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Second Inning, New Lineup

It appears that the large consumer magazine media companies are wrapping up the initial stage of transitioning away from print dependence, and bringing in a new (or revised, anyway) lineup of players to tackle the next stage… while further consolidating and reducing head counts, writes Karlene Lukovitz.

Karlene Lukovitz

Posted on: 27 November 2016

New Time Inc CEO Rich Battista
At Time Inc, Joe Ripp, citing health reasons, passed the baton to Rich Battista, shortly after presiding over a fundamental restructuring of sales into category groups, and one more round of job cuts.

In just three years, Ripp dismantled the company’s traditional church / state-based principles, operating structure and fiefdoms, installed digitally focused managers, and made a slew of digital acquisitions. (BTW, he’ll continue to collect total compensation of $5.7 million in each of the two years left on his contract.)

Battista, a former Fox Television exec who had risen up Time Inc’s ranks to become president, brands, is said to be under pressure from new 4.9% investor Jana Partners to ramp digital up even faster – and to explore merger possibilities.

Not surprisingly, players with close ties to Ripp are departing, including son Brendan, who stepped down as president of one of the Time Inc groups to head sales and partnerships at National Geographic media, now controlled by… Fox Networks Group. EVP/CFO Jeff Bairstow is also stepping down, to be replaced by SVP, controller Sue D’Emic. And at Time Inc UK, in addition to CEO Marcus Rich’s reporting shift (from Bairstow to Battista), the latest corporate reorganizational announcements were quickly followed by the news that the print edition of UK’s InStyle was being folded.

At Condé Nast, the restructuring shoe has also begun to drop. President/CEO Bob Sauerberg recruited AOL’s global sales chief, Jim Norton, for the new position of chief business officer and president of revenue, pushing out at least two senior-level Condé veterans and setting the stage for a long expected, fundamental restructuring. The new structure will comprise five groups (business, editorial, research, technology and creative), with each having its own leader. (See Business of Fashion for the most detailed report as of this writing.) More executive changes and staff cuts are expected: Condé Nast management is seeking $20 million to $30 million in 2017 budget cuts to offset pressured print ad revenue, per The New York Post.

An Uncertain Future

While I don’t normally touch on politics in this column, the new order of media obviously played crucial roles in the stunning results of the US election that have left millions of us here and around the world facing a murky and frankly frightening future.

My own take is that the most influential traditional media here waited far too long to use their editorial columns to make strong, no-holds-barred statements about the choices. The irony is that in contradiction of everything they were accused of by the so-called “alt right” (now apparently the mainstream), these media outlets were trying to bend over backwards to be fair about covering both candidates, and perhaps trying to avoid further fanning divisive passions across the country.

But don’t get me wrong: I believe that democracy has never been in more desperate need of real journalism – meaning reporters and editors who genuinely strive to be objective and balanced in presenting straight news. While pure objectivity never was and never will be an achievable goal, nothing human is perfect. Should we abandon courts in favor of mob rule because some people are wrongly convicted or acquitted?

The election results served to amplify an already clear and scary reality, which is that the instantaneous, around-the-globe communication enabled by the internet and mobile and social media is in the main now serving to convey what Jim Rutenberg, media “mediator” for The New York Times, bluntly and accurately termed (in a column published two days before the election) “fake news”. And those who make up this fake news are suddenly media stars.

I would encourage any who haven’t yet read that column to do so, in full. In this space, I’ll point out that in the US, the local and city newspapers that once provided much of the informational, investigative and whistle-blowing functions fundamental to our democracy have already been gutted in quality and purpose by consolidations borne of shrinking print advertising and circulation revenues. And, now, the responsible national (and international) newspapers and other media are also on the run.

I trust that The Times won’t mind my repeating a few sentences from Rutenberg’s column, because I think they are extraordinarily important at this juncture:

“Papers including The [Wall Street] Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian, the Gannett publications and others have responded with plans to reorganise, shed staff, kill off whole sections, or all of the above,” Rutenberg wrote.

“Taken together, it means another rapid depletion in the nation’s ranks of traditionally trained journalists whose main mission is to root out corruption, hold the powerful accountable and sort fact from fiction for voters. It couldn’t be happening at a worse moment in American public life. The internet-borne forces that are eating away at print advertising are enabling a host of faux-journalistic players to pollute the democracy with dangerously fake news items. In the last couple of weeks, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets have exposed millions of Americans to false stories…

“It does not augur well for the future. Martin Baron, the Washington Post executive editor, said… ‘If you have a society where people can’t agree on basic facts, how do you have a functioning democracy?’ The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism. And how well the news media gets through its post-election hangover will have a lot to do with how the next chapter in the American political story is told… It could be Pollyannaish to think so, but maybe this year’s explosion in fake news will serve to raise the value of real news. If so, it will be great journalism that saves journalism…”

Let’s hope that the media and those who value real journalism resolve to do whatever it takes to support and nurture it through the coming storms.

“Democracy has never been in more desperate need of real journalism.”

About Karlene Lukovitz
(Details last updated: 21 September 2017)

Karlene Lukovitz is an independent business journalist specialising in media and marketing coverage. She is editor of the enewsletter MBR Daily Publishing & Retail News, a daily contributor to MediaPost Marketing Daily, and a MediaPost columnist on advanced TV. Her firm, KL Medialink LLC, offers multimedia content and integrated brand extension development. Career highlights include: editor-in-chief of Circulation Management, executive editor of Folio:, and VP, Communications for BPA Worldwide.

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