Does Time Warner Understand the Role of Journalists?

Earlier this month, at the Atlantic-sponsored Washington Ideas Forum, I interviewed Jeff Bewkes, the chief of Time Warner, about the future of the magazine business, among other things. He is an obviously competent leader, perhaps even a visionary leader -- but a visionary leader of an entertainment company, not necessarily of a journalism company. The news out of our session came when he promised that Time Warner would still be in the magazine business in five years, but I thought our exchange about firing journalists, printed below, was more revealing, not only in light of the recent announcement that Time Inc. is cutting even more jobs, but because it raised a question in my mind about whether Bewkes truly understood that particular responsibilities -- not to shareholders, but to American democracy -- come with being a publisher.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Last year, Time Inc.... laid off 600 people. At what point do you do damage to journalism, and, therefore, to democracy, and at what point do you simply say, "This business doesn't work for us because we can't make the money that we need to please our shareholders."

Jeff Bewkes: No, the challenge for businesses... is to figure out what you need to redesign, including cutting operations and plants and duplicated data centers and human beings that are working in one role that you don't need in the new design of the product, without destroying or hurting the quality of the journalism or the movies. Last year, we also cut 700 people at New Line whom we valued very highly, who were making very successful films, and we had to make more efficient our Warner and New Line film production. The result of it is that we had a tremendous number of New Line hit films this year.

Goldberg: But the societal consequence of laying off people, as hard as that is, from a movie studio is not the same as the societal consequence of laying off professional news-gatherers.

Bewkes: Not all the people being laid off are news-gatherers. If you go out fifty years, the number of people in jobs, in any industry -- whether it's mining, farming, news production and dissemination, movie making -- is going to change. The production method is going to change, the nature of who's in what job will change. We do need to keep evolving it. The important thing is that we keep serving the role of having healthy, independent businesses that can provide quality journalism and quality entertainment.