More trouble at Newsweek: Top editors booted, staff told to go home

More trouble at Newsweek: Top editors booted, staff told to go home
Newsweek faced increased problems Monday after senior editors and writers were fired. Staff were told to go home early Monday, and now some are wondering if the magazine even exists any longer. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Things at Newsweek are not going well.

Last month, investigators from the Manhattan district attorney’s office raided the magazine’s New York headquarters, and now pink slips handed out to senior editors and reporters are impacting the outlet’s newsroom as workers wonder if they still have jobs. The actions led one senior writer to even suggest that the magazine no longer exists.

According to CNN, Editor-in-Chief Bob Roe and executive editor Ken Li were fired Monday. And things aren’t looking good for other Newsweek writers, as a source told CNN that staff received word early Monday afternoon to close up shop for the day and go home as they waited to hear if another shoe would drop.

One of the newsroom casualties Monday was reporter Celeste Katz — who had actually written stories detailing the magazine’s recent woes, from financial issues to the Manhattan DA investigation that led to last month’s raid. Katz confirmed her firing on Twitter.

Katz reported last week that Etienne Uzac, the founder of of Newsweek Media Group, which owns the magazine, stepped down as chairman and that his wife, Marion Kim, was about to leave her post as the the company’s finance director. The couple’s announcements came two weeks after the raid that, according to Katz, was part of an ongoing financial fraud probe by the Manhattan DA.

Reached by CNN in an email, Roe confirmed he had been fired but told the cable outlet that he knows nothing else about the magazine’s current situation.

Li did not respond to CNN but did tweet, “What a day to leave my charger at home,” as news was breaking of his firing.

Ongoing staff worries

The Monday personnel problems followed a Jan. 18 Twitter report from The Wrap’s Jon Levine that the Newsweek offices had grown “toxic” and that writers feared “imminent layoffs,” according to a “Newsweek insider”:

Newsweek was once a premiere media organization and an incredible springboard for young journalists hoping to grow a name for themselves. The company culture has turned the newsroom into a toxic work environment, while the publication has descended into a content farm for last-resort clickbait. There are good journalists working at Newsweek, but they’re forced to put their names on stories the news directors know will cause outrage on Twitter. Manufacturing rage for clicks is their current business model, and most people in the company fear imminent layoffs.

CNN reported that senior writer Matthew Cooper resigned following the chaos, which he blamed on the company’s “reckless leadership.”

In a letter to Newsweek Media Group CEO Dev Pragad, Cooper said the magazine’s problems were a result of “scandals and missteps” during Pragad’s tenure and not the fault of Roe and Li:

I’m resigning from Newsweek at the end of business today, February 5, although perhaps that’s moot since the staff has been sent home and the magazine, for all we know doesn’t exist.

While I haven’t always agreed with Bob Roe and Ken Li during their tenures leading the magazine, their efforts to pursue the scandals at Newsweek were admirable and their reported firing (along with two reporters) is a disgrace. This coup d’grace comes at the end of a string of scandals and missteps during your tenure. Leaving aside the police raid and harassment scandal— a dependent clause I never thought I would write — it’s the installation of editors, not Li and Roe, who recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness, that leaves me most despondent not only for Newsweek but for other publications that don’t heed the lessons of this publication’s fall.

I’ve been a journalist for over 30 years, including as a correspondent for Newsweek in the 1990s and since 2014. I’ve never seen more reckless leadership. I’ve tried to do what I could to help right the ship since the unjust firing of Editor Jim Impoco in 2017 but the situation has become untenable.

According to BuzzFeed, Newsweek sources shared that New York staffers are withholding work as they await further information and that the workers are “sad, scared people waiting to hear more.”