City Paper is not for tourists
Totems of D.C.’s return to economic respectability are everywhere. A whole hemisphere of downtown seems to be under crane. Marginal properties are getting scooped up the day they hit the market. Local politicians are elbowing each other aside to hand cash back to long-suffering residents. But the surest sign has to be a distinctive silhouette on the horizon, scheduled to arrive next fall.
Bill Regardie, along with spouse and partner Renay, will launch Regardie’s Power in September. Regardie is nothing if not opportunisticmuch like the real estate developers whose money he used to build a magazine back in the heady mid-’80s. He had a great run, eventually producing a lush monthly that grew to several hundred pages and was a big part of the civic conversation the last time capital coursed through the capital. When the boom petered out, so did Regardie’s, in 1992, but not before the magazine published predictive work on the S&L crisis and kicked down the boardroom door on countless big local transactions. Under Editor Brian Kelly, Regardie’s was known as a honey pot for writers, granting them the freedom to do, well, just about any damn thing they pleased. Regardie himself reportedly took the ambient permissions of the ’80s seriously, and the magazine’s office had a reputation for chemically inspired rounds of putt-putt golf.
“Regardie’s managed to be unpredictable because Bill was. He would call you up about some ideayou name itand he would say, ‘Go and do it.’ To him, everythingeverythinghad a business angle,” says Alan Green, a writer at the Center for Public Integrity, who contributed stories on everything from rats to wrestlers during the magazine’s heyday.
A short-lived but well-turned relaunch edited by Richard Blow imploded after a year back in 1995. This time around, the magazine will be a bimonthly for the first yearmonthly thereafterand direct-mailed to 40,000 people who Regardie believes have some claim on the power (including 300 clergymen, just in case God isn’t already on his side).
“I have always liked the name ‘Power.’ Way back when Fortune magazine was created, the other remaining name on the table was ‘Power.’ My wife and I are peddlers, and we wanted something new and improved,” says Regardie.
The RegardiesRenay will serve as publisher, and Bill is designated editor in chiefpulled in a lot of cash by selling two companies: a housing data company and a guide to new homes. But they don’t plan on spending it all in one place. The start-up spreads the risk over a small group of investors, who each bought in for $100,000 a share. The magazine will be a distant cousin of its creamy progenitor, which was excessively art-directed before being poured onto the best paper stock money could buy. Regardie’s Power will come on paper identical to what the New Yorker usesserviceable, but no local version of Vanity Fair. The cement trucks full of excess dollars that developers lavished on the original are nowhere in sight this time around.
“There are no vacancies in this city, and most of the suburbs are full as well,” says Regardie. “They don’t need to advertise. We are going to be looking into business-service advertising, tech companies, computer stores, things that businesses need to do business.”
Regardie’s Power enters a cluttered magazine rack of local titles. Washingtonian, oft maligned as editorially malnourished, remains a big, fat marketing juggernaut. The attenuating Capital Style, which was reportedly scrambling for ads way past its last deadline, is looking for some of the same dollars from the same power players. And a new entrant, Washington Business Forward, just produced its inaugural issue. With 50 pages of service-intensive business journalism and very little in the way of ads, it doesn’t represent much of a threat in its present form.
“One thing that I learned is never to underestimate a competitor, especially a young kid,” says the 58-year-old Regardie.
The kid in question is Jeremy Brosowsky, the 25-year-old publisher of Business Forward, who previously worked in investment research in New York. Brosowsky says the new magazine is funded by “everything I have, plus family and friends and a syndicate of investors who believe in what I am doing.”
“I don’t know exactly what Mr. Regardie is planning,” says Brosowsky, “but I think it’s a very exciting time to be putting out a business magazine in Washington. I know that he had a lot of success in the ’80s and is very well-connected. All we can do is worry about our back yard and put out the best damn magazine we can on a month-to-month basis.” Brosowsky tapped Eamon Javers, former senior editor of The Hill, as editor.
Eric Felton, an editorial writer at the Washington Times and a regular contributor to the Weekly Standard, the National Journal, and the Wall Street Journal, will edit Regardie’s Power. “I picked Eric because I think he is a beautiful writer, and we are planning on making this a beautifully written book. Just because you are covering money, power, and greed doesn’t mean you have to be dull and boring,” Regardie says. Rather than cranking biz infobits like Business Forward, he says his magazine will adopt something akin to New York magazine’s approach, using characters and narratives to tell stories that have business implications.
Unfortunately for Regardie, the titans-at-war personalities of mid-’80s Washington have been replaced by a quieter, techier bunchsuburbanites less interested in earning a caricature at the Palm than getting noticed by Wall Street. “This is a perfect time for Regardie to get going, but I think it’s going to be a tough road,” says one longtime D.C. publishing observer. “The business community isn’t really local anymore. It’s both more atomized and more global than it used to be. The core of personalities is gone, and a lot of the good narratives are gone with them. This isn’t two guys sitting in a room trying to rip each other off any more. These are nerds who are working with play money from Wall Street, and it’s tough to tell whether they will lend themselves to good storytelling and good journalism.”
Is That a TEC-9 Under Your Trench Coat, or Are You Just Mad to See Me? Any time grown-ups get into the taxonomy of adolescents, all caveats apply. The Washington Post’s exercise in applied anthropology on the cliques at Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County last Thursday made Drew Barrymore’s Never Been Kissed reporter-in-high-school character look like a model of analytic rigor. After ominously pointing out that the disenfranchised at Paint Branch favor trench coats and meet on a spot of ground dubbed “the Dead Zone,” writers Scott Wilson and Raja Mishra drilled into the school’s social strata. “Among them are Preppies and Yos (students who favor ‘gansta’ fashions and music), Jocks and Trenchies. There are Headbangers who favor heavy metal music, Skaters who are partial to skateboards, Techies who man the drama department’s backstage crews, Nerds and honor studentsall part of an array of irregular social groups that operate beneath the school’s more formal network of school-sanctioned clubs.”
I’m just guessing here, but a Skatebanger would probably be a kid who listens to Metallica while rolling down the sidewalk.
Teen self-selection into groups predates the Socs and Greasers in The Outsiders, but the conventions of reporting make it seem more silly and menacing than it probably isespecially in an overheated media climate where things like eyeliner or trench coats become signifiers of imminent mayhem. “We have outcasts,” worried one Paint Branch cheerleader in the Post. “A lot of those shot [in Colorado] were in popular groups. So what if we are targeted? I don’t think any Trenchies want to hang around with Poms or cheerleaders. We just don’t mix.”
Dave Stein, a math teacher at the school, claims that some of the groups Post writer Wilson talked about operate below just about everybody’s radar at Paint Branchincluding the kids he teaches.
“I walked into my first-period class the next day, and 20 kids had it out,” says Stein. “They were saying that they couldn’t believe it….He was making up groups and conflicts that don’t exist. To the kids’ credit, they were not angry at each otherthey were angry at the reporter. I think that, in the current climate, to draw differences between kids and pit them against each other was pouring gas on a fire.”
Fred Lowenbach, principal of the school, thought that Wilson and Mishra told a true story, as far as it went. “What he wrote was not wrong, just out of balance,” says Lowenbach. “He could have reflected a broader range of opinion….The kids he quoted are not bad kids, but they may not be the ones who feel the most connected to the school.”
Covering schools, especially the components of them that are not visible on the syllabus, is a challenging assignment, and schools don’t generally like the coverage no matter what its intent. It’s the nature of the reporting experience that the loudest and the most knuckleheaded students are overrepresented because they give the most dynamic quotes. Washington City Paper has taken its share of hits from both kids and parents who thought that the paper’s coverage of their school had been dumb or even evil. Post Maryland Editor Ashley Halsey was proud of the Post’s Paint Branch story, even if the subjects weren’t entirely pleased.
“I think what we wrote about is well-known to everyone in that high school or almost any similar high school. What we did may have worried some parents who have a mistaken, idealized version of the school that their kids are attending,” says Halsey.
Wilson, who spent four days reporting the story, says he is absolutely convinced that he got it right: “It is a snapshot of a school, much of it from the parking lot, where kids are talking outside the influence of adults. This was a view from one particular angle, and I believe it was an accurate view, true to what I saw.”
All Hat, No Cowboy A colleague suggested to me that “two-part series” may be three of the most boring words in the English language. Two days’ worth of column inches can exact a price, and former Post Managing Editor Robert Kaiser’s stories on Sunday and Monday about conservative Richard Scaife didn’t give a lot in return. In spite of the fact that both stories were played on Page One with lots of marginalia and database hoo-hah suggesting Big Project, it read like a clip job and failed to shine interesting light on the most moneyed artifact of the quickly aging New Right.
Perhaps out of vestigial fealty to the Kaiser, the project was well-received inside the shop. Six people I called thought it was a fine use of space. “It’s something we should have done a while ago,” says one Postie, “but I’m glad we got around to it. It is one of those things that takes a lot of time and numerical effort and computer work, all to tell you what you already knew.” To wit: The conspiracy that Clintonites froth about is well-funded, but not well-organized.
Kaiser reported that over a period of four decades, Scaife has poured $340 million into creating a counterweight to those pesky liberal interest groups. Worthy subject, but when you spend that much space, you shouldn’t deploy used ink. Scaife’s flaws and accomplishments have been amply covered by Joe Conason in both Salon and the Observer, in addition to the huge piece he published in Penthouse after it was killed out of U.S. News & World Report under James Fallows.
“I was surprised that Kaiser failed to advance the story, but it’s not the first time that I have seen a daily paper pretend to discover that the world is round,” says Conason.
The Post is knee-deep in the conceit of “not found here,” which means that reinventing the wheel is just as good as inventing itas long as it has the right brand name on the side. But not everybody at the Post is cheering. “I think it was definitely emeritus prerogative,” says another staffer. “Nobody is going to say no to Bob on his first time reporting since he was managing editor.” Kaiser deserves credit for keeping cant out of his profile of Scaife and dispassionately diagramming the Scaife mystique. But it seems a little late to be peeling back the covers on the vast right-wing jihad three months after its Holy Grailthat would be the head of Bill Clintonproved elusive.
Wilson Bridge Is Not Falling Down The specter of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge falling into the Potomac and forcing trucks all over the region’s secondary roads undergirds the notion that a new 12-lane bridge has to be built ASAP. But earlier this week, the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge held a press conference to argue that all of the Chicken Littles are wrongthe bridge has structural integrity and will continue to bear traffic, including heavy trucks, into the foreseeable future.
The coalition’s announcement merited a short in the Washington Times and nothing in the Post. You’d think the group would have a little more credibility after bringing the bridge project to a halt by getting federal Judge Stanley Sporkin to rule last month that the process approving the massive new bridge was flawed. “The Post is an establishment newspaper, and there is a strong belief among the establishment that we need a wider bridge. Reporters have been reluctant to go beyond that,” says Bert Ely, legislative chair of the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge.
The Post editorial page went bonkers in the wake of Sporkin’s decision, suggesting that the traffic snafus created by any delay will make Y2K seem like a speed bump. The folks who work there might want to take a little mental health break by taking a peek at what the bridge’s hometown newspaper has to say. This week’s Alexandria Journal quoted the chief structure and bridge engineer of the Virginia Department of Transportation saying that there are no plans to ban truck traffic from the bridge.
Thanks for That “Washington Is a Hometown to Many”headline on the cover of the Metro section of the Washington Times this past Wednesday. David Carr
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