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The Press: New York’s Battleground (Contd.)

6 minute read
TIME

From his new command center at the New York Post, which he now refers to as his U.S. flagship publication, Australian Press Lord Rupert Murdoch spent last week consolidating his control of his latest acquisitions, New York magazine, the Village Voice and New West. That meant a lot of changes—new faces, new plans. After committing $45 million for two corporations that both lost money last year (TIME cover Jan. 17),Murdoch needs to steer them into a quick turnaround.

The center of the turmoil was New York magazine. Murdoch’s peppery new editor, James Brady, 48, fought his way through snow and ice on Monday morning to find his office scarcely less chilling. There to greet him was a sheaf of resignations. Departing were not only the magazine’s creator and editor, Clay Felker, but also Design Director Milton Glaser, Managing Editor Byron Dobell (who agreed to stay through a brief transition) and 20 other editorial hands, including such notables as Tom Wolfe, Financial Writer George (“Adam Smith”) Goodman, Washington Reporter Richard Reeves, Ms. Editor Gloria Steinem, Press Critic Edwin Diamond and Gail Sheehy, bestselling author (Passages) and Felker’s companion.

Frantic Search. Another problem: the scheduled cover story on how President-elect Jimmy Carter chose Walter Mondale as his running mate had been written by one of the missing, Reeves. Brady asked him if he could use the story. Reeves refused. After a frantic search, Brady settled on a piece by Syndicated Columnist Nick Thimmesch, describing how John Ehrlichman spent his last days before jail, which had already run in part in Potomac, the Washington Post’s Sunday supplement.

Crises are not new to Brady. A onetime Marine lieutenant, he started out as an advertising writer for Macy’s, worked his way up at Fairchild Publications until he was publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, then quit to become editorial director and publisher of Harper’s Bazaar. There he stirred things up with a new approach to fashion photography that involved action and realism but unfortunately obscured the clothes. Readers objected, and he was fired a year later, in 1972. As a freelancer before joining Murdoch in 1974, Brady wrote for New York and even played third base on the magazine’s softball team—a connection that he now sees as valuable in establishing “a reservoir of good will.”

Some regard Brady as only an interim editor, sent in to keep New York functioning until Murdoch finds the editor he wants. But Brady is busily making plans to refocus the magazine on local coverage. Says he: “This is to an important degree a service magazine, not a magazine of national affairs. It’s a guide on how to live better in New York.”

Although many of the magazine’s big names are gone, 90% of the regular staffers have chosen to remain—perhaps because, unlike the writers with contracts and outside assignments, they depend more on their salaries. They also got two reassuring visits from Murdoch himself. Said Financial Writer Dan Dorfman: “I’m accustomed to writing pieces that offend advertisers and friends of the editor. Will I still have that same freedom?” Said Murdoch: “Write about anything you please, even me, but just be sure you’re right.”

At the Post, by contrast, there were no defections, and many, feeling the paper has nowhere to go but up, welcomed Murdoch’s fresh energy and above all his capital. So far, Murdoch has been doing a lot of the editing, but this week he will shift much of it to his new editor, Edwin (Ted) Bolwell, 44, a native Australian who first broke into journalism on the Melbourne Herald under Rupert’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch.

Bolwell, now a TIME senior editor and formerly an editor with the New York Times and managing editor of the Toronto Star, says he and Murdoch both want “to turn the Post into a dynamic paper and get the town buzzing, to liven up the New York scene.” Bolwell plans to emphasize hard news and breaking stories, to cover the arts, business and sports more fully, and aim the Post at “the entire middle class.” Despite Murdoch’s reputation for turning some of his papers into scandal sheets, Bolwell insists there is no such plan for the Post. Says he: “Rupert knows that schlock rags are not my bag. If he had wanted to turn the Post into a copy of his more sensational papers, he would have got someone with a different background. I am taking his word for it that he wants a lively but responsible paper.” Bolwell acknowledges that the changes could cause friction, but he says, “Running a newspaper is a little like conducting a symphony orchestra. Some people have to be badgered—and some coddled—to get the best out of them. And you have to stretch. Not to stretch is not to live. I am very competitive.”

First Union. The climate at the Village Voice last week appeared somewhere between troubled New York and the optimistic Post. Despite his announcement that all of Felker’s managing editors would be left in control of their periodicals, Murdoch tried to hire a new editor to oversee Voice Managing Editor Marianne Partridge. His choice: Michael Kramer, a New York alumnus and editor and publisher of the journalism review More. Partridge vehemently resisted, and so did the staff, and Kramer backed off. For the future, the highly individualistic staffers took a more concrete step: 120 out of 150 joined up with the paper’s first union, Local 65 of the Distributive Workers of America.

In California, New West Managing Editor Dick Adler quit in favor of Executive Editor Frank Lalli, but he characterized his staffs mood as “stunned equanimity.” The staff of New West, New York’s younger twin, had struck briefly the previous week in support of the New Yorkers, but they have decided to stay—in part because they want their magazine to survive and in part because Murdoch’s presence is much less immediate. “It’s expected that Murdoch will be something of an absentee landlord,” says one writer.

As for the main loser in the Murdoch drama, Editor Felker spent last week exploring possible new journalistic ventures and several offers of large-scale financial backing. He also declined what he called a “very alluring” job offer. In addition to $1.5 million for his shares in the New York Magazine Co. and a continuation of his old annual salary of $120,000 for three years, Felker won the right to start a new magazine, and he has already taken office space in the slightly rundown town house where New York began its independent existence nearly a decade ago. As a keepsake, he asked to buy the overstuffed Naugahyde sofas from his old office at New York magazine. Murdoch gave them to him.

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