Newsweek Dies

Dec 12, 08 | 8:41 AM   byMichael Wolff
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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 minor kerfuffle).

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 even monthly).

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 the staff.

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.

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