Friday, October 19, 2012

Death of Newsweek magazine: inevitable or self-inflicted?

Along with newspapers, we also have dead tree magazines going away — the latest being Newsweek announcing Thursday that its print edition is finite at the end of 2012. MarketWatch went out on a limb and said that Newsweek “won’t be the last venerable media organization to take this drastic action.”

The NYT notes that the 80-year-old magazine recently took an odd turn with its forced marriage with The Daily Beast, an online-only opinion site. This came after audio magnate Sidney Harman bought this once lucrative weekly magazine franchise for $1 from the Washington Post Company in 2010. Harman’s heirs indicated earlier this year that they were no longer throwing good money after bad.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, Newsweek was one of the country’s most influential national media outlets, the Avis to Luce’s Time magazine. (The #3 magazine, US News, ended its print subscription in December 2010.) Today, information is no longer scarce, and killing trees is an inefficient way to deliver such information.

It’s certainly true that a weekly magazine delivered two days late to supermarket checkstands is a difficult sale in this era of instant Google-fed gratification. However, some commentators wonder whether the death of Newsweek is as much a function of its final (print) editor, Tina Brown. As the AP reported:

They say it speaks to the magazine's trouble connecting with and keeping its readers.

That brings to mind some questionable covers, like the July 2011 what-if image depicting what Princess Diana would have looked like at age 50, or last month's "Muslim Rage" cover depicting angry protesters, which was roundly mocked on social networks like Twitter.

Newsweek is using a difficult print ad environment as an "excuse" for its decision to end print runs, said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism. He lays the blame at the feet of Tina Brown, the editor who took control of Newsweek when it merged with the news website she ran, The Daily Beast, two years ago.

"Tina Brown took Newsweek in the wrong direction," Husni said. "Newsweek did not die, Newsweek committed suicide."


Kenneth M. Kambara said...

Oh good lord, this is hardly complicated.


"Today, information is no longer scarce, and killing trees is an inefficient way to deliver such information." I hope you're being glib, as this isn't a generalizable statement.

Joel West said...

Magazines are dying like newspapers, weekly magazines more than most. Newsweek is like euthanasia for a terminal patient, not suicide by a young teenager.

Kenneth M. Kambara said...

I'm not too sure of your analysis here. What's your basis for "euthanasia" or "suicide by a young teenager" (wow, that's a pretty cringeworthy phrase to bandy about). I think you would get more traction by parsing out the managerial versus the technological, as well as the interplay. That's where the story is.

Also, is good information scarce? It's hardly normally distributed.

fredsbreakfast said...

Many publications' circulations are down, but while National Review Online is very popular, National Review magazine's print circulation has remained at 100,000 for decades - no drop. Relatively new AM talk radio, internet news sites and blogs, C-span and cable news sites like Fox are are all places where one goes for real news and sensible commentary today. Leftist traditional dinosaur media places like Newsweek have increasingly dwindling audiences. The remaining audience is made up increasingly of those far left. The content is less intelligent and less intelligible because their current audience is less interested in good ideas. Contemporary left-liberalism is bankrupt of ideas. Left-liberals today are members of various ugly and vulgar, un-American class warfare mobs fighting over fixed ideas of wealth and resources, demanding various transfer payments and amorphous 'social justice'.