Q & A: Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell

E&P’s editor-in-chief on the magazine’s sudden demise

The media industry received an unpleasant bit of news on Thursday: the magazine Editor & Publisher, which has covered the newspaper industry for over a century and won acclaim and awards over the past decade for its critical reporting, will cease publication at the end of the year. The move comes after the sale of a unit of magazines by Nielsen Business Media to 5 Global Media, a new company formed by Pluribus Capital Management and Guggenheim Partners. E&P staffers were notified of the news this morning.

Greg Mitchell has been E&P’s editor since 2002. He’s been tweeting about the news at his active Twitter feed, and also spoke for a few minutes with CJR assistant editor Greg Marx. An edited transcript of that conversation appears below.

CJR: Did you guys see this coming? It certainly came as a surprise to us, hearing about it.

Greg Mitchell: It was kind of a shock to us, only tempered by the fact that for the past month there had been online reports that there was some sort of deal that Nielsen was about to sell a bunch of magazines. And according to the reports, we were part of that deal; in other reports, we weren’t.

So it wasn’t a shock in the sense that we knew something was boiling, and that quite likely there would be some kind of sale. But we thought either we would be part of the deal, or we would be left behind and that would be OK, too. But not that we would fold this quickly, and with no online [presence]. It’s just sort of totally ceased publication.

CJR: So the Web site is going to disappear entirely?

GM: Unless there’s an outpouring of support and outrage, and people step forward, which could certainly happen. As of now, we’re here until the end of the year. We can come into the office until the end of the year; we’ll be at our phones and our desks, staying together. But there’s absolutely no plans for Nielsen to print the magazine or keep the Web site going.

CJR: What’s the general mood like there?

GM:Again, I think people are shocked. It’s a weird situation here—Nielsen owns forty-some magazines broken into three different units, and we were part of the unit with the magazines that have been sold, Brandweek and Adweek and Hollywood Reporter and so forth. And this all happened at the same time, so you have dozens of people on the same floor here being taken into meetings about their new owner, and trying to figure out what’s ahead for them. And at the same time, we’re hearing that we’re ceasing. So it’s kind of a strange day.

CJR: Were you given any explanation as to why you would be ceasing publication?

GM: It’s just a business decision, nothing to do with performance. We had turned the magazine around completely since 2003. We were a weekly until 2002, when we were starting to struggle, and we went monthly. And to the amazement of practically everybody, we turned things around, started making money, won awards, the Web site become tremendously popular and influential—it was quite a success story. So it was kind of a shock to us [to hear that] E&P would not keep going in some form.

CJR: Are there any aspects of that turn-around you’re particularly proud of?

GM: Even before I got here, E&P was practically the first magazine that was really promoting newspapers going on the Web—pushing, stressing, cajoling. In fact, our interactive conference is over twenty-five years old. And when I came in here, I really pushed for our own Web site to became more prominent. We made a big impact on the Web, going back seven or eight years ago. It really helped make us more of a force.

But at the same time, we were not only in a tough industry, which is magazines, but we’re also covering a tough industry. So it’s sort of a double whammy—the magazine business is very bad, and the newspaper industry is very bad. It became more and more difficult, just in the past year, on the business side. We were doing fine until the last year, but it’s been a tough year for all magazines. So that’s where we are.

CJR: There seems to be a sad irony here—it’s a tough time for the industry, but one of the consequences of that is that there’s a lot of news to cover. And E&P was one of the leading outlets covering that news.

GM: It is sad. Although we made a lot of friends and a lot of enemies, I suppose, because we really were an independent voice, and often a very critical voice. I don’t think there are too many trade publications that were as independent and critical as we are, and we made some people angry because of that. We were calling for more Web focus way before it was fashionable; we were critical of many moves the industry was making and not making, covering the warts of the industry, trying to push them to make changes—and at the same time, standing up for the First Amendment, standing up for ethics, standing up for reporters’ rights.

And we were, I think, very influential in coverage of the Iraq war, and the run-up to the war. We won the Neal Awards three years in a row for our Iraq coverage, which is kind of crazy for a trade magazine to win the top award in the business press three years in a row for war coverage. So we’re proud of a lot of things here.

CJR: You also seemed to pay a lot of attention to regional publications, which is something that, as the media discourse becomes ever more national, can perhaps get lost in the shuffle.

GM: We cover the entire newspaper industry, down to newspapers with 2,000 circulation. I’m sure larger newspapers got more coverage, but we certainly covered smaller publications, and weeklies, alternative magazines, the gay press, all sorts of things. I don’t know who’s going to cover them now—1,200 daily newspapers alone, let alone all the weeklies. It’s an incredibly wide universe to cover.

CJR: You mentioned at the outset the plan is to entirely cease publication, unless things change. What would be the best way for people to express concern or take action, if they’re so inclined?

GM: They can contact me; I’m going to be here for a couple weeks. When publications learn they’re going to go out of business, there’s always speculation about someone stepping forward, and it rarely happens. But I would hope in this case [it might], particularly with the many options that people have today for news outlets—from going all Web, to all sorts of forms. We have a tremendous, experienced staff; we’ve been focusing on the Web anyway the last few years; we’re very active on Twitter. We’re very savvy Web people despite being ink-stained wretches. There’s tremendous potential to make use of E&P and our staff, so I would just hope that [among the] people who are upset about losing this voice after 125 years, someone will step forward.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.