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How Should Publishers Assign Value to Writers?

SIAmong all the highly complicated questions media companies are grappling with, Time Inc. is still in a seriously unique transitional period. But when Gawker reported that the publisher — more specifically, Sports Illustrated magazine — scores its editorial writers based on how much they benefit the respective magazine’s advertiser relationships, it was a bit hard for me to feel sorry for them.

To be fair, that’s not the only thing they’re applying a numerical value to. “Quality of Writing,” “Impact of Stories/Newsworthiness,” “Productivity/Tenacity,” “Audience/Traffic,” “Video,” “Social” and “Enthusiasm/Approach to Work” are all categories that appear on the writers’ scorecards. But “Produces content that [is] beneficial to advertiser relationship” is still there.

Wrote Gawker watchdog reporter Hamilton Nolan:

“(Time Inc. provided this document to the Newspaper Guild, which represents some of their employees, and the union provided it to us.)  These editorial employees were all ranked in this way, with their scores ranging from 2 to 10.”

TimeInc

SI‘s parent company Time Inc., after having rolled out from Time Warner, recently laid off 500 jobs, and Nolan reported that SI considered the “advertiser relationship” criteria/score in deciding who was getting let go. But SI spokesman Scott Novak told Gawker :

“The Guild’s interpretation is misleading and takes one category out of context. The SI.com evaluation was conducted in response to the Guild’s requirement for our rationale for out of seniority layoffs.”

Not that that statement is clear at all, but SI seems to be holding their ground. We don’t even have to discuss how wrong it is that SI even has this data. We’re talking major red flag, stomping on the ethics handbook problems. The question is, what other pubs are taking a page out of SI‘s playbook? If Time Inc. magazines are thinking about what business/advertiser value their journalists bring to the table, how long will it be until others are doing the same?

As the lines continue to blur between advertising and editorial (read: native/sponsored content), and more editorial staffers keep contributing to sponsored editorial, the chances of publishers doing what SI does/did are bound to rise. Thoughts? In the digital age, how should organizations measure the value of a writer?

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