Editorial Power Couple p.10

By: ALLAN WOLPER SPEAKING OF First impressions, after trying to make sense of a picture assignment the rookie reporter was attempting to convey, Valerie Virga slammed down the phone, turned to a newsroom colleague and asked, "Who was that moronic asshole?"
That was 16 years ago, Virga says, the first time she had occasion to speak to the preppy new staffer at the national supermarket tabloid the Enquirer who would later become her newsroom boss and husband.
Steve Coz, the 36-year-old ex-rookie and Harvard honors graduate, was recently named editor and senior vice president of the Enquirer. He succeeds Iain Calder, 57, the high-profile, legendary, Scotland-born czar of the nation's largest supermarket tabloid who gave up the reins for health reasons.
Coz's promotion comes a year after Virga, his wife of nine years and mother of their three small children, was appointed assistant editor in chief.
They're the Enquirer's power couple, a rare duo with a big say in how the $13.5 million newsroom budget is spent and how stories and photos are played.
For both, the Enquirer was their first foray into full-time news work. Coz started after some freelance feature work in Boston, and won his spurs as head of a special celebrity news-gathering task force, Los Angeles bureau chief and supervisor of the Enquirer's widely acclaimed O.J. Simpson coverage.
Virga came in cold after graduating from Boston College as an English major, convinced an editor she could handle the photo assignment desk and delivered.
Coz is a chunky, bespectacled Massachusetts native whose college major was also English. He sees himself as a wordsmith and innovator whose changes are already apparent. His wife's forte, he says, is nailing down great pictures and art.
Since assuming command, he's insisted on tighter stories to fit more of them into the usual 48 pages. He also developed what he calls Pizzazz, a back-of-the-book, color picture layout of up-and-coming celebrities who've yet to make the proverbial "A" lists, got Jenny Craig to write a weekly column, introduced a crossword puzzle with color, and quietly put two staffers in the nation's capital.
"Our Washington guys work out of their homes right now," he explained. "In a few months we'll assess the operation and decide whether to continue our Washington presence. But, really, what more can you say about the Paula Jones case with television and all the others covering the president down to his genitals?"
There'll be no change in the Enquirer's willingness to part with big bucks for exclusive stories and pictures. He'd pay $200,000 for a good, clear photo with world rights of Michael Jackson and his baby, Coz says.
"Everybody wants to see what that baby will look like," his wife added.
In recent months, the tabloid's circulation appears to have stabilized at 2.6 million after a decline of 2 million in the last seven years. Helped by lower newsprint costs and a 10? price increase, profits of its parent company, American Media Inc., have increased almost 13-fold, to $7.2 million from $552,000, during the first nine months of fiscal 1997.
Gone are all but six or seven of the London tabloid and Fleet Street veterans who ran the Enquirer's Lantana, Fla., newsroom when she arrived 19 years ago, Virga says. They've been replaced by a sprinkling of Ivy Leaguers and recruits from major U.S. publications.
The attraction? Florida sunshine, the celebrity chase and the tabloid's reputation as a cash cow. Salaries among the nonunion newsroom staff range from $40,000 to well over $100,000, according to Coz.
What's it like working only 30 or so feet apart ? she at a workstation and he in a large, paneled office?
"I don't agree with him 50 percent of the time at our editorial meetings," Virga says. And, yes, the differences sometimes follow them home.
"Fifty percent? I'd say it's a conservative estimate of the times she disagrees with him," David Perel, 37, a senior editor and former Washington Post staffer, confided. "She's certainly not shy. The differences usually are over a headline or picture. Steve is a strong believer in getting input from the editors, and he relies on her for the most part.
"When she thinks he's ignoring her, though, she'll raise her voice. 'Look, I'm talking to a brick wall,' she'll keep repeating. And when she's really angry, she calls him Stephen.
"Hilarious at times," Perel continues. "Like the time he came in one morning wearing a bright, button-down yellow shirt with nondescript leisure pants. 'What are you wearing?' she demanded. 'It's horrendous. The good things I buy him just stay in the drawers. Dave,' she tells me, 'tell him that shirt is putrid.' Later Steve comes over to me and wants to know if I like the shirt. It's like a TV sitcom."
She's a feisty, 42-year-old, Brooklyn-born pro with long, straight black hair who uses little makeup and favors conservative black clothes.
They dated for six years before Coz surprised her with an engagement ring she doesn't wear. "Ever see a pear-shaped emerald chip?" she laughs. "It's more appropriate for one of our daughters. I'm not a jewelry person, anyway."
"It looked bigger when I bought it," said her husband, who wears no wedding band. Lost it, he said.
One thing both the editor and assistant editor in chief agree on is giving readers what they want to know. And that involves satisfying appetites for entertainment and news about celebrities and their peccadillos.
"I call it readerism, not journalism," Coz maintains. A sign on the newsroom wall is a constant reminder.
It reads, "It's the reader, stupid."
Steve Coz was recently named editor of the national supermarket tab, the Enquirer, a year after his wife, Valerie Virga, was promoted to assistant editor in chief
?(Liberman is the former editor of the Asbury Park (N.J.) Sunday Press.) [Caption]
?(Valerie Virga and Steve Coz, assistant editor in chief and editor, respectively, of the national tabloid Enquirer) [Photo & Caption]
# Editor & Publisher n February 8, 1997


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