The Editor and the Architect

Time featured an editor's husband, but didn't tell readers

A splashy new show at the Museum of Modern Art puts a spotlight on a three-year-old story in Time and the issue of covering one’s relatives.

Last week, MOMA opened with much fanfare an exhibit of new designs in prefabricated homes that featuring five full-sized homes erected on a vacant lot adjoining the museum, including one by Jeremy Edmiston, a New York architect, who, with a partner, designed “Burst*008,” a dwelling made of woven plywood employing a unique computer-aided design system.

As it happens, the pair and their design were featured in the December 4, 2005, issue of Time as part of the magazine’s “Innovators” series in a display that featured full-length photos of the architects and a mockup of the building. (Edmiston is on the right.)

At the time, Edmiston’s wife, Belinda Luscombe, was Time’s arts editor and oversaw architectural coverage. The relationship between architect and editor was not disclosed to readers.

The author of the story, Bill Saporito, then a section editor in charge of business coverage, says he proposed and reported the story and made the selection “on the merits.” He said Edmiston’s wife may have suggested he look at her husband’s firm’s work, she had nothing otherwise to do with the story.

Issues surrounding a publication’s writing about employees’ businesses and relatives come up from time to time. Just last week, as Gawker noted, The Wall Street Journal published a feature story on yoga practice on Wall Street that quotes an employee of a WSJ editor, Tina Gaudoin, who co-owns a small yoga-studio chain in London.

The Audit earlier this year pointed out that Gaudoin, while a columnist for the Times of London, had quoted her business partner and employees and had otherwise mentioned the chain, Triyoga.

Bob Christie, a Journal spokesman, says the recent quote from the yoga instructor was a “total coincidence” and that Gaudoin didn’t even know about the story before it ran. He adds that, as is often the case in the yoga business, the instructor quoted in the story was not technically an employee of Gaudoin’s studio, works at other studios, and is well-known in London. “It’s like lightning striking the same place twice,” he says.

The practice of writing about or quoting employees’ related parties, if not banned outright, is rare at most U.S. news organizations and doing so without disclosure is rarer still. Standards, however, do vary from place to place—they seem looser in the U.K. and Australia, for instance.

Time’s “Innovators” series spotlights leading thinkers all fields, including the arts. Saporito’s 332-word text, under the headline “The Newest Cut at Prefab,” discusses “kit,” or prefabricated, homes and says that Edmiston and his partner were “among the most recent” to take “a crack at improving on the kit concept.”

Saporito says that after he decided to look into prefabricated housing designers, Luscombe may have mentioned her husband’s work, but that afterwards normal editorial judgments applied. He said he discussed the propriety of writing about a colleague’s husband with top editors, including the managing editor at the time, Jim Kelly.

“We were totally upfront about it,” Saporito says.

Kelly, now managing editor of Time Inc., says that while “reasonable minds could disagree,” he decided that disclosure wasn’t required, mainly because of the piece was so short. He says disclosure is a must when staffers’ own work is mentioned in news pages, “but when it becomes a spouse, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a parent, a son, a daughter, it’s more of a case-to-case basis.”

Earlier this year, Time ran an interview with Charla Krupp, author of How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better, and disclosed that she is married to a senior editor at the magazine, Richard Zoglin. The piece ran more than 1,900 words.

Luscombe, who recently stepped aside as arts editor to become an editor-at-large, says she suggested that Saporito look at her husband’s firm’s work when the subject of the upcoming Innovators feature came up at a news meeting.

But she says she told him, “If it’s not appropriate, don’t do it,” and had nothing to do with the story afterwards.

Edmiston, for his part, says he doesn’t know how he and his firm were selected but says he only dealt with Saporito and another editor, and not his wife.

He says the feature had “zero” impact in terms of winning new business. He adds: “The only thing press gets us is more press.”

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.