January 29, 1990 12:00 PM

Getting a grip on a breaking news story is never simple. The reporter’s task is doubly confusing when the basic facts fly apart in the face of unimaginable revelations. In covering the shocking murder-suicide that has held the nation in grim fascination, Boston bureau chief Dirk Mathison had to keep up with the developing drama of the murder scheme. The story took an astonishing turn from the Oct. 23 shooting death of the then pregnant Carol Stuart, and the subsequent death of her 17-day-old son, to her husband Charles’s Jan. 4 suicide and the belief that he had in fact killed his wife and severely wounded himself to make it look like an attack. “Every day there was something to go after—or discount,” says Mathison, 30, who oversaw four reporters on the case.

Now the events in Boston have provoked a Hollywood feeding frenzy, with eager studios and producers vying to make a true-detective movie (see page 38). And this time Mathison finds himself part of the action: Three movie companies have offered him from $3,500 to $30,000 to act as a consultant. “By covering the story, he became part of the story,” says managing editor Landon Jones. But with some strange twists. “No one seems sure of what they’re buying—and I’m not exactly sure what I’m selling,” says Dirk, who is still in negotiations.

Mathison has brushed against such baroque cinematic doings before. The fifth and youngest child of the late Newsweek Los Angeles bureau chief and author Richard Mathison, he attended Hollywood High. Three of his siblings are in showbiz, including sister Melissa Mathison, who wrote E.T. and is married to actor Harrison Ford. Dirk went a different route, studying English lit at Berkeley and in 1985 becoming a PEOPLE correspondent in San Francisco—a job that led him to interview subjects as diverse as Eldridge Cleaver and George Burns. In October 1988 he came east to run the Boston bureau. “Dirk instills trust,” says assistant managing editor Hal Wingo. “He’s never abrasive, but he’s tenacious. He sounds shy, and you might think you could bowl him over, but that would be a mistake.”

As you may know, Time Inc. Magazines will launch a new magazine in February titled ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. On page 43 you will find a supplement that will give you some idea of what the new magazine will be like.

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