Vanity Un-Fair?

Watson's latest dispatches from Kosovo have been more surreal than grotesque. An April 2 story describes four mechanics preparing to steal "a foreign journalist's armored Land Rover" by ripping out the ignition, "which they replaced with their own rather than simply ask for the keys."

Watson's April 5 dispatch evokes what it's like "being through the looking glass" in Kosovo, where nothing is as it seems. While a top Serb official tells him that Serb police are protecting the home of Ibrahim Rugova, the elected leader of the Kosovo Albanians, NATO claims that the police actually have Rugova under house arrest. More doublespeak: Watson writes that in Pristina, "forced deportations" are "officially escorted evacuations, and thug justice is law and order." Last Sunday, he wrote omi-nously, he was picked up by police and questioned at the central police station.


Reporting 101

Which is nobler: to stay in Kosovo reporting on Serb atrocities, or to save your butt by fleeing the country? Last week, a group of war correspondents hashed out that dilemma at a panel sponsored by the Center for Communication and New York University's School of Journalism.

They had fascinating stories to tell, but it seems that some budding journalists have already ruled out the Hemingway paradigm, perhaps hoping that journalism in the new millennium will place a higher value on creativity than on reporting from the trenches. The following conversation took place before the panel began, when a young man chatted up the woman sitting next to him.

"I need someone to take notes for me," he coaxed. "I'm such a poor reporter."

"Oh, I'm a good reporter, but not a very good writer," she cooed.

"Once I made up a story— "

"For Features?" piped up a young man in the row ahead.

"Yeah. The teacher liked it so much, she said I should submit it to the Times and if they reject it, send it to the Daily News." Our young hero had his colleagues' attention, and his tone grew ever more didactic. "Either you make it up or . . . one time, I was at an event. This woman said something really great, but I didn't get her name, so I attributed it to someone else." He went on to praise his colleague for a piece she had published recently, even though it had angered the subject.

"You were tough. But you were fair, right? You're a reporter," he shrugged. "People are going to get mad at you."

Mitchell Stephens, acting chairman of New York University's Department of Journalism, said he was not aware of any incident of fabrication that fit the young man's description. "Could I guarantee that this sort of thing has never happened? I can't," he told the Voice. "Do we preach that this sort of thing is unacceptable? We do— repeatedly, forcefully, obsessively. This department is as tough as any journalism program or newsroom on the subject of piping quotes, or, God forbid, making up stories."


Smugger

Who is he in café society? That's the question New York magazine's Michael Wolff asks about New York Press publisher Russ Smith this week.

Smith, a/k/a "Mugger," is definitely an outsider. But he gives the impression that he's a small-town guy who wants to make an honest living exposing the high rollers. The article recounts how Smith grew up "in a working-class family," launched the City Paper in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and then sold both for $3 million before launching the Press.

According to Wolff, Smith invested $4.5 million in the Press, which resembled a "vanity-publishing" proposition until it "broke even" in 1995.

If Wolff thinks the Press is a financial "success," he doesn't tell us about Smith's investors or his profit margin. He does write that Smith is "reluctant to admit that his brothers have helped him." And in recent "Mugger" columns, Smith has let on that his family recently moved into a new loft. What neither of them has reported is that Smith now lives in a co-op building at the corner of Hudson and Duane streets, where apartments go for no less than $1 million.

Mugger, who's paying the bills?

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