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Ed Driscoll

Welcome National Company Of The Wiz, Spinal Tap, And Newsweek

May 18th, 2009 - 12:13 pm

The role of Ian Faith will be played by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, who attempts to defend the appeal of his product becoming “more selective”, as they say in Spinal Tap, to Howard Kurtz of Newsweek’s parent publication, the Washington Post:

Jon Meacham admits it is hard to explain, even to his own people, why chopping Newsweek’s circulation in half is a good thing.

“It’s hugely counterintuitive,” the magazine’s editor says. “The staff doesn’t understand it.”

That step — along with a redesigned, revamped publication that hits newsstands today — may well determine whether the 76-year-old newsmagazine survives. Newsweek will concentrate on two things — reporting and argument — while kissing off any recap of the week’s developments.

Time has been gravitating in that direction as well. But Newsweek, owned by The Washington Post Co., is accelerating the process because it is bleeding red ink, losing nearly $20 million in the first quarter. Newsweek, whose circulation was as high as 3.1 million in recent years, plans to cut that to 1.5 million by the beginning of 2010, in part by discouraging renewals. The magazine will begin charging the average subscriber about 90 cents an issue, nearly double the current rate.

“If we can’t convince a million and a half people we’re worth less than a dollar a week, the market will have spoken,” Meacham says. The newsstand price will also jump from $4.95 to $5.95, a buck more than Time.

Or as Roger L. Simon quips, “Attention all dentists: Newsweek to raise its subscription price one dollar.”

How far to the left is the bias at Newsweek? Far enough that even Kurtz, who often takes a “see no bias” approach to his work as legacy media critic at the Post and CNN, can actually detect it:

The ideas that Newsweek is promoting are mainly left-of-center. The cover story in today’s issue is a generally sympathetic interview with President Obama, written by Meacham, that describes Obama “moving as he wishes to move, and the world bending to him.” An accompanying piece by Tina Brown on Nancy Pelosi — who’s just endured her worst week as House speaker over the waterboarding controversy — calls her “fast-talking, formidable, high-energy and supremely self-confident.”

That must have been written before this past week, where Pelosi sounded anything but confident.  Over at PJTV this weekend, Bill Whittle compared her performance last week to Martin Short’s chain-smoking, drenched-in-sweat Nathan Thurm character in Saturday Night Live’s old 60 Minutes parodies.

More Kurtz:

newsweek-cover-2-16-09Earlier, in Newsweek’s 100-day assessment of the new president, liberal columnist Jonathan Alter wrote, “Barack Obama has put more points on the board than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.” Allison Samuels wrote this month: “I knew that Michelle Obama was already changing the way we see ourselves as African-American women. . . . What’s remarkable now . . . is how quickly and decisively Michelle has taken on the issues that matter most to us.”

When Newsweek put a conservative’s essay on the cover, it was by David Frum, assailing Rush Limbaugh under the headline “Why Rush Is Wrong.” And when Newsweek took on Obama, it did so from the left, in a piece built around New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and his criticism of the president’s economic policies.

Meacham sees only a perception problem. “In making arguments,” he says, “we have to make sure people don’t believe we’re partisan.”

Well, aside from declaring we’re a nation of socialists who drop Korans into toilets and American flags into garbage cans, of course.

(Via Newsbusters, which has much more on Newsweek’s more selective appeal.)

Update: Aside from dentists’ offices, Allahpundit has the perfect description of Newsweek’s current target demographic: “I.e. if you’re a lefty and love the New Yorker but struggle with some of the bigger words, now there’s a magazine for you.” Heh™.

Stacy McCain adds:

Notice that Meacham’s idea is to publish a magazine resembling a magazine that he likes to read. Call it the Narcissus Reflecting Pool Theory of journalism: If the top editor admires a certain publication, then trying to imitate that publication must be a good business strategy. What you are doing, therefore, is producing a publication for your own editors, rather than for the readers.

This is all very good if the editor is a visionary with a sense of what the reading public wants. But if your editor is a clueless dingbat like Jon Meacham, you’re screwed.

My advice to Newsweek staffers: Update your resumes.

And/or pray that you make it until 2010, as Megan McCardle wrote last month about the new mantra for old media employees.

Update: Great minds think (of communal boomer/Gen-X pop culture references) alike.

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