After taking tens of millions of dollars in losses over the past two years, The Washington Post Company has put Newsweek up for sale which, along with Time, once defined the nation’s conversation about events foreign and domestic. The attempt to sell the magazine confirms many trends of our current media environment, among them: the news cycle is no longer than a week and many readers (and therefore advertisers) prefer niche publications over catch-all ones like Newsweek.
Newsweek’s current circulation is at its 1966 levels when what appeared on its cover mattered, when it defined what America was talking about. Indeed ten years earlier, its direct competitor, Time, made its way into Allen Ginsberg’s touching and equally funny poem America. In it, he confesses an unhealthy obsession to Time Magazine, reading it every week in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library. But if you haven’t picked up a Time or Newsweek lately, you’re not the only one.
Under both magazines’ original publishing models, copies would be printed on Monday to tell the nation what had happened the week prior. Now that everyone can know what is happening all the time, Newsweek and Time are searching for relevancy. As part of the search, Time moved its printing deadline three days ahead to Friday instead of Monday (Newsweek did not), but still, readers are drawn more and more to publications that cover a narrow interest with more depth and more immediacy.
When the editor of Newsweek, Jon Meacham, recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to give his opinion of the (attempted) sale of his magazine and the future of news generally, he specified that Newsweek would begin concentrating on online news and then aggregate and print the week’s online content for people who “want to hold the magazine in their hands”. Meacham is convinced that those people still exist, and he’s got the Pulitzer, but still, it seems like Meacham’s brand of reader is nostalgic for a more pensive news cycle. And, yes, print is nice, but enough with the longing already.
In any case, you needn’t cry for Meacham. Tonight he debuts as the host of PBS’s new TV news magazine Need to Know, where, thanks to the network’s audience, he can take that long walk around the block which his reporting deserves.