Newsweek Getting New Look, Emphasis


I hope this does not sound like one of my (many) posts about how I hate to see  longstanding publications change due to the economy, or the altered audience demographics in the country due to technology.  But as a reader and subscriber to Newsweek since 1980 I do have thoughts about this news.

Newsweek, like other magazines, is trying to find how to better fit into the current events niche in the lives of readers.  So there is about to be a change in looks, and a move away from the weekly obligatory coverage  of the latest headlines.  I am fine with such a change to Newsweek as there are so many avenues to getting the news.  What I much more prefer from my magazines is to have analysis concerning the issues of the day, which is what I actually crave more than the mere facts of a story, since those are  obtained from other sources.

At a time when CNN, MSNBC, NPR  informs me on ‘who, what, where, when’ of a story I use my magazines to better tell me the ‘why’ of an event or policy.  There are changes that have taken place in the readership needs of the public, and not addressing them means lower profits, and then a demise of the publication.  U.S. News and World Report is such an example. 

I do not say this often about changes to printed material I read and love, but I am looking forward to the future changes of Newsweek.  The magazine has already been moving in the direction it intends to take at full speed, and it works. 

Newsweek is about to begin a major change in its identity, with a new design, a much smaller and, it hopes, more affluent readership, and some shifts in content. The venerable newsweekly’s ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all, executives say.

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

A deep-rooted part of the newsweekly culture has been to serve a mass audience, but that market has been shrinking, and new subscribers come at a high price in call centers, advertising and deeply discounted subscriptions.

“Mass for us is a business that doesn’t work,” said Tom Ascheim, Newsweek’s chief executive. “Wish it did, but it doesn’t. We did it for a long time, successfully, but we can’t anymore.”

Thirteen months ago, Newsweek lowered its rate base, the circulation promised to advertisers, to 2.6 million from 3.1 million, and Mr. Ascheim said that would drop to 1.9 million in July, and to 1.5 million next January.

He says the magazine has a core of 1.2 million subscribers who are its best-educated, most avid consumers of news, and who have higher incomes than the average reader.

“We would like to build our business around these people and grow that group slightly,” he said. “These are our best customers. They are our best renewers, and they pay the most.”

Editorially, Newsweek’s plan calls for moving in the direction it was already headed — toward not just analysis and commentary, but an opinionated, prescriptive or offbeat take on events.

The current cover article argues that America’s involvement in Afghanistan parallels the Vietnam War, and a companion piece offers a plan for handling that country. Newsweek also plans to lean even more heavily on the appeal of big-name writers  like Christopher Hitchens, Fareed Zakaria, and George Will.

Starting in May, articles will be reorganized under four broad, new sections — one each for short takes, columnists and commentary, long reporting pieces like the cover articles, and culture — each with less compulsion to touch on the week’s biggest events. A new graphic feature on the last page, “The Bluffer’s Guide,” will tell readers how to sound as if they are knowledgeable on a current topic, whether they are or not.

The magazine will replace its thin paper with heavier stock that is more appealing to advertisers and readers. It will also put more emphasis on photography. Pages of a mock issue that Mr. Meacham displayed in his office on West 57th Street in Manhattan show a cleaner, less cluttered layout that has more open space and fewer pages that seem an uninterrupted sea of words.

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