American Pie 09.09.04

 

 

 

 

One of the most unusual publishing company headquarters in the world – the university campus-like offices of Reader’s Digest just outside New York – is up for sale. The ivycovered buildings, from which what was once the world’s biggest selling magazine has been published since 1939, is expected to be sold for around $25m – that’s almost 50 times what Dewitt Wallace and his wife, Lila, paid for the property in the appropriately named township of Pleasantville. Ultimately the magazine had some 50 million subscribers. Its office, unlike any other, included a 400-seat auditorium, a five-bedroom guesthouse built in 1850, and a huge collection of art. Although there are still paintings dotting the corridors, the art sale was prompted by the difficult times the company began to experience, brought on largely by the crackdown on the circulation sweepstakes on which the Digest thrived. Its workforce dwindled from 7,000 to just over 800. The new owners of the property are going to let the magazine company remain, as a tenant, in about a third of the property.

Another famous publishing building is changing roles. The old offices of the New York Herald Tribune, just off Times Square, will soon be the headquarters of New York City University’s school of journalism.

Ironically, the NY Times, its arch-rival in the old days, will shortly be moving into new offices almost next door. Still intact in the building is the office of the Trib’s publisher, John Hay (“Jock”) Whitney. Old-timers recall the day when Whitney, a former US ambassador in London, was given his first tour of the building he had bought.

Afterwards sports writer Red Smith took him to a nearby pub, a former speakeasy unofficially known to generations of journalists as Bleek’s, after its owner John Bleek. Looking around the pub, crowded with newsmen, many more than he had seen on his tour of the newsroom, Whitney was heard to comment: “Maybe I should have bought the bar instead.”

Not since the Oscars have journalists and official guests been so loaded down with booty as those attending the Republican Party convention in New York. All courtesy of companies and organisations sponsoring the nightly round of parties, dinners and other festivities that punctuated the official meetings.

Some newspapers were uncomfortable with the amount of loot reporters brought back to their offices. But few went so far as the editors at The Miami Herald who ruled that from now until election day in November, no-one can attend such things as fundraising concerts and parties unless they are assigned to cover the event. The feeling is that money raised by such events, many supported by Hollywood and showbiz celebrities, are a backdoor way of supporting political candidates and are tantamount to making a political contribution.

How do you say Mr Mayor in Arabic? That’s what TheWashington Post asked after talking with Stephen Claypole, a former Evening News correspondent, who revealed that Rudy Giuliani, New York’s former feisty mayor, was once under consideration to be Mayor of Baghdad. Claypole, who worked for the US general who headed the occupation in Iraq, was, he claims, privy to the plan. It was an idea, he said, that “rattled around” for a couple of days and then “disappeared into the ether”. Aides to Giuliani insisted they had never heard of the idea. As one put it: “He’s been offered every sort of job – except manager of the NY Yankees.”

Jeffrey Blyth

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