The Buzz Stops Here
The collapse of Tina Brown’s effort to save Newsweek as a print magazine. Thu., October 18, 2012.
By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (email@example.com) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.
Sometimes buzz just isn't enough.
Tina Brown's effort to rescue long-struggling Newsweek has come to an end.
Newsweek the magazine will cease to exist at the end of the year. The brand will live on as the digital Newsweek Global, which will have a paid subscription model.
Newsweek has been on the endangered species list for quite some time. In 2010, the Washington Post Co. gave up on the once high-flying newsweekly, selling it to businessman Sidney Harman for $1.
Harman brought in celebrity editor Brown and merged the magazine with Barry Diller's Web site, The Daily Beast. But a financial turnaround was elusive. Hartman died in 2011, and his family later stopped supporting the magazine. In July, Diller telegraphed that the end of Newsweek was nigh.
Brown has been wonderful at attracting attention wherever she goes. She also put out some pretty good magazines while at the helm of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. While it also had ample success on the buzzmeter, her startup magazine, Talk, didn't fare quite so well, going out of business in 2001 after a short run.
Brown tried valiantly to keep the music alive at Newsweek. She relied on one of her stocks in trade, the provocative, over- the- top, shark-jumping cover.
Week after week, Newsweek covers, whether featuring a scary-looking Michele Bachman or scary-looking Muslims, would stir up outrage and provoke controversy. Journalism ethicists covered their eyes. But the attention was fleeting. In a world of viral Internet memes, buzz and sensationalism just aren't very hard to find. The magazine continued to bleed money.
In fairness, newsweeklies have long seemed to many a relic of another age. Their imminent demise has been predicted for decades. Newspapers years ago started to do the analysis pieces that were the newsweeklies' strong suit. And in the Internet era, with an infinite array of reporting and commentary a click away, the challenge has become steeper.
U.S. News & World Report dropped out of the weekly print game in 2008, although Time, Newsweek's longtime archrival, continues to thrive.
While there's no doubt Newsweek faced an uphill struggle, magazine expert Samir Husni believes Brown took the magazine in precisely the wrong direction, hastening its demise.
"She ignored the audience," Husni told me. "She stopped giving it the intellectual stimulation magazines of that genre are in the business of giving.
"The magazine had no relation to its audience and market. It became a reflection of Tina Brown."
Husni, the University of Mississippi journalism professor known as "Mr. Magazine," points out that there is hardly a shortage of venues for "celebrity-driven" content, which he says is simply "not in Newsweek's DNA."
He rejects the notion that there is no room in the current journalistic landscape for smart weeklies that stress topflight, in-depth analysis. In addition to Time, he cites the resurrection of BusinessWeek as Bloomberg Businessweek, which he says has become a must-read.
Meanwhile, Brown and Newsweek CEO Baba Shetty stress that Newsweek isn't going away.
"Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night," they said in a statement. "But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purpose — and embrace the all-digital future." ###