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Newsweek Took Its Audience for Granted

It’s the end of an era. Newsweek is killing its print magazine and going digital as of the new year. The Guardian reports:

The new digital-only publication, which will be called Newsweek Global, will be a “single worldwide edition targeted for a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context”.

Newsweek Global will be supported by paid subscriptions, with content available for e-readers, tablets and the web, with some content also available on the Daily Beast.

Part of what’s going on here, obviously, is the shift away from expensive, slow, cumbersome, and environmentally retrograde print to the web.

But there’s something else at work: the intellectual and political collapse of America’s two leading newsweeklies. Time and Newsweek simply don’t wield much influence anymore. Some old-line print publications may be struggling with the financial realities of the digital age; names like WSJ, FT, NYT, the Economist and Washington Post come to mind. But whether you like them or not they continue to play a role in shaping the national discussion.

Another group of former icons are in free fall: above all, the two newsweeklies and the three network news shows but also CNN. They’ve been losing money, eyeballs and influence for years, and no bottom is in sight.

This is not a print vs. media thing; television networks are among the big losers. It isn’t even an old media vs. new media thing; CNN, after all, is a cable news channel.

It’s rather a case of institutions thinking that their gatekeeper status was a commercial asset to be exploited rather than something that had to be earned day by day. Time and Newsweek lost their must-read status for people interested in news more than two decades ago; is there still a decision-maker in the business, political or cultural world for whom reading either is a normal and necessary part of their weekly news diet?

The Economist stole the serious audience years ago. Time and Newsweek stopped mattering as news sources for important people and have been living off reputation and momentum for a very long time.

These publications have become case studies in a professional journalistic elite that lost touch with the needs and interests of its audience.

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