by Michael Kinsley, the New Republic
Having recently been dumped by Time, I naturally had great hopes for this week’s much-anticipated makeover of Newsweek. Both surviving newsmags (US News is said to exist still in some form, but no one I know has seen it lately) are in an Internet panic like that affecting newspapers. Newsweek has always been a bit faster on its feet. But judging from its first issue, the new Newsweek is not going to be the instrument of my revenge, alas.
In his editor’s letter–one of many traditional newsmagazine features that have survived the scythe of change–Jon Meacham says, “We are not pretending to be your guide through the chaos of the Information Age,” which concedes a lot of ground from the get-go. Why not at least pretend? Why else would people pick it up, let alone subscribe? The newsmags face a choice. Actually, they’ve faced it since long before the Internet. Should they try to provide a complete picture of what happened last week? Or should they stop worrying about that and hope to find appeal in trends, service pieces, fine writing, muckraking exposes, provocative argument, and other traditional non-news magazine fare? Whenever they have an existential crisis–and this is not the first–they always make the wrong choice.
Meacham–a very smart and thoughtful guy, which in my experience is not necessarily true of all newsmagazine editors (all two, that is)–actually says that his model is “the great monthlies of old” like Harper’s and Esquire. He says the building blocks of the new Newsweek will be “two kinds of stories”: the “reported narrative” and “the argued essay.” So what’s wrong with that? Well, to start, those grand old monthlies at their primes had a smaller paying readership than Newsweek has at its supposed nadir.
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