The warring of rich white men behind the scenes at magazine companies can be as dull as it sounds or, as in the case of Jack Griffin’s firing from Time Inc. at the hands of Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, it can be amusing, provided the powerful people are pissy and willing to go public about it. In this situation, there are the standard big corporate platitudes, but there’s also gossiping about the kind of leader Griffin was, complete with snippy comments about his bizarre religious motivation in meetings and maybe his latent sexism. And then he comes back with a statement of his own! More on the surprisingly entertaining big business beef — and details about the forthcoming Bill Simmons website, backed by ESPN — inside the Friday edition of Press Clips, our daily media round-up.
Tense at Time Inc.: Yesterday, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes shocked everyone paying any attention by announcing the removal of Jack Griffin as Time Inc. CEO after only six months. In an company-wide email, he wrote, “Although Jack is an extremely accomplished executive, I concluded that his leadership style and approach did not mesh with Time Inc. and Time Warner.”
But because that’s pretty vague, a handful of anonymous sources have come forward with strange anecdotes meant to undermine Griffin and explain his exit. Religion comes up in the most entertaining of the stories from unnamed executives, via the New York Times:
On at least one occasion, he compared Time Inc. to the Vatican as a way of illustrating its prestige and might, these people said. Mr. Bewkes personally intervened, asking Mr. Griffin to tone down the religious references.
A disparaging reference about his old job also put some people off of Griffin:
In a town hall meeting, one of his first mass interactions with Time Inc. employees, he told them, according to one executive there, that he was finally at a company “where I can actually read the magazines,” an apparent reference to the fact that Meredith publishes women’s magazines.
And then there’s his self-importance, his critics note, calling him “too militarist” and a “my way or the highway’ type of guy.” And again from the Times:
In an order that many inside the company felt was an unnecessary use of resources, Mr. Griffin insisted that all Time Inc. magazines, which include Sports Illustrated, People, Entertainment Weekly and Fortune, run mastheads, a listing of the magazine’s staff, that carried his name first. In the past, the decision was always up to individual publications, and editors’ names were typically first.
But just as quickly, Griffin has mounted a defense, writing in a statement, “My exit was clearly not about management style or results.” A pro-Griffin anonymous Times source elaborates:
“Jack’s exit had nothing to do with management style and everything to do with the question of whether Time is manageable so long as entrenched interests fiercely resist the change necessary to position the organization for the future,” this person said. “Fortunately, the team Jack leaves behind is first rate and he wishes them all the best of success.”
In short, high level management didn’t like getting pushed around by a new guy — an outsider — and so they banded together, taking Griffin down by force, pressuring Bewkes into making a move. In the words of the Post, “another rumor making the rounds was the Griffin was overthrown by a palace coup of disgruntled executives who pleaded their case to Bewkes who acted because he feared other executives might suddenly exit after collecting their annual bonuses in March.”
Of course, the truth is probably somewhere in between, with egos bruised and muscles having been flexed on both sides. But when corporate media bloodsport goes public, the real winners are the outsiders who can sit back on our cheap office chairs and just giggle.
Big Bill Staffs Up: On Wednesday, we congratulated banker-by-day, freelancer-by-night online fan-favorite Katie Baker on her new position as a full-time sports writer for an upcoming project helmed by ESPN superstar sports pundit Bill Simmons. Today, details about the project are starting to sputter out, including the news that joining Baker will be not only Chuck Klosterman, everyone’s favorite ’80s hair metal expert, but also Lane Brown, who’s leaving his spot at New York magazine’s Vulture. Brown will head west to Los Angeles and head up the Simmons site’s pop culture coverage, which will make up about 30 percent of the content, compared to sports’ 70 percent. Though ESPN will back the project, it will not be branded as part of the network, according to reports.
Something of a phenomenon in the sports writing world, Simmons is counting on his rabid fan base to take to the other writers of his choosing as they have to him, which would let the site blossom into an insider’s paradise away from ESPN.com. According to a press release, “Bill sees the site functioning with limited fan interaction, including a selection of about 300 fans with exclusive access to comment on the site and interact with contributors.” That last part sounds like something that readers would pay for — a subscription model, of sorts — and may indicate something of a business plan moving forward. If anyone can turn his army of commenters, retweeters and hate-readers into dollar signs, it’s probably the Sports Guy.
Gawker Redesign Revisited: Everyone is quick to point out that traffic numbers have dipped for Gawker Media properties in the days since they implemented a redesign, but Gawker editor-in-chief Remy Stern says they “don’t believe those numbers are accurate.” At this point, everyone should really just go outside!
Enjoy the weekend.