The Death of the News Weekly: Newsweek to Restructure, Opinionate and Take Aim at Economist 6

Richard Perez-Pena of the New York Times took a very interesting look at the news coming out of Newsweek’s offices in today’s Times. The venerable news weekly is undergoing a see of changes that would have seemed somewhat unimaginable a year (or even six-months) ago.

The big one? Newsweek will essentially stop chasing weekly news.

From the Times:

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.”

In fact Newsweek editors hypothesize through Pena, in the beginning of piece, that if a plane happened to miraculously splash down safely six months from now in the Hudson – it wouldn’t bother covering in print or even on the Web.

The news on shifting away from the daily news-cycle isn’t news on its own. Almost all weekly, bi-weekly and monthly print magazines are abandoning their desire to ‘weigh in’ on breaking news (well after it has happened) in their print issues, in exchange for opinionated bylines and colorful exclusive interviews. Over last several years editors and publishers have come to the realization that adding a few points to stories which have been covered in-depth in blogs and on other digital outlets doesn’t bring readers and ad dollars to their magazines. In short, their print operations can’t compete with the 1,440 minute news-cycle.

However, most Web operations at these outlets continue to chase breaking daily news (assuming it is big enough). The idea that Newsweek may finally look to allocate all of its resources (both online and print) away from breaking news is very interesting.

However, to Newsweek’s readers it can’t be shocking. I’ve joked with friends and co-workers that they should rename it Zakaria Weekly, given the page space they have allocated for Fareed’s astute opinions over the last year.

As Pena hints at himself, they’ve been making a very slow transition towards taking direct aim at the Economist’s wealthy, well educated and high-brow readership. Now those plans are very much out in the open.

In doing so, the magazine will admit that it can no longer stay in business by serving a mass audience – focusing on the niche market, which has helped the Economist stay healthy in the downturn and earn “magazine of the year” recognition.

From the Times:

“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.”

So expect to see the Newsweek pages filled with well-cultivated bylines from Zakaria, Will and Hitchens in the upcoming months with less influence from current events and outside sources.

As the Newsweek noted itself in their November 2007 cover story on Amazon’s Kindle: “Books (including news weeklies) aren’t dead, they’re just going digital,” and becoming more opinionated.

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