In the newsweekly world, there were always three main options – Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Growing up, Newsweek was the magazine of choice in our house and I usually read it from cover to cover.
Over the years, I lost interest in the magazine due largely to its emphasis on what I considered puff pieces. Even their in-depth articles over the years evolved from a focus on economic analysis and the stories behind scientific breakthroughs to more recent cover stories on the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep and assorted personality profiles of politicians. The articles seemed more intent on what the subjects ate for breakfast than on their true accomplishments or contributions to society at large.
It would appear that I was not alone. Like many other print media, Newsweek suffered a long and ugly decline in readership and advertising revenue. The iconic publication was eventually acquired in 2010 from Washington Post Co. by 92-year-old Sidney Harman for $1 and the assumption of liabilities. He has since passed away, and now Newsweek is owned by IAC/InteraActiveCorp, which is chaired by Barry Diller.
Mr. Diller has a long track record as an executive at motion picture studios, television networks and cable networks. His biggest success, arguably, was in home shopping on cable television. Today, his IAC company counts as holdings Newsweek and Daily Beast, though it has been reported that the company generates its largest share of revenue from Match.com and Ask.com.
To news junkies everywhere, Mr. Diller’s portfolio says it all. In its own company Newsweek is now second banana to a dating Web site.
This week, Barry Diller told analysts during his earnings conference call that in order to stem financial losses at Newsweek, a “transition to online from hard print will take place.” This means that for financial, not strategic reasons, Newsweek will eventually become an electronic, rather than print publication. It would have been more encouraging to learn that this had more to do with a strategic vision for the future of media rather than simply a reactionary move to cut budget.
This development begs a number of other questions centered on relevancy. Does Newsweek’s name make sense anymore? Will the publication return to a news focus as opposed to trying to compete with tabloid sensationalism? Since it will be online, does it need to be a “news weekly?” Perhaps most importantly, since its marketing strategy will have to refocus on attracting online visitors rather than supermarket shoppers, how will its editorial content and packaging change? And what do online news consumers really want from a source like Newsweek?
These are questions for the publisher, editors and even the sales and marketing staff at Newsweek. As for the rest of us, we will likely continue to change our own media consumption habits, relying more on electronic sources and less on those delivered to us via paper and ink media. I just hope that while the delivery systems may change, the number of well-staffed news rooms remains strong. I don’t think being a webmaster for Match.com would be a good prerequisite for someone charged with bringing us the latest business news from Wall Street or other places far and wide.