Newsweek publishes article critical of Newsweek after senior staff threatens to quit

Things aren’t going well at Newsweek. The magazine is being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney and when journalists at Newsweek decided to write about that story, one involving their own employer, it led to several firings and a threatened mass resignation. From CNN:

Late Monday night Newsweek’s acting editor-in-chief, four senior editors and two reporters were ready to quit. After months of drama at the magazine, including a raid by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the abrupt firings of their executive editor and editor-in-chief and questions about their website traffic and ad revenue, they were ready to take a stand.

Their bosses at Newsweek Media Group were, sources familiar with the situation told CNN, trying to block a story they were working on looking into NMG’s connection to Olivet University, a Christian school founded by a church run by a Korean-American pastor named David Jang.

The threat to quit en masse seems to have worked. The story critical of the magazine was published Tuesday along with an editors note which summarized the pitched battle inside the company to cover this story:

As we were reporting this story, Newsweek Media Group fired Newsweek Editor Bob Roe, Executive Editor Ken Li and Senior Politics Reporter Celeste Katz for doing their jobs. Reporters Josh Keefe and Josh Saul were targeted for firing before an editor persuaded the company to reverse its decision. As we continued working on the story, we were asked to take part in a review process, which, we ultimately learned, involved egregious breaches of confidentiality and journalism ethics. We believe that subjects of the story were shown parts of the draft, if not the entire piece, prior to publication by a company executive who should not have been involved in the process. At an on-the-record interview with the subjects of this story, a company official asked editors to identify confidential sources. On-the-record sources were contacted and questioned about their discussions with Newsweek Media Group reporters. We resisted their efforts to influence the story and, after learning of the review’s ethical failings, the reporters and editors involved in this story felt they would be forced to resign. At that point, a senior Newsweek Media Group executive said the company’s owners would ensure independent review and newsroom autonomy going forward. This story was written and edited Tuesday, free of interference from company executives.

So what was Newsweek so worried about? The story says a town in upstate New York where Olivet University, a California Bible College, was looking to expand was offered free advertising in Newsweek in exchange for help with tax breaks and permits:

As the school’s development arm sought tax breaks and construction permits from the town, it made a surprising offer to county officials: Would they like free advertising in Newsweek?

The officials were skeptical, but they soon received emails from the magazine’s ad department with details. “We thought it was awfully odd that someone would say, ‘We would like to provide you with full-page ads,’” Assistant County Executive Ron Hicks recalled in an interview.

County leaders accepted the offer. And over the course of three months last year, Newsweek ran 10 full-page spots—worth about $149,000, according to the publication’s ad rates—promoting Hudson Valley Regional Airport and Dutchess County tourism, all free of charge at a time when the magazine’s parent company was in financial distress.

There’s more detail in the story but that’s the gist. Newsweek was struggling financially but somehow could afford to offer $149,000 in free advertising in an apparent effort to help to help expand Olivet University.

Newsweek’s staff seems to be hoping this moment will mark a turning point for the struggling magazine. But while this might be good on a resume, it’s hard to see how it will help Newsweek. One source told CNN, “The staff are not confident, though, this place will be around much longer. But they’re determined to write the best stories as long as they can.”