Times CEO Plans “Town Meetings” at the Globe to Address Downturn
On Jan. 31, Janet Robinson, chief executive of the New York Times Company, opened an earnings conference call by addressing the bad news first: a $648 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2006.
The Times Company wrote down the value of its New England Media Group—which includes The Boston Globe—by $814 million, resulting in the substantial quarterly drop.
“Despite this charge,” Ms. Robinson said on the conference call with analysts, “we continue to view these properties as important assets of our company, and we remain acutely focused on improving their performance and value.”
That takes care of jittery investors. But what about The Globe’s rank and file, which has endured speculation that its parent company is slimming the place down in preparation for a sale—possibly to a moneyed suitor like Jack Welch, who has, according to reports, expressed interest in buying?
That’s the agenda for a couple of “town meetings” that Ms. Robinson has scheduled with Globe employees on Feb. 8 and 9.
The Times fended off speculation about Mr. Welch buying the paper at the end of 2006, when Ms. Robinson addressed a conference of Boston leaders. But since then there’s been that giant write-down, which had been preceded by other ominous signs.
On Jan. 11, the Times Company announced 125 jobs would be cut at The Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, first through voluntary buyout packages. Two weeks later, The Globe announced that three foreign bureaus—Jerusalem, Berlin and Bogotá—would be shuttered.
And this past week, 10-plus-year staffers were notified about the buyout packages, with 90 days to decide whether to stay or go.
“There’s no question that these sorts of things can be distracting, but I think people are focused on their work, on their journalism,” said Martin Baron, The Globe’s editor in chief, by phone on Feb. 6. “Ultimately, that’s what matters.”
The upcoming “town meetings” will be run as Q&A sessions, with Globe staffers “welcome to attend and ask Janet about issues or topics of interest relating to our business,” according to a staff memo.
Such obvious distractions—buyouts, layoffs, outsourcing of classified jobs to India, closing of foreign bureaus and rumors of an impending sale—will provide plenty of Q&A fodder.
“I expect we hear her say that there are some reasons for hope, especially in the Boston economy,” said a Globe staffer.
(Indeed, if Ms. Robinson’s speech to analysts is any indication, there will probably be an emphasis on an expected rebound in print advertising in the region.)
But outside Boston, there are lingering concerns.
“Obviously, [the closing of foreign bureaus] limits the kind of jobs that young reporters aspire to,” said a Globe staffer. “Nationally, it arguably diminishes our stature.”
“I think there’s going to be a lot of questions about where The Globe fits into the Times portfolio,” said another staffer.
The New York–Boston relationship was somewhat strengthened last December, according to one Globe staffer, when The Times sent up its research and development staff to give a presentation on technologically advanced ways to spread the news—iPods, cell phones and various electronic devices. Michael Rogers, The Times’ futurist in residence, was among the presenters.
But not everyone is convinced that the Times Company will continue its stewardship of the newspaper it bought for $1.1 billion in 1993.
“The fear, as you probably know, is that The Times will unload The Globe, given its poor recent performance,” said a Globe staffer. “I suppose the first thing we’ll be listening to Janet R. for is assurances that we’ll remain in the Times family. Developments at the Philly Inquirer have soured people on the notion of private ownership by a rich-guys consortium.”
And long-time Globe columnist Alex Beam also isn’t convinced that said rich guys are the answer to quandaries in the newspaper industry.
“Jack Welch and David Geffen’s idea of journalism is like a Charlie Rose interview,” said Mr. Beam. “‘Gosh, Mr. Welch, tell us more about your fabulous career.’ That’s not our idea of journalism.”
Portfolio Launch Nears, Staff Atwitter
“Very few startups have the kind of bankroll behind it that this one does,” said Kurt Eichenwald, a senior writer and investigative reporter at Portfolio.
Mr. Eichenwald was speaking by phone on Feb. 5 from Dallas, Tex., a safe distance from the magazine’s perch on the 17th and 18th floors of the Condé Nast building.
There, Si Newhouse’s much-hyped new business magazine and Web site are getting off the ground, with prototypes circulating and staff writers currently under deadline for the inaugural issue, scheduled to hit newsstands on April 24.
But the glossies on the stands will only be part of the launch. What appears to be emerging is a test case for Condé Nast, which has struggled to make its presence felt on the Web.
Portfolio will follow the path laid down by Glamour, Men’s Vogue and Vanity Fair (which relaunched in October with significant Web-only content). As with those sites, Condé Nast has teamed up with Avenue A Razorfish to develop Portfolio’s Web site.
But once it’s set up, it’s the editorial staff from the magazine that will be keeping things moving.
“Print writers are definitely writing for the Web,” said a source with knowledge of Portfolio’s Web strategy; however, “not every single writer is going to have a blog.”
“Portfolio is a magazine being born in the 21st century,” said Mr. Eichenwald. “Any magazine coming out now cannot look at the Web as just something to put an article on; it has to be viewed as part of the whole.”
That’s certainly true for Mr. Eichenwald.
He spent two decades covering the business world for The New York Times before joining Portfolio this past October.
In December 2005, Mr. Eichenwald wrote an investigative piece on child pornography for The Times that included a video segment. “It really added a lot for people to actually see the person I was writing about,” he said. That video segment was later nominated for an Emmy, and sparked Mr. Eichenwald’s interest in thinking beyond print.
Shortly after arriving at Portfolio, he pitched a video supplement for his first piece. In December, Mr. Eichenwald delivered the demo video, which, he said, is tentatively scheduled to be released for the April launch.
(Already on the Portfolio.com placeholder up now, there is a sample video interview between Portfolio editor in chief Joanne Lipman and Google chief executive Eric Schmidt.)
Last October, Chris Jones, managing editor of the Portfolio Web site, gave a presentation to the Portfolio staff and provided “very early impressions” of the Web site, according to a staffer present. The Web editor attends each staff meeting, providing updates and answering questions. Also, a voluntary editorial meeting specifically for the Web site was initiated this past week.
Another staffer added that the site would look vastly different from the Big Three business titles: Fortune, Forbes and BusinessWeek.
Matt Cooper, Portfolio’s Washington editor and previously Time.com’s political editor, has been rumored among possible bloggers when the site launches.
“We’re all going to do a lot for the Web and print edition,” said Mr. Cooper, declining to confirm the rumor. “It’s a seamless garment.”
And recently, Web editors have made the rounds of the office, according to a staffer, inquiring about which staffers are interested in blogging on swanky side interests—such as art and travel.
But even Portfolio’s seamless garment has had a few tears along the way.
On Jan. 30, the New York Post’s Page Six column reported that the startup was in shambles and that Mr. Newhouse was losing faith.
In that morning’s editorial meeting, to dispel any rumors of chaos, Ms. Lipman said that advertisers were “banging down the door,” according to a staffer present.
Multiple editorial sources have said that the business side of the operation has made reassurances that ads are selling very well, and that the first issue can be expected to run about 250 to 300 pages.
And certainly Si Newhouse, in his usual fashion, will be upstairs counting ad pages and charting the progress of his team—several of whom have a lot riding on Portfolio’s success.
Print, schmint, right?
“We have really ambitious aspirations,” said a Portfolio staffer. However, there is one caveat: “The first magazine that is going to be published is not going to change the face of magazine publishing.”
The New Yorker Will Run Your Correction, Not Its Own
In its Feb. 5 issue, The New Yorker published a message describing factual errors in a Jan. 29 “Talk of the Town” piece by Nicholas Lemann about the trial of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Mr. Lemann had mistakenly claimed that “Joseph Wilson was dispatched by ‘the White House’ to Niger … (he was sent by the C.I.A.)” and that Mr. Wilson had “published his Times Op-Ed piece ‘five months’ after his return (it was a year and five months).”
The message appeared not in an editors’ correction but in a piece of reader mail, a letter from James Currin of Stamford, Conn. Mr. Currin, 75, is a retired physics professor from SUNY Purchase. He has been reading The New Yorker for more than 50 years. Mr. Lemann is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.
“I was surprised that he was so careless,” Mr. Currin said by phone on Feb. 4. “He’s a good writer.”
By legend, the factual infallibility of The New Yorker is both assumed and presumed. Its fabled team of fact-checkers—16 of them at present—vets every detail of the magazine before it reaches the reader. And if the errors that get through are rare, acknowledgements of those errors get through even less often.
The result is the meta-erroneous belief that The New Yorker has a policy against printing corrections at all—a belief that has made it all the way to the Columbia journalism department. “As I understand it, for many, many years they didn’t even run letters to the editor,” Mr. Lemann said. “It’s fairly recent—I can’t remember when they started—that they run letters. They still, since 1925, have not run corrections.”
In fact, although the weekly “Mail” section is a relatively new addition, the magazine has printed letters since at least 1936. And under editor David Remnick, corrections have been appearing as stand-alone items, the industry standard. They are, however, easy to miss, as there have only been about two dozen corrections or editors’ notes since 1999. (A new one appeared in the Feb. 12 issue.)
Through the decades before the current era of regular corrections, the magazine ran occasional ones—a lengthy 1963 editors’ note, for instance, corrected three errors in part four of Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem.” And it ran dozens and dozens of letters pointing out errors, under the heading “Department of Correction” and variants thereof (“Department of Correction and Amplification,” “Department of Correction, Amplification, and Abuse,” “Department of Correction, Amplification, and General Pettifoggery”).
The handling tended to be arch: In 1940, after being corrected by the editors of Fortune, The New Yorker wrote, “Wrong was the New Yorker, and to the editors of Fortune our check for five dollars for discovering the error.”
The present approach is more measured. Corrections are presented as frank admissions of failure. But in the case of Mr. Currin’s letter, the concession was not quite straightforward.
Mr. Currin, who is the father of celebrated figurative painter John Currin, wrote in to question four assertions that Mr. Lemann had made. Two of his points were matters still under dispute, while the other two—about the provenance of Mr. Wilson’s assignment and the date of his Times Op-Ed piece—were verifiable facts that Mr. Lemann had gotten wrong.
In an e-mail to The Observer, Peter Canby, the head of the fact-checking department, wrote that the errors Mr. Currin pointed out could have been addressed in a formal correction notice. But Mr. Canby wrote that since he and letters editor Brenda Phipps “had a letter in hand that both set the record straight on the erroneous facts and also went on to some other widely debated points of interpretation,” they decided to let Mr. Currin’s letter speak for itself.
Except that Mr. Currin’s note, as written, did not set the record straight. The original draft, according to a copy supplied by Mr. Currin, merely quoted the parts that Mr. Currin thought were wrong. The parenthetical clarifications, explaining what the correct facts had been, showed up after The New Yorker edited the letter.
In other words, the editors wrote a functional correction after all—they just credited it to Mr. Currin.
“Maybe that’s the New Yorker way of correcting an error,” Mr. Currin said. “A graceful way.”
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