Griscom: Change taking its toll

Griscom: Change taking its toll

May 16th, 2010 by Tom Griscom in Opinion Columns

The Washington Post Co. announced recently that Newsweek, a one-time weekly staple in shaping the national agenda, was on the block to be sold.

A redesign of the magazine months earlier had not stemmed the flow of red ink that was growing ever larger.

Essays and more in-depth pieces replaced the weekly summary from the more liberal perspective of Newsweek as compared with its main competitor, Time, which carried a more conservative orientation.

In past years, there was an order in the White House of which media outlets gained valuable access in a given week. These cherished appointments were tied not to daily missives but to the weekend editions of major newspapers and the news magazines.

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post were on the weekly rotation. Media chains such as Scripps-Howard and what was then Knight-Ridder were on a less regular schedule. The Associated Press constantly was turning and churning the daily news feed so there was some blending of access.

Every week without fail, Time and Newsweek garnered valuable time from key administration aides. U.S. News & World Report was somewhat in decline and viewed in a different light when compared with the other two news magazines.

There was tremendous jockeying in Washington to lobby for the cover position - not sure this ever changed a decision, but there was plenty of time and energy spent trying to influence the weekly newsstand front position.

But as happens with other habits, those of readers of news magazines shifted.

Charles Whitaker, research chairman in magazine journalism at Northwestern University, shared his insights with The New York Times.

"The era of mass is over, in some respect," he told the Times. "The newsweeklies, for so long, have tried to be all things to all people, and that's just not going to cut it in this highly niche, politically polarized, media-stratified environment that we live in today."

Jon Meacham, Newsweek's editor and a former reporter for the Chattanooga Times, said, "I decline to accept that Newsweek in some form does not have a role to play going forward." In his interview with the Times, Mr. Meacham said one would have to be "hopelessly Pollyanna-ish not to have

suspected that there were fundamental shifts ahead."

Gone are the promotional ads that greeted potential readers on a Monday, pushing the cover image and stories for readers.

Gone are the weekly wraps of key events, of newsmakers, and the columnists who provided interpretation for those desiring a little more insight.

Whether the venerable news magazine will find a new formula for attracting readers and the advertisers that follow is unknown.

In this instance the next step may be trying to figure out the niche that the Newsweeks and the Times will fill and determine whether the offerings are unique and of value to a changing media audience.

To reach Tom Griscom, call 423-757-6472 or e-mail tgriscom@timesfreepress.com.