Thursday, December 27, 2012

Good Night and Good Luck, Newsweek. You'll Need It

Shift to Digital Only Could Presage Fade to Black a Lot Sooner Than Later

Thanks to premiums from public radio pledge drives, my Newsweek subscription runs for another two years. Whether the magazine has another two years in it is another question.

The final print edition of the venerable magazine has arrived. The website does a nice job of saying goodbye to its print self. It was quite a run.

And now we all need to read it online. But do we really? And will we? Scuttling the print edition made financial sense, given the tsunami of red ink that regularly flowed past Tina Brown's office. But to more of us, the magazine had long since ceased its reason for being, sad as that is to contemplate.

I'm actually not a hater. A lot of media pundits took pride in dumping on Newsweek, as unfair as it was, at times, maddeningly easy to do so.

A look at the Dec. 17 issue, with the "Who Was Jesus?" cover showed a magazine trying to find its way. There were some striking two-page photos (Les Miserables stars, combing through wreckage of Filipino typhoon, First Family at the tree lighting). There were two, decent quick-read columns from Paul Begala and David Frum.

There were also some nice-to-read-if-you-have-time features on foods that are vulnerable because of climate change ("The Pasta Crisis") and the possible bubble in the runaway prices for fine art ("The Art World's Spending Spree").

In other words, all right for what it was, but nothing that you absolutely had to have or couldn't get anywhere else, more or less. And there wasn't much of it. The magazine topped out at 56 pages. Yikes.

So, will things be any better for Newsweek online? Doubtful at best. If you thought the competition was brutal at the newsstand, just wait, Tina. You can hope, but certainly can't assume, that people will park themselves and their iPad to read the "magazine."  There's simply not enough time or bandwidth. What truly ails Newsweek is not that fewer people were buying the print edition. What ails Newsweek is Newsweek. If it's not a must read, it won't be read.

Brown and what's left of the staff need to give us a reason to keep coming back every week. She needs even more reasons to get people to sign up for the first time. Double ditto for advertisers. So far, we've heard little about how that'll be accomplished. I'm not sure Brown has it in her to pull it off, but I doubt anyone does.

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