Time Inc. has fallen on hard times. Would you believe that this once-proud magazine publishing empire is now explicitly rating its editorial employees based on how friendly their writing is to advertisers?
Last year—in the opposite of a vote of confidence—Time Warner announced that it would spin off Time Inc. into its own company, an act of jettisoning print publications once and for all. Earlier this year, the company laid off 500 employees (and more layoffs are coming soon). And, most dramatically of all, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp now requires his magazine's editors to report to the business side of the company, a move that signals the full-scale dismantling of the traditional wall between the advertising and editorial sides of the company's magazines.
Even with all of that, though, it is still possible to imagine that Time Inc.'s 90+ publications, which include some of the most storied magazines in American history, would continue to adhere to the normal ethical rules of journalism out of simple pride. Not so!
Here you see an internal Time Inc. spreadsheet that was used to rank and evaluate "writer-editors" at SI.com. (Time Inc. provided this document to the Newspaper Guild, which represents some of their employees, and the union provided it to us.) The evaluations were done as part of the process of deciding who would be laid off. Most interesting is this ranking criteria: "Produces content that [is] beneficial to advertiser relationship." These editorial employees were all ranked in this way, with their scores ranging from 2 to 10.
Anthony Napoli, a union representative with the Newspaper Guild, tells us: "Time Inc. actually laid off Sports Illustrated writers based on the criteria listed on that chart. Writers who may have high assessments for their writing ability, which is their job, were in fact terminated based on the fact the company believed their stories did not 'produce content that is beneficial to advertiser relationships.'" The Guild has filed an arbitration demand disputing the use of that and other criteria in the layoff decisionmaking process. In a letter to Time Inc., the Guild says that four writer-editors were laid off "out of seniority order" based on the rankings in the spreadsheet above.
We've contacted a Sports Illustrated spokesman for comment, and we will update if he responds further. This is journalism in 2014.
Update: Scott Novak, a spokesman for Sports Illustrated, sent us the following statement: "The Guild's interpretation is misleading and takes one category out of context. The SI.com evaluation was conducted in response to the Guild's requirement for our rationale for out of seniority layoffs. As such, it encompasses all of the natural considerations for digital media. It starts and ends with journalistic expertise, while including reach across all platforms and appeal to the marketplace. SI's editorial content is uncompromised and speaks for itself."