Monday, October 18, 2010

Editor & Publisher soap opera continues

In case you have not heard yet, there have been major changes at newspaper trade journal Editor & Publisher (again). Here is the official word, followed by my own thoughts:

The official word:

The Duncan McIntosh Company, Inc. has announced changes to the editorial department of Editor & Publisher magazine. Jeff Fleming has been named editor-in-chief, Kristina Ackermann is managing editor, and Deena Higgs Nenad is associate editor...

"We understand what this magazine means to the industry and the responsibility we took on when we bought it," company president, Duncan McIntosh said. "We are committed to fulfilling that responsibility and improving the quality of content both in print and online."
Blogger Tony Case was the first to report on word that the editorial team at newspaper trade journal Editor & Publisher had been fired and replaced. The once weekly, then monthly, trade journal was closed by Nielsen in December of last year after attempts to sell the title failed. It was then reopened under the ownership of the Duncan McIntosh Company, an Irvine, California publisher of boating magazines, early this -- but minus editor Greg Mitchell (he landed at The Nation) and Joe Strupp (he landed at MediaMatters).

TNM is (rather proudly) not that interested in the journalism side of the business -- there is enough navel gazing already out there -- but if you'd like more of the bloody details here is the original report from Tony Case, along with further posts from Mitchell, and Richard Prince at the Maynard Institute.

During my time at Hearst and other newspaper companies E&P was always the main trade publication for the industry; but while others may wax nostalgically about the old weekly magazine I remember it mostly as a sycophantic mouthpiece for the industry. As someone actually in the industry I never learned anything from E&P -- though I loved the NewsPeople section (I was in there once or twice myself) and those help-wanted ads in the back of the book (I think I landed my first Bay Area gig through an E&P classified ad).

At one point the weekly was converted to a monthly to eliminate those occasional anemic issues with one stronger monthly edition. But the one thing that was working was paid circulation and classified advertising -- two things that don't jive with a monthly unless the display pages can grow dramatically.

At least one other magazine for the newspaper industry was launched -- I remember one from the eighties that I thought was editorially miles ahead of E&P -- but unless the vendors are willing to support a tell-all magazine it has no chance.

(I should add here that former editor Greg Mitchell deserves credit for saying what the rest of the nation was thinking: that the media industry had let the nation down by failing to professionally cover the lead up to the Iraq War. I imagine there are still those who think it wasn't E&P's role to talk of such things -- though it is crystal clear to me that it is exactly the role of a trade journal to speak honestly of its industry.)

The roots of the demise of E&P are no different than many other trade publications: 1) loss of subscription revenue as many books went to controlled circulation models; 2) embarrassingly weak editorial, with editors and reporters afraid to write honestly about their industries; 3) a poor attitude towards the web and new publishing platforms -- especially apparent in our current crop of media books who should have been on the mobile and tablet bandwagon months ago but are still are lagging behind; and 4) and the new owners of B2B media, PE firms -- nuff said.

But the main reason B2Bs have failed is that they have forgotten the formula: strong publishing leadership with industry knowledge and direct industry participation; a commitment to recruiting, training and leading a sales staff that knows its industry, knows its customers, and knows its products. Add to that credible editorial and you have a winner. It's not that complicated. Really.