U.S. News & World Report Kills Its Opinion Section [Internal Memo]

Betsy Rothstein | Reporter

Talk about burying the lede.

This week U.S. News & World Report put the kibash on its opinion section. In a ridiculously reticent internal memo, the publication’s head honchos took several graphs to even get to the news, which is that the opinion section is dead.

The subject line is: Taking our news coverage to the next level.

An anonymous staffer told The Mirror in no uncertain terms that internal reaction is  — at best — anxiety ridden.

“They’re essentially abandoning news, along with opinion,” the source told The Mirror. “It’s been conveyed pretty clearly that they’re going all in on rankings and products. So it’s Best Countries, best states, best dogs, best fro-yo. While the launches of those do well, it’s unclear that those individual stories perform any better than news pieces. But they’ve determined news and opinion is too crowded a field they don’t wanna play in given the smaller news team we have.”

“So they want stories that are connected to the rankings and the data so it’s all one big package. That’s disappointing from a journalistic sense, but I also don’t think there’s a clear sense of what the revamped beats will look like for many members of the news team. We’re still called US News & World Report, but they might as well change the name to ‘We Rank Shit.'”

“Sinking opinion so suddenly was a shock for sure. But I guess this is how these things happen. Robert Schlesinger had been an institution here, so to see him and his team wiped away so quickly means they’d have no problem doing the same thing to the rest of us. People are anxious, unsettled and unsure what’s next. But that’s the business, I suppose.”

The higher-ups — Chief Content Officer Brian Kelly, Senior Vice President Chris DiCosmo and Executive Editor Tim Smart — took four graphs to get to the news. The newsroom is meeting Friday to air out the news.

“We would like to announce that we will be taking our news coverage in a new direction and to a whole new level,” they wrote, adding, “We are doubling down on the journalism that has been increasingly important to our readers and successful for us as a company.”

Doubling down on journalism?

What does that even mean?

The b.s.-sounding memo continues with the bosses giving themselves their own congratulations. Good job guys! Yeah, as in us.

“The work we have done in this space over the last couple of years to measure government performance has made clear that we have distinct, useful news products with enormous growth potential,” they wrote. “The combination of data, reporting, analysis and story-telling is resonating with a broad range of readers and advertisers—and setting us apart from the increasingly commoditized, and financially troubled, marketplace of ordinary news.”

And then the bombshell two-liner, the shortest graph in the entire memo:

“As part of this shift, we are phasing out the Opinion section. We greatly thank the team for their contributions over the last several years.”

Naturally, they say, that will cause change in some people’s roles and responsibilities.

Time for more applause for themselves: “We are no longer focusing our attention on the day-to-day churn in Washington.”

And some assurance for employees: “The next steps will be very exciting and this new direction has the full backing of the company.”

But even these guys seem to recognize that not everyone will be so pleased by this turn of events.

“We recognize you will have a number of questions and our goal is to address each one as quickly as possible,” they wrote. “We will begin having individual conversations with people today. Then we can gather everyone to discuss this further on Friday.”

The Mirror reached out to Smart to ask about layoffs and internal reaction. I also wrote Robert Schlesinger former managing editor for Opinion at the pub. His email bounced back — he no longer works there.

UPDATE: Smart replied to The Mirror with a note that reiterated what was in the staff memo.

“As a general policy at U.S. News & World Report, we do not comment on personnel matters,” he wrote.

“What we can share is that we are doubling down on the data-driven journalism that’s been increasingly important to our readers and successful for us as a company. This reflects our commitment and mission towards improving public institutions, from evaluating colleges and hospitals over the last 30 years to now measuring government performance in the public sector with our Best Countries, Best States and forthcoming Healthiest Communities release. As part of this shift, we made the decision to phase out the Opinion section.”

See the internal memo in its entirety below:

Team,

We would like to announce that we will be taking our news coverage in a new direction and to a whole new level. Building on the success of Best Countries, Best States and this month’s Healthiest Communities launch, we are doubling down on the journalism that has been increasingly important to our readers and successful for us as a company.

The work we have done in this space over the last couple of years to measure government performance has made clear that we have distinct, useful news products with enormous growth potential. The combination of data, reporting, analysis and story-telling is resonating with a broad range of readers and advertisers—and setting us apart from the increasingly commoditized, and financially troubled, marketplace of ordinary news.

This new approach to news will parallel the success of our consumer products and journalism by allowing readers—engaged citizens, business leaders and policy-makers—to evaluate the performance of their government and make decisions accordingly. We will continue to deepen our focus on the issues that matter the most to people—mainly health, education and the economy. We will chronicle the demographic and socio-economic changes taking place across the country and around the world and profile the government leaders making a difference.

As part of this shift, we are phasing out the Opinion section. We greatly thank the team for their contributions over the last several years.

Internally, we see this as more evolution than revolution, though naturally it will require further discussion as we work through changes in some people’s roles and responsibilities. We are no longer focusing our attention on the day-to-day churn in Washington. With that in mind, we will also be improving The Report and adjusting our daily news coverage.

Outside our walls, we think this will become a big deal over time. We are expanding our emphasis on what we’ve been calling civic journalism. We will further work to find solutions to society’s challenges by using objective data and highlighting what works. Much of this will just be an extension of the quality work we already produce: We explain the issues that matter, we profile the leaders who make a difference and we dive into data.

But there is also an opportunity to go beyond traditional boundaries and play a more useful role in our readers’ lives, much as we are doing with our coverage of states and the changing healthcare industry. We maintain our objectivity and envision new products and new thinking. The next steps will be very exciting and this new direction has the full backing of the company.

We recognize you will have a number of questions and our goal is to address each one as quickly as possible. We will begin having individual conversations with people today. Then we can gather everyone to discuss this further on Friday.

Brian, Chris, Tim

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