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NewsWeek and the Death of Print

"Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night. But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purposeā€”and embrace the all-digital future." Tina Brown
So in the same week that the Telegraph reported that The Guardian was considering ditching print (something I find hard to believe), Newsweek went ahead and announced that after 80 years they really were ditching print editions and moving to a digital-only model. There's already been plenty written about it, most of it either of a somewhat apocalyptic nature about the fortunes of print editions or else decrying Tina Brown's stewardship and her preference for sensationalist cover stories. But I thought David Hepworth's point questioning the sanity of completely ditching your main revenue source (in times still characterised by print dollars and digital cents) in such an abrupt fashion, was a good one.

Having said that, perhaps there is something to be said for the need to make a precipitous change in direction in order to have a sufficiently radical refocus in what you do. Derek Thompson in The Atlantic compared Newsweek's predicament to that of a 747 flying between two affluent and populous metropolises ('Newsweekly Reader City and Advertiser City') that suddenly enter prolonged recession amidst a mass exodus. And in that context the reality of a huge resource overhead needed to produce a global printed news product must bite you every time you look at the monthly P & L.

But as Thompson goes on to say, in creating a paid, subscriber-only product perhaps they have answered the wrong question. Instead of asking 'how do I publish Newsweek without actually publishing Newsweek, they should have asked 'how do I continue to attract great people to do great work in this media company?'. I've already said my piece about magazines and digital. Whilst there can be little doubt that a weekly news and media title can have been at the sharp end of a change that is affecting just about every print title, I can understand the need to transition revenues and use print editions (even in decline) as 'brand anchors' whilst they "learn to fly a smaller plane or hope somebody is willing to subsidize their 747". 

Digital is not going to kill print. But we have entered a period of rapid change without a defined end. As journalist Howard Owens once observed about newspapers, there is no transition, just constant never ending change. And that's the point.

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