When I was interviewed last October by the Associated Press about Tina Brown’s decision to kill the print edition of Newsweek, I put the failure of Newsweek, to the surprise of very few, right on the shoulders of Ms. Brown. Only a former managing editor of TIME (who by the way was pushed up and out of the magazine that at least five years ago stopped counting Newsweek as a competitor) said about my remarks: “No one said anything stupider than Samir Husni.” That same editor, turned media columnist, amazingly appears in the last issue of Newsweek talking about a competition that ceased to exit years ago).
Heaven forbid that one ever criticize an editor for a magazine failure. It is always someone else’s fault… advertisers, circulation, the weather, anything or anyone but the editor. An editor’s choice of content, covers, or even writers, let alone, an editor’s knowledge of the audience of a magazine, never makes up a recipe for failure. Right? Well, that’s what you are lead to believe reading Tina Brown’s final editorial in the “#LastPrintIssue” of Newsweek.
The content of Newsweek for the last two years, from Princess Di at 50, to the First Gay President, to the famous sexy food cover, are three examples of how content (i.e. bad content, irrelevant content to a magazine’s audience, etc.) can and will lead to your demise. Remember Talk?
Well, here are ten excuses I was able to discern from Ms. Brown’s own editorial about the demise of the print edition of Newsweek and my comments on each excuse:
10: To “see the full evolution of the spanking-new, all-digital Newsweek Global…” if it is going to be anything like the evolution of the spanking-new print edition of Newsweek two years ago, don’t brace yourself for any positive surprises. If you could not make it “national” are you kidding me about making it “global?”
9: “It’s been a turbulent two-year journey (since the marriage to the Daily Beast), culminating in our decision to leave print…” I guess the marriage was a blast that created a schizophrenic double personality entity that was neither Newsweek nor the Daily Beast. The decision not to merge the Daily Beast into Newsweek.com actually spelled this inevitable doom. In fact this greatly undermined the Newsweek brand because in effect it had no digital outlet — both editorially and in terms of advertising. This decision was totally as a result of Ms. Brown’s vanity about the Daily Beast.
8: “Most of the boldface bylines and star writers who defined the brand had flown the Newsweek coop…” I wonder why some of them went to TIME?
7: “There was no executive editor… no news editor, no managing editor, no features editor, no ….” And I thought that was the reason they brought on Tina Brown.
6: “Advertisers had peeled off…” and now they are going to come back with full force into the all-digital edition? By the way, is the Daily Beast making any money online?
5: The magazine was located in an office “reminiscent of the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin.” When everything else fails, blame it on the brick and mortar building. Newsweek logo on its own building is no longer “in the eye-line of its swaggering competitor in the Time-Life Building.”
4: Newsweek is “embracing a digital medium that all our competitors will one day need to embrace… we are ahead of the curve.” Have you heard of TIME, The Economist, The Week, Bloomberg Businessweek? And by the way how is it that Bloomberg Businessweek has survived, and is thriving–after it was sold for one dollar? By the way, just for the historical record: Newsweek came into being 10 years after TIME was born, and Newsweek’s circulation was always behind TIME in its entire 79 years of publishing. Talk about being ahead of the curve.
3: The re-born, all-digital Newsweek will take “its readers to territory that is new and uncharted.” Wow… I wonder if the majority of the Newsweek readers are avid digital readers who are leaving print by the droves and are willing or wanting to take the “uncharted” road? If the “chartered” road did not work, do you truly believe that the “uncharted” road will? And if it is such a “new-spanking” entity based on 80 years of history, why abandon Newsweek’s main audience in the heartland of America? Under Ms. Brown, Newsweek has become a magazine created for and about the coasts, and a “newsmagazine” like Newsweek is, and should be, about all of America.
2: “We say sayonara to print, we thank our 1.5 million loyal readers…” I guess Ms. Brown does not believe in readership studies that estimate how many readers a magazine has per issue, while the 1.5 million circulation is the rate base number given to advertisers. There is a big difference between readers and subscribers in the magazine business. well, of course, unless the magazine had only one reader per copy, since the readership numbers are absent from Newsweek’s media kit. And, by the way, Ms. Brown said “sayonara” for the loyal magazine readers when she brought in her 80s and 90s sensibility of what would shock and/or titillate. Those were the days my friends, and contrary to believe, they did end.
1: “…Wish us luck and join us… in our all-digital future.” Well, to paraphrase the other Tina, “What’s luck got to do with it?” Oops, sorry, that was “What’s love got to do with it.” But you get my point. As one of my friends once told me, “Ms. Brown doesn’t and never has understood America.” It is all about understanding and knowing your audience; not luck or love has anything to do with it.
Well, my prediction, out of sight is indeed out of mind. Thanks, Newsweek, for the memories, may you rest in peace or pieces as you, that is, Ms. Brown, wishes. And if you ever think that the Daily Beast has a higher value as a brand than Newsweek, think not once, but twice and thrice for that matter.
For the rest of the printed magazines out there (all 10,000 print consumer magazines distributed on the nation’s newsstands), fear not, print is here to stay, alongside with digital and whatever new platforms that are yet to be invented. Bad content and irrelevant content on any platform will continue to die regardless of the device. Enough said.