‘Daily News’ hires fashion desk, relaunches ‘Gatecrasher’ as ‘Confidential’

Raakhee Mirchandani. (NY Post)
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Fashion coverage is coming back to the Daily News, Capital has learned.

Starting this week, the News will run regular fashion features in its Thursday and Sunday editions, mirroring the popular style formula of The New York Times and marking a return to a beat it had abandoned in recent years. The change takes effect just in time for Fashion Week, which kicks off on Sept. 6.

Reached for comment, features editor John Oswald wouldn't talk about what the new fashion pages would look like in the paper. But he confirmed that the News had hired a fashion editor, a fashion assistant and a stylist over the last few months.

The new fashion editor (as well as the deputy features editor) is Raakhee Mirchandani, who was previously a columnist and editor at The Boston Herald. Before that, she was a fashion reporter at the New York Post, which has always maintained a robust presence on the beat.

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New York newsrooms are traditionally heavy with fashion. It's one of the city's big industries, after all, so for a New York-based general-interest publication not to have regular, devoted fashion coverage is a bit like imagining a Los Angeles paper suddenly deciding not to cover the movie business. And even if the tabloids aren't exactly known for the type of high-brow industry reporting that's native to competitors like New York magazine or the Times, they've at least always recognized that a certain segment of their readership appreciates stories about shoe trends and the like.

Nevertheless, fashion seemed to all but disappear from the News, insiders said, following the ouster two years ago of Orla Healy, who was a divisive figure during her reign as the paper's features editor, but nevertheless knew how to cover the beat well.

In fact, it was Healy who in 1995 created the paper's erstwhile style section, "Thersday," which the legendary journalist Pete Hamill once described as "innovative and surprising," often blending "sassy stories about clothes, 'lifestyles' ... and consumer goods."

Healy was let go in Sept. 2010, and after years of budget contraction within the features department of the News, the paper's editor at the time, Kevin Convey, simply wasn't interested in devoting further resources to fashion, according to sources.

Colin Myler, on the other hand, editor of the News since January, has been plotting a sexier course for the News lately. The former editor of the late, lurid British tabloid News of the World has been championing gossipy celebrity fare alongside crusading enterprise campaigns while also staffing up the features crew, whose bylines now sometimes make their way to the front of the book.

Earlier this summer, restaurant reviews returned following a three-year absence. And the News is in the process of overhauling and expanding its gossip beat in what seems like a bid to shore up what has always been a major front in the paper's battle with the New York Post. (Lisa Lang, formerly of People and In Touch, is the latest hire, bringing the gossip team to five.)

Reviving fashion and style coverage, which also create potentially lucrative advertising categories, is the third piece of the revamped features puzzle, said Oswald, though he downplayed the Post rivalry.

"We don't see it as a piece of competition as much as we see it as a natural content for a features section," Oswald told Capital. "It's what readers want. Readers love merchandise stories. They like to see new dresses and bangles and shoes. The Post has quite a robust section, and we think the Daily News should have fashion coverage too."

Still, it can hardly be a coincidence that the News chose to unveil its new fashion coverage the same week the Post publishes the latest edition of its semi-regular fashion insert, Alexa, which comes out on Wednesday.

UPDATE: Oswald also tells us that starting Monday, the News' flagship gossip column, Gatecrasher, will be replaced with a new gossip column called "Confidential." The final installment of Gatecrasher, which was created by Ben Widdicombe, a former News reporter, in 2004, will run in Thursday's paper.

The accompanying "Scene and Heard" column is also being killed to free up an extra half-page for Confidential, which will be written by Carson Griffith, Brian Niemietz, Lisa Lang and Nate Freeman.

Oswald said Confidential will have a "much livelier layout" and that "we're going to be much more conscious of who we're covering and how those people relate to our readers."