Since its recent $2.8 billion acquisition of New York-based Time Inc. in February 2018, Meredith Corp. is now the largest media conglomerate and magazine publishing company in the U.S., owning such legacy titles as People, Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Martha Stewart Living, The Magnolia Journal (recently named Magazine Launch of the Year by the Association of Magazine Media, or MPA) and many more.
But what does this acquisition really mean? And how does it affect the future of journalism? Keep reading to find out!
Meredith Corp. – The Leading Lady
For consumers, Meredith’s acquisition of Time Inc. means there are fewer publishers leading the way in regard to where we get our print and digital news. It’s up to the editors from various media outlets to remain trustworthy sources of well-rounded, well-researched and reported content that has been fact-checked and verified with reputable sources.
For advertisers and affiliates, it means fewer potential contacts and a risk of putting “too many eggs in one basket.” For journalists, this means fewer media giants for which to write and from which to learn. And for former Time Inc. employees, this could mean losing their jobs. In fact, since its acquisition, Meredith Corp. is looking to sell many of its more male-focused titles, including TIME, Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated magazines, hoping instead to focus on its core strength – women’s magazines.
Hopefully, Meredith Corp. will continue its reputation for excellence and steer the field of journalism into a brighter future rather than the darker alternative.
In Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni’s recent interview with Doug Olson, president of Meredith Corp., it seems the future of journalism is in good hands – at least for now.
Protecting Quality Content
According to Olson, the two-year transition period after the 2018 Time, Inc. acquisition will include refocusing sales and support organizations; reinventing print, digital and social media channels; and reinforcing the quality of current and newly acquired brands.
It’s important to note that print will not be going away. In fact, Meredith Corp. will be launching some new print magazines in coming years. Above all, Olson says he’ll be protecting good content. But what about the people who produce it?
“The editorial and the content production that we do is second to none. It’s amazing,” Olson says. “We cover a lot of different categories. … We’re intentionally leaving the editorial alone for now. … We don’t want to get in the way of producing great content.”
In his interview with Mr. Magazine, Olson says he has more respect every day for the content curators and creators at Meredith and who are coming over from Time Inc.
“We’ve got great people at legacy Meredith and there are some really good talented people at the incoming Time Inc.’s stable of brands and its employee base,” Olson says. “We think that together the combination will be dynamite.”
However, according to The Wall Street Journal, Meredith Corp. is expected to lay off up to 300 staffers – mostly Time Inc. corporate employees in New York in an effort to save $500 million in overhead costs in the next two years. So how does that work?
Even without as many people on their payroll, Olson insists that content quality for Meredith’s many brands is still key.
Lauren Iannotti, who serves as Editor in Chief for Rachael Ray Every Day, is one of many Meredith Corp. editors committed to showcasing quality content in every issue for the benefit of its readers. “What I’ve always loved about working in magazines … is that we’re improving people’s lives,” she says.
Editor in Chief Liz Vaccariello of Parents magazine is another Meredith Corp. editor who values quality content – specifically through the power of collaboration between media platforms. “Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story – the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey – that’s a much different kind of experience,” Vaccariello says. “I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way.”
Today, Meredith’s biggest competition is Hearst Magazines, which owns Good Housekeeping and other popular publications. Fortunately for consumers and journalists alike, Hearst Magazines is also a company that is dedicated to protecting quality content.
In her interview with Mr. Magazine, Joanna Coles, Chief Content Officer for Hearst Magazines, describes the importance of good content.
“What is content? I think it is information served up in a responsible and entertaining way that helps you understand and appreciate the world that you’re living in,” Coles says. “At its best, it resonates and adds to your appreciation and understanding of the world we live in. And it’s also a fantastic emotional distraction. At its worst, it’s full of misinformation and leaves you depressed and restless.”
With Hearst’s line of legacy titles, Coles is convinced that their content still maintains a commitment to quality. “You see a lot of magazines that are able to help readers make sense of a world that doesn’t feel like it makes sense anymore,” she says.
Other Changes in Journalism
Even with Meredith Corp. stealing the spotlight these days when it comes to journalism and publishing news, there are other publishers making some important changes to the way they do business.
As it celebrates 25 years of publishing, WIRED magazine, owned by publisher Condé Nast, is launching a paywall instead of continuing to give away free content online. Nick Thompson, a former editor for newyorker.com, is WIRED’s new Editor in Chief – leading the way for the technology magazine to succeed in the future.
The paywall on WIRED.com is “an important and exciting step that will allow us to continue our great work for the next quarter-century and beyond,” Thompson says.
In addition to the paywall, he is focusing on all of the different places where WIRED publishes unique content – the print magazine, the website, the Snapchat channel, the Instagram feed, Facebook live, and YouTube. “It’s all WIRED ‘stuff,’” he says. “It’s always had a really good and strong fan base, and it’s always had a great group of writers.”
For other publications, in lieu of rising print and circulation costs and other reasons, they’ve been forced to ditch their print formats for digital-only versions. This is true most recently for magazines like NME (whose initials stand for New Musical Express), which recently decided to cease its print edition after 66 years due to sales decline and a circulation drop to just 15,000 readers, and the British edition of the fashion title Glamour magazine, which has led to job losses, according to publisher Condé Nast.
Fortunately for most media companies, print isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, Olson has done the opposite of what British-based magazines NME and Glamour have had to do. U.S.-based Meredith Corp. has actually turned some previously digital-only publications such as Allrecipes into print magazines, which is good news for print loyalists.
However, when it comes to some of the positive changes afoot in journalism, there are also some very real dangers that could send the industry into a downward spiral. And I’m not just talking about those displaced, frustrated Time Inc. employees looking for freelance work.
The 3 Biggest Threats to Journalism Today
01. Increased Postal Prices
After completing a 10-year review of the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp rates in 2017, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the federal agency that oversees the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), issued a notice calling for price increases beyond the rate of inflation. During the review, the PRC found that the former price cap on stamp rates is not generating enough money for the USPS to run properly, so the PRC started making price adjustments to first-class mail, USPS marketing mail, periodicals, package services and special services products to generate more revenue.
The new postal prices took place on Jan. 21, 2018, including “a one-cent price increase for the Forever stamp from 49 cents to 50 cents. Postcards and metered letters increased by one cent from 34 cents to 35 cents and from 46 cents to 47 cents respectively.”
There is now speculation that postal rates could eventually increase by as much as 40%. If the PRC increases rates that much, Meredith Corp. and other media outlets would have to increase advertising rates, cut publishing frequencies and reduce circulation. This dramatic of an increase for postal rates “would likely destabilize national mail operations and could even force local newspapers, charities, catalogues and magazines out of business entirely,” according to one opinion columnist from The Hill.
02. Automated Journalism
Artificial Intelligence (AI) (also known as algorithmic journalism or robot journalism) – when news articles are generated by computer programs – has slowly been hitting newsrooms and threatens to impact how journalists work in the future.
According to Reuters News Agency, there are three important things AI developers should keep in mind, however, before replacing human journalists with various bots.
1. “Narratives are difficult to program. Trusted journalists are needed to understand and write meaningful stories.”
2. “Artificial Intelligence needs human inputs. Skilled journalists are required to double check results and interpret them.”
3. “Artificial Intelligence increases quantity, not quality. As it analyses massive data sets, AI will increase the amount of content produced, not necessarily its quality.”
On the other hand, a researcher from NiemanLab believes that using AI in the news industry could help supplement on-the-ground reporting by real journalists in the case of automated financial news or similar articles that rely on data mining and deep research.
03. Fake News
The third current biggest risk to journalism evolved with the popularity of the internet and social media. It seems that just about anyone can create a website these days and self-publish “fake news” online for use as clickbait and other purposes. You’ve probably read about various celebrity death hoaxes or politically-biased articles that pop up on Facebook and other sites during election season to influence voters with false information or scandals.
To help combat fake news, Google announced in March 2018 that it plans to spend $300 million over the next three years on its Google News Initiative to weed out fake news online and to improve the accuracy and quality of news appearing on its platforms, especially during breaking news situations.
Another similar initiative is underway by journalists and media entrepreneurs Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, who raised $6 million to launch NewsGuard to “address the fake news crisis by hiring dozens of trained journalists as analysts to review the 7,500 news and information websites most accessed and shared in the United States.”
According to an article in Quill magazine, published by the Society of Professional Journalists, ridding the internet of fake news may help rebuild a sense of trust between readers and the media, which could in turn help safeguard press freedom.
Another Meredith Corp. competitor, Trusted Media Brands, which owns such titles as Reader’s Digest, The Family Handyman, Birds & Blooms, and Taste of Home, confirms the connection between integrity and accuracy in journalism. “We have a great history of fact-checking,” says Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO of Trusted Media Brands. “We take that very seriously; we always have.”
Luckily, There is Hope
When it comes to a shining beacon of hope for magazine journalism, Meredith Corp.’s The Magnolia Journal has been an example of breakout success – with a launch timeline of only five months from idea to the newsstand. “The magazine of Chip and Joanna Gaines, TV personalities and creators of the brand, Magnolia, was a huge success from the start, requiring the publisher to go back to press on the first issue, not once, but twice.”
If other Meredith brands follow suit, the journalism industry is in for a big win.
“We continue to be very excited about the future of these brands in all platforms,” Olson says, “whether it’s in print or digital or social.”
When it comes to a big win for journalists looking for work, however, like those 300 Time Inc. employees, Discovery Communications recently announced a $14.6 billion acquisition of Knoxville, Tennessee-based Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns the HGTV brand and its magazines. Discovery Communications will move its national operations headquarters to Knoxville and bring the possibility of new jobs with it, which will need to be filled within the next year.
For journalists wanting to join Meredith Corp., on the other hand, a move to Des Moines, Iowa, is in your future. At least you can expect a lower cost of living in what U.S. News & World Report ranked as No. 1 in the country in its 2018 Best States list.