Time Inc.’s Editors and Their Damned Church & State
Last fall Joe Ripp, the new Time Inc. CEO, told his editors that they'd be reporting to the business side rather than to the editor-in-chief. This news created lots of, well, to be kind, a lot of "buzz" in publishing circles. He went on to say, "[The editors] are more excited about it because no longer are we asking ourselves the question are we violating church and state, whatever that was."
I think that we can all agree that the key phrase in that line of logic has to be "whatever that is." I give Joe the benefit of the doubt that he really doesn't/didn't know what that is.
Why should an investment banker have any idea about the supposed importance of a mythical publishing line between church and state, or in this case advertising and editorial? I think history proves that bankers are not trained to operate within those parameters. A banker's focus is usually a strict spreadsheet analysis that contains profit and loss. A combination of human interactions and public trust developed over time by publishers is not a subject in Accounting 101, 102 or 103, or any banking professional's review of profit and loss.
Joe was hired to stop a severely leaking ship from sinking, and he is apparently doing the best an investment banker can do with the hand he was dealt.
Then last week we heard Norman Pearlstine, a man hired by Joe, push back hard against criticism about a leaked internal Time Inc. spreadsheet that indicated that Time Inc. ranks Sports Illustrated writers on whether they produce "content that is beneficial to advertiser relationship." He said, "For me, it's not this great example of an issue related to church and state...I think it's not a big deal. I don't think it has anything to do with editorial independence and editorial integrity..."
Now, in an article in the New York Post, we hear from a former top editor who has said, "Pearlstine is crumbling Time Inc.'s bedrock editorial integrity in a desperate attempt to attract advertisers. And it won't work."
Another unnamed person said, "Scurrying to the bottom like this damages the Time Inc. brand and drives away readers and soon advertisers, too."
On a different blog talking about Time Inc. and the editors, another editor, whose name I will not repeat, posted the following observation when talking about Joe's quote about editors, "This reminds me of a headline that appeared in a parody of Guns and Ammo produced by the National Lampoon back in the day: 'Rabbits Enjoy Getting Shot!'"
I have several ideas where the destruction of the fabled church and state is leading our industry, but I can't image any way where it comes out that in the end it was a really good idea. I mean, when you actually stop and think about it, why do we actually need integrity anyway? After all edit is just unpaid space. Well, there was a time that it was unpaid space. Now with rampant native advertising rearing its head in various formats and business managers suggesting that editors are happy to report to the ad sales department, what can we expect?
I guess this is the way journalism ends -- not with a bang-up exposé on crime and politics, but rather a sad and weak plea for advertising dollars that sounds too much like a whimper.