Rosie ends thorny G + J relationship

O'Donnell exits publication, legal fight on horizon

After a summer of editorial tug of war, Rosie O’Donnell has pulled out of her joint-venture magazine with Gruner + Jahr USA.

“I cannot have my name on a magazine if I cannot be assured that it will represent my vision and my ideas,” O’Donnell said in a statement delivered at the Palace Hotel in New York at noon Wednesday. “My integrity and name are at stake.”

The public tension between the two sides escalated over the summer with the cancellation of O’Donnell’s syndicated show and the arrival of a new editor, Susan Toepfel, to replace Cathy Cavender at the mag “Rosie.”

Around the same time, O’Donnell began advocating personal positions on hot-button topics such homosexuality and gun control. Last April, she had also outed herself in her memoir “Find Me,” a move that promptly made media buyers wonder if her personal life may be interfering with her brand.

Publicly unhappy with the mag’s editorial direction throughout the summer, she notified G + J CEO Daniel B. Brewster Jr. Wednesday morning that she would terminate the relationship.

While the battle for control may have ended, an acrimonious legal war is afoot.

“It is truly shocking and disappointing that Rosie would walk away from her obligations to her staff, her business partner and her magazine audience,” read a statement from the group’s chief marketing officer, Cindy Spengler.

“She destroys the value of the business we created and violates the conditions of our binding contract.”

To prep for the legal showdown, O’Donnell has retained former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, while the Bertelsmann AG-owned G + J has retained the ubiquitous David Boies.

Despite the infighting, the mag, aimed at 30- to 45-year-old Middle America women, has seen tremendous financial growth over the past year.

Ad pages were up an extremely strong 103% year-to-date in August, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. August year-to-year was relatively less robust in ad-page growth, but still up 67% vs. August 2001.

In the first half of the year, the mag’s circulation was 3.5 million, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, slightly off from 3.6 million during the previous half.

Mag’s December issue will be the last under the Rosie rubric.

The concept of celebrity editorship has had mixed results.

Tina Brown, John F. Kennedy Jr., Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey all founded joint-venture mags in the mid-1990s.

While Brown’s title Talk and Kennedy’s title George experienced disappointing results before folding, Stewart’s title still has seen year-to-year revenue growth in 2002 vs. 2001, as has Winfrey’s mag O.

G + J has not yet said what it will do henceforth with remnants of Rosie, which includes a staff of 16. “We are looking at our options,” a spokesperson said.

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