The editorial staff of New York magazine walked off the job on masses today to protest attempts by Australian publishing baron Rupert Murdoch to take over the publication.
The writers and editors of New York, which has a circulation of 375,000 and an estimated readership of 1.5 million nationally, said they will never accept Murdoch's financial and editorial control of the magazine.
The walkout by 125 employees heightened tensions in a simmering and increasingly bitter power struggle between Murdoch, who already has acquired what he claims is a controlling interest in the magazine's parent company, and Clay S. Felker, the founding editor and publisher, who has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block Murdoch's takeover.
Felker today disassociated himself from the walkout, urging his employees to return to work at least until the completion of a scheduled hearing in U.S. District Court Friday on the legality of Murdoch's acquisition of a majority share of stock in the New York Magazine Co., which also publishes The Village Voice and California's New West magazine.
But staff members of New York staged their walkout just an hour before the magazine's art production deadline, thereby killing any chance that New York would be published next week.
"We're striking against the sale of the magazine and the way the whole situation was handled by the directors and Mr. Murdoch," said Ken Auletta, a contributing editor.
"We want Clay Felker to maintain editorial and publishing control of the magazine. This man [Felker] put together the talent of the magazine, until someone who has had the good fortune of being born rich, unlike Felker, came in and took it over - like we were part of the furniture," Auletta said.
He and other staff writers said the walkout was based upon "individual" decisions arising out of "growing frustration" over Murdoch's apparently successful efforts to control the magazine company.
The writers and editors reiterated their complaints about Murdoch's brand of journalism, which they said stresses sex and sensationalism in the old-fashioned manner of tabloid engaged in newsstand circulation wars.
Murdoch publishes 84 journals in Australia, Great Britain and the United States, including the sensational Sun and News of the World in London, the flashy, crime-oriented Express in San Antonio and the 1.4-million-circulation National Star. He also publishes the relatively sedate national newspaper, The Australian, and scores of traditional suburban newspapers in England and Australia. He recently bought The New York Post.
The New York staff members met at the magazine's Second Avenue offices for an hour this morning, and walked out at noon - just an hour before the normal "closing" deadline for the publication.
At the order of U.S. District Court Judge Thomas P. Griesa, Felker and Murdoch met for 1 1/2 hours at Felker's lawyers' offices to discuss the dispute. The meeting broke up at 7:30 p.m. After the meeting, both refused to comment, citing Griesa's order against any party's making public statements about the case.
Lawyers said both men will appear at a court hearing scheduled for Friday before Griesa, who will hear arguments on Felker's request for a permanent injunction against Murdoch's acquisition of a 24 per cent share of the company stock from City Councilman Carter Burden.
Murdoch claims that he has purchased enough stock from other shareholders, including several directors of the company, to hold a controlling interest in the firm. However, that assertion is being disputed by Felker.
Auletta and art director Walter Bernard claimed that the walkout was 90 per cent effective in both the commercial and editorial offices of New York. The two floors occupied by the staff at 755 Second Avenue were all but deserted this afternoon, and incessanntly ringing telephones went unanswered.
Bernard explained that once the editorial production deadline had been missed, similar deadlines for advertising and other departments could not be met, and the magazine would have to skip Monday's issue.
The staff had prepared a cover story on Murdoch for the week's issue, with a color caricature of the Australian publisher done by artist David Levine. On Wednesday night, staffers said, Felker killed the cover, substituting instead a cover article on the current trend in bartering of services.
Auletta said Felker killed the Murdoch cover with an explanation that it represented an "abuse of journalistic power."
The hour-long staff meeting of the magazine, which is not covered by a union contract, was described by staff members as "a free form expression of opinion, with no votes taken." Staffers said that one writer Jon Bradshaw, walked into the closed meeting with copies of Murdoch's London Sun and News of the World, saying "Look at these. These are two of his London papers."
Staff members said that the purpose of the walkout - which some conceded was "symbolic" in that the workers might return as soon as Friday - was to pressure Murdoch into either selling his interest or giving Felker complete editorial and publishing control, including control over budgetary matters.
Sources close to Murdoch in his News Limited Publishing firm said it was not realistic to expect either option to be accepted.
Auletta acknowledged as much, saying, "Mr. Murdoch has made it clear he wants publishing control, and as parliament long ago taught the king of England, he who controls the money controls the government.
In Los Angeles, Larry Dietz, editor of New West magazine, said his staff was still working because it had been asked by the New York staff not to walk out. The Village Voice staff announced it will hold a meeting Sunday to vote on a course of action. Monday is the day of their publication's production deadline.