Newsweek is falling apart.
In January, the company was raided by the Manhattan district attorney’s office in conjunction with a probe into potential financial misdeeds by the news organization. And on Feb. 5, Newsweek fired two editors and a reporter in response to their coverage of the organization’s fiscal problems and other company scandals. After the firings, multiple reporters and editors employed by the Newsweek Media Group resigned in protest.
In a reportedly contentious meeting last week, Johnathan Davis, Newsweek interim chief content officer, blamed the organization’s instability on the intracompany reporting by Newsweek journalists. However, an investigation into financial wrongdoing at a major organization is an unquestionably important story for journalists to dig into, even if the organization in question is their own employer. The Newsweek reporters and editors who fearlessly reported the story — at the expense of their own jobs — demonstrated a firm commitment to the journalistic ideal of holding the powerful accountable and should be commended for their work.
In contrast, Newsweek’s management set a dangerous precedent by firing the journalists who reported the story. The action indicates a commitment to speaking the truth only when convenient and is a blow against freedom of the press by an organization whose business interests are based on this edict. And it is possible that because of Newsweek’s punitive reaction, future journalists will be less willing to report on their own organizations, even when there are legitimate stories to tell.
Still, in the last few months, there have been several excellent examples of media groups successfully writing about scandals within their own newsrooms, particularly within the realm of sexual harassment and misconduct. For instance, the Los Angeles Times reported on past sexual harassment lawsuits against its publisher, Ross Levinsohn, after NPR initially investigated the matter. And for its part, NPR did multiple in-depth reports about several top editors who were accused of sexual harassment, as did The New York Times after top reporter Glenn Thrush was the subject of sexual misconduct complaints.
These kinds of reports shouldn’t have journalists worried about losing their jobs and should be considered part of owning and operating a media organization. Reporters must take their cue from the journalism that digs into misconduct and injustice — wherever it may be found — and should ignore the bullying of a Newsweek management team that cares more about money and reputation than truth and accountability.