Less than a year ago, during yet another public discussion about the
future of traditional media, I said that it seemed extremely unlikely
that, for instance, Newsweek would last another five years, provoking
guffaws among blogger types and stout denials from the magazine (i.e. a
Newsweek and its parent, the Washington Post Co.,
announced yesterday a significant cut in its rate base, a further round
of buyouts and layoffs, and a plan to make an already anorexic
magazine even thinner. The Washington Post Co., for good measure,
added its own bad news and bleak outlook.
My prediction about Newsweek
seems to have been significantly optimistic (when I made it, I confess
to thinking it was irresponsibly exaggerated). I would revise it now
to two years: Sometime around the fourth quarter of next year, Newsweek
will be shuttered (possibly there’s a phase where it goes bi-weekly, or
The people at Newsweek and at the Washington Post
Co. will be as adamant and dismissive about denying this as they
were about my original assertion. And yet, they obviously can’t be
certain they have a positive future (or any future).
All they can
honestly say is that they are trying to find a way to go forward that will keep them in business, but they haven’t found it yet. Now, I am
not sure that would be a good idea to say—it might further cause
advertisers and readers to desert the magazine, and further demoralize
On the other hand, it might be this gap between putting on a
good face and the stark reality of the present mess that is making
people so much more desperate and crazy. Not that long ago, the covers
of Newsweek and Time were among the most important individual pieces
of media in the nation. Now they are irrelevant and unmentioned.
This decline and approaching death does not merely have to do with the
present circumstance. The present circumstance (we have yet to coin a
useful and evocative name for this terrible present circumstance) is
really just the deus ex machina.
The weak and lingering will no longer
be able to resist. But how do you confront this? How do you say to your
colleagues and your customers, while we’re still here today, in all
honesty we’re toast tomorrow?
Saying anything other than that is so
obviously corporate baloney, as well as the natural human inability to
face the abyss.