When the announcement was made last week that Newsweek would stop publishing its print edition next year and go all digital, I had this uneasy image of a Newhouse family member guffawing over the water cooler and hoping that the news would be seen as a “print is dead, digital is where it's at” justification for what they have just done to The Times-Picayune.
Such guffawing from a family that owns many newspapers and magazines has a certain irony, but in a world where corporate bosses are advised by New York accountants and lawyers, the long-term objectives may not necessarily be in the public’s interest.
Just in case anyone misreads the Newsweek collapse as justification of the T-P downgrade, here are some reasons why the reasoning is wrong:
1. The Times-Picayune had a monopoly in its market, Newsweek did not. As the long established daily in a major city, the T-P was the single most important news medium; The one that most people relied on, including the other media. Newsweek, long outgunned by Time Magazine, was reduced to being just another player in the volatile magazine market.
2. The Times-Picayune played an important civic role, Newsweek did not. As New Orleans' daily, the T-P was a voice for the community and certainly a leader in our recovery. It had an important editorial voice and bridged the community. Newsweek spoke with an editorial voice that was mostly muted.
3. The Times-Picayune was a good publication, Newsweek no longer was. Here it gets personal. I first subscribed to Newsweek when I was a sophomore in high school. My subscription to the magazine is the longest continuing relationship in my life. Strictly for nostalgia purposes, I will continue the subscription until the printing presses stops, but it has not been a happy relationship lately. The magazine has gotten bad, even silly, including a recent cover story in which chefs were asked to pick the top restaurants in the world. (A taco cart in San Felipe, Mexico, made the list but Commander’s Palace did not.)
In February 2011, the magazine produced a totally irresponsible article ranking the "Top Dying" cities in the country and listing New Orleans number one despite conceding that the numbers might have been fuzzed by Katrina and oblivious to other studies showing this city as being one of the fastest growing. (I was so incensed that I recorded my first ever You Tube Video. Since it was the first time, the lighting wasn’t very good, but the passion was burning.)
What a change. There was a time, tracing back to those high school years, where I wanted to be a columnist for a magazine like Newsweek; now I am embarrassed by it.
Once the Steve Newhouse style slash-and-burn-and-dazzle-with-digital switch is made, Newsweek will become totally irrelevant—just another flicker in an overcrowded universe.
Meanwhile, were it not for some unfortunate decision-making, The Times-Picayune could still be playing its full civic role. There is one item on my list that Newsweek and our former daily had in common: BOTH WERE FAILED BY THEIR OWNERSHIP.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via email firstname.lastname@example.org or (504-895-2266)
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