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Ed Driscoll

Is Newsweek A Brand “That Will Disappear In 2010″?

December 9th, 2009 - 12:27 am

Jim Geraghty writes, “Holy smokes. Newsweek has lost almost $30 million this year?”

With Obama on the cover every other week, and with pictures of Palin’s legs in running shorts?

That’s why a business blogger puts Newsweek on its list of “10 Brands That Will Disappear in 2010.”

That business blogger is Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7 Wall Street, who writes:

newsweekcover916Newsweek. The magazine already has slashed its rate base (circulation guaranteed to advertisers) from 3.1 million to 2.5 million. It has announced further cuts that will take this figure to 1.5 million early next year. The New York Times reported that Newsweek’s advertising fell 29.9% through the first three quarters of 2009. According to the 10-Q for The Washington Post Company (NYSE:WPO), Newsweek ad revenue plunged 47% in the third quarter from the year before. The magazine has lost almost $30 million so far this year. Newsweek had hoped to transform itself into a poor man’s version of the Economist and has largely dropped covering breaking news and reviews of the big stories of the week. The change in the editorial direction of Newsweek may have been the right thing to do, but it came much too late. Newsweek, like many other print products, hopes to rely on internet readership and advertising to improve its fortunes. Audience measurement firm Compete indicates that the audience of Newsweek.com has dropped 15% in the last year to 1.3 million unique visitors a month in October. Audience research firm comScore shows an even sharper decline. That is, by itself, an important indication that the public has not been attracted to the “new” Newsweek. The Washington Post has enough trouble with fixing problems at its flagship paper. Its online news and commentary  magazine, Slate.com, had more than 3.8 million visitors in October. Slate has none of the legacy print costs of Newsweek.

While the handwriting was on the wall as early as 2005 with its crazy “Koran in the Can” story and that same year, the Anti-American cover that graced its overseas edition, late last year, Newsweek attempted a disastrous makeover that attempted to shift the magazine from a relatively staid newsweekly (hence the name!) to a magazine that Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard brilliantly described as “a liberal opinion magazine written by liberals who don’t want to admit they’re liberals.”

Ferguson’s article was titled, presciently it now seems, Some Industries Deserve Bankruptcy.” His former publisher helped to further define that classification in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal:

PR NEWSWIREAl_Gore_Newsweek_Cover_11-9-09Some newspapers and news organizations will not adapt to the digital realities of our day—and they will fail. We should not blame technology for these failures. The future of journalism belongs to the bold, and the companies that prosper will be those that find new and better ways to meet the needs of their viewers, listeners, and readers.

First, media companies need to give people the news they want. I can’t tell you how many papers I have visited where they have a wall of journalism prizes—and a rapidly declining circulation. This tells me the editors are producing news for themselves—instead of news that is relevant to their customers. A news organization’s most important asset is the trust it has with its readers, a bond that reflects the readers’ confidence that editors are looking out for their needs and interests.

And Newsweek seemed to violate that pledge with seemingly every other cover story this year.

Most readers expect some sort of center-left bias in the magazines at the supermarket checkout line, but most publications attempt to hide it beneath glossy, friendly covers and headlines. Newsweek’s tilt to the hard left was so obvious, even Howard Kurtz the famously see-no-bias media critic of the Washington Post, which owns Newsweek, wrote about it at the start of 2009 with a surprisingly gimlet eye:

Newsweek-10-28-09newsweek_11-23-09When Rick Stengel joined Time in 1981, every story in progress filled a thick binder — the reporter’s version, the editor’s rewritten version, the top editors’ version, the fact-checked version — that would be unimaginable in today’s cut-to-the-bone corporate culture.

Many of the recently laid-off staffers, Stengel says, “were people whose jobs really didn’t exist any more.”

When Jon Meacham joined Newsweek in 1995, “there was a phrase in the culture — ‘We need to get something in on X’ — that we never use anymore,” he says. The days of a “newsmagazine of record,” Meacham says, are long gone.

The rival editors are turning out weeklies that are smaller, more serious, more opinionated and, though they are loath to admit it, more liberal. They are pursuing a more elite audience, in print and on the Web, abandoning the old Henry Luce notion of catering to the masses. It is nothing less than a survival strategy.

A month later, Jonah Goldberg wrote at National Review:

It’s hardly a secret that both Time and Newsweek have become much more polemical and openly liberal in order to cut costs and stay relevant. Newsgathering can be expensive. Weekly newsmagazines are disadvantaged in a 24 news environment. In and of itself, I have no problem with news organizations becoming more opinionated. Publications are not honor-bound to go out of business clinging to outdated business models. Still, the transformation does illuminate some things.

First, it demonstrates that mainstream reportorial and editorial staffs were always exactly as liberal as conservatives said they were. If mainstream journalists were as objective as they always claimed, you’d think that at least some of them would reveal themselves to be conservative once it became acceptable for them to express their biases openly. And, yet, time and again whenever “objective” reporters are permitted to let their hair down and express their opinions it turns out — surprise! — that they were liberals all along. For example, with possibly one exception (John Tierney’s short-lived column), every time The New York Times gives an opinion column to one of its reporters, they reveal themselves to be a perfectly conventional liberals or leftwingers (off the top of my head: Maureen Dowd, Anthony Lewis, Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman)

newsweek-cover-2-16-09Read the cover story, “We’re All Socialists Now” by Evan Thomas and Jon Meacham in the latest Newsweek, and you’ll see what I mean. Amidst the analysis, there’s a certain — totally predictable — tone of celebration.

When Time magazine ran it’s gushing, wish-it-were-so, cover story about Obama’s “New New Deal,” they asked Peter Beinart to write it. I don’t mean this as a slight at Peter, but it’s hardly as if they tapped him to write an objective news story.

Which brings me to another point. While I have no problem with Time and Newsweek becoming better funded and “newsier” versions of The New Republic, I do think they have an obligation to be honest about it. These are now reported opinion magazines, more reported than TNR or NR, but not that much less opinionated. The difference is that The New Republic and National Review admit their biases and let the readers make their own judgments. Time and Newsweek want it both ways. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.

At the end of the year, it’s obvious that strategy isn’t exactly working out well. Newsweek bet heavily that its target audience was as homogeneous a group as the writers in its bullpen — or worse, that they could put one over on those readers by attempting to be the equivalent of the New Republic and the Nation within a more centrist-appearing brand name — and failed spectacularly.

While the brand may yet be too powerful to die in 2010, market forces will transform it yet again, and it will interesting to see what’s next, one way or another.

Update: Fark links, noting “Newsweek lost $30 million this year and may shut down in 2010. In other news, evidently Newsweek is still publishing.” Only until their programming finally allows them to find Sarah Connor

Related: 30 years after Alvin Toffler wrote about the concept in The Third Wave, Newsweek finally notices telecommuting and the decentralized nature of the Internet, decides it doesn’t like them one bit.

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