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March 12, 2009

Newsless Newsweek

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Every year or so I wring my hands over the sad state of the weekly news magazine industry (for example, see here, here and here).

Now that Spring is (almost) in the air again, I've noted articles such as this that prompt me to run to the keyboard and pound out more copy on the continuing drama.

The problem is, there isn't much justification for weekly news magazines any more. For many years they successfully coexisted with newspapers, radio, newsreels and even television. But the Internet finally shattered the informational isolation of people living in news-deprived parts of the country. (Think small-town, small city locations far from the circulation zones of major papers with, in the good old days, large news holes. The main news sources were the local paper -- a hit-and-miss proposition -- and the thin gruel of TV news.)

True, the Economist seems to be doing comparatively well. I suspect that its coverage of international news is its main selling point; even Internet users can be sketchy as to which overseas-based sites are worth bookmarking.

At any rate, Newsweek seems to be planning to ditch much of the weekly news content and become more of an opinion-based journal than it presently is.

How will this work out? I think long-term (ten years, say) success isn't very likely. Potential competition exists in the form of a fair number of opinion journals such as The New Republic, National Review, The Nation, Commentary and the Weekly Standard along with publications with a slightly softer opinion edge such as the Atlantic, Harper's, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and so forth.

Then there is the name problem. The Newsweek brand has been around since the 1930s and is well-established in the minds of the reading public. But if it no longer dwells on the news of the previous week, then the title becomes non-descriptive, bordering on deceptive. Yet a name-change immediately wipes out more than 75 years worth of brand-equity.

All things considered, if I were the publication's owner, I'd fold the thing and move on to something with greater potential.



posted by Donald at March 12, 2009


Newsweek is just as redundant as an opinion journal as it is as a source of news. I can get my opinion from the internet just like my news.

Posted by: JP on March 12, 2009 7:57 PM

Recent Newsweek cover: We're All Socialists Now

Kinda bad timing at the moment millions are waking from Obamadaze to the realization that their wealth is rapidly evaporating as socialism goes into high gear.

Posted by: ricpic on March 12, 2009 8:11 PM

Newsweek is ridiculous, particularly their silly question covers, like "Is there a God?" For the next one, might I suggest, "How fucked are we?"

Posted by: JV on March 12, 2009 8:58 PM

Newsweek is ridiculous, particularly their silly question covers, like "Is there a God?"

Well, what did the article say!? Don't leave us hanging!

Posted by: Foxhole on March 12, 2009 10:32 PM

Dead on! Newsweek runs that cover at least once a year; it's ludicrous.

The answer is: maybe, maybe not.

Posted by: Lawful Neutral on March 13, 2009 12:48 AM

Newsweek strikes me as more of an infotainment periodical like People or Entertainment Weekly than a serious magazine.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on March 13, 2009 4:20 AM

"the informational isolation of people living in news-deprived parts of the country": thank you for that explanation of the otherwise incomprehensible existence of these intellectually feeble productions.

Posted by: dearieme on March 13, 2009 6:46 AM

Yeah, I grew up with Newsweek, but its time has come and gone. The "opinion journal" idea feels like grasping at straws. If there's one thing the web has more of than free news, it's free opinions.

Even back in the '70s I wondered why anyone who had access to a decent daily paper would find Newsweek or Time useful.

Posted by: Steve on March 13, 2009 1:35 PM

I think weekly news mags are for the geezers. My father in law still subscribes to the damned things and is just as clueless about what a "culture war" is now than he was in 1975. Maybe that's why he's so clueless.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on March 14, 2009 12:10 AM

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