Saturday, May 08, 2010

It's Time For Newsweek To Fade Away

In case you haven't heard, Newsweek Magazine is being sold off by the Washington Post, although the Post may have trouble finding a buyer, since it's a recession and large numbers of people aren't going around trying to lose money... and Newsweek is losing lots and lots of money.  Over at Ace of Spades, Ace has written a brilliant breakdown of why Newsweek has failed.  This is just an excerpt, but it really is worth reading the whole thing...
Newsweek, I always thought, was a political magazine for people who wanted to pretend they read politics.

Newsweek's most famous innovation is the oft-parodied "conventional wisdom watch," which is perfectly emblamatic, because, like that little colored box of up and down arrows, Newsweek itself was simplistic, fluffy, light-on-substance and uncritically reflective of standard-issue first-impulse soft-liberal conventional wisdom.

It wasn't real politics. It certainly wasn't serious-minded, or wonkish, or challenging, or inventive, or daring, or contrarian.

Newsweek, in short, was the "news" magazine you read (or looked at the pictures of, at least) when you were at the chriopractor's waiting to have your lumbar realigned and someone else had snagged the Star with Jessica Simpson's boobs on the cover.

People have changed their habits. People are doing less pretense than they used to. And when I say that, I don't mean that's all a good thing. Pretense has its uses.

...At some point in the last thirty years, I think, people's lives became too busy to bother with keeping up with stuff they weren't really enjoying -- they had enough homework from actual work or raising their kids to easily take on non-required homework in the form of keeping up with news or culture. Or it was due to something else. Either way, it happened.

And the internet threw gasoline on to that fire, because it gave people a way to seek out only the stuff they really cared about. Our culture became less "push" (stuff pushed on you by the sometimes well-meaning guardians of the conventional cultural establishment) and much more "pull" (you decide yourself today that you don't feel like reading a novel, but watching an old episode of Greatest American Hero on Hulu).

...At any rate -- to be brief (ahem) -- I think that is what has doomed Newsweek. Not really its liberalism, or its lying about it.

But the simple fact that Newsweek always existed for people who didn't like or care about politics, but simply wanted to make some token gesture of being a well-informed citizen concerned about such matters. It was never read by people who seriously cared about these matters, but in fact played almost exclusively to those who precisely did not care.

...Rather than faking an interest in ugly fake celebrities, why not indulge in your real interest in pretty real celebrities? Why not just read Perez Hilton and stop pretending to care about the ugly gray people depicted in Newsweek?

And that's what I think is going on. We're seeing less and less gestural media, and less and less general-interest media, in favor of media that is specifically targeted to a much smaller audience's precise preferences.

Everyone feels less and less obligated to pretend we're interested in stuff we're actually not interested in. We're becoming more atomistic and less influenced by a common culture. We're less interested in "keeping up" with such things.

And Newsweek was a manner of "keeping up" with politics for someone who would rather be reading celebrity gossip.

Newsweek's chief competitor wasn't The Economist.

Newsweek's chief competitor was actually People Magazine.

People won.
As to why Newsweek failed (assuming it does)... I'm reminded of the scene in Major League where Wild Thing gives up a grand slam to Clu Haywood early in the movie, and the fans in the bleachers start arguing over whether the ball initially looked "too high" to leave the park. As three of them argue about the trajectory, one shuts up the argument with a simple statement: "Who gives a f---? It's gone."

When Newsweek's gone, that quote will probably sum it up nicely.

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