The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
More on the Incredible Shrinking MSM

newsweek

Barry Diller is dumping Newsweek. The mogul is scraping what is left of this once prestigious media brand off his shoes in a deal with IBT. Terms of the deal were not disclosed; it is unlikely that the shell of Newsweek cost much.  The Daily Beast will continue to appear, but it is clear now that the attempted merger was an expensive flop.

The proud new owner of the Newsweek name is the publisher of International Business Times, an all-digital business publication based in New York. Founded in 2005, the International Business Times has grown rapidly to become one of the top business news sources on the web. To make the humiliation of Newsweek complete, IBT has connections to Olivet University, founded by a controversial preacher who, ex-followers allege, claims to be the second coming of Christ.

Even so, we’re glad to see the Newsweek label survive; before becoming a vehicle for elite vanity journalism it was a serviceable and useful publication that provided millions of people with a weekly news digest. The competition helped keep Time on its toes, and though younger readers out there might have a hard time believing this, there was a time not all that long ago when it actually mattered what Newsweek said.

The rise of new publications like IBT illustrates the reality that the public still wants and needs news. Indeed, the global hunger for real news, useful filters and helpful analysis is growing. What isn’t growing is the desire to read the bloviating, self-indulgent prose of dozens of highly paid, self-important windbags who tweak the conventional wisdom week after week under the illusion that they are making some kind of contribution to public life. (Here at Via Meadia, none of our self-important windbags are highly paid.) The public appetite for theme and variation on the Davos party line is small, and the desire to pay hefty subscriptions for the privilege of reading elegantly phrased iterations of the elite consensus seems to have melted away.

The class of elite journalists who once adorned the mastheads of publications like Newsweek is under siege. Many have retreated to the academy or to think tanks; others are looking to foundations. The scramble for the few remaining perches is intense; real talent usually finds a way, but the prosperous mediocrities of the golden years are scrambling hard.

It’s a tragedy that none of Newsweek‘s leaders in the past decade were able to rejuvenate the old brand. Perhaps IBT will have more luck—though since few people under 30 have any idea of what the publication once meant that isn’t going to be easy. Brand names are a wasting asset; nobody remembers what the leading brand of horseshoe was in 1900 and we doubt that many horseshoe companies were nimble enough to turn themselves into tire manufacturers in time.

Ultimately the tire industry created more jobs and helped more people travel more quickly than the horseshoe industry ever did; something analogous is almost certainly going to happen in the world of information as well. That was small comfort to most blacksmiths, and it is less comfort to the growing number of former members of the national press elite scrambling in the wreckage of their industry today.

Because the press elite generally acted as the high priests of orthodoxy in the holy temple of blue, its decline and fall marks a political as well as an economic transition. Power is passing from institutions that play by the old rules and uphold the old ideas to new kinds of organizations operating on different assumptions.

The next stage in the drama may well come on university campuses, where the professoriat is staring uneasily at some of the same challenges that have thrown the world of elite media into fundamental disarray. In any case, the transformation of American society and our economy into something new and post-blue is accelerating. Nobody knows what is coming; interesting times lie ahead.

[January 16, 1939 cover of Newsweek. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

Published on August 4, 2013 9:01 am
  • Anthony

    “…prosperous mediocrities of the golden years are scrambling hard” – for me, quote says quite a bit culturally (interesting times certainly are ahead).

  • ljgude

    Well, WRM I started reading the NY Times in 1956 and I regard Via Meadia as an excellent replacement for the Times’ high level commentary on events domestic and foreign. Overall I think you are doing a much better job because you take a high level idea – the demise of the Blue model – and you openly argue it rather than feed us a pre-manipulated narrative underhandedly and then it insist it is the truth. I am reminded of CUNY Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis’s reaction to a high level MSM conference in Aspen a few years ago. He said they still think they are curating information for presentation for the audience. They haven’t worked out that they are just another node on a network. I think Via Meadia has worked that out and that is why I felt t was really important that you reinstated comments.

    More particularly with newsweeklies I think aggregation sites like Real Clear Politics are simply more efficient than a magazine like Newsweek. You can pick and choose what strikes you more easily that leafing through a magazine. Programs like Flipboard allow you to put your own magazine together for a pleasant reading experience on tablets if you want the Magazine type experience. What bothers me is that the TV news still manages to continue its reign among us befooling us constantly with little dramatic vignettes that are really carefully crafted propaganda and passing them off a news.

    • jimb82

      I’m not sure that’s true with the younger generations who aren’t trained to get their news from the TV. My observation of my own kids is that young people are watching TV shows on the Internet, and rebel at the idea that the network or station controls when they watch something — they would far rather do it when they want to. So the lead-in to the news is nonexistent, and they don’t appear to have a habit of turning TV on to get news.

      I’m really curious what the viewership of “Red Eye” is, and whether there is crossover from that to the any of the rest of Fox’s news offering.

      • http://www.gall-holl.com/ Dan Miller

        29, love Red Eye and enjoy Fox News

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Caley/620286656 Ryan Caley

          Same! I’m 29 years old and I like FOX news. Love Red Eye. I only watch MSNBC when I want to give myself a massive headache.

          • rhcrest

            LOL! I call it MSLSD

      • ljgude

        That’s good news as far as I am concerned. I’m certainly not in touch with how the US TV scene is changing, but I know from my grand children they are very much on demand consumers of TV. Your point about lack of ‘lead-in’ seems very important.

        To amplify what I think the deceptive influence of TV is, I will point out that TV is derived from cinema and cinema to the stage all the way back to Greek theater. Written news on the Net comes from the newspaper which goes back to ancient writing. In the latter the intellect is dominant, in the former emotion. So the MSM uses emotion to shape the narrative they want and the audience thinks their intellect is absorbing the news while what is happening primarily is that the audience is being manipulated emotionally. Each story on the news is a mini drama based on the footage they have to which they fit the words. Worse we experience the visuals as if they were real experience. We are tricked, for example, into thinking that we saw the Twin Towers come down – even though we know better our emotional reactions are real enough.

  • tarentius

    As someone who has (had) been reading Newsweek since the 1960′s, it’s demise is greeted with glee. Newsweek began its leftist, NY/DC drift in the late 60s and gradually became unreadable with its obvious bias. Soon, it only appeared in dentists’ waiting rooms where the only people who read it were those with a choice between it and “Mr. Happy Tooth.” Picking it up and reading it on those occasions proved a lesson in self-control as one avoided the temptation to fling it across the room.
    No, good riddance.

    • Roywil

      Perfectly true.

  • Bruce

    Publications that claim to present the news in an unbiased manner, but are really tools of the left are repugnant. With media like Fox News and MSNBC, we know what they are and that’s fine. The fascinating thing about Newsweek (and others like NYT, LAT etc.) is that it continued to insult its readers that were not left wing, all the while pretending Newsweek was not left wing. As we’ve seen, that’s not a viable business model.

    • Corlyss

      I assure you the only readers who were insulted are the few who had to read the paper to keep their credentials as informed commentators. The regular local readership, i.e., the subscribers to NYT as their local paper see it as well-balanced and reflective of their world view. Maybe we ought to try to force diversity on Manhattan.

      • StocktonJoe

        You’re absolutely correct. The subscribers to NYT see it as well-balanced. Just as readers of the Washington Times and viewers of both MSNBC and Fox see them as well-balanced. BECAUSE these news-outlets reflect their preconceived notions. This happens to people on both the Left AND the right. Nobody is willing to listen to the other side enough to maybe change their mind-even just a little bit. Neither side is tolerant of intellectual diversity.

        • Historybuff

          Intolerance is far more prevalent on the left. Before there was a FOX news… all there was for over 20 years was a far-left media that dictated what the ‘news’ would be.
          HB

          • Corlyss

            So true. It scares me when I think how callow I was despite intellectually knowing better. I decided I had to pick a side in stead of always doing the “on the one hand . . . on the other hand” routine.

        • Corlyss

          Well, I used to subscribe to the left’s view when I thought it reflected “the way things were.” It surrounded me in the DC area. This after having read Lippmann’s Public Opinion in college for my course work! Somewhere around 1985 I realized how biased the left’s narrative was. I’ve been a recovering lefty ever since. Sins of my youth. You have a point about preconceived ideas – George Lakoff keeps reminding us. However, I’ve abandoned the preconceived ideas I used to have and acquired a whole new set. I’m a lot happier for it too.

  • Corlyss

    ‘it is unlikely that the shell of Newsweek cost much.”

    Death of good editing is a mark of the decline in language skills everywhere.

  • VoteLoud

    It is past time for a public inspection of the corrupt tie between government backed educational loans (Democrat party) and the massive growth in the cost of a secondary education, when compared with inflation..

    With this lens, will come the visibility of the incestuous radicalism on our campuses today!

    The Progs on campus need to be looking over their shoulders…

    Truth follows closely!

  • BestandBrightest

    The epitome of everything this article describes is one Michael Tomasky. Go read that windbag sometime

  • HAPPY

    Come to think of the two prominent types of professions blues flock to…..Academia and JourNolism.

    Both are fairly easy to perform by any educated person teaching/writing from the same blue template….and, both are cheaply transmitted in the age of the internet w/out the need for a big (expensive to maintain) infrastructure of Ivy-covered brownstones or urban high-rises (ie, the NYT building and printing presses).

    The ranks of professors will shrink by 75 with the best well paid teaching via the web…..same with JourNolists…..that, is Progressive!!

  • andrewp111

    Just because one rag dies unnoticed means nothing. The MSM may be consolidating, but it isn’t going away. Taken as a whole, its political power, or in other words its power to elect its side to national office, is undiminished, and may even have increased. The Swing Voters who decide elections have little time for anything other than a half-hour of morning and nightly news on the MSM. As long as the Swing Voters get all their news from the MSM, and they do, the MSM will remain in power.

    • MisterEd13

      The have time to read Newsmax on their computers.

  • Mittymo

    And what is crazy is that if the MSM would jump on-board for some news stories, their sales would double.

    They’re sacrificing ratings & dollars (and downsizing available jobs) for ideology.

    • John Morris

      You assume the media is about the news, or even a business. They are neither. The Long March went out the top of their org chart long ago, leaving only the Party.

      They don’t care if their media operations lose money in exactly the same way PepsiCo doesn’t expect their PR shop to turn a profit. Expecting the remains of the media to report truthfully about stories that do not reflect well on the larger organization (the Party) isn’t rational.

      The larger corporations who own the media are also mostly controlled by the Party so losing money isn’t a problem, and if the losses become more than they can write off they expect their jobs and positions to be saved by the Party by way of the government… so long as they are valuable team members.

      Seriously, how many Fortune 500 corps aren’t controlled by Harvard/Yale (i.e. Party) men? And if one does slip a bit and forget who they now serve, look again at the major shareholders; youngish Harvard/Yale men working in mutual funds, pension funds, etc.

  • MisterEd13

    People under 30 need to read more conservative articles, because the Left has left them jobless and broke.

  • a_hick_in_hixville

    The educated (or at least semi-educated) public, which would be the likely audience for publications like Newsweek, doesn’t really like half measures. They will buy real news, and they will buy biased screed (often if only to laugh at it) if it’s transparently packaged. FOX, MSNBC, and Comedy Central represent unambiguous, postmodern yellow journalism and parody thereof. The NYT etc. no longer have the courage to be hard hitting purveyors of hard news wherever and against whomever the story may led, nor do they have the courage to go fully postmodern. That is why they are in trouble.

  • Darby42164

    The MSM is increasingly putting up pay walls. But they all report the same old liberal party line with nothing novel in their publications. My prediction is that maybe 3 or 4 publications can have a paywall and survive. The WSJ already is winning this race. The NYTimes can probably survive and maybe USA Today and/or WashPo. But the rest will happily disappear. The rest will be internet only where the field is much more balanced between liberal and conservative voices. The sooner all the liberal garbage…I mean newspapers, disappear the better.

    • a_hick_in_hixville

      I find the notion that newspapers generally are “liberal” interesting and a product of ignorance. A logical product probably because the most famous newspapers (the well known national “papers of record”) like the NYT, Wash Po, do have a establishment liberal editorial tradition. The WSJ is an exception.

      Even more interesting, and absurd, is the idea that the “liberal” bias of America’s newspapers is what is killing them all of a sudden. The full reality is certainly more complex. When you consider all daily and weekly newspapers in the US (95 percent of which are, and always have been, unknown to anyone but local readers) more newspapers have consistently and historically endorsed Republicans for office than Democrats, and generally exhibit a more conservative editorial stance than liberal.

      Newspapers are in trouble as a business model due to technological challenges and the threat free information from the internet poses, not due to some imagined liberal bugaboo suddenly making a difference. Of course much of that internet information is currently unreliable, but its free and sometime serves as an acceptable replacement for the traditional newspaper. Why pay your local paper for a classified ad when you can post one for free on craigslist?

      • Jeff Jones

        Technological innovation may be true for newspapers’ decline, but it falls short of explaining why MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN have less than favorable ratings as news media.

        • a_hick_in_hixville

          You have a valid point Jeff, at least with respect to PMSNBC.

          The evening broadcast news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, regardless of how “postmodern” they may be in their content (and they are somewhat) still have significantly larger ratings than the more postmodern cable “news” stations.

          PMSNBC actually had improving ratings when BIG ED! was bloviating on there, serving up a left wing version of FOX’s Howard Beale “preach to the choir loudly and without nuance” formula.

          Getting rid of BIG ED! was one of the worst (along with letting Olbermann get away) programming decisions PMSNBC has ever made, and very predicable. Apparently the people who run PMSNBC believe wonkish content matters more than compelling personality, and they believed that a show hosted by a metrosexual nerd would interest viewers more than laughing at a vulgar blowhard. They are wrong.

          Also liberal people don’t really respond to the same propagandistic talk radio formula as right wingers, and don’t just want people sitting around telling them what they already know (or think they know) in order to make them feel good. Right wing media thrives on the siege, groupthink, and paranoia mentality, and always will, and a liberal version of FOX will never work in the same way. PMSNBC is not going to get liberals to watch the same old boring think tankers, wonks, and bloggers clucking among each other with a cardboard host.

          PMSNBC gets their highest weekly ratings on the weekend with worn out reruns of To Catch a [Sexual] Predator and Lock[ed]up [in some nasty Dirty South hellhole filled with situational homosexuality], and I bet a lot of FOX’s weekly viewers are watching PMSNBC on the weekends.

          One thing you can say about Murdoch: Like Shakespeare and the bear baiters, he knows human nature, and know what sells. Probably at least half of FOX’s entire audience at any given time (especially during stuff like O’Reilly and Hannity) are people you would consider “liberals” who watch to laugh. When you have plenty of cynical liberals watching for guilty pleasure, along with plenty of faithful right wingers for prejudice and ideology validation, that’s a postmodern infotainment recipe for a ratings bonanza.

          Which also explains why Comedy Central has good ratings with it’s FAUX news programming.

          • effinayright

            Fox News Channel has more liberal hosts (Shep, Greta, Wallace, Geraldo) , and more liberal “regulars” (Yawn Williams, Alan Colmes, Dennis Kucinich, Evan Bayh, Bob Beckel, Kirsten Powers, Mara Liasson, Pat Caddell, Jeff Zeleny, Doug Shoen, Tamara Holder, Charles Lane, Leslie Marshall, and more) than do the three “majors”, CNN and MSNBC COMBINED.

            O’Reilly routinely pairs lib and conservative guests to get both sides of the issues given a fair airing. What other network does that?

            So why are all those libs contributing to conservative “prejudice and ideology validation”, hmmmm?

            Face it: you don’t know snap about Fox News.

          • StocktonJoe

            EXCELLENT point. MSNBC, very infrequently pairs a Republican/conservative (Michael Steele is the only name that comes to mind) and a Democrat/liberal together.

            Bill O’Reilly especially brings viewpoints from all sides and is respectful of all viewpoints, without sucking up and fawning over people or insulting them. He does his best to call it down the middle – disagreeing with someone is NOT the same as being disrespectful to them. Compare and Contrast O’Reilly with either Chris Matthews or Rachael Maddow on MSNBC. But, this doesn’t extend to all on Fox. Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle on The Five come to mind.

      • Corlyss

        “more newspapers have consistently and historically endorsed Republicans”
        Quantity is immaterial without an examination of whom the liberal press influences. They pride themselves on influencing policy makers, money makers, and political donors. That counts for far more in the scheme of influence than all the endorsements by the Dixville Notch newspaper and its ilk.

      • jimb82

        I used to get my local paper for the sports, ignoring the news bias. But even that got to be unjustifiable.

  • http://smallthoughtsfromasmallmind.wordpress.com/ Charles Kirtley

    People who say Newsweek and its ilk, including newspapers, are floundering because of biased writing are not being realistic. While bias may have a part in their demise, the real reason is the internet and 24/7 cable news has made weekly and daily printed publications obsolete.

    • John Morris

      It is also a toxic combination. One by one people who see/read both are realizing a few things.

      1. For all the ‘assets’ of the major media, they are actually at a disadvantage because they aren’t actually media. They are part of the Party. So they refuse to cover stories that bloggers in their pjs scoop them on. People notice this.

      2. We also notice that for all the talk about layers of editors and fact checkers the bloggers and other new online media, in the main, have a better rate of avoiding embarrassing themselves. Heck, have you read CNN, the NYT, etc. lately? They are having enough trouble noticing the red squiggle under misspelled words these days. Fact checking doesn’t exist and they don’t even really pretend it does anymore. Then there is Journolist, steadfast refusal to ask anything resembling a hard question to an administration official, etc.

      3. Given a choice, we would rather read sources that are honest in their biases. Unbiased isn’t possible, and now with points of reference it throws the legacy media into sharp and unflattering relief.

    • Walther11

      I would still read them if I thought for one moment, I would get anything approaching a even-handed analysis, but that is not the case. The day after a conservative takes office suddenly the “homeless” stories appear and run every five weeks or so until a liberal takes office, and then they just as suddenly disappear. I have seen it happen way too many times for it to be coincidence.

    • CebVA

      No, the internet and cable news gave people a choice and they choose not to patronize left-leaning biased main-scream media sources.

  • CrazyHungarian

    Even though more people identify themselves as conservative than liberal, there is only one conservative leaning news organization. All the rest run the gamut of leaning liberal to far left fanatical propaganda. It seems they would rather push their ideology on a small part of a competitive field than to go after a larger audience. With such a business model, many will fall by the wayside.

  • Reetz44

    I know that my 25+ year subscription to Newsweek was a drop in the bucket but, in finally canceling it four years ago, I let them know the reason: their tenth fawning Obama cover story. While I preferred real good old-fashioned books and print media, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was sad to see them become such a pitiful shadow of the great news magazine they had once been. I can only imagine that the bland, predictable liberal pablum had become extremely distasteful to many other adult palates.

  • http://www.gall-holl.com/ Dan Miller

    5 years of media shilling for obama are taking their toll

  • mikekelley10

    I don’t know if liberal bias is killing newspapers, but it is the reason I avoid them like the plague. I couldn’t even tell you who my local fishwrap endorsed in the last election, but the vast majority of its content is strongly biased toward the left. Like most of its brethren, my paper relies on the AP for national and international stories. The AP’s stuff reads like Democrat Party press releases. The local stuff is not much better. I will never subscribe again, and I only visit online once in a while.

    • helen souza

      You are so right Mr. Kelley. I was a dedicated newspaper consumer for 60+ years. One morning, I realized I was getting angry every time I read the Fresno Bee. I thought why am I paying these idiots for ticking me off? Now, I rely on a variety of good websites, both left and right leaning and make my own opinions. I also think of the ‘new media’ kids as similar to citizen journalists not unlike our pamphleteers of old. They are not always correct, but they are always entertaining.

  • Sgt.Friday

    Let me cast some doubt on the analogy between blacksmiths and tire manufacturers.
    Horseshoes and tires are private goods. They are excludable and rivalrous. So you simply had one product replace another.
    Information is different. First, by its nature it’s a public good. It tends to be non-excludable. And it’s definitely non-rivalrous.
    Second the Internet really changes the distribution system. An old newspaper (or magazine) was like milk or bread. It didn’t stay fresh long. So what really mattered was the distribution system. Old newspapers thought they were in the information business, but really they were in the distribution business.
    And if they were good at it, they could create significant barriers to entry. Which meant they could make money.
    Modern journalism is different. Because you don’t have a captive customer, it’s hard to charge. And because it’s hard to charge, you can’t pay. I am glad that the people at Via Media are happy working for low wages, but that is not a recipe for high quality journalism in the long run.
    Plus, of course, you have narrow casting. In the old system, you had to watch the nightly news if you wanted to know what the weather would be tomorrow. That is no longer true. Obama got this, which is why he went hard after low information voters, giving, for example, an exclusive interview to Rolling Stone or going on the View. As he correctly recognized, morons get to vote in this country too.
    The Internet is good for the economy in many ways. It has dramatically lowered search costs and transaction costs. It’s a force multiplier for human capital, especially in developing countries.
    But it creates some huge problems in the way we transmit information in a democracy. So don’t be so sanguine that this is all going to work out. Some things will get better. But some things are almost certain to get worse.

  • paleoguy1

    This article gets pretty close to speaking the absolute truth. In fact I believe they would claim they nailed it.

    They dance around the core problem with the media with the following statement:

    “What isn’t growing is the desire to read the bloviating, self-indulgent
    prose of dozens of highly paid, self-important windbags who tweak the
    conventional wisdom week after week under the illusion that they are
    making some kind of contribution to public life.”

    The media believes them selves superior to those of us low born. If you read the N.Y. Times they don’t even try to pretend, they openly snear (in print) at those of us in “fly over America”, heck, “fly over” is even a phrase they use in articles some articles.

    A media that believes them selves the moral superior to their readers is dangerous and cannot be trusted. That is the current condition of 90% plus of the media in America today. Americans are fed up with it.

  • Walter Adams

    It used to be my weekend pleasure to buy the latest Newsweek, go to a quiet restaraunt and enjoy a leisurely lunch and consume the news.
    But when the difference between reading Newsweek and just logging onto the DNC website began to grow smaller and smaller I couldn’t justify the extra expence.

  • Historybuff

    I have been a ‘news junkie’ for over 50 years… I remember when Newsweek was a respectable publication, useful, professional, and believable. Same for the rest of the MSM.

    No more. Newsweek & the MSM are nasty, evil, and despicable liars. They need to be stomped out… to disappear and never return.

    THEN, lets support and encourage a honest, objective, and accurate form of journalism. it might just save the nation…
    HB

  • Walther11

    People can only be lied to so often, what a surprise this must be for the news elite. I look forward to the day when most journalists are flipping burgers at Wendy’s. I c say I will be very sympathetic given the deplorable job they have don the last 20 years.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “What isn’t growing is the desire to read the bloviating, self-indulgent prose of dozens of highly paid, self-important windbags who tweak the conventional wisdom week after week under the illusion that they are making some kind of contribution to public life.”

    Haha! I’ll be happy when that last of these Blue Model cheerleaders is found in gutter, and it can’t happen soon enough for me.

  • nolawyers1

    A liberal bias has been seen in the MSM for decades but was simply a bias and not a wholesale corruption of diligent reporting of all the facts. That corruption began when t a polygamous marriage occurred int 2007-2008 between the media and Obama. From that point onward, facts and truth be damned and now we have a nation that distrusts all as our guardians of liberty – the free press remain bought. Who issued the order to Stand Down for aid to those besieged in Behghazi? Even that simple little thing is beyond them top follow up on.

  • rhcrest

    I used to read the Boston Globe and for 25 years got a paid subscription. Then in January 2010, in reaction to Obamacare, i went down the rabbit hole so to speak online to learn as much as i could about Obama and all sorts of American and world history. I was like a sponge trying to absorb as much info as i could and for the first time in my life i realized how starved for real information i was and how much of what i had understood to be true up to that point was just a bunch of nonsense – globull warming would be a good example- and also just how little i knew about anything thanks to relying on the lame stream media. Needless to say i cancelled my subscription and have infinietely more knowledge than i did before and am continuing to learn everyday.

  • Jim__L

    This makes you wonder whether Bezos got ripped off, paying $250M for WaPo.