Time For A Happy Ending?

Have you heard of the new family of publications called Emit?

It’s a sign of the times, really -- a company that has discarded tired old publishing principles in order to compete, and thrive, in the chaotic digital marketplace. Emit has a news-analysis title, a sports title, a celebrity/personality title, an entertainment title, a travel title, a cooking title, several fashion/beauty titles, several business titles….you name it. Pick a category of human activity and they have a vertical to match. In many ways, it’s like the traditional magazine publishers of yore, with one distinct difference:

Emit does not impose a separation between, in the mocking words of its CEO Joi Perp, “church and state, whatever that was.”

Who can remember? Something to do with keeping editorial operations segregated from the salespeople. At Emit, such compartmentalization is a relic of an increasingly remote past, when b) nobody could actually measure the popularity of any given article or any given author to the audience, and more significantly a), when advertising rates generated so much money everybody could afford editorial purity.

Ethics are so twentieth century. This is now. Newspapers and magazines are gasping for life; who can afford the luxury of standing on principle? As such, in deciding who gets to work at Emit, one of seven key performance indicators is the ability to create content “beneficial to advertiser relationship.” The business plan is evolving, but stay tuned for new value-added programs, such as sharing personal and behavioral data of subscribers and fondling the genitalia of advertisers 24/7 on demand.

“Wait!” you say. “Bob, you big josher…you’re making that up! What you describe is outrageous!”

Haha! You got me. I am joking. There is no such CEO as Joi Perp and no such magazine company as Emit! How could there be?

There is only CEO Joe Ripp and the magazine company called Time -- where, yes, the big boss actually claimed “church and state” was a mystifying concept, and as Gawker revealed last week, one of the employment KPIs actually is the creation of content “beneficial to advertiser relationship.” God help us all.

Perhaps you recall, back in November, when Ripp announced that Time Inc. editors would no longer report to a central Time editorial executive but rather to the publishers of their respective titles, and that the editors were “excited about it.”

He might not have been lying. I was once kidnapped at gunpoint; it was pretty exciting, as near death experiences tend to be. Nonetheless, the announcement ignited an uproar, which elicited this assurance from a Time Inc. spokesperson:

"Our editors will have full responsibility for their own content. Nothing there changes."

Perhaps you also recall how in this space yours truly translated that assertion: “’Everything changes.’ Editors, by virtue of their new bosses, will be obliged to show new revenue, which is a path to perdition.”

Well, as Gawker demonstrated with an employee-ranking spreadsheet leaked by the Newspaper Guild, the union representing Time Inc. journalists, perdition has already arrived. In deciding which SportsIllustrated.com writers to dismiss in the company’s latest wave of mass layoffs, the category “beneficial to advertiser relationship” weighted equally with such performance indicators as “quality of writing” and “impact of stories/newsworthiness.”

This was a smoking gun if ever there was one, and you can tell a lot about an organization based on its reaction when confronted with damning evidence of bad behavior. Enter Time’s content chief, Norman Pearlstine, who told New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman that the accusation was “bullshit.”

“In a dot-com world, if you’re judging people on audience traffic, one of the qualities of those things is, are you creating traffic for advertisers that you can monetize? That’s what this question was about. Can you monetize this traffic? That’s a legitimate question.”

That is, indeed, a legitimate question -- and many news organizations are exploring ways to exploit technology to broaden reach and give audiences more of what they are seeking without sacrificing the editorial judgment -- or as they call it now, curation -- that makes the publication valued and distinctive to begin with. Margaret Sullivan’s public-editor column in The New York Times on Sunday discussed a new Times hire meant to accomplish that very thing.

But Pearlstine’s dismissal of the Newspaper Guild and Gawker was baloney. On the very same spreadsheet was the very KPI he referred to: “Audience/traffic.” The indicator in dispute "Produces content that [sic] beneficial to advertiser relationship,” was a separate category altogether. If Pearlstine is right (and he isn’t) then SportsIllustrated.com employees are being measured on the audience/traffic metric twice.

So who’s bullshitting now? It’s hard to know what to feel worse about: the moral abdication or the accompanying craven rationalizations and double talk. By the way, on that subject, if Joe Ripp is really so baffled about “church and state” (and he isn’t) I can clear it up right now.

It was the wall built between the sales side and the editorial side to keep publications from whoring out their sacred editorial product to make money. It isn’t that mysterious, really It’s been in all the papers. Plus, it was invented by Time Inc.

 

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9 comments about "Time For A Happy Ending?".
  1. Henry Blaufox from DragonSearch , August 25, 2014 at 9:21 a.m.
    Is ir a bit simplistic to make the broad brush statement (final paragraph) that the Time Inc. church/state edit/ad separation was to "keep publications from whoring out their sacred editorial product to make money"? I worked for the company, both edit and business divisions. As I recall, the policy enabled the edit staff to follow stories without caving in to pressure from ad sales to avoid some topics - ad sales couldn't kill stories. Instead, the ad reps would be alerted if a particular story that could compromise an advertiser was due to run in close proximity (facing page, for example) to the ad. The ad rep would advise the client, and the ad position could be moved, the insert date changed, or the ad altered (time permitting.) In the print days, with long story and ad close lead times, that worked. In today's online world, it is anything but easy, maybe even impossible - especially as ads are inserted automatically in near real time.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 25, 2014 at 10:04 a.m.
    Structure vs chaos.
  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , August 25, 2014 at 11:25 a.m.
    Emit! I get it. Bravo, really. Compromising editorial integrity means fewer readers means unhappy advertisers, period. This is a road to extinction. So sad.
  4. David Vawter from Doe-Anderson , August 25, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.
    it used to be easy to tell whether you were creating traffic you could monetize. People went to the newsstand and bought your magazine. That was back before the wise men at Time Inc. (and others) decided that subsidizing subscriptions to drive up the rate base was the glory road. Howard Gossage was right when he warned publishers about giving away their product -- eventually you convince your readers that that's what it's worth. Publications such as the Financial Times and Monocle seem to do just fine publishing a product that people want to read and pay for. Perhaps Time Inc. should take a closer look at that model.
  5. Robert Barrows from R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations , August 25, 2014 at 12:03 p.m.
    An even bigger problem is the internal bureaucracy and the chain of command at media companies. How long does it take for a moneymaking idea to get reviewed, approved and put into action? How many people does it have to go through on all sides of the business? How many weeks? How many months? How many meetings? ...And long the lines of increasing revenues... ...I have developed several proposals that could generate tremendous advertising revenues for newspapers, broadcasting companies, internet media companies and the internet divisions of media companies. Each of these proposals could generate very substantial revenues starting immediately! One of these proposals is for a very special Halloween Promotion that could generate worldwide publicity, worldwide participation and tremendous advertising revenues from all over the globe... ...And there is still enough time to make it happen for Halloween this year! If your company might be interested, give me a call about it today! Companies that would be interested in taking a look at these proposals can give me a call at 650-344-4405.
  6. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , August 25, 2014 at 12:49 p.m.
    Not surprising that a company that chooses to spell "Time" backwards ("Emit") would use reverse ethics, too.
  7. Jerry Gibbons from A-Team Advertising Advisors , August 25, 2014 at 1:04 p.m.
    Hey Bob - if you aren't careful, Time Inc. will drop Media Post off their media schedule.
  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 25, 2014 at 9:26 p.m.
    Mr. Barrows: How true. Stories, stories. (rev gens can be very fun)
  9. Damon Ragusa from ThinkVine , August 26, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.
    If you want to understand how the separation between church and state in publishing has been falling apart for more than a century, read Hilaire Belloc's "The Free Press". It goes back to when there was no state, just church. Its as informative as it is disturbing regarding the entanglement of press and corporate interest. This is the just the latest (maybe last) manifestation of the trend.