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March 31, 2008

More Newsweekly Troubles

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

From time to time I've wondered about the state and fate of news weeklies -- here, for instance I dealt with Time.

Today's Drudge Report offered this link relating that Newsweek is undergoing a significant staff reduction in the form of early retirement buyouts. Names are named, including some whose bylines are widely recognized.

I used to subscribe to Newsweek in the 1970s, but haven't paid much attention to it in recent years; I mostly skim a copy while waiting for a dental or medical appointment. My impression is that weekly news magazines (with the exception of the Economist) have been evolving away from the format that served so well up until, say, the 90s. The impact of the Internet has been negative for most magazines that I am familiar with including the car buff mags I read, and a good deal of scrambling and format-tinkering has been underway.

Unfortunately -- and I do like magazines and printed stuff in general -- most of this fiddling doesn't seem to be working. Certainly the Newsweek bombshell adds credence to this notion. And an economic recession isn't likely to help.

I hate to say it, but Time, Newsweek and U.S. News seem to be in the same spiral I saw back around 1960 for the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and Look.

Can anyone come up with an optimistic scenario for the news weeklies?



posted by Donald at March 31, 2008


U.S. News seems to be more of a news-you-can-use features magazine and less of a newsweekly. Its college ratings in particular are a big hit. I don't know how its circulation numbers are doing, however.

Posted by: Peter on March 31, 2008 3:00 PM

Magazines are doing it tough everywhere. Here in Australia the once iconic Bulletin published for the last time a couple of months ago.

Posted by: Scubloke on March 31, 2008 3:12 PM

"I mostly skim a copy while waiting for a dental or medical appointment". Ancient British joke: "I went to the dentist's yesterday. Did you know that the Titanic has sunk?"

Posted by: dearieme on March 31, 2008 4:21 PM

"Can anyone come up with an optimistic scenario for the news weeklies?"


Posted by: Charlton Griffin on March 31, 2008 4:42 PM

I think we had this discussion before, but even the Economist is not as good as it used to be. This is due to Bill Emmott, who became their chief editor in the late 90's.

Forbes and Fortune, for business news, are still doing OK (I think).

Posted by: kurt9 on March 31, 2008 4:58 PM

Despite the many online debates about the continuing quality (or lack thereof) of The Economist, I think it's interesting to note that the magazine's circulation has bucked industry trends by doubling in the past ten years. I imagine that at least some of that success has to do with the fact that if something noteworthy happens in, say, Sierra Leone or Uzbekistan, they report on it, even if other, trend-driven publications run the latest sensationalistic cover story about The DaVinci Code instead. Whatever the reason for their success, and whatever other flaws the magazine may have, The Economist is apparently doing something right, business-wise.

Posted by: Jeff on March 31, 2008 5:46 PM

Scary times in the traditional media biz, that's for sure. Hard to know what the trad newsweeklies could do to help themselves, isn't it? And funny that only ten years ago there was no need to call it the trad media biz. It was just the media biz.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 31, 2008 5:52 PM

If I were an employee at one of the news weeklies or major papers, and I was offered a buy-out, I'd take it. What's fascinating is how fast all of this is happening. Not only the news weeklies (which used to be a major part of my reading life), but books, and even television, have disappeared as foci in my world. I no longer read magazines (except for 30 or so online), no longer read newspapers (except for 20 or so online), and almost never watch television. I've got a great big hunk of technology sitting in my apartment inert and unwanted...and how long ago was it that the idiot box was some kind of threat to the mind and soul? Not long. Well, it's no threat to anything anymore, except as big heavy thing that's going to end up in a landfill.

Maybe it's already over. I'll bet you there are lot of television sets that almost never get turned on these days, except maybe to play a DVD. I give television as little as five years.

Posted by: PatrickH on March 31, 2008 7:14 PM

Hate to turn this into a left vs. right thing, but the news weeklies are left-oriented and have become even more so as their fortunes have declined. Same with television news. As more and more people choose to not watch, they move even farther left.

The public is smart enough to realize they can't trust these publications or networks to report the news in an unbiased manner. They've tuned out or let their subscriptions lapse. And since the editors, writers and producers at these media outlets have nothing but contempt for their audiences, they don't write for them. They write to please and impress each other. Unfortunately, that's a very small audience and one that can't support their operations much longer.

Posted by: Ron S. on March 31, 2008 9:29 PM

Well worth reading: Eric Alterman's NYer piece about the decline of newspapers. Fun fact: "Independent, publicly traded American newspapers have lost forty-two per cent of their market value in the past three years." In the last three years! And newspapers in America have been around for 300 years.

Another fun fact: "Only nineteen per cent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four claim even to look at a daily newspaper. The average age of the American newspaper reader is fifty-five and rising."

It's all happening so fast ...

Link thanks to ALD.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 31, 2008 11:53 PM

"Can anyone come up with an optimistic scenario for the news weeklies?" The can become more like "The Week," which seems to be thriving.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on March 31, 2008 11:55 PM

I'm a little late to the party. My comments:

It's not such a bad thing that weeklies and newspapers are dying. Well, it's bad for the people who make a living publishing them, and I guess I feel some compassion for them.

Every day I read more of the stuff that I used to read in newspapers and weeklies. I just read it on the web. I read snippets from newspapers all over the country and all over the world. I only read the subject matter that interests me, which consists of sports, business, music, cars and motorcycles. The stuff of controversy that fills up newspapers barely interests me.

Reading on the web had markedly changed my perception of the world. First, it's really challenged my notion of professional expertise. Some of the best, most perceptive writers on the web are not really professionals in the old sense. Second, I'm amazed at how many crazy people are out there. Many of them work for newspapers and weeklies.

The crazy factor is quite eye opening. So much of the news, and the controversy, is manufactured for the benefit of the crazies who want some excitement and want a pretext for their world changing agendas. A lot less happens in the world than these crazies want you to know. And, a lot less needs to be done than these crazies would like to do. The crazies want to manufacture crises and controversies for their own entertainment and to feed their delusions of grandeur.

A couple of commenters have wanted to assign this phenomenon to leftism. I think that the outcome is leftism, but that's only because the crazies are so determined to generate crises and controversies so that they can generate world saving solutions. It's not really politics.

I had no idea how much of the news was made up until I followed the Duke rape crisis. I'm not unhappy to see the platforms for this delusional self-promotion disappearing.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 1, 2008 8:34 AM

Let me pile on. My last trip to the dentist (literally!) was a shocker. It seemed that the copy of USTimesweek I picked up had only two kinds of articles: infotainment that was breezy and shockingly shallow, and risible op-eds that presumed to tell the reader the correct way to think about this or that political issue. Were these magazines always this bad? Did they decline, or has my brain improved thanks to the varied and nutrient-rich diet of internet reading I've been feeding it these last 10 years?

Posted by: Fredosphere on April 1, 2008 11:55 AM

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