Monday, May 25, 2009


The new version of Newsweek (both print and online) launched last week. Have you seen it?

I actually like Newsweek, so I kept an open mind about the relaunch, but I was hardly bouncing up and down with anticipation. I understand that traditional news outlets are hurting and struggling to find ways to remain "relevant" in tomorrow's world. But the current thing was working for me, so I don't feel the same pressing need for change that shareholders of The Washington Post Company (which owns Newsweek, as well as must be feeling.

The latest issue was delivered on Tuesday afternoon, and I haven't finished it yet. What? You think I'm twiddling my thumbs, here? I'll get to it!

I've already used a couple of pieces from the magazine, one to show Paul, one to share at a meeting. So there's still relevant (to me) information in Newsweek. But over all, I'm concerned about the redesign.

1) They strive to be "provocative without being partisan." I recently watched a very "provocative" video on Facebook about a 15-year-old girl who wants to get pregnant. I applaud the desire to avoid being partisan, and I like the way Newsweek goes about that. But the "provocative" stuff tends to annoy me. I mentioned earlier; I think they spend a lot of time being "provocative" . . . and not always in a constructive way. What, exactly, are we trying to provoke? Thought? Discussion? Emotion? Response? Sales?

Alas, I live in a world where screaming, sensationalist headlines sell. And if "news" companies want to make money, they have to get eyeballs where their advertisers can count 'em. So that means more screaming, sensationalist headlines. It means more opinion pieces by writers who also contribute to (like Dahlia Lithwick, e.g. Put Sarah Palin on the Supreme Court! That place needs a breast pump!) Provocative? You betcha. Adding to intelligent discourse in this country? Less so.

About those opinion pieces:

2) There's a lot more opinion in the new Newsweek. Editor Jon Meacham, in his "Top of the Week" column (formerly "The Editor's Desk") introducing the relaunch, explains what we'll see more - and less - of in weeks to come:
"There will, for the most part, be two kinds of stories in the new NEWSWEEK. The first is the reported narrative—a piece, grounded in original observation and freshly discovered fact, that illuminates the important and the interesting. The second is the argued essay—a piece, grounded in reason and supported by evidence, that makes the case for something.

What is displaced by these categories? The chief casualty is the straightforward news piece and news written with a few (hard-won, to be sure) new details that does not move us significantly past what we already know."
What who already knows? Those of you in the news business who read the AP Wire as it streams in and devour hours of cable news programs a day? Or people like me, who see the biggest headlines on our iGoogle homepages, listen to NPR news when we happen to be in the car at the top of the hour, and carry Newsweek with us to catch up on the rest? The latter group - people like me - are getting screwed by this new version of the magazine.

Newsweek used to kick off with "Periscope," full of short reported pieces wherein I learned interesting (or not) things like who Obama might pick for the Supreme Court or what's going on with Israel's new Prime Minister.

There are still short pieces in the new "Scope" section of Newsweek, and they still have an international flare. But the piece on civil rights abuses in Egypt (fascinating!) ends in a critique of our current foreign policy toward that nation and a suggestion for what we should be doing. Opinion. The piece on the world economy, focusing on how spending isn't down nearly as much in France as it is here (interesting!) includes a suggestion that European attitudes on government spending are healthier than American attitudes on same. Opinion.

It's not that I necessarily disagree with the opinions or think they're poorly written. It's just that they're . . . not news.

I'll keep reading; I'll try to keep an open mind. But if I'm looking for news in a broad, in-depth, non-sensationalistic format that's more portable than the internet, something a little less pressing and ink-stainy than a daily newspaper, something that's more about covering the stories that matter and less about breaking the day's biggest headline, and if the place for that isn't Newsweek, then where is it?

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