Journalism’s Surrender

I should end the year on an upbeat note, shouldn’t I? But Time Inc. ruined it. The surrender of journalism to advertizing and public relations – not alliance with, but surrender to – was the biggest media story of 2013 that the media almost didn’t cover at all. But it’s right there in black and white, if buried on the slowest news day of the year:

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.

Now remember this is not some desperate trade magazine; this is Time Fucking Inc. Journalists at Time will report directly to those on the business side (or is that now an anachronism?) seeking advertizing revenues and sponsored content contracts. That’s what the editors now are. And listen to the howls of outrage swirling around every other journalistic institution, read the columns decrying the end of independent journalism, witness the mass exits of outraged editors, observe the talking heads fulminate and readers rebel!

Actually, there was one resignation, and it was a deeply honorable one:

Among those who expressed concern was Martha Nelson, the recently departed editor in chief. Before Mr. Ripp came aboard and brought on Mr. Pearlstine, 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.  “When Joe suggested a new structure that required editors to report to the business heads, I wasn’t comfortable being part of it,” Ms. Nelson said. “You can’t take apart what you have promoted and built.”

This is the way the press ends. Not with a bang but a “revenue opportunity.”