Why Time Inc. Isn't Destroying Journalism
There is an interesting law of nature that is paralleled in all business environments. The law that "nature abhors a vacuum" is as strong in any revenue-producing ecosystem as it is in nature. This "law" is in the heart of many a successful entrepreneur, and it is a strategic advantage often missed by corporate shirts. These nimble entrepreneurs have the ability to see the vacuums that are constantly created in the wake of larger organizations' somewhat lumbering journeys.
I bring this up because there has been a recent plethora of pundit conversations lately about the death of journalism based on the news that the editorial department at Time Inc. will now report to the business department. Indeed this move by Time's new management breaks the time-honored separation of church and state that exists in many, if not most, reputable publishing houses.
This separation has such gravity that outgoing editor-in-chief of Time Inc. Martha Nelson sent pieces of the "Pope's Miter" to many Time Inc. editors. The whole miter had previously been passed from the company's outgoing editor-in-chief to the incoming editor-in-chief. The miter, which is traditionally the hat of the pope or other religious figures, symbolized the importance of keeping the editorial content of magazines pure and from being unduly influenced by advertisers' needs, wants and desires. Ms. Nelson, who left Time Inc. so as not to be part of a newly perceived and sullied tradition, sent the following note:
"This fragment comes from the 'Pope's Miter,' which resided in the office of the editor in chief of Time Inc. While the miter was passed on in jest, it symbolized the earnest belief in editorial independence, truth and integrity. Now that responsibility rests in your hands."
The theory is that for the assured integrity of any house of writers, there needs to be a strong separation of the editorial and the business environments, so that the written word is not unduly influenced by the seductive dollar, thus giving editors the freedom to explore and speak the truth on any given subject or company, even an advertiser.
As I see it, there is no need and it is quite pointless to debate this issue of lost integrity at Time Inc. I'm sure the new management of Time Inc. will deny that its editors will be under any undue influence by people who wear suits, ties, and have advertising contracts in their hands. The management has the right to say and do as it please with its newish offshoot of a publishing corporation.
The reason I started this essay with an observation about the laws of nature and vacuums is that, if and when corporate integrity -- and in this case editorial integrity -- is lost, that loss doesn't evaporate from the universe because another company, organization, or publishing house will replace the need for written integrity someplace else.
There is a yin and yang in the universe, a balance of nature. A vacuum, once created, will be filled by "matter" from somewhere else. It has always been thus and, in the business world, it always will be thus. So, have no fear of the loss of honest journalism, because that isn't happening. There is a need in a free society for unbiased information, and when integrity leaves one establishment, it will surely be found in another.
Anyone who thinks that the editorial departments of this industry reporting to the business departments will increase newsstand sales or reader loyalty is delusional. It is a similar and wrongful conclusion that the public is craving native advertising. In a world of boundless writing and limitless information resources, there is only one thing that is and will be successful, and that is outstanding edit. When last I checked most business accountants' skill strength wasn't in syntax, and therefore they should leave the choice of words to those who write and edit them.
In the end, no one corporation reflects the entire publishing industry. Therefore, no one corporation can destroy journalism.