Calling a publication Newsweek is laughable for many reasons, but out of compassion I will list only two. First, it takes for granted the existence of an important category of information – objectively different from other information – called “news.” Second, it assumes that, in the age of Twitter and the iPhone, people are happy to wait a week to learn about these unique, important “news.”
Wrong on both counts. According to this nice roundup (HT: Instapundit), the Washington Post Company has agreed to sell Newsweek for $1. For the WaPo, it’s a good move – for the buyer, not so much. Apparently the latter, Sidney Harman, is 91 years old, which would explain a lot.
I was raised in a home which subscribed to Time Magazine and Newsweek. I read both faithfully, and I can still remember the growing sense of dissatisfaction, of intellectual shadow-boxing, of something missing at the core of the Time and Newsweek pieces I consumed ever more infrequently. That something was precisely what the magazines promised: information – fact, insight, “news,” whatever – I didn’t already know.
Instead I choked on reams of purple prose. At some unmarked moment, the news magazines decided they could trump their lack of timeliness by going literary. Of course, given the talents on display, this merely compounded their decline.
Andrew Ferguson, a believer in newsweeklies, reflects on this self-indulgent strategy, personified by Newsweek’s editor Jon Meacham.
The reinvented newsmagazine has pursued a fantasy life of its own. The fantasy is a reverse of the one the old editors enjoyed. The expense accounts may be gone, the bureaus may be shuttered, and not even Meacham gets to travel first class. But editors and writers have dispensed with the necessity of satisfying a large and reliable readership and can indulge their literary aspirations at last. They get to write long “argued essays” and make “original observations” and lace them with their own (minority) opinions on politics and culture. They have released themselves from the obligation of giving readers what readers came to them for: that straightforward and comprehensive account of what just happened.
Interestingly, the buyer wasn’t selected for business reasons, but because his political opinions coincide with the WaPo’s. The term used is “centrist,” but that is a meaningless term serving as a smokescreen. What WaPo means is that the new crowd will worship at the altar of the ideology of news, which holds that editors and journalists are transcendentally superior to, and must never be confused with, ordinary people.
Good luck with that business model. It’s worked great so far.