When writers get angry, they don’t pull their punches.
After an arduous review process and internal turmoil over a piece examining Newsweek parent company Newsweek Media Group’s ties to a church and small Christian university, some employees were ready to air their grievances. After losing the confidence of the newsroom, management could only watch as writers published an article with a damning introduction.
Not every company has employees that write for a living, but every organization should take note: Disgruntled communicators can do plenty of damage.
In the story published Tuesday night, the editors added a note:
Note from the Editors: As we were reporting this story, Newsweek Media Group fired Newsweek Editor Bob Roe, Executive Editor Ken Li and Senior Politics Reporter Celeste Katz for doing their jobs. Reporters Josh Keefe and Josh Saul were targeted for firing before an editor persuaded the company to reverse its decision. As we continued working on the story, we were asked to take part in a review process which, we ultimately learned, involved egregious breaches of confidentiality and journalism ethics. We believe that subjects of the story were shown parts of the draft, if not the entire piece, prior to publication by a company executive who should not have been involved in the process. At an on-the-record interview with the subjects of this story, a company official asked editors to identify confidential sources. On-the-record sources were contacted and questioned about their discussions with Newsweek Media Group reporters. We resisted their efforts to influence the story and, after learning of the review’s ethical failings, the reporters and editors involved in this story felt they would be forced to resign. At that point, a senior Newsweek Media Group executive said the company’s owners would ensure independent review and newsroom autonomy going forward. This story was written and edited Tuesday, free of interference from company executives.
Signed: Dayan Candappa, Nancy Cooper, Cristina Silva, Ross Schneiderman, Michael Mishak, Josh Keefe, Josh Saul.
The note made an impression on many readers:
— Ashley Powers (@ashleypowers) February 21, 2018
Kudos to Newsweek’s reporters and editors for tough, thorough reporting on their bosses. And wow, what an editor’s note https://t.co/AtEvfj3RDy
— Melanie Mason (@melmason) February 21, 2018
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) February 21, 2018
The fired employees took to Twitter to broadcast their criticism:
“Note from the Editors: As we were reporting this story, Newsweek Media Group fired Newsweek Editor Bob Roe, Executive Editor Ken Li and Senior Politics Reporter Celeste Katz for doing their jobs.” https://t.co/D4adnbqPMJ
— Celeste Katz (@CelesteKatzNYC) February 21, 2018
— Kenneth Li (@kenli729) February 21, 2018
Current employees tagged their organization’s handle, confirming the version of events reported by the fired employees—that they were dismissed simply for doing their jobs.
— Michael J. Mishak (@mjmishak) February 21, 2018
A soured relationship
The rapport between management and the writers and editors of the magazine had been deteriorating for weeks, as executives tried to quash an investigation into the media company’s ties to a religious group called “The Community.”
CNN interviewed journalists involved in the decision to print, writing:
Late Monday night Newsweek’s acting editor-in-chief, four senior editors and two reporters were ready to quit. After months of drama at the magazine, including a raid by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the abrupt firings of their executive editor and editor-in-chief and questions about their website traffic and ad revenue, they were ready to take a stand.
The employee revolt came after several high-ranking editors and reporters were dismissed, ostensibly for their work reporting Newsweek Media Group’s ties to the mysterious group.
[…] in the course of reporting on the story, editor-in-chief Bob Roe and executive editor Ken Li and reporter Celeste Katz were fired for trying to report on their own company. NMG co-founder Jonathan Davis told editors in a meeting that the reporting had harmed potential business deals, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting. More than a dozen staffers resigned as a result of the firings and their aftermath.
The company was unable to satisfactorily defend the firings, and tell-tale quotes found their way into print.
Company higher-ups did not give a public explanation for why Roe, Li, and Katz were fired, though interim chief content officer Johnathan Davis told editors repeatedly in a recent meeting that Newsweek and IBT’s reporting on their parent company was degrading the publication’s brand.
“The recent string of articles has done real damage to our business relationships, to our partners,” Davis told editors, according to audio of the meeting obtained by The Daily Beast .
“Why do we need to do this necessarily to ourselves?” Davis asked later. “In the name of integrity?”
The firings were not enough to get employees to stop.
The remaining reporters and editors managed, after working on it quietly outside the office, to ultimately publish the piece by Katz, Josh Keefe and Josh Saul on Newsweek’s website on Tuesday night after what one source with knowledge of the situation called “a bloody battle” with executives who tried to slow down and neuter its publication. Ultimately the company’s CEO, Dev Pragad, convinced those involved they could publish their story freely.