoned.” (Only one new story was posted this month.)

Witt declined to comment. Brill attributes the “confusion” in this account to a delay, while the online mag is redesigned by the people who are building the e-commerce site. “More responsibility has shifted to the editorial side,” he says, “so if anything, since Howard was hired, that budget will be larger.” In a month or so, Brill plans to make an announcement about both the online mag and e-commerce site, including details about financing—which remain a secret, even to his own staff.

Meanwhile, Brill has been courting talent, but not everyone is jumping. The Daily News reported that he offered New York Times scribe Alex Kuczynski $210,000 to join the staff and host a TV show in the future. (She declined.) Also this winter, Brill discussed a job with New York Post reporter Keith Kelly, and Content offered a job to Renée Kaplan, an editor at Gear magazine. Kaplan jumped to The New York Observer instead. Brill deflects hiring questions. Of Kaplan, he says, “I don’t recognize the name.” Kaplan declined to comment. Kelly and Kuczynski are “happy” where they are.

As Brill wheels and deals, some Content staffers are feeling neglected. The complaints may sound minor; for example, when Brill took top business and edit people on a retreat last August, many staffers didn’t hear about it until the bosses were gone. Some were disturbed by the circumstances under which a mail room worker was allegedly fired just before Christmas. Others feel that a company that defines its mission as integrity in journalism should be more transparent about its own management style. (For example, are any media companies backing the Internet venture?)

Brill brushes away complaints from the edit side, attributing departures to the fact that “the marketplace has a real hunger for ambitious, talented people.” But editor Eric Effron sounds more tuned in. While promoting the February issue as “more readable and accessible” than ever, he points out, “We’re trying to make a magazine that’s unlike any other magazine, that’s about media, but not for media. It’s hard, and not everybody is going to work out or have fun.”

The writers who quit declined to comment on matters inside the magazine.

Another ‘Saturday Night’

** Barely a year ago my friend Paul Tough, a former Harper’s editor, became editor of the Canadian magazine Saturday Night. So why is Tough stepping down, and the monthly going to a weekly format?

The decision was that of Conrad Black, whose company bought Saturday Night in 1987 and launched the National Post, a Toronto daily, in ’98. The magazine has never made him any money. But now the Post is competing with the Globe and Mail, and Black hopes to outsell the Globe on weekends by folding the magazine into the Saturday edition of the Post.

Tough was asked to stay on. But, he says, he has learned so much from running a monthly that the weekly “didn’t feel like the best thing” to do next. He denies the change had anything to do with his content (see www.saturdaynight.ca). But the rumor is that Black’s wife and business partner, Barbara Amiel, doesn’t like Tough’s sensibility and told him so to his face. That view is shared by Naomi Klein, the left-wing journalist Tough hired as an editor and writer last year.

Klein says the Blacks don’t support Saturday Night because it’s “not ideological anymore,” whereas under previous editor Ken Whyte, the publication served their agenda. “If Paul were a right-wing ideologue,” she says, “the magazine probably would have survived longer. Instead, he made it a wonderful literary magazine.”

Whyte, now editor of the National Post, praises Tough’s editing and integrity. “If he had been fired because he had failed to fall in line with a particular political agenda,” says Whyte, “I can’t imagine” him staying around.

Tough plans to stay until June, to help new editor Dianna Symonds with the redesign. He hasn’t decided what he’ll do next.

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WELL Done

On April 5, the day the Web magazine Salon morphed into a network, the media had lots of stories to pursue. First, Salon introduced a new URL (www.salon.com), a new site design, new editorial content, and a new ad campaign. Then, two days later, Salon announced it had bought the WELL, generating such a press frenzy that The Industry Standard soon posted a story offering analysis and links to all the other stories that had appeared on the Web.

The WELL is the Internet’s elite bulletin board, a kind of laid-back gated community online that dates to 1985 and counts among its residents the hippest
of writers and thinkers. Because a virtual community is self-reflexive by nature, it was
no surprise that within hours of the Salon takeover, people were talking about it
on the WELL.

The WELL’s response was overwhelmingly positive, first and foremost because so many Salon staffers are longtime WELL members. Bruce Katz, a previous owner of the WELL, had never shown up much on the opinionated bulletin board, leading passionate users to conclude that he could not understand its true nature.

By contrast, Salon has the highest respect for the WELL, says Scott Rosenberg, vice president of site development for Salon and a longtime WELL member— so much so that when Salon launched its online chat room, “We modeled it very much on the WELL.” Because Salon understands the fragile nature of online communities, Rosenberg says, “We’re not coming into this with a vast master plan to transform the WELL. If we stormed in and said, ‘We’re the new owners. We’re changing everything,’ a lot of people would get very upset and leave.”

By Friday, skeptical comments had begun to appear on the WELL. The primary concern was whether Salon would replace the WELL’s conferencing software, a prospect that led some users to fantasize taking up their pitchforks and staging a rebellion at Salon headquarters on Mission Street in San Francisco. Other postings discussed Salon content (thumbs down on Camille Paglia), and one posed what is perhaps the most pertinent question about the acquisition: What’s in it for Salon?

The first and obvious answer is revenue. The WELL currently charges members $10 to $15 a month, netting an estimated $750,000 a year. By marketing the WELL to Salon readers, Salon expects to increase WELL membership, thereby increasing revenues for Salon. But the WELL represents another hidden potential for profit: a database of information on 7000 high-end intellectuals. When subscribing to the WELL, users supply both their names and their credit card numbers.

Currently, Salon collects information on readers in traditional ways: through surveys and server logs, which identify the last site the user clicked on and the nation the user resides in. According to Rosenberg, Salon tries to collect reader demographics “without being intrusive. If you enter Table Talk [Salon‘s chat room], we get your name and your e-mail, but we don’t use that in
a marketing sense. We’re not going to sell
it on a list.”

Rosenberg realizes that user data must be respected if Salon is to preserve its good name on the WELL. “If we started behaving badly with that information, people would know and they would spread the word. The WELL is fiercely privacy oriented, and we’d be nuts to try to exploit that in any way.”

If Salon was concerned about negative feedback, it had no further to look than its own chat room. By Friday, Table Talk people were complaining about the redesign (too busy, too much like a newspaper, too many ads), and over the weekend some “TTers” had launched into tirades against their counterparts on the WELL (those boring, repetitive, name-droppers). The feuding certainly kept Table Talk moderator Mary Elizabeth Williams busy. But what better way to generate buzz than by instigating a flame war online?


By the Numbers

Rudolph Giuliani must be feeling pretty cocky, having temporarily dodged allegations of police misconduct by introducing a new “courtesy” campaign. But the mayor is not immune from further press criticism of his vaunted arrest rate. The centerpiece of his war on crime, the arrest rate gives him proof that crime is falling. Yet for all the good publicity the numbers bring, they may turn out to be a double-edged sword.

The mayor’s magic abacus is officially known as “CompStat,” after a software program that compiles statistics precinct by precinct. Twice a week, as the stats come in, CompStat meetings are held at
a command center on the eighth floor
of police headquarters downtown, where large screens display the latest crime trends. Giuliani recently testified to Congress that CompStat allows the NYPD
to stop a crime “trend” before it becomes a crime “wave.”

CompStat bashing is nothing new. But in recent weeks, worship of the miraculous database has come under fire in columns by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, Murray Weiss of the New York Post, and Bob Herbert of The New York Times. According to Gonzalez, police chief Louis Anemone is “notorious for berating commanders who fail to improve their stats.” When that pressure trickles down, Herbert suggests, it leads to street cops searching thousands of innocent people and putting thousands of petty offenders in jail.

Giuliani might deflect this criticism by attributing it to his political opponents. But the complaint isn’t coming just from liberals. On March 31, Weiss’s story in the New York Post directly linked the Diallo shooting to CompStat, quoting a former police official who said, “The culture of this administration is nothing bothers them as long as crime is down.” On April 7, the Times quoted the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association pointing a finger at police brass who constantly harp on the numbers.

“What I’m really concerned about
is the way [street cops are treated] by their ranking officers,” said PBA president James Savage, dismissing Giuliani’s plan to
distribute cards instructing cops in how to be courteous. “[Cops] are under constant pressure to get more and more numbers, more summonses,” said Savage. “Even though the crime rates are down, they have to maintain the same level
of activity.”

It’s the brass who do the berating. But it’s Giuliani who made stats a top priority in New York, just as he did back in the early 1980s when he was the number three man at the Justice Department. According to a must-read 1983 profile in The American Lawyer, at the same time Giuliani was persuading President Reagan to launch “narcotics task forces,” he was promising more money to U.S. attorneys if they increased their “case counts.” How? By making more drug and gun busts, of course.

In recent years, the press has begun to expose the drug war as a boondoggle that targets racial minorities and petty drug offenders in an effort to boost crime statistics and expand police power. (For a history
of “racial profiling,” the system by which highway police surreptitiously target
minorities to boost their numbers, see Gary Webb’s excellent article in the April
issue of Esquire.) Nevertheless, most New Yorkers don’t associate Giuliani with the drug war, even though 16 years ago, he
was flogging U.S. attorneys to multiply their drug indictments.

And not too many New Yorkers associate the drug war with crime statistics. But in 1983, at least one man had Rudy’s number: Joseph Tompkins Jr., a former deputy chief in the criminal division of the Justice Department. Tompkins complained to The American Lawyer, “The [Carter] administration spent years trying to get U.S. attorneys over the case count mentality.” Pointing out that the quantity of arrests does not guarantee their quality, Tompkins said, “U.S. attorneys can easily double their cases with penny-ante gun possession and drug cases. If Giuliani ingrains this case count mentality . . . it will take a long time to undo it, and a lot of damage will be done.”


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  • Three top Mother Jones editors are headed east, even as incoming editor Roger Kohn, formerly of Audubon magazine, completes his migration west. Mother Jones senior editor Kerry Lauerman has been hired as an editor at The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Meanwhile, acting editor Patti Wolter and managing editor John Cook have also quit, with their sights on the East Coast. The departures are said to be unrelated to Cohen’s arrival. EKudos to Molly Moore of The Washington Post‘s Foreign News Service, for her ongoing coverage of the disappearance of Mario Villanueva, the former governor of Quintana Roo who authorities say is mixed up in the drug trade. Elements of the man-on-the-lam story have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, and The Dallas Morning News (which was first to provide details from the testimony against Villanueva). But the Post was on the story first and continues to upstage the Times.
  • Correction: Due to an editorial error, the April 13 Press Clips column omitted a quote that came in at closing time from Vanity Fair publicist Beth Kseniak. In response to comments by Steve Brill, the editor in chief of Brill’s Content, regarding an upcoming Vanity Fair article about the magazine, Kseniak said, “Steve Brill can’t be serious. I can’t believe the media watchdog entertains such paranoid theories about how magazines are run.”