TIME was 100 last week, and we took the chance to speak to its Editor In Chief and Executive Chairman Edward Felsenthal about how the publication made it to its centenary. He tells us about the tradition of innovation at TIME, building trust with global audiences, and how legacy is not a bad word in magazines.
In the news roundup the team discusses the fallout from The Telegraph publishing former health secretary Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages, despite journalist Isabel Oakeshott having broken an NDA to do so. We ask what that does for trust in the media, where the responsibility for putting everything in context lies, and if this is an Alien vs. Predator situation for those of us in the middle of the row.
Here are some highlights:
The secret to lasting 100 years
As I talk to our consumers and customers around the world, everybody feels some connection to this brand. So many people have a TIME story; there’s some point in their life or their family history where they have a real connection with the brand. And everywhere you go in the world, people know it, and it means something to them. And that’s special to all of us who work here. I think it’s a big part of what makes our work as a brand and as a team possible. And a big part of why we’ve made it to 100.
What’s unusual about TIME is, we’re not coastal in the US, we have audience really all across the country and across ideological lines, which is increasingly unusual. And then we’re also truly global. There aren’t many publications that are that well known and that are truly global in a way that this one is.
I think the main secret is trust, which is so valuable and increasingly rare in our world. We’ve got 100 years of it that nobody can replicate. There was a period in our business, the media business, where the word legacy – as in legacy media – almost became a bad word, and we all in a way thought the future are these digital start-ups that were just getting off the ground. 10-15 years ago, I helped start one of them, The Daily Beast, before I came here.
Part of what we’ve seen in recent years is that legacy is not a bad word. It’s a good word. It’s a positive. And of course, there’s plenty of room for exciting, innovative new players. TIME emerged as an innovator in 1923. It was the upstart of its of its day, and there is a plenty of room for that. But I think we’re seeing the value of legacy media players, because legacy in many cases – and I think certainly in our case – means trust, and trust is valuable and rare.
A decade of change
I spent the first half of my career at the Wall Street Journal – 15 years – very much involved in its evolution as we looked to expand our content areas and how we delivered our content. Then I went and did a start-up. Then I was so excited to come back into legacy media to TIME because I loved the start-ups, I did. But there is something so meaningful about being part of helping a great institution like this one, build on its past and move toward its future.
I was hired as the digital editor in 2013 at the time print and digital were pretty much totally separate. At TIME, digital was kind of the backwater. And so a lot of what I did in my first years here was bring print and digital together, bring the brand into one digital-facing presence. And that was exciting because suddenly, we had the biggest audience in our history. Print at its peak was 5.5 million or something. Today, we’ve got 105 million people around the world – not even including our studios division – who are our global audience. So it was it was and continues to be really an exciting journey.
Thriving without a niche
We are at the centre of… a fast expanding, complex information ecosystem. We are many things. We’re news, yes. But we’re – and this goes back 100 years – we’re information. You asked about secret sauce, and trust we talked about, but there are two other key parts to it. One is, there are a lot of publications that are specifically about business, or specifically about health, or specifically about entertainment in Hollywood. We are about everything. We are a guide, we are a trusted guide to the world around us and into events as they unfold.
We do these incredible events… and this is really an area where our owners have encouraged us to grow and expand. What’s particularly special about our events is that we bring together people from across the globe and from across fields. There are lots of events where the actors are all together, or events where the athletes are all together, or the business people are all together. Our events, because of the nature of our brand, bring together athletes and astronauts and activists and scientists and political leaders and business leaders, and they have the opportunity to share learnings. Because every problem today is multi-dimensional, multi-sector.
So I think that’s also part of our special sauce that we have credibility and all the key areas of humanity, and then we have the power to bring those people together.
Creating impactful digital covers
I think of the cover today as a digital object. Obviously, it’s beautiful and powerful in print, and we have a million for people around the world who have the magazine with the cover delivered to their homes, but it really is a digital object. And it’s exhilarating when we are on the right topic at the right moment, to see how it how it travels the globe, digitally.
We did a Serena Williams cover this summer when she retired that just travelled so powerfully around the world. We’ve done a couple of Ukraine covers; we worked with the artist JR to do something about the resilience of Ukraine, an incredible image that that travelled the globe, and another quoting a speech of Zelensky early in the conflict, and [it was] just amazing to see it the impact it has digitally.
D.W. Pine is the expert in this subject. [But when it came to Trump covers], Trump rewrote the rules of the presidency, and D.W. and his team rewrote the rules of the TIME cover. Although Trump is not the most frequent presence on the cover – in terms of US presidents, Nixon still holds the record, if you’re into cover trivia!
Main story: It’s all about the trust, ’bout that trust (no treble)
Pro-Brexit political journalist Isabel Oakshott handed over 100,000 WhatsApp messages between Conservative MP Matt Hancock and other senior government figures from various points during the pandemic to The Telegraph.
- The messages, of which the most significant are still being released by The Telegraph over the coming days and weeks, paint an ugly picture of some of the behind-the-scenes decisions that went on in government during lockdowns.
- The publication of the WhatsApp messages breaches a non-disclosure agreement Oakshott signed when she agreed to co-author Hancock’s memoir of the pandemic.
- Oakshott claims the messages were in the public interest, and has vehemently defended their release.
- Defendants of the leaks claim the messages “shed fascinating light on one of the most important chapters in recent British history,” and hail both Oakshott and The Telegraph as taking significant legal risks in order to publish the communications.
- Others question how long Oakshott had sat on the messages before releasing them (15 months) and say that betraying confidential sources is damaging to journalism.
- Although some are trying to paint a heroes and villains picture, this in reality is a very complex situation. The leaks are being used to support an anti-lockdown narrative, but the way they’re being published is self-selecting in itself and is not showing the whole story to the public.
- This is not a story where either the government or the media come out smelling of roses.
News in brief:
- For Nieman Lab Luke Winkie poses the question – given that gaming is the most lucrative entertainment medium in the world, why are we consistently seeing job cuts in games journalism? It’s effectively a microcosm of what we’ve seen elsewhere – as games and gaming influencers got direct access to audiences, the need for gaming magazines as they once were has ended. There’s absolutely still space for games journalism, as some of the existing sites and magazines demonstrate – it just requires you think about what you offer to gaming audiences they can’t get solely from developers or influencers.
- There was a misleading headline in the Guardian on Wednesday reporting on an internal email the company’s CEO Mathias Doepfner sent that said journalists are at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT. The real headline was that he said ‘only those who create the best original content will survive,’ and that’s 100% true; wrapping it up in this ‘AI will replace humans’ narrative is nonsense.
- WIRED has published a piece this week setting out guidelines for how they will and won’t use generative AI tools. They’ve stated that they won’t publish stories with text generated by AI because the ‘current AI tools are prone to both errors and bias, and often produce dull, unoriginal writing’. But they are exploring AI to suggest headlines and story ideas, and as an analytical tool. Details aside, I thought this was an excellent example of the sort of transparency other publishers should be considering as a way of building trust, and it does a really nice job of explaining the context and jargon as well.