Thursday, December 13, 2007

More on the BW Bloodletting

A list of the people laid off and bought out at Business Week has just appeared on Talking Biz News, and I must admit that I am shocked.

The casualties include some of the best biz journalists around, people I've worked with in the past and admire: Tony Bianco, Jeff Laderman, Gail Edmonson, Larry Lippman and Amy Dunkin. (No offense to the rest, but I'm just mentioning the ones I've worked with directly on stories.)

This is on top of previous waves of layoffs that shed experienced journalists such as, in the last purge, labor writer Aaron Bernstein and Bill Symonds of the Boston bureau.

I realize these names don't matter to most people (except maybe Tony, the author of several well-received books), but these people are the heart and soul of Business Week. Jeff orchestrated BW's excellent mutual fund and personal finance coverage for two and a half decades, Gail is an ace foreign correspondent, and Amy is a mainstay of the personal finance section. Larry is the highly regarded photo editor who'd been at BW since the Stone Age.

These are all long-time people, in fact, and I assume that their salaries might have been a reason for their being so suddenly expendable.

I really am beginning to wonder what BW's management is thinking as it gets rid of these people while retaining, inter alia, "celebrity" columnists of questionable value to the reader. What direction is BW taking?

This is not excess flab being trimmed. Some of the early layoffs shed middle managers who had long outlived their usefulness. But these latest layoffs/buyouts are cutting into meat.

This does not bode well for BW. In fact, I'll take the thought one step further: there is something terribly wrong afoot at that magazine.

UPDATE: A pithy comment to the Talking Biz News item is worth repeating:

Adler was given the task of “fixing” a high-quality magazine that really wasn’t broken. It needed to adapt itself to the Web and address advertisers’ discomfort. But those issues are industrywide, and instead of tailoring the changes to meet those concerns in a measured way, he overhauled the magazine. I’ll say as a journalist based in D.C., one of the saddest end-results has been to its Washington coverage, which is almost non-existent. The “money and politics” beat remains open despite — I am certain — applications from many qualified candidates in recent months.
The comment above that one, which I'll not replicate as it is a bit nasty, reflects a lot of the feedback I've informally gotten from people I know at the magazine.

When I joined Business Week in 1986, Barron's and Forbes were renowned for their low staff morale. But that was offset by the excellent quality of the magazines and their stunning commercial success. But here we have poor morale and concerns about the viability of magazine and criticism of its redesign and direction. That's a bad combination.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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