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Ed Driscoll

Editor & Publisher’s Final Years A Cautionary Tale

December 12th, 2009 - 11:31 am

On Thursday, the Politico’s Michael Calderone reported that the legacy media’s house organ will be playing its last chords soon:

Editor & Publisher, which has chronicled the closing of numerous publications in recent years, now suffers the same unhappy fate.

Nielsen Business Media is selling eight magazines — including AdWeek, Billboard, and Backstage — to a new consortium, e5 Global Media Holdings. But two of their other brands, E&P and Kirkus Reviews, will be shuttered in the process.

Editor Greg Mitchell tweets: “Yes, it’s true, my magazine, E&P, axed today, out of job. At office until end of year–and here, of course.”

Megan McArdle (who recently stopped by PJTV) adds, “Will the last journalist to exit the industry please turn off the lights on their way out?”

Shuttering E&P is a real loss for the media beat, given that the publication has comprehensively covered the newspaper and magazine world (while breaking a lot of news in the process) for over 100 years. Their reporters are typically the first to break down circulation numbers, while offering monthly listings of newspaper website traffic rankings and other essential information.

“Will the last journalist to exit the industry please turn off the lights on their way out?”

That’s what I really should have headlined this post.  Editor and Publisher has spent the last few years chronicling the demise of scrappy upstarts and venerable media institutions.  Now E&P is shutting down.  It’s been covering the publishing industry for over 100 years.  Unfortunately, there’s less and less industry to cover.

Incidentally, every time I write one of these posts, I get accused of doing my grim blogger dance on Old Media’s grave.  This is emphatically not the point.  I work in the media.  For a venerable print publication, no less.  The demise of newspapers and magazines does not make me happy, even at the most selfish level, since it means more competition for the few remaining jobs.  At a marginally less selfish level, I love the splendiferous proliferation of outlets, print and web; the death of every one pains me.  (Well, almost every one.  I cannot say I have much wept for Hallmark magazine or Cottage Living.  But I still feel bad for the journalists involved.)  At the least selfish level, I quote Tom Stoppard:  information is light.  Fewer journalists looking for information makes us all a little worse off.

Of course, E&P wasn’t above cooking the books on that information from time to time. Mitchell had a nasty moment when the Blogosphere caught him airbrushing his own work in 2005. And as Lachlan Markay writes at Newsbusters, “Toward the End, Editor and Publisher Lurched Left”:

With the demise of the Editor and Publisher this week, many media commentators are nostalgic for the hard-nosed trade journalism the newspaper industry publication often engaged in. E&P’s strength was always in its core mission of reporting news industry trends. In its latter years, like a number of other outlets, it began to stray off-course into garden-variety, hypocritical leftist media criticism.

Greg Mitchell, E&P’s editor since 2002, consistently called for newspapers to print more opinion in their coverage of major world events. Most notably during the Israel-Hamas conflict early this year, Mitchell lamented that media outlets were not taking sides.

“[A]fter more than eight days of Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket launching in Gaza, The New York Times had produced exactly one editorial, not a single commentary by any of its columnists, and two op-eds,” he complained at the Huffington Post.

But Mitchell did not just want opinion. He wanted his own opinion. Some newspapers did provide commentary on the Israel-Hamas conflict, but backed Israel and consequently earned Mitchell’s scorn. The Washington Post, he noted, “did manage to work up an editorial for Sunday which, in the usual contortionist manner, found the invasion ‘justified’ but also highly ‘risky’.”

As newspapers weighed in on the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Beirut, Mitchell was happy that they were taking sides, but still disappointed that they would not present the angle that he wanted. “[I]t’s a disgrace that few have expressed outrage, or at least condemnation, over the extent of death and destruction in and around Beirut.”

In American politics, Mitchell was similarly insistent that newspapers adopt political stances and shill for them. Writing of the Iraq war, Mitchell stated “It’s time for newspapers, many of which helped get us into this war, to use their editorial pages as platforms to help us get out of it. So far, few have done much more than wring their hands.” When newspapers defended the war, however, Mitchell attributed it to “the media’s patriotic fervor.”

Mitchell’s intense opposition to the Iraq war also led him to praise as “some of the best reporting on the war” sarcastic, often anti-American blog posts from anonymous Iraqis promoted by McClatchy’s in 2007. There was no way to verify the authenticity of these bloggers or their posts, yet their consistently negative portrayals of the American presence in Iraq–expressed in often derisive and sarcastic tones–earned them Mitchell’s respect.

So when media commentators recall the glory of the E&P, let them not omit the many instances in which the publication’s editor called for the destruction of the line between journalism and commentary. Let us also remember that Mitchell himself touted his own views through his reporting, called on others to do the same, and dismissed journalists who reached conclusions that contradicted his beliefs.

The journalism community will suffer at the loss of the E&P, but, in honor of the publication’s last editor and his insistence that reporters not accept facts at face value, one should not overlook the many instances in which the E&P cross the line from straight journalism into political commentary, and the many cases in which the two overlapped.

In 2006, E&P ran an essay titled, “Climate Change: Get Over Objectivity, Newspapers.” Which flows in a strangely logical direction from attempting to shape the narrative on war, as the two issues were remarkably interconnected in recent years; war versus the moral equivalent thereof.

As I wrote late last month when ClimateGate broke, you could make the case that the above essay foreshadowed remarkably well the 2008 presidential election, when the legacy media got over objectivity in a big way.

So while I’m sorry to see any publication fold-up shop, its last years offer a tale of warning to those who remain in journalism — where, in-spite of the economic woes, a few news sources appear to be flourishing.

Update: In the comments below, reader W.C. Varones notes that Mitchell also airbrushed himself, erasing a bitter Huffington Post screed he wrote regarding the National Enquirer’s scoop of John Edwards’ affair; the text of that item appears to be here and here.

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