GUEST COMMENTARY: Newsweek’s print demise is own fault

2012-11-20T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Newsweek’s print demise is own faultBy David Sumner
November 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Newsweek’s recent announcement that it will end its print edition in December marked another sign of its troubled history.

The news publication enjoyed some successes here and there during its 79 years in print, but always lagged behind Time and never found its identity. Newsweek is mostly a victim of poor management, poor editing and weak content, as well as the changing reading habits of Americans.

The magazine started on the road to its demise in 2008 when the Washington Post Co. sold it to new owners for a total of $1.

The next tragic step came with the hiring of its most recent editor, Tina Brown, a celebrity editor known for producing controversial, push-the-envelope covers, but who brought no news or reporting experience when she arrived two years ago. The magazine spiraled out of control, losing a reported $40 million a year during her tenure.

Samir Husni, a journalism professor and magazine expert from the University of Mississippi, wrote on his blog: “Print is not dead. Newsweek is committing suicide that is leading to its death in print first, and demise second. The magazine lost its DNA …. [and] stopped giving the audience the intellectual stimulation magazines of that genre are in the business of giving.”

In fact, news magazines are competing with the Internet, which provides news as a free commodity with thousands of outlets. Between 2001-2010, Newsweek lost 53 percent of its readers; U.S. News and World Report (which ended its print edition in 2010) lost 51 percent; and Time lost only 21 percent.

But Newsweek’s closing does not mean that print is dying. Magazine circulation and advertising revenue surpassed that of newspapers in 2008 and is predicted to rise 2.6 percent this year to $18.3 billion, according to research firm eMarketer. That’s the third increase in three years.

There is a clear indication that magazines are offering information on subjects we want to read about. For example, food, gardening, travel, health and fitness magazines grew by 20 percent or more. Other growth sectors included music, sports, women’s and Hispanic magazines. Go to any retail magazine display and those are about the only kinds of titles you will see.

Americans have turned increasingly toward leisure interests in print magazine reading habits. We want service magazines that benefit us personally — telling us how to cook, exercise, garden, dress, groom ourselves, take care of our children and pursue our hobbies. We want magazines that offer tips on where to dine, travel and be entertained. We do not as frequently read magazines that interpret the latest news or debate political and social topics.

The passing of Newsweek’s print edition is sad. But Newsweek was a victim of its own mismanagement as well as an indication of our changing reading habits — and not a sign of the decline of the magazine industry.

David Sumner is a professor of journalism and head of the magazine program at Ball State University. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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