Newsweek, the iconic news magazine that, courtesy of my grandmother, has been arriving weekly at my door for over a decade now will, as of December 31st, only be arriving at my Ipad. Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown confirmed the rumor that Newsweek is going all digital. “We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” Brown said. “We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism, that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.”
Like a lot of people, I’m sure that I care a lot more about what it means that Newsweek is going all digital than about the act itself. Though I haven’t been an ardent reader of the magazine for a while now, I still enjoy a flip through and read a few articles every week, and since they’ve gotten so short and so un-newsy, it’s easy and fun too, kind of like People with facts. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but there’s no doubt that over the years Newsweek has become less of a “hard” news magazine, relying more on features and opinion. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed the switch and, though I could give a rat’s ass about fashion, which features with obnoxious regularity, am generally a fan of the sensibility that Tina Brown’s editor-in-chief-ness has brought to the magazine. I believe her that it isn’t about the news or the brand. It’s about something else.
In related news, The New York Times announced that it will probably soon make a number of cuts to its news room staff and offer a number of buy outs. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger announced that he’d charged his top editors to “identify significant cost savings.” While I don’t envy Sulzberger’s position on this one, his diction needs love. Equating reductions in staff–meaning people–with a soul-less expression like “cost savings” makes me gag a little. But, jeez, what’s he supposed to say? Sulzberger wrote that “the advertising climate remains volatile and we don’t see this changing in the near future.” Is that the same something that Tina Brown was talking about?
So, now that I’ve told you what you already know, or sensed, let’s ask: what’s all this mean? Part of me greatly mourns this news, feels like as an icon like Newsweek can’t sustain a print edition and the NYT is downsizing again, and this time to its news staff, it signals that something vital is turning to liquid and slipping through our collective fingertips. Considering Newsweek, certainly quality journalism can happen in a digital only environment, but as the magazine’s coffers dry up, can they continue to afford what it even costs to report the news with class and style? This isn’t just about car ads. It’s about the relative worth of news, what passes for news, and what news will become. So maybe I disagree with Tina Brown a little bit. Maybe this is sort of about the brand. As reporters jobs are in the crosshairs, surely too is the integrity of reporting itself.
My brain surges forward, to a supposed print-less world, when my children, or maybe my children’s children are grown, and they’ve never held a paper copy of a newspaper, never written a letter by hand, never bought a new physical book and smelled the wood pulp under their noses. These images are saddening. Hold me. And yet, I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a New York Times off the rack. Recently, my local newspaper, The Burlington Free Press, faced with the same devastating something that everyone else is reacting to, began charging for its on-line edition. For years my wife and I have been daily readers, yet we still haven’t ponied up and subscribed, and as a result we’ve basically stopped reading the paper. I get Newsweek as a gift and might not otherwise patronize the magazine. I admit I’m not helping, but I would still feign to call myself a print devotee, relatively speaking. I regularly buy new books and hit up my local library and I subscribe to a number of print periodicals (Poets and Writers, The Atlantic, Esquire, VQR, Bon Apetit). But there’s no doubt I consume less print than I did five years ago. It’s hard to keep pace, and the way we read is changing. But it sure seems to be changing awfully fast.