S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 14 October 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


 
    Mark Willes


 

Investing the phrase "egg on your face" with rich, new significance, Suck is proud to announce the recipients of its first annual Evil Genius Grants. Over the next 10 days, the Suck EGG honorees, as selected by Suck's blue ribbon panel of experts, will be profiled on this page. Included are standouts in fields as diverse as pop music and pop-music criticism, film acting and film directing, magazine punditry and television punditry. But unlike those humdrum, dime-per-dozen MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants, each Suck EGG fellowship is offered not for such narrow purposes as "rewarding outstanding achievement" or celebrating the "power and possibilities of human creativity." Nor are they extended to those whose work represents the "greatest benefit to mankind," like the recently announced Nobel Prizes.

Instead, the Suck EGGs provide an infinitely more valuable service to humanity: Namely, each fellowship is granted only on the condition that for the next calendar year, in the interests of Human Civilization, its recipients stop doing the voodoo that they do so annoyingly well. (To prevent welshing, actual prizes are not conferred until the completion of each term.) Those who aspire to the heights of EGGdom in the future should realize that, by definition, it is impossible for us to accept applications - since this is an award not for who you are, but who you will cease to be.

- Sucksters


  For much of the last decade, the management at the Los Angeles Times had been content to guide the newspaper into irrelevance at the same rate of decline as the rest of the newspaper industry. Then Mark Willes got tired of the breakfast food business. Since signing on to run the Times parent company in May of 1995, the former General Mills boss has done all the things a ruthless businessman is supposed to do. He cut jobs in box lots of 100, eliminated special sections, reduced bureau staffing, and presumably started counting paper clips. Among the most unfortunate casualties at the Times was the weekly World Report section, which once ran some of the best stuff in the paper - insightful, offbeat analysis and storytelling from staff writers working overseas assignments. Still, the Times fared better than Willes' other news ventures: The Baltimore Sun's evening edition was put to sleep soon after Willes' ascension, at the same time that the New York edition of Newsday earned its nickname "the tabloid in a tutu" with a Rite of Spring sacrifice. Surveying the damage Willes had inflicted on the news reporting business, the Times/Mirror Group was left with no choice but to reward him; he added the title of Times "publisher" to his hatrack in 1997. Former Times staffers, however, had long since awarded him his true titles: Cap'n Crunch, and the one that has stuck to him with Trumpian tenacity: The Cereal Killer.

Some settling may have occurred, however, on the other side of the balance sheet. While dumping costly journalistic extras like reporters and news sections, Willes has also offered helpful suggestions for increasing revenues. One big priority: boosting circulation. Speaking to a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, the broadsheet salesman explained his approach to getting the untapped female demographic to part with its quarters by making the paper "more emotional, more personal, less analytical." A Willes proposal offered along the same lines, a special gals-only section, died following protests from the newsroom - but not before Times reporters leaked, to the crosstown New Times, the information that the proposed section had been tentatively titled Gee! Among the pieces brainstormed for the special section, the leakers added, was a graphic explaining the right way to fold a sheet. A similarly visionary proposal for a Latino-only section met a similar fate (reports that Willes had proposed Quien es mas macho? as the section's title later proved false). Describing the free-prize-in-every-box ideas, an unnamed Times editor called Willes "the Jerry Ford of publishers." She was being far too kind: Ford was harmless. Is anyone out there really unclear about why the once-solid Times Sunday magazine is looking more like Redbook with every issue?

Place of Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Age: 57
Award: Lifetime subscriptions to USA Today and People and a quiet place to read them.




courtesy of the Sucksters