It’s a story worthy of Charles Dickens. Time, Inc., the venerable publisher of Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines, is now an orphan, having been sold off by its parent, the media mega-moron, and placed in the hands of a perfect example of the evil step-father, Joseph A. Ripp.
The first ripples of the Ripp-tide are a pair of announcements that epitomize what is wrong with American corporate journalism, if not America itself in 2014.
Joe the Ripper’s second move was to fire about 500 people, many of them working journalists. His first move as the orphan’s guardian had been to bring on as Time’s “content editor” Norman Pearlstine.
What wrong with that? After all, Pearlstine had once been Time’s editor-in-chief before the utter collapse of the print magazine economy and before the poor little newsmag had been tossed into the snow. Well, for one thing, Pearlstine’s hallmark decision as boss man at Time was to force his reporter Matt Cooper to give up his sources to prosecutors in the infamous Valeria Plame—Scooter Libby (stand in in every way but the consequences for his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney) scandal.
Short-term thinkers might salute Editor Pearlstine’s decision since it did help convict Libby and further disgrace his “shoot your friend in the face and flee” employer. But longer-term considerations point to worry about precedents that destroy a source’s confidence that he can talk freely to a journalist without being fingered later. This worry may seem quaint in the days of NSA surveillance of “suspect” reporters’ phone and email communications, and both the rigorous prosecutions and worse "spy-on-your-office-mates" imperatives from the Obama White House, but both at the time, and today, nearly a decade later, it seems to me to be very important.
But that’s just old grudge. Far worse about Pearlstine’s hiring just days before 500 firings is this, as reported by the Washington Post’s media blogger Eric Wemple:
According to an SEC filing, Pearlstine has a three-year contract that pays him (not less than) $900,000 per year, with a “bonus target” of $900,000 and a $1.4 million “sign-on bonus.” He’s also eligible for a “long term incentive compensation” with an annual target of $500,000.
It is absolutely inaccurate to say Pearlstine’s hiring cost 500 less-paid people their jobs, but, rough-number estimates suggest his pay could have kept at least 7 to10 working newspeople on the job for at least the next 3 years.
Sad, but necessary, says Ripp, about the layoffs, “When we enter the public markets in a few short months, our success will depend on how investors view the momentum we are generating at the new Time Inc.”
His logic? Investors need to see management that is ready to shed blood, if that’s what it takes, to “succeed.” Of course, the investment in one executive that displaces 7 to 10 workers could only count as a prelude to success to people who have no investment in the quality of the product, only in the return to… them.
This is the world, of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%. It is not the world of journalism which exists only to inform its customers.My guess: it ain’t gonna work.
In fact, I’m gonna guess it won’t even pretend to work for 3 years, which means to get his promised money, Pearlstine’s lawyers are gonna have to squeeze Ripp’s Time lawyers to get those last millions.
As TV news proves every damned day: reporting without reporters never works, no matter how many executives scream and yell and bleed the product dry.The title for Time’s final days: Corpse and Robbers.