Newsweek plunged into chaos by its own reporters' exposé
Newsweek plunged into chaos by its own reporters' exposé

Newsweek plunged into chaos by its own reporters' exposé

The Guardian
February 21, 2018


Newsweek, once one of the most powerful publications in US media, has a scoop on its hands - one that has plunged the troubled title further into chaos.

On Tuesday the magazine published an exposé of its owner's ties to a small evangelical Christian school, Olivet University, founded by the controversial Korean pastor David Jang.

Staff were fired and several editors threatened to resign as management tried to interfere in the publication of the story.

The story - entitled "Why is the Manhattan DA looking at Newsweek's ties to a Christian university?" - details links between Newsweek Media Group and Olivet University's efforts to develop a campus in upstate New York.

The Manhattan district attorney's office raided the downtown newsroom of Newsweek in January, taking 18 computer servers. Its investigations have been reported to be into ties between Olivet and Newsweek Media Group, formerly known as IBT Media.

Jonathan Davis, co-founder of Newsweek Media Group, is the husband of Tracy Davis, president of Olivet University.

After the raid Olivet denied "shared ownership interests" with Newsweek but acknowledged "payment for a licensing and R&D arrangement".

According to the Newsweek report, tax records show Newsweek Media Group paid Olivet millions of dollars for licensing and research and development agreements. Olivet also offered New York county officials free advertising in Newsweek, according to the report, as it sought permits and tax breaks for its new campus. In 2017 Newsweek ran 10 full-page ads - valued at about $149,000 (£106,000) - promoting local services, all free of charge.

"At the same time as Newsweek Media Group was giving away $150k in free advertising as part of negotiations to secure property for Olivet University, I watched reporters in tears as they laid off two-thirds of the people in the newsroom," Newsweek's associate politics editor, Jason Le Miere, tweeted on Tuesday night.

The story was accompanied by an extraordinary editors' note describing turmoil at the magazine and "egregious breaches of confidentiality and journalism ethics".

"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," it read.

"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."

The editors claimed "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".

The Daily Beast, which used to be owned by the same company as Newsweek, reported that the story had been in the works for weeks and had encountered "significant headwinds" from management.

The editors and reporters involved in the Olivet piece said they resisted efforts of management to influence the story and "felt they would be forced to resign".

However, a senior Newsweek Media Group executive then promised that the company's owners would ensure editorial independence in the future.

Eventually the story was published, but not without another note at the bottom reading: "Celeste Katz contributed reporting to this article before she was fired."

Newsweek Media Group, which bought the 85-year-old publication in 2013, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The editors' note in full
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.



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