Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tumbleweeds Aren't Rolling Through Newsweek's Office. Yet.

Exactly Why is Sidney Harman Bothering?

In an interview in Media Matters, Newsweek's Howard Fineman, while explaining why he's decamping for The Huffington Post, predicted, his journalistic home for 30 years would no longer be in print by 2015.
I think he was being rather charitable.
It's not just that Fineman, Evan Thomas, Michael Isikoffk, Fareed Zakaria, Jon Meacham and just about all of the other big hosses at Newsweek have unhitched from that once-invincible wagon train.
True, these guys were big deals, and they could still bring it with eminently decent journalism. The cover story two weeks ago by Thomas and John Barry on Robert Gates was a grabber, as have other top-line enterprise pieces in recent weeks. I'm sure I'll get to the piece on the threat to traditional masculinity in the current issue real soon.
But about that current issue, and the bigger problem. It's all of 64 pages. You don't make it to 2015 when you're 64 pages.
Nor do you when a lot of the magazine looks downright ugly. The fonts and text look like an experiment gone bad circa 1975, sort of a cross between The New Republic and U.S. News and World Report at its wheeziest.
Sure, it's no longer a digest of the previous week. Like Time, it focuses now on trends, analysis, point of view. But too much of it is simply stuff you can get elsewhere in one variation or another. There's nothing wrong with it. However, there is not enough that is truly distinctive to make it a value proposition. I'm only seeing it because a 6-month subscription started showing up in our mailbox. If I had to pay...let's just say, I wouldn't. I have a hard enough time digesting two papers a day minimum, along with the other 15 magazines that pile up at home.
There's not enough there there to give up something else whose time spent reading I would devote to Newsweek.
So, as the magazine's new owner Sidney Harman prepares to affix his stamp, not to mention his checkbook, it will be intriguing to find out how Newsweek will be reinvented yet again. However, it should be telling to Harman and just about anyone else when Fineman, et al., know better not to find out.
But if this Newsweek thing doesn't work out for Harman, I'm sure there are a few newspaper publishers who would be eager to take him out to lunch. Pronto. They don't want to wait for 2015 either.

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