August 19, 2014 Last Updated 8:10 am

Publishers have long history of trying to introduce metrics into evaluating editor and journalist evaluations

Time Inc. tries to judge its journalists based ‘advertiser value’ but effort is no worse than other odd formulas for evaluating employment value

The website Gawker has been hitting home runs with journalists lately, publishing posts on the value of editors, while shining a light on one of the methods Time Inc. is using to evaluate the value of authors. (The piece on editors needed a good editor, who would have spiked the story as being silly.)

Hamilton Nolan’s piece on the recounts how the editorial side at Time Inc. publications now report to the business side and how the company has introduced an evaluation method that attempts to put a value on a journalists worth to advertisers.


What would the spreadsheet say?

Nolan may be, if reports are true, Gawker’s longest tenured writer, but as he is still in his 30s, it is obvious he hasn’t been around very long, or worked at many other publications. Creating weird, worthless methods for evaluating journalists and editors has been around a long time – this method, that reduces a writer’s worth to a spreadsheet is no worse than others.

It particularly galls journalists that Time Inc.’s CEO would have placed editors under the management of the business side – meaning reporting to publishers. But this has been the norm in B2B for many years. Does it work? Actually no. I hate to admit it, being a publisher, but the answer is no.

I am somewhat unique among publishers in B2B in that my background is journalism, but I have worked on the business side for over 30 years. I also have worked at daily newspapers. The combination means that I value quality editorial to a large degree, and see how good editorial content is the key to success, even with qualified publications. For the most part, editorial quality at B2B publications is atrocious, and publishers are mostly to blame. Editors can be blamed, as well, but most are little more than stenographers dutifully rewriting press releases and making sure whatever in on the editorial calendar in the media kit appears in the next issue. I have had good editors in my 20+ years in B2B, but many were just doing what was necessary to get a paycheck, and making sure they didn’t cause waves.

Whether it is the consumer or B2B side of the industry, though, it is always hard to evaluate the worth of an editor or journalist – at least if one is trying to put numbers together. What is important? Is editorial directly tied to circulation? web traffic? ad pages? Is quantity want is important? or is someone trying to judge quality by simply saying “I know it when I see it?”

Most who create silly spreadsheets, like the one Nolan writes about at Gawker, do so to have a hammer to be used when the next round of layoffs are coming down the road. A publisher with a spreadsheet can fire someone and by the time the person fired figures out what the damn spreadsheet really says it is too late. It is difficult for a union to fight a spreadsheet like the Time Inc. one being used – it is so random and pointless that one might describe it as perfect. Perfect for the job, that is.

Nolan points out in an update that the company says that the reason for the spreadsheet is in response to the union’s demand for some sort of evaluation that would justify a layoff other than seniority. It is an admission that the company simply needed to create a criteria for a dismissal that is based on something abstract. If Nolan had been older he probably could have included his own experience with other evaluation systems – I’ve seem a million of them.

The business side knows how to layoff sales people: did they make quota? It is harder for editorial personnel. Especially when you have no experience in editorial. This drives editors mad, reporting to the business side. But then again, based on the last Gawker piece, journalists aren’t too happy reporting to the editorial side, either.

Time Inc.’as spreadsheet is just the latest method and no worse than counting words produced, matching editorial with circulation, etc. They are all artificial and not at all honest efforts at evaluating an editor or journalists worth to a publication. To do that, the manager would have to actually read the publication.

The history of tablet editions could be trace with only one magazine: TIME. It has gone through so many iterations, confused and delighted so many readers, that if someone were to explain tablet magazines to someone outside the industry, TIME might be the publication I would choose.

When the iPad was first launched Time Inc. immediately set out to launch apps, but fought with Apple over subscriptions. It didn’t want to go through Apple’s system because they wanted to retain customer information. The fact that they would lose 30 percent didn’t help, either, but they said that wasn’t the main issue.

As a result, the first TIME magazine apps were for individual issues. This was totally silly as it required a new app a week. That first app was called in Apple’s system, by the way, time-april-12-2010. You can see the problem.

Soon TIME had a single app for all issues, but still no subscriptions. It took TIME a long time to adopt subscriptions, the Newsstand, etc.

TIME’s first app, developed by The Wonderfactory

The current app continues to soap opera. The most recent reader reviews are all negative, complaining that the app no long offers landscape orientation. A lot of readers, myself included, love holding the iPad in landscape while reading. But many readers, such as those with Kindles and Nooks, or the iPad mini, hold their tablets like an eReader. As portrait closely mimics the look of a print magazine, it is the logical orientation for magazines – just as landscape is for newspapers (since most are folded).

So one can not blame TIME for going with portrait-only, but this app has had so many changes in its 4+ years of life that readers are not in a mood to be generous. Of the 17,000+ reader reviews inside iTunes, well over half are 1-star reviews.

But while you can judge the TIME app by reviews, the business side would want to talk circulation numbers. Despite having an app for TIME fairly early on, the magazine did not start reporting its numbers to AAM until this year – probably because they are anemic. As of June, TIME has 60,911 digital replica circulation, less than 2 percent of its total circulation (I think the goal at this stage of the tablet platform should be around 10 percent). But that is up from the last report in December. But Apple relentlessly promotes the TIME app, which tells you that even Apple hasn’t figured out how to sell digital magazines yet.

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