Russ Smith Either Did or Did Not Rape the 'Press'

Just as we were hoping. Publishing part of quit/fired former New York Press columnist Matt Taibbi's broadsides at the paper's founder, Russ Smith, yesterday elicited impassioned responses. It's clear now that Smith is, as Taibbi charged, responsible for the evisceration of the paper. Or else it's clear that he's not.

This email showed up first:

First and foremost, Russ loves his New York Press. It is his life, not so much because of the money, because there is no money in the Press, but because he feels passionately about good writing and ideas — left or right. His decision to sell the New York Press after 9-11 was not an easy decision. If anything he gave the business away and provided financing for the buyer, Avalon. All he wanted was the opportunity to continue writing for the New York Press and to be involved.

But then we heard from quit/ousted former Press editor Jeff Koyen, who, on the way out his South Korean door to go buy some fresh dogmeat — he called that a "half-joking" statement, and we're not sure which half — rattled off these facts, which he notes are approximate:

• As part of the agreement selling the Press to Avalon, Russ Smith earned $50,000 for 2003, plus benefits, in exchange for 48 1,800-word columns.
• The column could not be killed or even edited. (The latter prohibition Koyen & Co. ignored when necessary.)
• In 2004, Koyen managed to get Smith down to something like 1,200 words per column, reducing his payment to $35,000.
• Meantime, the publishers of the paper maintained a roughly $100,000 debt to unpaid writers and artists.

It's far too end-of-August for us to attempt to sort out such things — well, except that the Press has royally fucked over its freelancers; there's no disagreement on that — so we simply present them for your perusal. And if you haven't perused enough, you'll find the complete pro-Smith email, replete with compliments of Koyen and a nice dig at new editor Harry Siegel — after the jump.

Matt is a terrific writer — original, obnoxious and hilarious. But his characterization of Russ Smith is misleading.

First and foremost, Russ loves his New York Press. It is his life, not so much because of the money, because there is no money in the Press, but because he feels passionately about good writing and ideas - left or right. His decision to sell the New York Press after 9-11 was not an easy decision. If anything he gave the business away and provided financing for the buyer, Avalon. All he wanted was the opportunity to continue writing for the New York Press and to be involved.

What happened in the last few years since Avalon took over was a lesson in greed and just poor management. The debt incurred by NYP was not the result of Russ; it was the result of incompetent people who were just sloppy. Jeff Koyen did a heck of a job trying to put the pieces together in a period when writers and vendors were threatening to sue daily. He unfortunately was a scapegoat. Granted he was young, but he would have developed into one heck of an editor given more time.

To say that Russ was collecting paychecks while his writers were starving is bullshit. First and foremost, Russ doesn't need the Press. He has his own money from other sources. His salary was more a formality than of substance — it was a pittance like everyone else at the Press. Matt's statement that writers were not paid for a year is untrue. Writers were paid, but they were paid late. Many complaints by writers of non-payment were for old work, not the current work.

Matt is correct in saying that the Press did not invest enought in marketing. In fact, the Press missed a golden opportunity during a stretch when readership and interest skyrocketed. Instead of investing in the marketing side of the business, they started cutting costs when advertising sales didn't come in as planned for the week. It was the short-term, week-by-week thinking that turned the tide against the paper. We can only hope that New York Press retains its iconoclastic roots and not be turned into a boring piece of shit paper run by kids trying to impress his high school teacher.

Earlier:
Taibbi: Press Was Mugged
Jeff Koyen's Exit Interview