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A loss for journalism

By
May 19, 2006

Out of New York comes disturbing proof that the bottom line rules the news business.

Writes Steven Lovelady in Columbia Journalism Review Daily:

In a doleful shirt-tail, or footnote, to the New York Times story this morning on the appointment of a new managing editor at Time magazine, we learn this:

"Donald Barlett and James Steele, two investigative reporters who have chronicled the vicissitudes of the American economy for Time magazine since 1997, have lost their jobs in a budget squeeze.

"The reporting duo, who together won two Pulitzer Prizes and two national magazine awards, were on the payroll of Time Inc. Their jobs were among about 650 that the company has eliminated in the last six months."

With that, there ended a chapter in American journalism the likes of which we may not see again. First at the Philadelphia Inquirer for 26 years and then at Time for nine years, Barlett and Steele came to be regarded by many as the premier investigative team in the business, and one that consistently met benchmarks to which others could only aspire. As Jim Warren of the Chicago Tribune has admiringly noted, in an age of singles hitters, Barlett and Steele swung for the fences every time, and seldom failed.

The news business, sadly, is more business than news and when decisions like this are made it brings that point home.

Continues Lovelady:

This morning, as word moved through the journalism community that Barlett and Steele had been sacked by a corporation as wealthy as Time Warner, the all-but-universal response was dismay. "This," said Sandy Padwe, a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a pretty fair investigative reporter himself, "is a disgrace. Two of the best investigative reporters ever, and they’re on the street? It’s a fucking travesty."

John Huey, editor in chief of Time Inc., told the Times‘ Kit Seelye that as he cut away at corporate costs, he sought unsuccessfully to shift Barlett and Steele to the payroll of one or another of the company’s magazines, but he was unable to find an editor willing to take on the expense. "They’re very good, but very expensive, and I couldn’t get anyone to take them on their budget."