Norm Pearlstine Dismisses Spreadsheet Furor

Time__Inc_-logo-2ED06AA15C-seeklogo.com_Sometimes, Time-ing can be everything. New York contributing editor Gabriel Sherman has been working on a big feature article about Time Inc. that is due next week.

So… When Gawker fanned the flames of the Sponsored Content Apocalypse with its Monday report about a controversial Sports Illustrated spreadsheet, Sherman was in a perfect warm-phone position to get comment from a top executive. He spoke today with Time Inc. chief content officer Norm Pearlstine:

Pearlstine pushed back hard against the criticism of the document. He said the controversy has been drummed up by the [Newspaper] Guild as part of a tense contract negotiation.

“For me, it’s not this great example of an issue related to church and state,” he said. “I think it’s not a big deal. I don’t think it has anything to do with editorial independence and editorial integrity. But if I’m the Guild and I think I can leak a document to get reporters’ attention, this was a nice one to leak.”

If you believe Pearlstine, he had no idea about Column J until the Hamilton Nolan item. Read the rest of Pearlstine’s thoughts on the matter here.

Update (August 21):
The Newspaper Guild has responded to Pearlstine’s New York magazine remarks:

After an uproar earlier this week over Time Inc.’s managers laying off Sports Illustrated journalists based on their friendliness to advertisers on the company’s website, chief content officer Norman Pearlstine told NY magazine on Wednesday that reporters covering the story were taking the matter out of context.

He said the issue of whether an SI writer’s work is “beneficial to advertiser relationship,” one of eight criteria Time Inc. applied to some of its writers during the Sports Illustrated job cuts, was actually about how much viewer traffic the articles were drawing on the website – and therefore how attractive it would be to advertise there – not whether the writer’s work was helping a particular advertiser. He also said that the eight criteria were applied only to writers who work for, not to writers of Sports Illustrated magazine or any other Time Inc. magazine.

In response, the Newspaper Guild of New York issued the following statement from president Bill O’Meara:

“It’s not surprising that Time Inc. would try to spin its ‘advertiser relationship’ criterion as somehow not being about writers getting cozy with advertisers. And it’s quite possible Pearlstine’s subordinates haven’t given him the whole story, especially since he says he only found about the ranking system in the press. But facts are facts. The ‘advertiser relationship’ criterion was indeed applied to seven Guild-represented Sports Illustrated magazine writers who had volunteered to work on, where the Guild does not otherwise represent employees. In return for their efforts, the seven volunteers were judged on criteria that they were never told about, that differed from the criteria used to judge their co-workers on Sports Illustrated magazine who did not volunteer for and that included how beneficial their work was to the ‘advertiser relationship.’ Two of those seven wound up getting laid off.”

Previously on FishbowlNY:
Gawker Shares Egregious Time Inc. Spreadsheet