“We’re never happy about turnover,” said Forbes.com chief executive Jim Spanfeller.
In that case, he can’t be feeling too good lately.
At Forbes.com, the online arm of the 90-year-old Steve Forbes–run publication—which now famously includes rock star Bono as an investor—nine editorial staffers have recently fled, according to a former staffer.
Of course, Forbes.com has a young staff, with some toting freshly minted college diplomas. Indeed, two recent departures, Rebecca Eskreis and Dan Lienert, are heading off to graduate school.
But several reporters have also headed to other publications: Hannah Clark (Inc.), David Ng (Associated Press) and Lisa Lerer (Politico.com).
“Forbes.com does hire a fair number of younger reporters. But this level of dysfunctionality, and number of departures, isn’t normal,” said one former employee.
Or is it?
Two sources estimated at least 50 previous editorial departures since early 2005.
Mr. Spanfeller said he doesn’t “feel that there’s anything particularly over the top” going on at his company.
“Part of that is that we have a big target on our backs,” Mr. Spanfeller said. “We’re the first place that our competitors come to poach.”
Another former Forbes.com staffer backed up Mr. Spanfeller, citing “more competition in the space.”
Former staffers have moved to Business Week, Portfolio, CNBC and Fast Company in recent years.
“I think performance- and money-wise, they are doing just great,” said one former staffer. “The problem is that everyone is miserable. Now that the market opened up, they can leave.”
In interviews with more than a half-dozen former staffers, several issues arose—and aren’t ex-employees just ripe for griping?—but there was one persistent criticism of management: an increasing pressure about page views.
In an e-mail to The Observer, one former staffer called Forbes.com “a page-view sweatshop.”
When questioned about such criticism, Mr. Spanfeller said that’s a “fair thought.”
“One of the fundamental differences of online versus offline [is that] online is completely trackable,” he said. “You have 60, 70, 80 stories [in print], and you don’t know how well consumed each one is.”
Therefore, Mr. Spanfeller said, “not looking at the data would be foolish,” and “tracking page views is something that is very important.”
“There’s a lot of tension between editorial and management,” said a former Forbes.com staffer. “The editors do their best to insulate their reporters. You really can’t ignore it.”
Multiple former staffers cited the addition of Daniel Bigman as managing editor—second in command to editor Paul Maidment—in December 2004 as a moment when page views took on added importance at editorial meetings.
But last week another editorial change took place, with Mr. Bigman being moved to the head of the business channel—which one former staffer called a demotion. (Mr. Bigman declined to comment.)
However, Mr. Spanfeller said it was all a part of restructuring: “When I first got here, six and some-odd years ago, I had this vision of not a single site, but a coalition of sites.”
Mr. Spanfeller said that he now wants to have “a managing editor,” a “top dog” at each channel. Besides “Business,” there’s also “Tech,” “Markets,” “Entrepreneurs,” “Leadership,” “Personal Finance,” “Forbes Life,” “Lists” and “Opinions.”
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