Not a good week in journalism.  And this cover story was, unfortunately, quite prophetic for a lot of Time, Inc. staffers.

Of interest, amidst the “can you braid this into a noose for me please?”-type news, is the announcement by CEO Ann Moore that Time Inc. is cutting staff as part of a reorganization plan:

…effective tomorrow, we are going to implement a much more centralized management structure, organized into three business units that will group together titles that share similar audiences, advertisers, and the talents and skills of their staffs. The goal is to enable our company to move faster, go to market smarter, save significant costs, and employ our editorial resources more efficiently.

Well, that part sounds pretty good.  But this next bit kinda leaves me scratching my head.  They’re organizing the company into three “Business Units”:

* News: the existing print and digital properties in the TIME group, the Fortune|Money group, and the Sports Illustrated group, as well as and GEE. John Squires, EVP Time Inc. will manage the News Business Unit.
* Style and Entertainment: the existing print and digital properties in the PEOPLE group, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, and Essence. I will act as the EVP for this group so the Style and Entertainment Business Unit will report to me.
* Lifestyle: the existing print and digital properties of Real Simple, This Old House, All You, Southern Living, Cooking Light, Sunset, Health, Cottage Living, Coastal Living, and Southern Accents, along with and Sylvia Auton, EVP Time Inc. will manage the Lifestyle Business Unit, while also retaining responsibility for IPC Media.

Apparently, this is to take advantage of one of the other key areas of the reorg, which is to set loose the Ad Sales staff on selling ads across a range of related properties.  Which, in theory, would make sense — but I’m not sure that any internal measures are going to change the dynamics hitting national mags.  When the Big Three automakers teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, offering them easier access to your ad pages because you can now sell them space in a dozen mags, rather than just a couple, is not really a game-changer.

Moore goes on to tout recent collaboration across Time Inc. properties, such as when Sports Illustrated shared photos to the website, or the magazines sharing content, such as a Time cover piece on the economy that was written by a Fortune staff writer.

Why does this feel like making a virtue out of a necessity?  Of course the SI photogs are shipping their photos to the TIME sites. That’s because TIME can’t afford to send their own photogs to Beijing to cover the events.  And the fact that TIME has to rely on a writer from another magazine to provide the necessary perspective on THE GIGANTIC STORY OF THE MOMENT is evidence of the fact that TIME is getting so thin on staff that they have to reach out to magazines that still have core competency in economic issues to try to make sense of the global meltdown.  Once upon a TIME, such people already on hand, working in the newsroom on deep, insightful stories.

BTW – I’ve been noticing that TIME hardly even runs ads anymore.  Again, I remember the good ol’ days, when the mag was so crammed with ads that it was hard sometimes to read the stories, because they had to jump across so many pages.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a double-truck car, computer or tobacco ad in TIME.

Likewise, missing in all of this is any real description of where the money is going to come from.  Go ahead, click over and read the memo.  I can’t figure it out. There’s brave talk about how the company is still profitable and making money, doing good work, the website is growing, yada yada … but other than streamlining some internal business processes, I can’t quite make out where there’s a description of the new revenue streams or multimedia products that TIME is developing that will grow to offset the circulation and readership declines.

And philosophically, creating more silos in your business is not really a step forward when it comes to the web.  The mere fact of yanking a bunch of content from one arbitrarily created designation and sticking it under a newer, fancier title … really doesn’t mean all that much to the page traffic that’s coming in from Google.

Now then – if Time, Inc. had announced that it was going to be creating new topic verticals (retirement investment planning, children’s health, mobile electronics) as part of a wide-ranging web initiative … where the best writers, photographers, artists, etc., from ALL OF TIME’S PROPERTIES, clustered to create content for specific interest niches that would appeal to readers and advertisers alike … and that they were doing this as part of a long-term transition from a world where the branding on an ink-on-paper cover actually meant something … rather than a world where what matters is the SEO results that drive audience traffic to your content … and that Time, Inc, then went on to create these fascinating cross-property conversations between their writers … you know, something around which you also empower social clustering and affinity groups to comment on, add to, and repurpose your content …

…then that would have really blown me out of my chair.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,