The end of Newsweek: A turning point for magazines?

Posted on October 18, 2012

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A collection of recent Newsweeks, which sit, unread, on my desk.

Today’s announcement by The Newsweek Daily Beast Co. (yes, that is the company’s real, official name) that it is ceasing publication of the once-venerable newsmagazine Newsweek probably comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent history of that magazine. When Newsweek was acquired by The Daily Beast in 2010, the publication was already struggling. Then Fareed Zakaria, who was probably Newsweek‘s biggest franchise, jumped ship to join TIME magazine. Editor-in-chief Tina Brown “seemed to continually push the Newsweek half of Newsweek/Daily Beast to the back burner—when she wasn’t cooking up desperate, attention-seeking covers,” writes Dashiell Bennett in The Atlantic Wire’s coverage of today’s announcement. Brown’s sensationalism is something I mentioned in a recent blog post about Newsweek‘s coverage of the state of higher education.

So now, Brown and company are transmogrifying their publication into an all-digital something-or-other to be called Newsweek Global. Writes The Newsweek Daily Beast Co.’s CEO Baba Shetty, the “single, worldwide edition” will be “targeted for a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context. Newsweek Global will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web, with select content available on The Daily Beast.”

The demise of the print version of Newsweek was inevitable, I suppose. As Slate’s Matthew Yglesias points out, a weekly newsmagazine is no longer relevant in today’s always-on digital world.

In the era of print newspapers and nightly TV news, newsweeklies provided the extremely valuable function of timely up-to-date coverage of news and culture that didn’t rely on you literally checking the same news source every single day. The Internet in some ways exacerbates the dysfunctionalities of the daily news cycle by promoting relentless over-hyping of everything that occurs, but Google makes it trivially simple to just find a news story from Monday if you’re interest in reading about it on Thursday. There’s no need for a digest format and if you do great original reporting you want to publish that reporting as soon as possible not sit on it for two days to wait for a magazine distribution process.

I’m going to miss my print version of Newsweek. But Yglesias is right. It’s no longer relevant. The last two issues have been lingering on my “to read” pile for days, untouched. The commentary is really the only thing worth reading anymore, but after Zakaria left and they brought in Niall Ferguson, the quality has slipped, in my opinion.

Anyway, the folding of Newsweek may signal a turning point for the magazine industry. Or perhaps it’s just the latest chapter in the decline of print, precipitated by the Internet. General-interest media are losing ground to special-interest media, and that trend will likely continue.

Maybe this new Newsweek Global will thrive and set a shining example for higher ed to follow. All-digital alumni magazines, anyone?

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