Former top editor worries about TIME magazine's future

Good morning. Here's our morning roundup of all the media news you need to know. Want to get this briefing in your inbox every morning? Subscribe here.

Wise and cutting words, too

In light of Time Inc.'s $3 billion sale, there is surely no American more anxious about the prospects facing the company's most iconic publication than Donald Trump. And, fortunately, probably nobody as penetrating on its state and future than Rick Stengel.

For starters, as The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold disclosed back in June, Trump has festooned his clubs from South Florida to Scotland with a fake TIME cover with himself on it. The same guy who has badmouthed it as thin and on death's door associates it with the mainstream legitimacy he craves.

TIME has confronted all the perils of print in the digital age, and it's partly why Bloomberg's Joe Nocera, a Time Inc. alum, argues that TIME, Fortune and Money are "goners" under Meredith. Boy, times flies. It really wasn't too long ago that I can recall anxiously awaiting the arrival of advance copies in the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau. Its insider political pieces remained trademarks into the new century. It was a player and boasted journalism all-stars who broke stories.

But now? Well, if you run a small town newsroom, a big digital start-up, a cable news network, a nonprofit community weekly, a monthly magazine, an all-news radio operation, a Hollywood newsletter, whatever, listen to the words of Stengel. He was the magazine's managing editor (the top editorial position) and later served in the Obama administration as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

He did a very good job at TIME, as underscored by Samir Husni, a magazine expert at the University of Mississippi. He helped it reinvent itself (with some A-list colleagues) and regain a fair bit of its by-then somewhat diminished luster. But there's only so far you can go without investment and a smart strategy, as might be obvious to its new owner, Des Moines-based Meredith Corp. 

"Henry Luce, the founder of TIME, always thought the magazine should be located in the Midwest and in fact moved it to Cleveland for one year in the 1920s," says Stengel. "But I suspect he would regard Time Inc.'s purchase by the Midwestern Meredith Corp. as a retreat not a victory."

"Time Inc, the old titan of Sixth Avenue, needed Meredith to bail it out. But the truth is, the management of Time Inc. and Time-Warner set the table as they never invested in the magazines but just pocketed their profits."

"Every year for seven years when I was editor, I asked for money for investment in digital and new media and every year I was turned down. We never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

"It's hard to imagine that the Koch brothers are investing in TIME to make a profit. That wouldn't be a very strategic investment. I fear they are investing to have a platform for their extreme views. Yes, (TIME founder) Henry Luce was an outspoken Republican, but by the Koch brothers standards, he would be a flaming liberal."

I mulled his assessment while watching a Monday evening screening of "The Post," the soon-to-premiere Steven Spielberg movie with Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) and Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee) on The Washington Post's reporting on the Pentagon Papers back in 1971.

The much-chronicled story (about The New York Times, too, of course, with reference in Ken Burns' superb PBS documentary on the Vietnam War) is one about great nerve in betting on journalism, risking your company (Graham was about to take it public) and being willing to defy a very nasty president.

It's ultimately about grasping an opportunity to grasp an opportunity. A lot of editors and executives — be they in print, digital, cable or broadcast — should go see it, then look in the nearest mirror.

Microsoft targets Amazon

The Wall Street Journal reports, "Microsoft Corp. signed up business-software vendor SAP SE as a cloud partner, its latest effort at using alliances to challenge Amazon.com Inc.’s dominance in the market for web-based, on-demand computing resources." The market for renting computing services online is said to be about $22 billion.

If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out

Good job by, yes, The Post in apparently unmasking Project Veritas and its right-wing leader, James O'Keefe, who revels in stings against liberal groups.

"A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets."

"In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public."

Alas, alack, "on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover 'stings' that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias."

Kudos to a joint effort of its national staff and a new rapid-fire investigative unit, with this particular assemblage including Stephanie McCrummen, Alice Crites, Shawn Boburg and Aaron Davis. The gulf between The Post and The New York Times, on the one hand, and the rest of the newspaper industry, on the other, proceeds apace. It makes the Spielberg movie seem all the more a testament to institutional nerve and revival.

More on John Conyers from a hometown paper

The Detroit News now reports that a second former staffer of Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers "said the veteran lawmaker made unwanted sexual advances toward her, including inappropriate touching, adding to allegations by other unnamed former employees that have prompted a congressional investigation."

Bulletin of the day (thanks, Borowitz Report)

"Trump Claims Voice on 'Access Hollywood' Tape Is Actually Hillary Clinton Imitating Him"

A gilded prison

BBC reporter Lyse Doucet and cameraman Philip Goodwin were the first journalists let into the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, where the crown prince is detaining  around 200 members of the elite in an alleged anti-corruption campaign. They were allowed in briefly during the dead of night, the place looked empty and there were no on-camera interviews though, as The New York Times Tom Friedman did in an interview with the crown prince, Doucet repeats the claim that around 95 percent are willing to concede skullduggery and cut deals with the government.

If true, that's a percentage that would impress even the most ravenous American prosecutor. So is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman an Eliot Ness on steroids or might there be less here than meets the eye as far as his supposedly salutary intent and actions? As they say in local TV news, only time will tell.

Tiger Woods' latest return

The golf media is cranking out the "Tiger is Back" stories as he returns to competition Thursday after his latest layoff, with ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg offering all the necessary cautionary notes about an aging athlete having endured yet another serious surgery. 

"If this is the beginning of The Last Act of Tiger Woods' Remarkable Career, it would be sublime if his athletic crescendo started with a note we weren't even expecting: reinvention. We don't need to drag him into the interview room before every tournament and hear him insist that he's 'really close' to figuring out his new swing, because we've already lived through a half-dozen versions of that movie. Let him post an 82 without it becoming the lead on every website or highlight reel. Or at the very least, try to approach those events with a sense of perspective as they unfold."

"We're all hopeful he has one last athletic miracle up his sleeve. But to rush it is to potentially ruin it. He is not close, so don't hyperventilate. This will take time." Of course, this comeback may also fail ignominiously. 

Oh, more revealing than the jabbering over a declining superstar athlete is the mini-civil war among some sportswriters over whether the University of Tennessee should have rescinded an offer to coach its stumbling football team. Once word leaked about the move involving Ohio State offensive coordinator Greg Schiano (a former NFL head coach), people got all outraged on social media about his alleged links (unproven) to the child sex abuse scandal when he was long ago an assistant coach at Penn State.

So the Tennessee offer was pulled, prompting a solid effort by The New York Times' Joe Drape on this odd and seemingly unjustified spasm of moral outrage in college sports, which tends to be rarely so conflicted even by proven outrages. And as ESPN's Bob Ley tweets, there's a single adjective to explain the whole situation: "Unfair."

Morning Babel

"Trump & Friends" by and large defended Trump's Pocahontas remark about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, while conceding as Brit Hume noted that, "in terms of grace, that is not the president's strength" and the head of the Navajo Nation called it "insensitive." And then there was "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, who waxed outrage and discarded concision in doing so.

"The women in the White House are a sorry example of where we should be. It is so sad to watch what is happening with the women in the White House," she said. "Sarah Huckabee Sanders, if I was the White House press secretary, and for some forsaken reason I had lasted until this point, and that happened, I'd be like John Kelly and say 'This one is yours, you're doing the briefing today' ... Do you think John Kelly would have actually defended that language? I cannot watch a woman go out there and shill for this president and shill for his racism and his bigotry. It is so painful, we don't need this."

Joe Scarborough seemed content to quickly shift back to congressional reporter Kasie Hunt and what's up with taxes on the Hill.

Oh, CNN "New Day" was predictably heavy on taxes and Pocahontas and pumped a 9 p.m. discussion ("CNN Debate Night") on taxes involving four senators, including Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. Previous such efforts have been solid.

Admonition of the day

"Don't be quick to celebrate the hijab-wearing Barbie" is the Aljazeera.com headline on a commentary by Shenila Khoja-Moolji.

She contends "This form of tokenistic inclusion often does more harm than good. It distracts us from engaging in deeper and tougher conversations about meaningful social reform to create a more inclusive society. Instead, it commodifies Islam and sees Muslims as yet another target market. Critical legal theorist Nancy Leong reads such forms of commodification of otherness as 'racial capitalism' — 'the process of deriving social and economic value from racial identity.'"

"The hijab-wearing Barbie or the D&G abayas are classic instances of racial capitalism, where predominantly white institutions extract economic and social value from Muslim identities."

Funding Roy Moore from the Chicago 'burbs

Daily Beast reporter Lachlan Markay reports, "The chief financier of a leading pro-Roy Moore super PAC is a deep-pocketed Republican businessman who dropped eight figures on 2016 races alone and is looking to continue propping up the party’s most conservative candidates."

"Illinois businessman Richard Uihlein provided $100,000 to the group, Proven Conservatives PAC, since September, according to a new filing with the Federal Election Commission, making him by far the group’s top donor."

Uihlein runs a packaging supply company and his great-grandfather was a co-founder of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. A 2013 Crain's Chicago Business profile called him "The Koch of conservative politics in Illinois." His many contributions include $500,000 to a failed gubernatorial run by Dan Proft, a conservative talk-radio host. 

Browsing to express their rage

When it comes to making known their chagrin with losing, sports fans aren't particularly imaginative. So hand it to Chicago Bears fans for using the logo of Mozilla Firefox to express their rage with the Bears coach, John Fox. Yes, the browser is spelled with one word but the thrust is clear i.e. fire Fox. It surfaced during an awful performance Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

So having finished a fabulous Timothy Garton Ash piece on Germany in the cerebral New York Review of Books, I segued seamlessly to WSCR, an all-sports radio station in Chicago (isn't America great?). There, I learned the station had called Mozilla for a comment.

"We empathize with Bears fans who are frustrated with their team, Mozilla chief marketing officer Jascha Kaykas-Wolff told 670 The Score in a statement. Being unsatisfied with the internal workings of something you care about? We’ve been there. To release Firefox Quantum, our fastest browser ever, we had to bear down and replace many out-of-date and under-performing components. While it was at times difficult, we managed to soldier on, put more weight on our big shoulders, and as a result shipped an incredible product that sparked a huge increase in interest and downloads."

“'We’re not here to start any trouble, but unfortunately, the logo used in the stands in Philadelphia was out of date. If any Firefox fans are planning on carrying a Firefox logo to an upcoming sporting event and sitting in a highly visible location in the stadium, please send us a note on Twitter and we’ll do our best to get you on-brand."

Groveling to Amazon (cont.)

As Crain's Chicago Business notes, "The Twitterverse erupted over a weekend report in a Seattle newspaper that Chicago offered $1.32 billion in state income tax credits in a bid for Amazon's second headquarters."

Yes, a Seattle Times columnist wrote that was the case, but a) that isn't news and b) the figure is debatable. Still, the report was repeated globally, even as the state and city haven't disclosed details of the bid.

On the conviction of Ratko Mladic

David Rohde, who covered the Bosnian war for The Christian Science Monitor and today is a top editor at The New Yorker, crafts a fine and understatedly infuriating essay for the magazine on the conviction of Mladic last week, many years after the atrocities he committed. It exhibits the detail and passion of somebody who lived with the debacle and, now, the outrageous revisionism and denial of facts of Mladic supporters. Just a mere snippet from the sum and substance of the ruling:

"The judges detailed how soldiers under Mladić’s command killed, brutalized, and starved unarmed Muslim and Croat prisoners: twenty-four prisoners suffocated and died inside a transport truck; in one camp, soldiers machine-gunned a hundred and ninety prisoners; and, in one case, 'detainees were forced to rape and engage in other degrading sexual acts with one another.'" That just a smidgen. Rohde concludes: 

"Today, he is in a Dutch jail cell, where he is likely to die. Yet the prejudice-laced historical narratives that he used to justify his crimes persist. Milorad Dodik, the president of the autonomous Serb region created by Mladić’s expulsions of Muslims and Croats, said that, regardless of the verdict, the general 'remains a legend of the Serb nation.' In Serbia, formerly discredited nationalist politicians are regaining prominence. And leaders who play on nationalist sentiment and xenophobia are again winning votes across Europe. Last month, Austria followed Hungary and Poland in moving to the right. Some argue that the same political dynamic is at work in the United States. The willingness of opportunistic leaders to vilify minorities, and then flatly deny it, lives on."

The Vox union move, explained

There's a unionization move at Vox Media, even as many really like working there. What's this about? Here's the answer.

On the death of Pacific News Service

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, New York writer Russell Morse concludes, "PNS will no longer have a home in San Francisco in part because the changes the city has experienced in the past 10 years have pushed it out. There is no room in San Francisco for a nonprofit media organization that puts foster youth on its payroll and prioritizes the stories of people on society’s margins."

"When we moved to our office on Ninth Street, our neighbors were gay leather bars and cannabis dispensaries. As it prepares to close its doors, PNS is in the literal shadow of Twitter’s headquarters. The irony there, of course, is that an organization committed to contrarian thought and chaotic discourse is being eclipsed by an industry founded on the premise that you can create your own global echo chamber and carry it around in your pants."

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

  • Profile picture for user jwarren

    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

Comments

Related News

Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon