Since my exit from Editor & Publisher late last week, I've received thousands of messages of support via email, phone and Twitter. I'm humbled by this, of course. Since so many have asked how and why it happened, consider this a partial explanation (more later).
As many of you may know, the Nielsen Company announced it was shutting down Editor & Publisher, where I'd served as editor since 2002, on December 10. Cries of outrage from thousands of longtime fans emerged, along with several dozen offers (or at least feelers) to buy the publication.
To encourage this process and keep hope alive even after our death notice, I decided (under stressful conditions, to say the least) to finish the January issue, continued to post stories at our site, encouraged more purchase offers via Twitter and sites such as Huff Post, spread the same message via interviews with NPR, The New York Times and dozens of other outlets, and launched the popular E&P In Exile blog so staffers could keep writing--and float their names out there for possible employment elsewhere.
This all seemed to be "working," as Nielsen identified a large number of serious pursuers, some who wanted to emphasize online, others not. One suitor, for whatever reason, seemed to rise to the top and by early January we were told that it was very likely E&P would return very soon and that the entire staff would likely be retained. The front-runner even flew to New York from Irvine, Ca., to meet with staffers and assure nearly all of us that we would be retained in the revival.
This didn't surprise me. The editorial staffers deserved this. Since I took over eight years ago, the magazine, which had been on the verge of closing under the weight of million-dollar annual loses, had rebounded strongly, earning nice profits (until last year), achieving a wide audience and newfound influence on the Web (which I pushed for), and winning more top awards than virtually any other "trade" magazine for its print edition, for stories ranging from circulation declines to poor coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war.
So it was a bit puzzling last Thursday afternoon when a Twitter feed indicated that new stories were going up on E&P's shuttered web site. It didn't take long for my email box at home to start filling up with media queries -- was it true E&P was back in business? Congrats and all that. I told them: damned if I know. Might have just been a glitch. It was impossible that a sale could have gone through without me knowing about it. But the stories kept going up.
Finally, about three hours later, I got a call at home from Duncan McIntosh, the publisher of Boating World and FishRap News and front-runner for the takeover, who confirmed that the contracts for the sale had been signed but unfortunately I would not be part of the re-launch. "We want to move in a different direction," he said. On three occasions previously, in person and over the phone, he had hailed my "great work" at the magazine and said, "I certainly want to retain you going forward." Now I was out, along with the great Joe Strupp, senior editor and staff writer.
That meant that the magazine would lose the two staffers who had been responsible for roughly 80% of the magazine's news-making and traffic-driving "scoops" over the past several years -- at a time when Web impact needs to be expanded. (Strupp, in fact, had been focusing on the print to Web transition over the past two years.) This would bring the size of the editorial staff down to four from six. I wish my salary was so high that cost-cutting alone would explain it.
Oddly, Folio soon reported, "In terms of editorial direction, Duncan said E&P is and has been right on course."
I'll leave it to you to characterize the decision to resume publication on the web site for several hours before notifying two longtime staffers about their future with the magazine.
Much of the speculation about the "new" E&P has been on the decision to focus on business and tech/press room issues. Many observers in recent days have warned that the "E" will be largely taken out of "E&P." McIntosh pointed to this for The New York Times, as it reported: "Mr. McIntosh said in an interview that he wanted to shift Editor & Publisher's focus toward the business and technology of the industry, with less emphasis on what happens in newsrooms."
In another signal, E&P today shut down its lively newsroom-oriented E&P Pub, its most popular blog by a wide margin since its inception.
There's a great deal to be said about the implication of that for the tens of thousands of online and print newsroom staffers out there. But for now, while the dust settles, I would urge you to visit the E&P In Exile blog, now featuring Mitchell and Strupp, and my own personal blog, Pressing Issues. My Twitter feed is here and email is here. Strupp can be reached here; his blog is here.
And thanks for all those many expressions of outrage and support.
UPDATE Friday, Jan. 22: Traffic at E&P Online has been swamping the E&P blog all week.
Greg Mitchell can be reached at: email@example.com. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books, including "Why Obama Won" and, on the subject of Iraq and the media, "So Wrong for So Long."
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