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Transitions in Media World, from Time Warner Mags to a Variety Reboot; Sragow Returns to L.A.

Transitions in Media World, from Time Warner Mags to a Variety Reboot; Sragow Returns to L.A.

Sad but true. The march of time continues to bring inevitable shifts in the media world.

Newsweek has been swallowed by The Daily Beast. And now Time Warner’s publishing arm ($3.4 billion in revenue last year) is considering creating a new joint magazine venture with broadcast giant Meredith Corporation (worth about$1.6 billion). Time Warner and Meredith would each merge their magazine titles, leaving Warner more of an entertainment conglomerate than a publishing company, although it plans to hang on to “news mags” Time, Sports Illustrated, Money and Fortune –for now. They are the crown jewels of what was once a storied publishing empire, now down on its heels. Michael Wolff paints a vivid picture of the Time Inc. decline here.

The new publicly traded company would own Time Warner’s People, still a sales behemoth though down from its heights, InStyle, Real Simple and EW as well as Meredith’s Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Parents, and Child and Fitness.

Time Warner magazines have been going through layoffs and buyouts, among them EW top critics Ken Tucker and Lisa Schwarzbaum, who are moving on. The future of EW, lately edited by People veteran Jess Cagle–who will be front and center on the Oscar red carpet Sunday–is up in the air. Long-time EW editor Jim Seymore, who built the magazine into a powerful entertainment title, later ravaged by the recession and online competition, wrote on Facebook:

The imminent sale and breakup of Time Inc., the greatest magazine publishing company in American history, is a devastating coda to a long, sad decline. Everyone knows the financial pressures crushing print media these days, but no one has mentioned the internal, editorial rot that has undermined Time Inc. during the last 20 years. This may not be the place to name names, but this may well be the time to do so…

Cable Neuhaus, the west coast editor when I was at EW in the 90s, also wrote on Facebook:

If Meredith ends up closing the deal for Time Inc.’s magazines, chiefly to bulk up its strength in the traditional (and older) women’s demographics, one can easily imagine the company selling or shutting down Entertainment Weekly (where I spent 11 years).

Consider me a fan of EW and Time–I still subscribe to both. Whatever Time Warner hasn’t been doing right with these magazines, I highly doubt that Meredith will do better by them. EW isn’t a women’s magazine. I was always amused by the fact that one of its target demos was known inside the mag as “men who like to shop.” I hope there’s a way to keep it going. More details on the Time Warner transition here.

Meanwhile Jay Penske, CEO of Variety parent Penske Media Corp, is about to reveal his reboot of Variety amid considerable anxiety at the venerable trade. Penske, who also runs sites Deadline and Movieline, will be making radical changes in the direction of an online/print hybrid which insiders describe as a classy bi-weekly publication more like the late great Premiere (which was an expensive monthly newstand-only venture).  While The Hollywood Reporter is the consumer-friendly celebtastic version of a trade, we don’t know their real numbers, even though editor Janice Min is making solid gains on her target, luxury ads, beyond endemic advertising during awards seasons. Variety –which insiders insist is in better financial shape than outsiders believe–wants to polish up the respect and authority that go with its Tiffany brand, heading in the direction of quality entertainment business journalism. A new online site will be going up, among other changes.

“The future is unbelievably bright,” says Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos. “It’s what we’ve wanted for a long time: to be lead by someone progressive, adventurous, intelligent, focused, creative and transformative. It’s a very exciting time.” Soon, Gaydos promises, the news of various changes afoot will start to roll out. He couldn’t comment on the frequency of publication.

But it’s indicative of the insecurity at Variety that yet another one of their stars, television and features managing editor Stuart Levine, is leaving the pub for greener pastures. Levine is joining NBC’s PR team as v.p.of editorial and media relations. “We’re grateful for the 15 years Stu has devoted to Variety and for all his hard work,” Penske stated. “We will be announcing two senior TV hires in the next few weeks as part of the evolution of the business. We wish Stu every success in this new chapter of his career.”

Meanwhile there are rumblings that vendors and Variety freelancers, including regular non-staff critics, are not getting paid in a timely manner. Some of this is the transition from one accounting infrastructure to another, but Variety is also changing up its payment practices so that they will pay contributors via monthly invoices rather than by the piece. See the December 10 letter from Variety editor Tim Gray (below). According to several writers, the January 15 and February 15 payment dates have come and gone; one critic just got his November check today while others are still owed thousands of dollars. A Variety spokesman denies that writers have not been paid, citing the changing time frame for payments.

Meanwhile, as more critics hang up their hats, Michael Sragow, who several years ago transitioned from reviewing for the Baltimore Sun to editing duties at the paper (a move protested by John Waters), applied for and landed a job as film critic for the Orange County Register (their first in a decade), and is in the process of moving back to Los Angeles, where he lived in the 80s when he wrote reviews for Rolling Stone. Sragow has also written for The New Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The San Francisco Examiner, and salon.com, as well as editing several books; he published a 2008 biography of filmmaker Victor Fleming. Welcome back, Michael!

Variety editor Gray’s letter to contributors is below:

Thanks to all of you for your continued hard work. And we want to assure you again that Variety’s new owner, Jay Penske and Penske Business Media, are very aware of Variety’s great legacy, and the importance of our editorial coverage. People in the newsroom here are feeling very positive about all this.

Under PBM, there will be a new process for invoice submission and payment. Penske Media will be processing invoices once a month, at the end of the month. This means that, effective immediately, PBM will process approved invoices by the 15th of the following month. You will receive an email from Krystal Henderson at the end of the month that will include any work for Daily, Web, Features, Weekly and Reviews to confirm before payments  are processed.

So, for example, you will be paid mid-January for work that you do during December.

However, I ask a professional courtesy. Most freelancers will be paid at a different, slower rate than you. There are just a few of you that we put on an accelerated schedule. But please, it will make it easier for all of us if you don’t discuss your timetable with others. We value everyone’s contributions, and we don’t want anyone to feel left out. So it would help if you keep payment discussions to a minimum.

Yes, it’s an adjustment for everyone. This is a different payment timetable than the one used under the old regime, and even the slower rate is closer to the payment system of most other publications.

Trust me, the PBM folks are good people and we hope there are no inconveniences here. And be assured that the advantages of the new owners will far outweigh those. They have great ideas about revving up Variety, and we will keep you posted as we get closer to making these happen. I cannot stress enough how much Variety feels reinvigorated under Jay and his team. And this means opportunities for you. Jay and the team want to encourage each of you to be the Variety representative in your territory. In addition to your assigned pieces, we want you to help Variety remain the thought leader for the industry. Some people fear that changes mean cutbacks. I’m telling you, it’s just the opposite here. We want you to continue with big-picture think pieces and/or reviews that are instructive to others in the industry.

Also, help raise Variety’s profile via YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, your appearances on TV-radio-web programs, whatever. Also, think of events in your territory that Variety could partner with, or events that Variety should initiate. In other words, it’s a new world of journalism. Editorial stories and reviews (in print and on the web) will always be the engine driving this, but think about how to expand the Variety footprint. We will follow up with more details, but we want you to start thinking about this.

Again, thanks. Let me know if you have questions,


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