Thursday, September 22, 2011

Time's Asia editor says it's OK to spin the news

Time magazine has transformed itself to compete in the world of digital journalism. It publishes multiple editions on multiple platforms, and the most important one is no longer the print edition.

In addition, “You never hear the word objectivity in the newsroom at Time,” says Zoher Abdoolcarim, Asia editor for the publication. “We talk about fairness and balance, yes.”

With so much news available online instantaneously, Time could no longer continue as just a weekly digest of news. It had to tell people what the news means, Abdoolcarim told an audience recently at Tsinghua University's School of Journalism and Communication in Beijing.

“We analyze, we explain and we spin. Yes, spin,” said Abdoolcarim. “It’s OK to spin as long as you’re truthful, informed, transparent and add to the body of knowledge.”

A multiplatform news publisher

The online publication,, has displaced the magazine as the company's growth platform, he said. There are more people working for the online version than the magazine, and the audience is larger. The online version produces the vast majority of its own stories, with an emphasis on breaking news.  

Time's audience on mobile platforms such as tablets and smartphones totals 3.7 million. And while Abdoolcarim himself does not have accounts with social networks, Time has  2.8 million followers and 347,000 Facebook fans.

To prevent the free online version from cannibalizing the magazine audience, non-subscribers cannot access the full print edition, just the headline and a teaser. (This Paid Content post describes's strategy of exploiting its verticals.)

Print journalism can survive if it continues to evolve, Abdoolcarim said in answer to a student's question about the future of the magazine. However, he advised students to educate themselves in the new multimedia journalism, not just print.

Wealth and the Web

Time has a surprising demographic in the U.S.: magazine subscribers are older but earn less than the users of In Asia, the income situation is the reverse: the older magazine readers are wealthier.

One student asked Abdoolcarim if he feared that Time's use of a point of view and spin would diminish its credibility and make it just another opinion machine.

“All good journalism should be rooted in reporting,” he replied. “We do informed commentary. You have to get out there. I'm not in favor of armchair journalism or pure blanket commentary.”

Abdoolcarim is based in his native Hong Kong but talks regularly with the editors in New York. He told several stories about how he urged different covers or story treatments for the Asian edition of Time.

A recent cover featured a close-up portrait and the headline “The Rise of Rick Perry.” Asian readers would have no idea who the cover subject was, Abdoolcarim told his colleagues in New York. So the Asian edition had some text below the headline: “Can the governor of Texas become the next U.S. president?”

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