Newsweek: Team of Rivals

Newsweek is just about a transformation of sorts. Word has leaked out of their plans to be a smaller, more focused and opinionated magazine rather than a newsweekly. The model is a the Economist, a magazine that continues to make strong gains in the US. Indeed, magazine editors aspire to be more like the Economist because the editors can put whatever they like on the cover without losing newsstand sales. (Jesus and Health drive newsstand but magazine folks want to talk about politics and big name folks.)

Here’s the Wall Street Journal on the new strategy:

Newsweek could benefit from targeting a smaller group of readers for reasons beyond reducing its printing and delivery costs. Some industry veterans think news weeklies must shed even more readers — and charge more for remaining copies — to garner an audience for which advertisers will pay a premium.

Weeklies have proven particularly vulnerable to the flight of readers and advertisers to the Web. So far this year, Time’s ad pages are off 17% and Newsweek’s down an estimated 21%, with one fewer issue this year, according to trade publication Mediaweek. In response, both Time, part of Time Warner Inc., and Newsweek already have cut staff and their rate bases in the past two years. US News & World Report announced this fall it will publish only once a month, its second retrenchment this year.

Unlike Time, which is profitable, Newsweek is losing money and has overhauled its management in the past year amid pressure to turn around its performance.

What’s really interesting about this Economist strategy–where the magazine covers the news in a more opinionated way–is that Newsweek is nothing like the Economist. Yes, it’s opionated–and we’ll get to that in a second–but what’s unique about the Economist is that it speaks with one editorial voice. There are no bylines at the Economist. (With the exception of the book reviews.)

Newsweek, on the other hand, is magazine that can barely contain its internal tensions. For years, the bulk of the major stories were written by Evan Thomas. The rest of the book was filled with star columnists like Robert Samuelson, Allen Sloan, Jane Bryant Quinn and George Will. Over time, writers like Jonathan Alter have tried to become a more public face of the magazine. But the real star system began with Fareed Zakaria. Then Jonathan Meacham pushed the previous editor aside, partly on the strength of his visibility as a writer of bestselling histories and regular appearances on the Charlie Rose show.

Since taking the helm, Meacham has begun to bigfoot the cover story. Taking writing credits when he can. This isn’t a dig at Meacham, his peers are doing the same thing. Look at David Remnick and Richard Stengel at Time (to a lesser degree.) Zakaria too demands cover space laterly beginning to make a grab for broader economic subjects that are not strictly within his international purview. (At the New York Times, Thomas Friedman is doing the same thing with his eco-beat.)

There are many more voices in the magazine clamoring for attention. Daniel Gross finds the funny in all bad economic news; Jonathan Alter tried to ride FDR’s 100 days back to relevance; Jacob Weisberg has decided the web doesn’t get him enough air time so he’s writing a column now too. And don’t ignore George Will and Anna Quindlen.

So the issue with Newsweek’s new strategy isn’t whether the magazine is becoming more like the Economist but whether the cacaphony of strong wills and strong opinions won’t make it more like the old opinion magazines–The New Republic and National Review–or to be more up-to-date with the comparison, more like the Huffington Post.


Newsweek to Cut Back Staff, Slim Magazine in Makeover
Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2008

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:

Posted Under