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Memo Pad:Timing Is Everything…In Distinction?

<b>TIMING IS EVERYTHING:</b> In an expected move, The New York Times announced on Monday that it had named <b>Bill Keller</b> as executive editor. His predecessor, <b>Howell Raines,</b> was ousted six weeks ago after a newsroom revolt broke out in the...

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: In an expected move, The New York Times announced on Monday that it had named Bill Keller as executive editor. His predecessor, Howell Raines, was ousted six weeks ago after a newsroom revolt broke out in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal at the paper.

This story first appeared in the July 15, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Keller will take over from his former boss and current interim editor Joseph Lelyveld on July 30. In Keller, an op-ed columnist and contributor to the New York Times magazine since September 2001 and the managing editor before that, the paper will get another left-leaning, if less flashy and less vituperative editor than Raines.

The lack of flash is a source of relief at the Times, where Raines’ star system virtually destroyed morale.

Still, it was not all good news at the paper. On Monday, the Times printed an extraordinary 2,178-word correction on a business story written last week by Lynette Holloway, a media reporter. In the correction, the Times admitted that the piece’s entire premise was flawed and contained numerous inaccuracies.

“It is not another Jayson Blair, but it does raise some of the same issues,” said a veteran Times reporter familiar with Holloway’s work.

“Her reputation in the department was not good,” said the source. “Many reporters did not want to work with her because her mistakes seemed to arise from a lack of understanding. She was just sort of out it, and [her editor] Lorne Manly f***ed up seriously. With her track record, you’d think that there would have been doublechecks. It was a giant complicated story about a legal proceeding. There were all kinds of red flags.”

Like Blair, the reporter who resigned after being accused of plagiarism, Holloway is black and the paper has been criticized sharply by conservative news outlets for its aggressive promotion of minority journalists, despite other recent ethical breaches at the Times — among them Rick Bragg’s and Michael Finkel’s — in which the reporters were white.

Times sources said that Holloway’s correction rate had been fairly low but there had been some concern about her reporting since she moved to the media desk in the fall of 2002 from the education beat.

At the end of March, a Holloway story was published on the front page of the business section about Madonna, saying that the diva “may be looking at the final stages of a long career.”

The premise was not entirely off base. Madonna’s upcoming album, “American Life,” which had not yet been released, was already being poorly received. But the execution of the piece was problematic and the Times published a correction that only began to acknowledge what was wrong with the story.

“The article misstated total lifetime worldwide sales for Madonna’s CD’s and other music products,” the correction stated. “According to her spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, they are at least $2 billion, not $200 million.”

Other innacurracies in the piece were not corrected and in a separate story written four weeks before that, Holloway misquoted a record executive from EMI saying that the label was shipping four million copies of British pop star Robbie Williams’ new album in the U.S. alone, when the label was actually shipping four million worldwide, except for the U.S. and Japan.

Reached for comment Monday, Holloway said the error was just a typo. But to others, it was embarrassing partly because it was so obvious. As one veteran music journalist said, “I doubt that you’d even ship four million copies of ’NSync. The general rule of thumb is that you ship twice as many copies as you expect to sell in the first week.”

Some sources also suggested Holloway may have been manipulated by her interview subjects, in particular former Sony music executive Tommy Mottola, who was ousted in January.

In December, the Times ran a puff piece by Holloway discussing Mottola’s success marketing Jennifer Lopez to the R & B community. The piece was not inaccurate, but it only told half the story. Aside from Lopez, the label had a terrible track record in the urban market, a factor that was cited frequently in press reports as a reason for his dismissal.

A New York Times spokeswoman declined comment on whether she would be disciplined. Asked about the role of race in Holloway’s career, the spokeswoman said, “We employ many reporters and we want our paper to reflect the diversity of voices that are among our audience.” — Jacob Bernstein

IN-DISTINCTION?: Four years after their bosses marred Los Angeles Times’ reputation with a secret advertorial deal, the editorial staff there is once again “up in arms,” against the paper’s publishing execs, according to several reporters and editors, this time over the new lifestyle glossy Distinction premiering this September.

The reason for their no-holds-barred angst: Distinction’s edit staff reports to the advertising department. In a July 1 memo obtained by WWD to Times employees from Ray McCutcheon, senior vice president of advertising, the new luxury mag — with a mailing list of 50,000 affluent households and 5,000 more going to select newsstands and upscale retailers, spas and hotels — was touted as the first product of Angeles Publications, a new division of Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, and stresses that Distinction “is a separately and independently written and edited publication” from the paper and “will report to the advertising marketing department of the Los Angeles Times.”

This last detail is missing from a letter also obtained by WWD and going out to publicists, signed by Distinction editor Laurie Pike. It does, however, note its connections to the paper.

And Distinction publisher Jane Kahn told Mediapost.com last week: “The credibility of the L.A. Times organization is a big selling point.”

“What’s so distressing is they’re out there trading on the editorial integrity of the L.A.Times — which we just won back after the Staples debacle,” roared one veteran editor, referring to the 1999 fiasco in which the Los Angeles Times Magazine was discovered to have a profit-sharing deal with the Staples Center sports arena, prompting a public relations nightmare over ethics and credibility and an internal revolt among hundreds of editorial staffers.

Regardless of the Staples incident, a sweeping change of the magazine is expected as part of the company’s editorial overhaul in the next year, but sources are uncertain of exactly what and when.

“No matter how much [company executives] say it’s a different company, it’s under the aegis of the L.A. Times, the public doesn’t understand the distinction,” insists one high-profile features editor, echoing her co-workers.

Also creating discord is the Distinction advisory board, also listed in the letter, which includes the city’s It players Kelly Werstler, Jacqui Getty, Tracee Ellis Ross, Cameron Silver and Tatiana von Furstenberg. Vintage guru Silver of Decades was at the couture in Paris last week covering the shows for Distinction, as reported. Asked about the fuzzy possibility of an advertising influence, two board members replied similarly: “How is that any different from fashion magazines?” Both added that they agreed to participate based on their friendship with Pike and her “journalistic integrity.”

For her part, Pike understands why her co-workers might be distressed. But Pike, a former Times newspaper and magazine contributor, is adamant about her role. “Distinction is absolutely not an advertorial magazine. There has been no butting in from advertising as far as what I’m covering editorially. No one is coming in telling me ‘You have to put Louis Vuitton in the fashion story.’ This is a real magazine. I have a very independent, journalistic background and I think people know it.”

What she has been asked to do is stay away from Times writers. “My writers contribute to the New York Times and Vanity Fair,” she continued.

“We’re very serious about quality and integrity. Once you see the magazine, you’ll know what it is and it’s going to blow everybody away.”— Rose Apodaca Jones