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NEW YORK-When Times Mirror Magazines named the top executive of The Sporting News to the additional role of president, CEO and publisher of Golf Magazine Properties last week, the appointment raised some eyebrows.

Nicholas Niles, 51, president of The Sporting News Publishing Co., assumes the duties of Peter Bonanni, a popular figure in the golfing and publishing world who died of cancer last month.

Mr. Niles has overseen a major upturn at The Sporting News this year. Ad pages, despite player strikes by Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, jumped 31% through October to 510.14.

"We don't have to fix Golf Magazine. It's a terrific property that has been gaining market share," Mr. Niles said. Through October, the magazine's ad pages were up 6.4% to 988.7.

Prior to joining Times Mirror two years ago, Mr. Niles was exec VP of Springhouse Publishing, where he headed the magazine and book company owned by Dutch publishing giant Elsevier N.V.

Handing Mr. Niles the second job is not without risks, some observers noted.

Business Week Publisher David Ferm, formerly publisher of rival Golf Digest, said: "I think the Sporting News job and the Golf Magazine job are two separate jobs, and they both deserve separate leaders."

Observed Mark Sullivan, publisher of Fairchild Publications' Golf Pro Merchandiser: "Times Mirror has taken the corporate publishing route rather than going out and recruiting a real colorful industry personality such as Peter Bonanni."

Times Mirror Magazines also appointed Exec VP James L. Kopper to the additional post of chairman at Golf Magazine Properties, a new position.

The consolidations came against a backdrop of belt-tightening and widespread rumors of more cutbacks at Times Mirror Magazines. Though Yachting and Home Mechanix showed ad page increases of 9.3% and 11.9%, respectively, through October, pages at company flagships Field & Stream and Popular Science dropped 0.3% and 3.4%, respectively.

Last week, John Crawley resigned as group publisher of Popular Science and Home Mechanix. No replacement was named immediately.

Times Mirror Co. canceled its annual address to Wall Street analysts at last week's Paine-Webber Media Conference, but did deny rumors New York Newsday might halt publication.

Francis Pandolfi, president of Times Mirror Magazines, also denied there was any connection between the conference cancellation and changes at Times Mirror Magazines. "There's nothing out of the ordinary going on here. It frosts me to no end when these rumors get started."

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