OFF THE GRID

What Newsweek Should Have Done

May 14, 10 | 7:07 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Jon Meacham, Newsweek’s current editor, has been visiting talk shows since the Washington Post Co. announced it was giving up on the magazine, which it’s owned for almost half a century, and hoping someone else might be willing to take it on. Meacham has mostly been saying that what’s happened to the magazine isn’t his fault. His defense is that he did the best he could and, given the state of the media business, nobody could’ve done much better. The fates just weren’t with him.

Meacham might be right. But his approach, to turn Newsweek into a middle-brow thumb sucker, reminiscent of Norman Cousins’ Saturday Review—a magazine that went belly up several generations ago—seems, in hindsight, more a determined last stand for a specific journalism class than a concerted and hard-headed business proposition.

Here, for instance, are just a few of the much more obvious ideas for how the magazine might have been given a fighting chance:

1) Hire Adam Moss, New York magazine’s editor, whose talent is information design and packaging. That’s what a newsmagazine is supposed to be—a form that makes the news easily consumable. If anything in print could give the web a run for its money, Moss’s compartmentalizations, graphic delineations, and bite-sizations, might have.

2) Do what The Week does—and, for that matter, what Newser does—provide a cheat-sheet of everybody else’s news. Actually, that’s what newsmagazines did in their original incarnation. They summarized, digested, aggregated. What’s more, recognizing the new economic realities of publishing, Newsweek could have done this with far fewer people.

3) Go tabloid-y. Tart it up. Well, why not? This would have differentiated Newsweek from Time. And it would have spoken to an obvious new news sensibility and audience. It could have been a smart tabloid—a category whose time has likely come.

4) And certainly deep-six Jonathan Alter, the most pompous man in American journalism, and George Will and Anna Quindlen, who have not given their columns a lick of thought or attention in decades.


(AP Photo)

But instead what Newsweek did was to try to salvage a certain conceit about the importance of newsmen, and, indeed, those of the most attenuated and remote sort—newsmen who might have been happier in university settings, newsmen who believe themselves to be public intellectuals of worthy standing. Perhaps they always knew that this would never work, because the magazine felt resigned, enervated, helpless. Or maybe this is just the state of the best and brightest sort of journalism that Newsweek sought most fiercely to represent—to go down representing.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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