Bad press: Venerable trade mag Editor & Publisher likely to fold

In a year that saw 40,000 journalists lose their jobs and 143 newspapers fold, Editor & Publisher magazine stood like a sentinel, reporting every layoff, bankruptcy and closing with accuracy and integrity. But now, after 125 years of never missing a deadline or a chance to call industry leaders to the carpet for incompetence, E&P is being put to bed itself.

If a new owner does not step forward soon and buy E&P from current owner The Nielsen Co., the magazine labeled by many as the conscience of the industry will be forced to close. In fact, E&P writers have started convening at an informal blog site, "E&P in Exile."

But there's good news, newshounds: E&P has so many fans and supporters in the beleaguered industry that some frantic scrambling could save the venerable magazine at the last minute.

"Discussions are ongoing and there are several people who are interested," E&P editor Greg Mitchell told WalletPop Wednesday. "There's nothing signed, and we don't know exactly what they're interested in, so I can't say much. But there's this outpouring of support that's gratifying, and we're leaving with some good hopes."

Those good hopes come largely because journalists have rallied around the magazine (which traces its origins to 1884), making its struggle a major news story. The trouble for E&P began when Nielsen, which took over the magazine about four years ago, announced a deal earlier this month with e5 Global Media Holdings, LLC, a new company formed jointly by Pluribus Capital Management and Guggenheim Partners.

In the deal, Nielsen sold off E&P's sister magazines, including Adweek, Brandweek, Mediaweek, Backstage, Billboard, Film Journal International and The Hollywood Reporter. Yet E&P was not included in this transaction -- a baffling circumstance because the magazine has stayed profitable for many years, and looked ahead to finishing 2010 in the black.

"We've exactly mirrored the industry with layoffs, plus having to downsize, cut expenses and push our owners," Mitchell said. At E&P, overly frugal ownership forced the publication to scrape by with an antiquated Web site -- even though E&P advocated since the mid-1990s that newspapers and magazines embrace the Internet, or else suffer the consequences.

"For four years we were pushing our owners to update our site, and we couldn't do it," Mitchell said. "As a result, we have this dinosaur of a Web site. It hasn't been updated in five years; we can't do video, you can't leave comments."

Nor have the overwhelming majority of newspapers or magazines figured out how to make their Internet portals profitable. Still, cries of financial woe from chains such as Gannett cover up a deeper truth: Newspapers still make money. And E&P, as an industry watchdog, has played a crucial role bringing this truth to light. (That's not surprising considering that E&P led the charge of criticizing newspapers for their lapdog coverage of the Iraq War, as well as the run-up to it.)

"The dirty little secret is that most newspapers are making a profit, some of them making a very good little profit." Mitchell said. "McClatchey [Company Chairman] Gary Pruitt said just last month that all 30 of his papers are profitable. So they're not as bad off as people think they are, though one reason for that is the deep cuts. It's not like they've turned around the revenue."

Meanwhile, E&P's staff of 18 hangs on to see what bailout might keep their publication alive, and their jobs in place. Mitchell hopes to keep his post, but has viable options waiting for him. A successful author, he kicked off 2009 with Why Obama Won: The Making of a President 2008 (Sinclair Books).

"My career has been 50% editing national magazines, and 50% writing books and articles," Mitchell said. "I've written 10 books, including two books in the last year, and just launched a new Web series, 'An Incompleat History of Rock 'n Roll.' So we'll see what happens"

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