Sad Time Inc. Spreadsheet Measures How Valuable Reporters Are to Advertisers

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If you're a writer at a cash-starved, advertiser-neglected publication that's a shell of what it aspired to be 20 years ago, you know — good or bad — that you're being judged on more than just your writing quality. But usually, employers are more subtle about what exactly constitutes job performance than the good folks over at Time Inc.

Instead of quietly discussing how post popularity squared with writer quality and other factors, the company decided to put it all in a spreadsheet. Because if there's one thing we know, those things never get leaked ...

Thanks to Gawker's Hamilton Nolan, we can see that the company recently assigned writers a rating from 2 to 10 in each of several categories, including productivity, writing quality, social media reach, and ... a certain category in column J explicitly described as, "Produces content that [is] beneficial to advertiser relationship."

It seems pretty common sense that this is worse — in a big way — than judging based on reach or social-media sharing. There's something undeniably sinister about the influence of big money where there should be little or none.

To make things worse, writers were fired over this rating. According to Nolan, the spreadsheets arrived at Gawker via the Newspaper Guild, a union that represents a portion of Time Inc.'s employees. The union's Anthony Napoli says the mother ship provided these charts to explain why Sports Illustrated writers were axed "out of seniority order."

Sorry, Lowell Bergman: You can't cover big tobacco because they're paying for next week's issue.