In the rest of the country, news-starved subscribers, unsatisfied by a limp local paper and a half hour of John Chancellor, ripped through every issue, happy to have a cogent way of catching up on everything they had missed during the previous week. Of course technology—first television, then the internet—changed that habit. A tardy summary of the news was no longer as useful. And with the advent of a 24-hour news cycle a decade ago, online newspapers, smaller magazines, and cable-news networks began to eat our analytical lunch.
I’m not going to argue that the dominance that we and a half-dozen other news organizations enjoyed until the turn-of-the-century was inherently better than today’s democratized media ecosystem, which allows thousands more voices into the national conversation. The “My Turn” column by a non-journalist wasn’t enough to broaden access to our pages. Newsweek hired black journalists early—and Mark Whitaker became the first African American editor of a major American publication in 1998—but the magazine was infamously late in promoting women in the 1970s. We sometimes hyped popular-culture stories, were slow to feature investigative reporting, and succumbed too often to covering politics and national affairs as if they were thrill-of-victory-agony-of-defeat sports instead of matters of substance and consequence for real people (though, in an effort to lampoon that superficial Washington frame, a couple of colleagues and I anonymously wrote a weekly feature called “Conventional Wisdom Watch”).