Why did Newsweek fail?

Answer: For the same reason any species goes extinct. The environment changed and it couldn’t adapt. Darwinism in action. Says Ace in a long, provocative post:

Newsweek’s most famous innovation is the oft-parodied “conventional wisdom watch,” which is perfectly emblamatic, because, like that little colored box of up and down arrows, Newsweek itself was simplistic, fluffy, light-on-substance and uncritically reflective of standard-issue first-impulse soft-liberal conventional wisdom…

At some point in the last thirty years, I think, people’s lives became too busy to bother with keeping up with stuff they weren’t really enjoying — they had enough homework from actual work or raising their kids to easily take on non-required homework in the form of keeping up with news or culture. Or it was due to something else. Either way, it happened.

And the internet threw gasoline on to that fire, because it gave people a way to seek out only the stuff they really cared about. Our culture became less “push” (stuff pushed on you by the sometimes well-meaning guardians of the conventional cultural establishment) and much more “pull” (you decide yourself today that you don’t feel like reading a novel, but watching an old episode of Greatest American Hero on Hulu)…

Newsweek was a manner of “keeping up” with politics for someone who would rather be reading celebrity gossip.

Newsweek’s chief competitor wasn’t The Economist.

Newsweek’s chief competitor was actually People Magazine.

People won.

Right. The more media there is, the more you can afford to dispense with the stuff you’re lukewarm about. Newsweek is the ultimate bland, middlebrow news magazine, the print equivalent of a bowl of oatmeal. Who wants oatmeal at a smorgasbord? Time, in fairness, is oatmealy too, but Time has a certain historical halo — the Luce heritage, the “Man of the Year,” etc. — that Newsweek’s never had, even though it’s only a few years younger. It’s oatmeal in a silver bowl. The only person in the world who’s passionate about Newsweek is, alas, its own editor, so much so that he appears willing to sink millions into keeping it on life support. Why? Ahem: “I do not believe that NEWSWEEK is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them, and I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.” That’s from his interview a few days ago with Jon Stewart, but I think this quote from the same show is more apt:

“This is an existential crisis – and it’s not just because I’ve had a bad day, and it’s not just because I feel incredibly strongly that this magazine for 77 years … has mattered unto the life of the country,” he said. “It’s one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world. … I think the country will be poorer for our disappearing.

That’s Ace’s point. It’s value lies, or used to lie, in being “something informed people read.” No one thinks of it that way anymore, especially in an age when news consumption takes place 24/7. Last year, when Meacham announced that it was going to become a slightly more highbrow news-oriented journal of liberal opinion instead of a liberal journal of opinionated news, I joked that they should have tilted the other way and gone tabloid. The thing is, that wasn’t really a joke; they would have done better as a tabloid for the simple reason that they would have had a discernible identity. Instead they’re having “Catcher in the Rye” fantasies. Didn’t anyone tell Meacham that nothing good ever comes from those?

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