Thursday, April 8, 2010

Newsweek Magazine

I have been a regular subscriber to "Newsweek" for the past thirty years. Although I never relied on it to give me more than a primary source of national and international news and commentary, I always got what I felt was a good cross-section of solid reporting from journalists in many of their two dozen bureaus around the world.

Since May of 2009, however, the New York-based magazine has underwent a complete makeover. According to managing editor Jon Meachem, this was supposed to make the news weekly more engaging to the subscriber.

What it has done in reality is simply reduce the amount of in-depth news coverage in favor of a more like the old lightweight "Life" Magazine style of photo-happy periodicals of the past---with lots more big pictures that take up two pages to introduce a three-page story, for instance, as happened recently with an article on the Catholic Church and its role in covering recent pederast scandals. The story was short, but there was a big photo of the Virgin Mary. Go figure

This is all we don't need in the world--more fourth estate pandering to advertisers, major stories reduced to dumbed-down snippets and a higher amount of celebrity head shots and "guest columnists" like Christopher Hitchens or Henry Kissinger doing an ax job on some old enemies.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the U.S. circulation of the once-solid weekly has been cut in half in terms of subscribers in the last two years. Apparently the editors started laying off staff reporters in late 2008, leaving its core commentators. Paradoxically, the publishers have stated they plan to RAISE the subscription price to attract a more well-heeled clientele for their advertisers.

James Robinson of "The Guardian" explained part of this--to me, flawed--strategy in a May 2009 story:

"Newsweek has publicly conceded it no longer has the money for labour-intensive reporting, and comment is cheaper to produce than news, but the ex-staffer claims the strategic shift has not been prompted solely by commercial considerations. {An ex staffer said} "It's economic reality combined with a philosophy that existed years before those realities become apparent. I don't think it's going to work. Too many other titles are doing a similar thing."

"The key challenge facing both titles is how to maintain readership at a time when more people are getting their news online, the same problem newspapers have been grappling with since the turn of the century. Meachem acknowledged the dynamics of the news industry had changed several years ago, telling the American Journalism Review in 2007: "What's happening now is that headlines are delivered by the web. That has pushed newspapers to become more like the news magazines were in 1982, and it's pushed the news magazines to produce a monthly-quality product on a weekly basis, and it's pushed the monthlies into the place of the great quarterlies, and the quarterlies have become books."

What has gone wrong?

Like all media outlets, Post-Newsweek has been hit by the power of the Internet to attract eyeballs away from old-style magazines. But the reporting that Newsweek once supplied is ever more vital in a world where there are so many pundits and professional bloggers and ever fewer professional journalists who can do old-fashioned things like gather information.

My fear is we are being left in a world that is increasingly full of media hacks sitting about and pontificating and leaving the news consumer more and more bereft of facts to serve the purpose of personal critical thinking. There is, in truth, no substitute for journalistic experience and training and just watching television news (which is a joke, at least on many of the 24-Hour News stations) is an exercise in bias and special pleading. And having editorial writers is little help when they seem more and more to be writing the same three or four editorials over and over again, changing the names and the sentence structure a bit here and there to cover their tracks.

George Will and Robert Samuelson are two of the main columnists who indulge in pattern-pontificating. It was in spite of and not because of their work that I had been a faithful reader. And will continue to be I suspect...until my subscription lapses next year.

Without fact-gatherers and editorial staff sifting through the work to bring out the clearest story-lines, we are all the more ignorant of what is happening in the world regardless of where we sit in on the globe.

Hopefully other periodicals like "The Economist" will pick up the slack that the new thinner (by twenty pages on average) and glitzier Newsweek has now embarked on. We can only hope.


  1. For some reason I can't do ratings within this Doug but I am about to log off and I read this over and I could not agree with you more...

  2. with the speed of news on the web mags like Newsweek are no doubt taking a the time you get the artical from Nw five other major stories have broken fast paced world indeed

  3. That's true Mike. US News and World Report has quit its original style and gone to a monthly apparently.

    I've really noticed a dearth of content in the "new" Newsweek over the last year. The stories they do cover are minute. It's become more and more like commuter newspaper with too many recycled editorials.

  4. LOL! "Speaking as a loon myself..." Thanks, Mary Ellen, for putting all this in perspective.

  5. I think more people turn away from traditional type news because it seems to be censored? Take our Sacramento Bee, they are liberals, and they report in such a way that it seems like they are forcing their opinions on others, instead of simply reporting the facts and letting the reader come to their own conclusions. Our local news stations are the same way, they tell us what to think and feel, and after a while it gets to the point… we only watch the news for the local weather? I get stuck seeing other stuff here and there just trying to see what I turned to that channel for…

    As for the magazines… they come out once or twice a month and the world news station has you watching it the same day. I do enjoy a well written/covered story… with less apologizes on the other end when the “TRUTH” comes out. But look at the cover prices compared to the free Internet? No different than my husband being a mailman and loosing some (they over do it) to emails etc. (The post office can’t be going broke! My husband’s office just redid computers, flat panel monitors, and chairs, and they are replacing postal vehicles with ones that have GPS to keep track of carriers)

  6. I have a similar news magazine delivered to me every Friday, called, "The Week". It gives me snippets of news from all over the world. If I want to know more about each article, I look for it in the newspaper it was taken from. I do not want them to change it, like so many things these days, simply for change sake. If it doesn't need mending don't fix it. I don't want large pictures taking up news space, nor do I want celebrity stuff. I never read that kind of thing because it's like watching paint dry...

    So what will you do, Doug, find something else you like better?

  7. I no longer do paper, not even a newspaper. These days I get everything on the internet.

    easy to find good free news

  8. As for newspapers, I can't speak about "The Bee" since I never read it regularly. I think my local newpaper up here does a good job in bringing conservative and liberal columnists. They actually seem to strive to stay right down the middle of the road in editorials, which can be a bit dull but I thin the editorial staff is rather pro-business but not in anybody's pockets, which is about as good as you can get from a small-metro paper.

    I still enjoy sitting sown and going through a magazine and getting different persppectives and finding out what's going on in the world by reporters who are on the ground...not simply bloggers sitting in New York or LA giving us their party line, whatever that is. I guess what I want is both the conveinence of the Internet and a robust print media for more reportage in depth. I think I have enough opinons myself...what many of us need is background and facts to challenge our preconceptions...that's what a good newspaper or magazine should do--as well as reporting the crime, government actions and economics which should be as free from bias as possible.

    GPS seems to be the big deal in business and large entities like the post office these days. I wonder sometimes whatever came of simple trust in veteran employees. Anyway, thanks Growed for adding a lot to think about here.

  9. It's not so bad to read snippets if there's somewhere to go and get the full article, Cassandra--I think that might be the future of big media actually. The print article pulls you in and you get more details on-line. They just have to figure out how to make a profit on it.

    "Newsweek" seems poised to ask for higher subscription prices for less material and more "filler" stuff. Apparently they think this counter-intuitive marketing strategy will pay off. (It's defies common sense to me, but what do I know? )

    I'm probably going to be reading "Time" to see if they are going to maintain more of a weekly news product. Not much else over here fills the void of a general purpose news weekly.

  10. Yes, good stuff, you can't beat free. Some newspapers and magazines have floated ideas about paying for stories onlinbe somehow. "The New York Times" tried it with their editorials and it didn't fly. I might subscribe to something online, but it would have to be as good as the coverage "Newsweek" had, say, fifteen years ago.

  11. Just a thought Doug Apple just came out with this the reader notpad device. They claim that it will do the same with books, newspapers and magazines as they did with music. Just a thought.
    I still love to read a newspaper and so forth. Good free news is very rare these days but it's out there ironically we have too look more for it now than ever before.

  12. TIME has been my weekly magazine of choice for several years now.

  13. What I like about, "The Week", is, I can learn what's going on in Europe. There aren't many pictures so the writing is all news space. There's even a slot for book, art and theatre reviews. Yes, the subscription has just gone up recently, but as this is the first in all the time I have been reading it, that's not bad.
    Hopefully if enough people pull out of reading "Newsweek", they will realise they have to rethink what they are doing. After all one can take a price rise if it's for something better, but not filler stuff!


    Is this it? And do you read it online or do you get it in the postal mail?

  15. You're quite right Jack. This is the Age of Irony if you ask me.

  16. I hope so Cassandra. I'm rather a creature of habits when it comes to reading material, so I hope they get a new paradigm on this periodical. I don't mind paying more if they are not cutting back the product at the same time. Makes one feel he/she is being played for a sap.

  17. Yes, I gather it hasn't gone down the road Newsweek has.

  18. Interesting realignments in the delivery of 'news' Doug. I think what we have here on the internet is a form of pre-journalistic information distribution that has similarities with pamphleteering, broadside balladeering and the oral history tradition of the English speaking world (although other linguistic groups may well have identical traditions). Your post seems to raise the prospect of a distinction between news "bereft of facts" and what we have come to call "information", this is an interesting juxtaposition I think.

    I suppose another way of looking at it is to say that all news has always been ideological and that is equally true now of Newsweek as well as bloggers on the internet.

    On that argument there are no objective facts to be discovered anyway, but only "information" and the way we use it (to create an impression of the world) is entirely a matter between ourselves and our consciences, although this of course begs the question of where our consciences come from in the first place, a topic I think that is a really interesting one Doug.

    It seems ironic that your critique of the changes forced upon Newsweek are delivered and responded to in the very medium that has redefined the whole news media in the first place, the blogosphere, the unofficial news portals that are so imminent, interactive and responsive which is I think precisely what these big money periodicals like Newsweek are not.

    The information that Reuters and the other news agencies once had exclusive access to.... is now all out there for the dedicated surfer to uncover and that fact alone has slashed the cover price of the former 'quality press' to nothing. it seemsto me Doug.
    I think this post raises some really important questions about what is journalism in the 21st century actually about? ....thanks for sparking these discussions.

  19. It's true, AA, to me at least that there are information sources--obviously some better than others--and that the word "facts" might be a bit nebulous, unless you're talking science data or something. No one with any honesty could accuse the social sciences, however, of such exactitude.

    We may indeed be headed back into a world where more pamphlet-style breakdown of news. The biases of all information sources can only be overcome by having as many first-rate sources available to us.

    Separating the wheat from the chaff on the Internet I see is the main problem. On one side to me its heady as all get-out to feel the power of an interactive medium we can influence in and all share; what concerns me is that the mainstream news agencies--who will continue to get the most "hits" because of their veneer of past professionalism--will cease serious reporting altogether in favor of a commercial-friendly stream of material.

    We still need real trained reporters on the ground in hot spots foreign and domestic to bring the first-person accounts of "the first draft of history" to the reader. If a way isn't found to inject a large influx of reporters into a major international story like the invasion of Iraq, for instance, it will be ever harder to keep our "friends" at the White House, Downing Street and their corporate sponsors at least weary of the truth coming out if not altogether honest. But perhaps these great changes will create a new balance; I just don't see it yet myself.

    Thanks for your always considered input AA.