'Great Journalists Got Fired' Over This Newsweek Exposé

A 'stunning' editor's note introduces it
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2018 9:43 AM CST
'Great Journalists Got Fired' Over This Newsweek Exposé
A stock photo of a newsstand.   (Getty Images)

It's hard to say which is buzzier: the Newsweek exposé published Tuesday night or the editor's note that appears atop it, which the Washington Post dubbed the most "stunning part" of the whole thing. In the note, Newsweek editorial staffers address the recent firing of Editor Bob Roe, Executive Editor Ken Li, and Senior Politics Reporter Celeste Katz by parent company Newsweek Media Group "as we were reporting this story" and as they were "doing their jobs." The staff that remained forged ahead and say they encountered "egregious breaches of confidentiality and journalism ethics" at the hands of NMG along the way. But the story that follows—which revolves around Newsweek Media Group and a small Bible college in California—was managed to be "written and edited Tuesday, free of interference from company executives." So what exactly is going on? We explain.

  • A January raid: Officials with the Manhattan district attorney's office descended on company's NYC HQ last month, taking computer servers with them. It's related to a fraud probe, and after the raid, Olivet University made clear that the only financial links it had to NMG were the millions the group paid the school for licensing and R&D agreements.

  • Not so? And here comes the crux of the exposé: that the financial ties may not have ended there. Newsweek's reporters learned that their own magazine ran $149,000 of ads for New York's Hudson Valley Regional Airport and Dutchess County tourism for free in 2017, "at a time when the magazine's parent company was in financial distress" and had a tax lien placed on it for not paying the IRS in excess of $400,000. The connection is that Olivet was currently constructing a satellite campus in the area, and the freebie ad offer was made as it was trying to secure construction permits and tax breaks.
  • The background: In brief, Olivet helped found IBT Media in 2006, setting up its digital publishing and advertising systems and providing it with editorial interns; the media company purchased Newsweek in 2013 and was rechristened NMG in 2017. Five current or former higher-ups with the group have held roles at Olivet.
  • The firings: CNN cites a source who said NMG co-founder Jonathan Davis told the staff that the reporting Roe, Li, and Katz were involved in had imperiled potential business deals, with the Daily Beast reporting he referenced a deal abroad that would've "changed the course of our business." More staffers resigned, and those that remained worked on the exposé outside the office, ultimately getting the green light to publish from NMG CEO Dev Pragad.

  • Tweets about the piece: Current Newsweek editor Jason Le Miere tweets, "At the same time as Newsweek Media Group was giving away $150k in free advertising ... I watched reporters in tears as they laid off 2/3 of the people in the newsroom." Newsweek alum Jason Silverstein declares, "Great journalists got fired over this piece and it deserves to be widely read and shared."
  • Doubling down: NMG site IBTimes.com on Wednesday published excerpts from what it reports was a 3-hour interview with Davis, his wife/Olivet president Tracy Davis, and Pragad. Its headline: "Newsweek Media Group Will Work More Closely With Christian University, Founder Says."
  • Related reading: Two big pieces worth diving into for more. A 2014 Mother Jones investigation that asked "Why are the new owners [of Newsweek] so anxious to hide their ties to an enigmatic religious figure?" and a Feb. 1 BuzzFeed article that alleged the company was engaging in ad fraud.
(More Newsweek stories.)

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