Tina walks tall as `New Yorker' chief falls

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The Independent Online
THE New Yorker should do an article about it. Intrigue, paranoia and plotting inside one of the world's most heavyweight literary weeklies as it struggles to find a path, at last, to profitability. Tina Brown, the British-born editor, may balk at such a commission, however, because the magazine is her own.

The latest twists in the New Yorker chronicles - we had barely recovered from last week's revelations about a decades-long affair between house reporter Lillian Ross and former editor and legend, William Shawn - occurred at the weekend. They were cleverly timed to coincide with Memorial Day, when most of Manhattan's gossip-mongers were out of town setting up their Hamptons lairs for the summer season.

But when the president of the magazine, no less, is summarily bagged, any hope of evading coverage was always foolish. Especially when it is a "rich man, poor man" tale of one brother firing another.

The victim was Tom Florio, 41, who has been nudged aside by his elder sibling and boss, Steven Florio, 49. The elder Florio is chief executive of Conde Nast Publications, itself a unit of Advance Publications, whose owner is SI Newhouse. The move reflects the continuing frustration felt by Mr Newhouse that 13 years after buying the New Yorker for $168m, he still has not seen a dime in profit from it.

While Advance, which recently sold Random House publishing to Bertelsmann of Germany, is tight-lipped about its finances, the New Yorker is believed still to be losing about $1m a month. This is much less than the losses of the recent past, but it is still an embarrassment for Tom Florio who, in each of the past four years, has publicly predicted that profits at the title were just around the corner.

Part of the problem can be traced to the lavish sums paid to writers by Ms Brown, wife of the former Sunday Times editor Harry Evans. At $35m, her annual editorial budget is enough to make most others in the trade fall over with envy. And then there are the promotional events and parties. Until his ousting last December as chief of Random House, only Mr Evans could outdo Ms Brown for hosting glam soirees for New York's literary lovelies.

Tina Brown seems herself to be secure. We know this, in part, because of recent choice leaks about the impending move of all the Conde Nast publications, including the New Yorker, into a new office tower under construction on Times Square. To the fury of many, Ms Brown's magazine has been allocated not just two floors of its own, but the top two floors.

Asked last week to defend the digs being granted Ms Brown, Steve Florio quipped: "They are where they deserve to be, closer to Heaven".

Other Conde Nast egos have been bruised, however. Among those said to be unhappy about the lift-button pecking order are Graydon Carter and Anna Wintour, the commanders-in-chief, respectively, of Vanity Fair and Vogue.

One other choice feature awaited in the Conde Nast tower: a fourth-floor canteen conceived by architect Frank Gehry, a man slightly more famous for his new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. "Pretty impressive", said one insider who has seen the plans. "It looks like you have to get dressed up to go there".

Ms Brown has reason to be confident. Since being moved by Mr Newhouse from Vanity Fair to the New Yorker six years ago, she has achieved a nearly one-third increase in its circulation, to about 808,000.

The let-down has been advertising; and that was Mr Florio's department. The all-important tally of advertising pages at the weekly has reportedly slipped by 2.3 per cent this year, and that during a time of economic boom. That compares poorly with advertising growth achieved at some of the magazine's Manhattan peers.

But profit, clearly, is what Advance wants from the New Yorker. Considerable savings are already being made thanks to a recent, controversial decision to fold the magazine into the wider Conde Nast empire to cut costs on back-room activities like promotion and production. And, just this month, Ms Brown has had to acquiesce to a half-inch reduction in page width, which alone should save $500,000.

It will now fall to Mr Florio's chosen successor, David Carey, previously publisher of Conde Nast's House and Garden, to see if he can manage what has eluded his predecessors: turning the grand old magazine of writing into a publication that can make a grand - or several.

Lillian Ross, meanwhile, will be in the spotlight for some time to come. Her story of a 40-year affair with Mr Shawn is detailed in her new book, Here but Not Here: My Life with Willam Shawn and the `New Yorker'.