Newsweek Media Group has been in free fall for a while.
After its offices were raided in January, taking servers and pictures of servers with them, several veteran staffers were fired or quit—including deputy editor Ken Li and editor in chief Bob Roe. This following work on an expose about the company’s ties to Olivet University, a small Christian college, which has ties to pastor David Jang.
Remaining staff at the publication finished the investigative piece, called “Why is the Manhattan DA Looking at Newsweek’s Ties to a Christian University?” which was published by Newsweek early last week.
Following the story’s publication, two more veterans of the staff were fired. That move came after a town hall last week, when company owners were interrogated by Gersh Kuntzman regarding the company’s status as a legitimate publisher rather than a front for money laundering, in addition to questions about IRS tax liens and ad fraud.
National editor John Seeley was let go this week; sources told the New York Post that Newsweek is “thinning the herd.”
Earlier this month, Newsweek’s top executive resigned after the company was found to inflate its online numbers.
When Newsweek’s print edition was resurrected in 2013, following its purchase by IBT Media, a privately held firm founded by evangelicals, the publication was hit hard by an update to Google’s search algorithm in 2017.
In many ways, the upheaval at Newsweek is a portrait of what the modern publishing landscape can do to a long-respected brand in a short amount of time.
In Slate’s account, the company’s tumble happened quickly, in a matter of 12 months. Current and former staffers who talked to the online publication speak of a culture in which click numbers were a top goal and writers were paid out bonuses for high performing stories, in addition to a hostile work environment and mismanagement.
Such behavior isn’t new. Digital publications have operated this way for some time. At Gawker, writers were pitted against each other for the most clicks, and paid accordingly. However, the fall of a stalwart like Newsweek is a chilling reminder of how vulnerable even the most powerful news brands can be. And, ultimately, it's a testament to the price top investigative journalists will pay.
Management has to master how to make a title survive in the 21st century — or it won't escape an inevitable, and in Newsweek's case, a possibly ignominious end.