Farewell to a friend? Newsweek’s announcement sad, no surprise

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Shawn Sensiba
Friday, October 19, 2012

I was first introduced to Newsweek magazine my sophomore year at Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. It was kind of a big deal for me.

The magazine was a requirement for a class on current affairs. Although my parents loved books, our household did not have a lot of magazines. I remember stacks of the American Rifleman sitting on our polished tables, but the majority of the magazines we had were of the hand-me-down variety: Smithsonian, Redbook, Readers Digest, Ladies Home Journal, and occasionally the mystifying and demanding issue of The New Yorker.

I was accustomed to newspapers. We had a number of newspapers in the house, dailies and weeklies, but Newsweek was a different animal. It was about news and culture. It reported on the events of the week from an entirely different perspective than a newspaper. It offered a fuller draft, some perspective, a view of how developments fit into a larger picture of history. When I read Newsweek as a youngster, I felt as if I was getting a sense of the historic nature of the events happening around me.

It was a revelation for me. I wasn’t thinking then about a career in journalism, but I think it is fair to say that my origins in the business date back to the excitement I felt at that marvelous publication.

Naturally, I was sad to hear that at the end of 2012, Newsweek magazine will cease print production and concentrate on a digital-only strategy. I am dubious of the prospects for this plan. Perhaps the magazine will thrive with an online-only model, but I doubt it. I will not be surprised in three or five years to learn the title is folding.

It’s fair to ask at this point why I care, considering I stopped subscribing to the magazine a couple years ago.

I was no longer reading it. It had ceased to offer me value as a subscriber. Newsweek, in my opinion, had lost its way. It lost its motivating purpose—to offer a recap and perspective on the week in news. It waded into areas that other magazines did better—opinion and advocacy. Its efforts at this new direction were tentative, uninspired and ultimately disappointing.

In recent months the magazine drew attention for some covers (and stories) that seemed to indicate the publication’s confusion. They seemed desperate efforts to draw attention: lame, misguided and successful only in tarnishing the magazine’s legacy.

A couple decades ago I was a maniac for magazines. At one point I subscribed to more than 20 publications. I read magazines on music, film, writing, news, journalism, computers and literature. It was wonderful, although it could be overwhelming to keep up.

Now my subscriptions have dwindled to six. I subscribe to another two magazines electronically.

There is a simple equation for the value of a publication, in my opinion. Does the information it contains exceed its cost plus the time needed to read it? If the information has sufficient value, then you can find the money and make the time. If it does not, then you will not buy it or read it—whatever form it takes.

In a ruthless Darwinian publishing world, you must offer value or perish.

Do you have any reaction to the announcement by Newsweek? Are you likely to follow the magazine when it ceases printing and goes online only? What magazines do you read? Has the Internet replaced your magazine subscriptions? Please share your opinions with us.

Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.

Last updated: 10:06 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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