The editorial staffs of New York and New West magazines today threatened to strike unless the directors of the New York Magazine Co. put off a decision to sell a controling interest to Australian publisher Rupert Murdoch.
The threatened strike added a new dimension to what already has become a power struggle in New York's turbulent publishing industry.
Murdoch, who last month took over the New York Post for a reported $30 million, outbid The Washington Post Co. over the weekend by offering to buy the New York Magazine Co., which publishes New York magazine, New West in California and the Village Voice here, for close to $15 million.
The deal would hinge on Murdoch's offer to purchase a 24 per cent interest held by City Councilman Carter Burden.
Murdoch said he plans to advance a tender offer of $8.25 a share to purchase the remaining publishing company stock within 120 days, thereby gaining control of the three publications.
The tranaction, however, has been held up by a lawsuit brought by Clay S. Felker, founding president and publisher of New York magazine, who is attempting to block the purchase by Murdoch of 425,452 shares of stock held by Burden, who is the largest single stockholder in the commpany.
The directors of New York Magazine Co. scheduled a meeting for tonight on whether to approve the transfer to Murdoch of a second block of stock, held by Burden's former campaign manager Bartle Bull, or to exercise the board's option of first refusal of the deal.
Shortly before 8 p.m., two directors, James Q. Wilson and Mary Joan Glynn, emerged from the meeting and said that they had been removed from the board at Murdoch's request.
Wilson, a Harvard University professor, said Murdoch presented to the directors a statement asserting he owned more than 50 per cent of the company and that he wanted the 12-member board to be reconstituted. The board, according to Wilson, voted 6-to-5 with one abstention, to accept Murdoch's assertion on its face and remove Wilson and Glynn.
Earlier today, a federal judge refused to lift or extend his restraining order against the sale of Burden's 24 per cent interest in the company.
Felker had obtained the restraining order on the basis of a "right of first refusal" stockholders agreement; the 1974 agreement between Burden and Felker, who owns 10 per cent of the company, gave each party the right to match any stock purchase offer by a third party.
While Felker contended that Burden violated the agreement by rejecting an offer by The Washington Post Co. of $7.50 a share, Burden maintained that the pact was nullified as of the end of they year.
While the legal wrangling over the various stock transfers continued, most of the editorial staff members of New York magazine gathered at its Second Avenue office and attepted to apply pressure on Murdoch from another direction.
Byron Dobell, managing editor, and Richard Reeves, contributing editor and principal political writer said that a "work stoppage" will begin Tuesday morning unless the company's directors postpone their approval of the stock sale.
"Why must any decision related to the transfer of control be made tonight?" Dobell asked.
"We are faced with a sudden transfer of control of this magazine - the flagship of the company - to a foreign publishing conglomerate controlled by a man whose journalistic approach appears alien to us, and whose committment to our city is untested," Dobell said.
The two editors asked, "Is there any reasonable argument to be made against waiting for at least 10 days? . . . Why not wait at least that long so you (the directors) can consider far more acceptable buyers, such as The Washington Post, which has already made a competitive offer?"
The editors, who said they were speaking for 57 staff members, added, "We are the people who write, edit and design New York magazine. We are the talent package that is being bartered . . . We are New York and New West magazines and we will not permit our work to be sold capriciously."
The spokesmen, who were suported at the news conference by several dozen editorial staffers, criticized what they termed Murdoch's "Saturday night special offer," referring to the Australian publisher's counterproposal to Burden over the weekend that led to the purchase agreement.
The staff members expressed fears over Murdoch's newspaper format, which in some tabloids he has acquired feature large doses of sex and sensationalism.
Among the most flamboyant of these is the London Daily Sun, which features full-page nude pinup pictures and the San Antonio Express and News, which routinely runs sensational headlines over stories of questionable substance.
"I don't know anything about 'killer bees' or photographing of girls on the beach of Australia," Reeves said, referring to the Murdoch's papers cheesecake photos and a San Antonio News story warning of the migration of dangerous bees.
Reeves also said he had talked with Felker and said the publisher "does not find Mr. Murdoch compatible." Reeves said, in response to reports that Murdoch had agreed to make Burden chairman of the company, that the staff feels that Burden is "not administratively competent" to run the magazines.
Felker said today he intends to continue to "fight and fight as hard as I can to keep what we have built from being in anyway.
"I am assured that my legal position is strong and I confidently expect to win the legal battle which will prevent Mr. Murdoch from taking over this company," Felker said.
"If I am allowed to purchase these shares, it is my intention to sell to The Washington Post Co.," Felker said in a statement.
Alan Finberg, vice president of The Washington Post Co., said Friday night that the bid to buy New York magazine "has ended unsuccessfully" as far as he is concerned. Sources in The Post Co., said tonight that the situation has not changed.
Murdoch appeared at the director's meeting tonight and told reporters that he hoped to convince Felker and the editorial staffs to remain under his ownership.
"We put a lot of money up and I'm going to have to back it and make this magazine better . . . certainly I will not change it radically, but will build on the base that is there now," Murdoch said.
A Justice Department spokesman said yesterday that the department had no plans to inquire into whether the purchase involved any possible conflicts with federal anti-trust laws.