Ed Driscoll

Adweek, Newsweek, and the Missing L-Word

Pretty amazing — Adweek’s Lucia Moses grinds 1300 words on why Tina Brown’s latest iteration of Newsweek is a bust without ever mentioning words like ‘liberal’ or a phrase like ‘left-leaning.’ The closest she gets at hinting at its bias — which maybe, just maybe might be impacting its sales or the lack there of — is here:

The idea that NewsBeast could ever become a successful operation has always seemed far-fetched. Newsmagazines were all struggling by the time of the merger, and Newsweek had also been weakened by three other factors: an ill-conceived effort to reposition itself as a commentary-heavy, elite-aimed magazine; the drawn-out process that was The Washington Post Co.’s attempt to sell it off; and the departure of editor Jon Meacham and other marquee journalists.

And while The Daily Beast had an editor with a glamorous resumé, as well as some other high-profile hires, it hadn’t been able to attract much traffic. Plus, its ad model was a head-scratcher. It focused on premium custom treatments even though ad agencies don’t like to spend time on tailor-made ads for such a small audience. Besides, the two brands had very different names, audiences, and editorial voices, and not necessarily in a complimentary way.

The biggest problem NewsBeast faces, however, isn’t of its own making. It’s one inherited from Newsweek’s previous owner, The Washington Post Co. The magazine redesigned itself in 2009 as a “thought-leader” publication in the hope that it could attract affluent readers. It cut its rate base—the circulation guaranteed to advertisers—to 1.5 million from 1.9 million (that figure was itself considerably lower than the 3.1 million the magazine’s rate base had been at little more than a year before), with the idea advertisers would pay a higher rate to reach a more desirable audience. That’s not the way it worked out, especially not after The Post Co. put the magazine on the block the following May, which hurt advertiser confidence. “Buyers were looking at us with a really appropriately high level of skepticism,” one former executive says. Newsweek budgeted for a 10 percent decline in print ad revenue in 2010, according to a sales memorandum distributed to prospective buyers; it ended up down 34 percent, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

Proving that despite its new ownership, the magazine remains, as Andrew Ferguson pithily wrote back in 2009, when it decided to become what Moses euphemistically describes above as a “commentary-heavy, elite-aimed” and “thought leader” publication, in reality, Newsweek had morphed into “a liberal opinion magazine written by liberals who don’t want to admit they’re liberals.”

Which apparently also includes writers employed by Adweek.