The media today: Firing of top editors puts Newsweek’s future in doubt

Yesterday’s news that Newsweek’s EIC Bob Roe, Executive Editor Kenneth Li, and reporter Celeste Katz were fired was only the latest twist in a chaotic period for the famed magazine. The past month has seen a raid of Newsweek’s offices by the Manhattan DA, the suspension of the company’s chief content officer following reports of sexual harassment at his previous job, the resignation of Newsweek Media Group Co-Founder and Chairman Etienne Uzac and his wife and financial director, Marion Kim, and a BuzzFeed report on shady business practices at the company—it’s fair to wonder how long this can go on. After being told to take the rest of the day off yesterday, dozens of Newsweek staffers broke out the booze and held an impromptu gathering that one employee told Splinter’s David Uberti was “half funeral, half party.

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The reporter who was fired, Katz, along with Josh Saul and Josh Keefe of Newsweek’s sister site International Business Times have written articles about the organizational chaos in recent weeks. Among other stories, Katz, Saul, and Keefe reported that the Manhattan DA’s January raid was connected to an investigation into the financial connections between the founders and Olivet University, a Christian college in California. Soon after, Uzac, the co-founder of International Business Times, which bought Newsweek in 2013, resigned. Katz’s firing, along with uncertainty about Saul’s and Keefe’s future, gives the appearance of retaliation carried out against reporters who investigated their own company. Newsweek Media Group declined comment to multiple outlets, but Mic’s Kelsey Sutton reports that Katz was escorted out of the newsroom to a standing ovation.

Following the dismissals, senior writer Matthew Cooper tendered his resignation. “The magazine, for all we know, doesn’t exist,” he wrote. Laying into Newsweek Media Group CEO Dev Pragad, Cooper blasted the organization’s “reckless leadership,” and added: “Leaving aside the police raid and harassment scandal—a dependent clause I never thought I would write—it’s the installation of editors, not Li and Roe, who recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness, that leaves me most despondent not only for Newsweek but for other publications that don’t heed the lessons of this publication’s fall.”

With Roe out, International Business Times Editor Nancy Cooper will take over as acting editor of Newsweek. She takes the helm of an organization in chaos, but the company’s executives appear to have achieved at least part of what they sought in firing the editors and reporters responsible for critical coverage; Newsweek’s homepage currently contains no mention of yesterday’s moves.

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Below, more on Newsweek’s troubles.

  • Must read: From Longreads’s Danielle Tcholakian: Journalists shouldn’t be fired for investigating their own publications. “Anyone who cares about journalism should be appalled by the events at Newsweek,” she writes. “Everyone in this industry should speak out against it and make it clear these actions are antithetical to what we aim to do.”
  • Retribution for good journalism: The New York Times’s Maggie Astor described yesterday’s firings as “a purge that targeted employees involved in coverage of the company’s financial and legal troubles.”
  • Katz’s work: In recent weeks, Katz has shared a byline on several stories related to Newsweek’s turbulence. She reported on the DA’s raid, Chief Content Officer Dayan Candappa’s leave of absence, and the Olivet University connection.
  • Saul and Keefe in limbo: CNN’s Hadas Gold reports that an editor stepped in to prevent Keefe’s firing, and that Saul is on vacation, but has not yet been fired.
  • What’s next?: “At this moment the entire staff is angry, frustrated and confused,” one employee told the New York Daily News.


Other notable stories

  • CNN’s Stephen Collinson analyzes President Trump’s embarrassing split-screen moment as stocks plummeted yesterday. “As the president touted his economic agenda in Ohio on Monday, his face stared out of millions of television screens next to blaring red graphics and yellow numbers whirling like the reels on a slot machine, telling the story of a full-bore stock market plunge”
  • Writing in The Wilson Quarterly, New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg looks at how his paper has changed in response to Donald Trump’s presidency. “We spent our whole lives thinking that people assumed that we were honorable; people assumed that we were trying to find out what actually happened,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet told Rutenberg. “I think we were wrong.”
  • For CJR, Natalie Pattillo examines media companies’ paternal leave policies for the 25th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act. “The media industry is notoriously hard on moms,” Pattillo writes, “and the news business isn’t getting much better.” She cites BuzzFeed and Bloomberg as among the best at supporting working parents, while Vice and Condé Nast fall short.
  • The Knight First Amendment Institute’s Carrie DeCell says that a new US Customs and Border Protection directive regarding cell phone searches at the border fails to resolve constitutional concerns.
  • “WNYC tolerated sexual harassment and bullying for years,” writes Boris Kachka for The Cut. Following the dismissal of several staffers, CEO Laura Walker must now find a way to steady the ship and prove that the institution has changed, Kachka writes.
  • There have been plenty of surveys showing that Americans struggle to understand what the First Amendment actually protects, and CJR’s Jonathan Peters finds that journalists are not immune to the confusion.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.