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The cause of Newsweek’s decline
Newsweek, which was once one of America’s premier news magazines, will no longer publish a print edition at the end of the year. Its editor, Tina Brown, made the announcement Thursday that it will move to an all-digital, subscription-based format. The Wall Street Journal reported that its online model will initially based predominantly on subscription revenue rather than ads, and rates will be similar to what the print edition cost.
Eliminating the print edition won’t be a salve for the magazine’s many problems, as both Digiday’s Josh Sternberg and paidContent’s Jeff John Roberts expressed doubts about whether Newsweek is lean and nimble enough to succeed online. Reuters’ Felix Salmon went further, asserting that “the chances that Newsweek will succeed as a digital-only subscription-based publication are exactly zero” and wondering why it’s even bothering with keeping the organization alive.
The big question people were asking yesterday was, “What went wrong?” (Or, more pointedly, “Who should we blame?”) The first few fingers pointed most emphatically at Brown, who took over as editor in 2010. Gawker’s John Cook unleashed a diatribe directed at Brown, and Capital New York’s Tom McGeveran and The Guardian’s Michael Wolff both argued that she hastened the magazine’s decline with her sensationalism and lack of focus, though Wolff emphasized that it was probably doomed regardless. Brown, for her part, told The New York Times that Newsweek was “incredibly moribund” when she began and that the industry’s problems were beyond her power to change anyway.
Others were looking mostly at those industry-wide causes, too. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic said the newsweekly’s demise could be attributed simply to the simultaneous decline in readers and advertisers, a case backed up by Business Insider’s graphs. Slate’s Matt Yglesias said newsweeklies were doomed a long time ago when the news cycle they were built on sped up, but Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy took issue with such characterizations, arguing that newsweeklies can be viable, but not without significant change.
There were a few other ideas put forward about contributors to Newsweek’s decline: John McQuaid of Forbes pinpointed its adherence to journalistic voicelessness, and BuzzFeed’s Kevin Lincoln said that Newsweek can’t dictate what America talks about at the proverbial water cooler because in the age of the web, there is no water cooler anymore. Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast (Newsweek’s sister news org) was a lone voice of (semi-)optimism, arguing that the sooner magazines get out of print, the better they can do at defining and refining what they do best — connecting information.