Advocacy for Profit: Library Journalism by Corporate Design

By Knieffel, Leonard; Flagg, Gordon | American Libraries, November 1996 | Go to article overview

Advocacy for Profit: Library Journalism by Corporate Design


Knieffel, Leonard, Flagg, Gordon, American Libraries


THE CAHNERS MAGAZINE CREW EXPLAIN HOW THEY MAINTAIN INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTIC VOICES AND STILL FIT INTO THE REED ELSEVIER PUBLISHING EMPIRE

"120 years of independent library leadership," reads a banner across the top of this year's Library Journal covers. First edited by Melvil Dewey three years before he founded the American Library Association, "LJ" and its sister publications Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, along with its offspring Library Hotline and Corporate Library Update, wield tremendous influence over the profession.

But all four publications and their parent, Cahners Publishing Company, are now small cogs in a billion-dollar corporate wheel called Reed Elsevier, headquartered in London, Amsterdam, and New York. The mind-boggling structure of this publishing monolith includes hundreds of subsidiaries and affiliates, 25,000 employees, and sales offices in every state in the U.S. and nearly every country in the world. So how do journalistic integrity and library publishing fit into this picture?

Pretty handily, to hear Publisher Fred Ciporen tell it. "Cahners is the largest business-to-business magazine publisher probably in the world," he says, "but the way Cahners is structured, the publishers and editors run the magazines." Ciporen heads a trade group known as the "publishing cluster," located on West 17th Street in New York City.

"They are magazines publishers," says SLJ Editor-in-chief Lillian Gerhardt, "and they leave their publications alone - after they've bought a magazine and assured themselves that the editors are competent." Cahners bought the R. R. Bowker Company from Xerox in 1985 and kept the Bowker name alive because of its identity in the library market.

The company's very bigness, says Ciporen, is one of the reasons the magazines stay independent. "The editors work hard to be independent," he stated emphatically when asked if they could be interviewed for this article. Pointing out that his staff is "highly critical" of some of the actions of Reed Elsevier - "a known price gouger," as one editor put it - Ciporen said, "We don't want to be painted with their brush."

Gerhardt, who has been with Bowker and SLJ through some 12 publishing executives, says with characteristic wit, "Sure, during that time I've had publishers who've pressured me to go and interview new manufacturers or book publishers who are trying to get the public dollar from the readership that we face. It's never happened, and I'm still here and they're gone, so something worked!"

Publishers Weekly Editor-in-chief Nora Rawlinson claims that PW gets no pressure from above to cover certain companies favorably, or to cover them at all. Coverage happens "if we observe that a particular company is doing some interesting things, or we're not covering them enough." Ciporen brings "feedback from the market" to editorial staff meetings "when he chooses and if he's invited," she notes. "I talk to him all the time; we don't have to erect artificial barriers; we know when he oversteps and we tell him."

"We meet and we talk about issues," says Ciporen, who views it as part of his job to see that the editors are "in a state of permanent product development," that is, "staying dynamic.... You make sure you have editors that are thinking that way so the magazine doesn't calcify," so that it is "editorially consequential."

It isn't always advertisers vying for ink, Susan DiMattia, editor of Library Hotline and Corporate Library Update, notes: "There are libraries who think they deserve coverage just because they know me."

There is no "pressure," says LJ Editor-in-chief John Berry. "The publisher says, 'hey, why don't you look at this' or 'why aren't you doing X,' and we either explain or we say, 'gee maybe we should.' It's a negotiated situation. After all, the editors report to the publisher."

Cahners editors say they thrive on competition and that of recent events in Libraryland, none was more disturbing than the demise of Wilson Library Bulletin last year (AL, June 1995, p. …

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