Saturday, May 23, 2009
The newsmags face a choice. Actually, they've faced it since long before the Internet. Should they try to provide a complete picture of what happened last week? Or should they stop worrying about that and hope to find appeal in trends, service pieces, fine writing, muckraking exposes, provocative argument, and other traditional non-news magazine fare? Whenever they have an existential crisis--and this is not the first--they always make the wrong choice.
Kinsley's apparently actually saying that the right choice would be to "try to provide a complete picture of what happened last week"-- the traditional newsweekly cribsheet role. But would Kinsley want to put out such a magazine? I bet not. He'd be bored in two weeks and start adding provocative arguments. Soon enough there would be fine writing and the wheels would be off.
This isn't a small problem, I think. Nobody who is clever enough to write the useful magazine Kinsley has in mind would want to work for that magazine, at least not for very long. It would be an inherently unstable institution, like the institution of copyediting. (Good copyeditors are valuable, but most people who are good copyeditors are good at other things and don't stay copyeditors.)
I guess Kinsley's Newsweek could hire young smartasses like Nick Denton's crew at Gawker --but they'll always be able snark more freely on the Web than in a print glossy designed to be distributed in Midwest doctors' offices. (Soon they might be able to make more money on the Web too.) Whoever writes the Daily Beast's Cheat Sheet has the necessary Kinsleyweek tone about right--i.e., explain what's happening with just enough mockery. But we'll see how long they stick around once Tina Brown isn't the only thing keeping half the writers in NY out of the unemployment office. ... In any case, The Week already does an awfully good job of what Kinsley has in mind. And it has a circulation of about half a million --a third of what Newsweek hopes to "be down to" in a year. ...
I tend to think the problem with Newsweek 's redesign is less the basic choice (to put out a non-newsweekly) than "what Mikhail Gorbachev used to call 'the approaches of the stagnation period,'" as Kinsley puts it. I expect Newsweek will get much better in future iterations, and that Kinsley's ridicule will have a big impact (goodbye, "Letters" page). That doesn't mean I expect the project to succeed. Just because newsweeklies face a choice of two approaches doesn't mean one of them is right. ...
P.S.: When I worked at Newsweek in the late 90s, I used to wonder at how all these talented people could sit at their desks in a sort of haze---it was as if a soul-deadening gas was permeating the offices. I later concluded that a soul-deadening gas was permeating the offices. Really, the air was bad. Newsweek 's moving offices--that should help. ... 2:07 A.M.
That Was Quick
"Bankruptcy surgery revives Chrysler after all"-- Thursday, May 21, Reuters
"Fiat already concerned for 'deteriorating' Chrysler"-- Friday, May 22, Reuters