August 25, 2006



The price of conglomerate journalism
by Jim Hightower

The new managing editor of Time magazine has a rather grandiose sense of his publication's place in the scheme of things. He declared that Time is for people "looking for one source to speak with authority and explain the world." Great — maybe he could start by explaining (authoritatively, of course) why Time Inc. dumped Barlett and Steele.

Don Barlett and Jim Steel are the premier investigative team in journalism today. Their in-depth work on everything from corporate welfare to our jerry-rigged tax system has earned two Pulitzer Prizes and given mass-market media some respect at a time that "journalism" has been degraded to sensationalism.

In May, however, after nine years at Time, these two suddenly found themselves on the street, unceremoniously sacked in a round of corporate cost cutting. A company honcho, said of Barlett and Steel: "They're very good, but very expensive," adding that there just wasn't room in the budget for the duo.

Well, yes, real dig-it-out journalism certainly is more expensive than yet another Britney Spears profile, but investigative work is supposed to be a journalistic responsibility. As for tight budgets, I recall that Time splurged about $4 million this year for the right to run photos of Angelina Jolie's new baby! Come on — this is Time Warner we're talking about, a $140 billion multi-media giant.

The problem with conglomerate-owned media is that its primary focus is not on producing good journalism, but on producing fatter profits. At the time of the firing, Steele said simply, but pointedly: "The decision was made at the corporate level not to fund this type of work."

Barlett and Steele have now landed happily at Vanity Fair and will continue their great work. Supposedly, Time Inc. is now making more money... but it's doing far less with it, and it's paying with its own reputation.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush, on sale from Viking Press. For more information, visit www.jimhightower.com


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