Off the press
Newsweek’s departure from print leaves the future of the medium hazy
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Newsweek announced on Thursday that, after 79 years, it will cease print publication at the end of the year and make the move to become the first national news magazine to shift entirely to a digital format.
It’s the end of an era for the magazine as journalism sees a possible end to the print era, in general.
Newsweek, which joined with The Daily Beast in 2010, is making a decision for its future. It’s aware that news is changing (it has seen its readership drop by over a million in the last 10 years), so it’s changing with the news. According to The Newsweek Daily Beast’s statement on Thursday, “business has been increasingly affected by the challenging print advertising environment, while Newsweek’s online and e-reader content has built a rapidly growing audience.” For us and everyone else in print journalism, it brings up the constant question of what journalism will be like in another 10 years and if we’ll even be around.
A study from the Pew Research Center last month showed 39 percent of Americans say they get their news online. The quickness and the convenience have made every news source a 24/7 news source and every consumer a 24/7 consumer. Headlines, Twitter updates and text alerts – all at your fingertips at any hour of the day.
There’s a lot of disappointment and sadness for print journalists on this topic. A newspaper or a magazine is the tangible evidence of our hard work. It’s late hours and down-to-the-wire moments. Despite what goes wrong during production or how long it took, having the physical product makes up for it. It’s an entirely different experience viewing all of that online. In the original form, it tells a story. You might not notice it, but an opinion column can get placed next to a related article. It all literally unfolds in front of you.
Before and after spending long hours in the office pouring over stories on our computer screens, newspapers are still our escape. Think about it: there are enough people who still read their newspapers on a daily basis while having their bacon and eggs, and it’s probably the only thing they read all day that’s not on a screen. If the online service crashes, the print version still exists on your table or in your backpack.
As an entire industry, it’s even more worrisome. The convenience of news everywhere means not every news source is going to offer its best work for free. According to the Wall Street Journal, “paywalls” – that is, charging for online access – are working in investment purposes, and newspaper stocks are up from 50 percent to 80 percent in the past year. So what happens next? Do the free sources move to paid sources to compete or will more people shift to the free sources and ignore the subscription fees?
Newsweek is holding on, though, and taking advantage of the technological age, so that is commendable. It wants to stick around, and it knows what people are actually looking at now. What the magazine does have to worry about, though, is it will be competing with everyone who has been online for months or years, people who have perfected the process and honed the skill. If it doesn’t work out, it no longer has the print version to back it up.
That goes with being conscious about its readership. The median age for Newsweek readers is 47 years old. Despite knowing the medium in which people want to read the news, it still has to get people wanting to read its news and to get avid fans and casual readers alike to want to pay that subscription fee.
There’s a lot of nostalgia. People rushed out in the morning to buy the copies of The New York Times to get the cover when Osama bin Laden was killed. They collect old copies of assassinations and World Series victories. They sit in cafes and do the crosswords, and every now and then, you hear someone get angry because they spilled coffee on the comics. Those cries of “Extra, extra, read all about it!” are turning to “For extra content, visit our website,” and for anyone who puts hours into this medium, it’s disappointing.
But with that need for immediacy and sense of urgency, everyone and everything is changing and now, so will Newsweek. And in the future, so might we.