In light of the fact that the New York Times just fired its first female executive editor, I was reminded that Time magazine did something oddly similar this past December.
I read the following article in the NYT at the end of last year: “Time Inc. Is Preparing to Head Out on It’s Own.” Flanked by a nice photo of Mr. Joseph A. Ripp—the new boss at Time magazine—it’s ostensibly a piece about the US’s largest magazine publisher breaking off from its parent company, Time Warner.
But if you ignore the headline and actually read the article, the story is about Wall Street swallowing up the newsroom of one of the country’s oldest and—at one point at least—most well-respected journalistic institutions:
Time Inc. has…shown signs of instability. It has churned through three chief executives in the last three years, and lost a star editor, its former editor in chief Martha Nelson.
To combat these negative forces, Time Inc. will abandon the traditional separation between its newsroom and business sides, a move that has caused angst among its journalists. Now, the newsroom staffs at Time Inc.’s magazines will report to the business executives. Such a structure, once verboten at journalistic institutions, is seen as necessary to create revenue opportunities and stem the tide of declining subscription and advertising sales.
To be fair, this excerpt, found on the first page of the article, explains the controversy of such a move. Nevertheless, the article’s author is guilty of one egregious subterfuge: She makes the controversy seem peripheral when, in fact, it is central. The truth is, Time Inc. didn’t give the newsroom over to it’s business side because of the “negative force” of Nelson’s departure. We find out later in the article that Time Inc.’s “star editor” quit because of the takeover:
Among those who expressed concern was Ms. Nelson, the recently departed editor in chief. Before Mr. Ripp came aboard…the magazines’ editors all reported to Ms. Nelson, who was seen as a staunch defender of newsroom autonomy.
Late last summer, Mr. Ripp invited Ms. Nelson to Nantucket to discuss his plans, according to several current and former Time Inc. executives. Troubled by the idea of reporting to the business side, she resigned.
Given this bit of info—that a “star editor” and a “defender of newsroom autonomy” quit her post when businessman Mr. Ripp threatened to take over—I’d say the NYT article is more than misleading. It’s a falsification. It puts events in the wrong order and gets the cause and effect wrong.
Perhaps the article would have made more sense if the NYT had already reported that Nelson resigned. But they hadn’t. This article titled “Time Inc. Is Preparing to Head Out on It’s Own” is the article about Nelson getting pushed out of her newsroom by the magazine’s financial side.
The stakes aren’t low. Journalism is under attack from the corporate sector on all fronts and a coup at such a large magazine strikes me as a front page story. But the problem is, how do you talk critically about the corporatization of media from within a corporatized media?
The New York Times, like Time Inc., is a big business with apparently similar anxiety about women set on defending journalism from money. Maybe the bad reporting on the Time Inc. affair is related to a tension that surfaced in last Wednesday’s news. The NYT just ousted their own first female editor, Jill Abramson. A New Yorker piece gives an explanation for why the paper’s publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., forced her to quit.
Sulzberger’s frustration with Abramson was growing. She had already clashed with the company’s C.E.O., Mark Thompson, over native advertising and the perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom.
The official reason was because of her “management style.” But since when was a gruff editor seen as a threat? Since that editor was a woman. A woman who didn’t want Wall Street to determine the content of the news.