There is an old journalistic adage: you are not the story. Unfortunately, in recent years the financial woes of Newsweek, a near-century old American media institution, have placed it at the centre of several stories. The latest one began on the 18th of January when investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney raided the publication’s offices in New York City, confiscating eighteen non-operational computer servers. This was understood to be part of a grand jury investigation into the questionable activities of figures associated with the magazine’s parent company, Newsweek Media Group (formerly, IBT Media).
In the laudable tradition of the United Sates’ press, Newsweek duly reported on its problems, offering a reasonable description of the day’s events and the circumstances behind them:
Digital publisher IBT Media bought Newsweek from IAC, an internet and media company, in 2013, and it missed payroll and laid off large numbers of employees in 2016.
Both Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis, the IBT founders who bought Newsweek in 2013 and still own parts of Newsweek Media Group, also appear to have large debts, according to public records. The Internal Revenue Service filed a $1.2 million lien against Uzac in December 2017, while the IRS filed an $800,000 lien against Davis in October that year, public records show.
Nevertheless, the search on Thursday surprised staffers and managers alike, coming in the middle of an aggressive expansion and a hiring boom.
The magazine, which was launched in February 1933 and continues in both digital and print formats, is part of a suite of properties that operate under the umbrella of the Newsweek Media Group. Other publications are the International Business Times, Player.One, Latin Times and Medical Daily.
IBT Media has faced questions about its relationship with David Jang, a South Korean pastor who leads a Christian sect called “the Community” and founded a small Bible college called Olivet University, according to a 2014 Mother Jones report.
If a high-profile law enforcement raid was not bad enough, on the 5th of February the management of Newsweek carried out an apparent purge of its own staff, firing its editor-in-chief, his deputy and three writers who were trying to report on the investigations (similar to the extract above). With journalism in the US, on all platforms, battling the corrosive effects of the Trump presidency, and his constant accusations of “fake news”, this emerging scandal is one the American press could do without.