Posts tagged ‘Newsweek’

Apocalypse 39: Merger-land

By , 15 October, 2010, 1 Comment

As readers will know (and be bored of hearing by now), I believe the future of media is in intelligent aggregation of niche offerings within larger cross-platform organizations. I have always  assumed that we would get to this model if big old media bought up smaller new media, or if small new media sites merged with one another to become big new media, of if big old media diversified by launching smaller new media platforms.

I had not considered however, the possibility that small new media might buy up big old media. That appears to be happening now, as Newsweek–just recently purchased by Sidney Harman–considers an offer from Tina Brown’s Daily Beast.

I am not a fan of the Daily Beast. There are one or two very smart people I know who write for them, but for the most part, I find the site tabloid-y. Its better writers are people whose work already had a platform at Slate or Salon or elsewhere. It’s unclear to me, more than a year after its launch, what the Daily Beast has added to the digital mediaverse that wasn’t there already. Given that I feel rather similarly about weekly news magazines, one would think I would be down on this merger.

But I’m not, entirely, because I still have a great deal of confidence in Tina Brown as an editor. As editor of Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992, then as editor of the New Yorker from 1992 to 1998, her mark on American journalism is undeniable. She gave Vanity Fair the combination of high fashion photography and deeply reported narrative that make it suo generis. She gave the New Yorker a batch of new writers–Jeffrey Toobin, Lawrence Wright and Adam Gopnik stand out–who made it fun to read again.  And through their voices, their combination of rich narrative, beautiful prose and rigorous reporting, she had a tremendous impact on me and the kind of journalism I aspire to produce. If that Tina Brown–magazine editor Brown–is taking over Newsweek, only good things can come of it. But if Newsweek is going to become a print version of the Daily Beast, I’ll pass.

Updated, 10/18/2010: The merger talks have fallen apart, because Brown, Harman and Barry Diller (who owns a piece of the Beast) couldn’t agree on how to share control. Says Brown in today’s WSJ: “The engagement was fun, but the pre-nup got too complex.”

Updated, 11/12/2010: The merger is back on. Read the announcement here. And note, it’s clear what Newsweek gets from the deal (Tina and her readers!), but it’s not clear to me what the Beast is getting, or what its future is.

Apocalypse 36: Status Report

By , 4 September, 2010, 2 Comments

For over two years, I have been writing a series of posts on the media industry called the Apocalypse. I am often asked whether that’s overly pessimistic. My answer: ‘apocalypse’ is a term we use for the end of the world, sure, but it’s also, to those who take the term seriously, supposed to herald the revelation of something new and extraordinary. That is what I believe is coming to media, whenever the chaotic collapse of the model we know is over.

Occasionally, the Apocalypse Series has attempted to read the tea leaves and make predictions about the new model. I don’t believe–as other media prophets seem to–that there will be no more Big Media. Human history suggests that power tends to consolidate, break down and then consolidate again. I believe that the new consolidators of power will be organizations who can mix and match. It will be the people who can take the nichification that the web brings and use it to deepen rather than to flatten what we know.

A Subcontinental Water-Fight

By , 18 December, 2009, No Comment

I’ve got a short item in this week’s Newsweek on control of Afghan water:
What alarms Pakistan most is the possibility that India will gain control over the water from two Afghan rivers that flow into the volatile Pakistan border regions, where water shortages could inflame local insurgencies. Indian investment in Afghanistan has doubled since 2006, to $1.2 billion, and up to 35 percent of that is going into canals for local irrigation, as well as hydroelectric dams that will supply power to Iran and Turkmenistan, India’s gateways to Central Asia and the Gulf.

Read and comment here and see the write-up on my project at the Columbia J-school website.

Apocalypse 24: It’s Nice to Be Right

By , 18 May, 2009, No Comment

With Newsweek’s website re-launch, I’m more certain than ever that the WaPo company has the future content model down even if they are no further along than the rest of us in figuring out how to fix the ad model. On the content side, the WaPo group is moving to a single vertically-integrated newsroom with one expert reporter on each subject who is capable of covering that subject in all forms–newspaper article, blog post, magazine opinion essay, magazine narrative.

Once upon a time, EACH of the group’s properties did all of these things in different proportions, but now each of them will stick to its turf. The Post itself will give us news reports and opinion blogs but not narrative or long essays. The new Newsweek will give us opinion essays and narratives and even blogs, but not, for the most part, hard news. Foreign Policy will give us mostly blogged opinion that expands, occasionally, into longer articles. And Slate (and its children The Big Money and Double X) will give us magazine essays and news articles. There’s some overlap, but that is intentional: some of the content will run in multiple places in tweaked forms. A great blog post on one of the sites can grow into a longer article or essay for another, depending (and this is the key) on what format best fits the story’s content. Sound familiar?

The Newsweek redesign itself fits the magazine’s role within the group as a journal of lay opinion: the new page reminds me most of other opinion mags, especially The New Republic, which is superficially fitting since Newsweek plans to stay left-of-center too. Note also that the font on the new page is more or less the same as that on its academic opinion sister site Foreign Policy, perhaps a subtle way to reinforce brand.

Note finally that it is possible to get this kind of vertical structure without buying one of each kind of outlet: the NYT has managed to grow a newspaper, a blog network, a magazine and a collection of opinion essays in-house; the BBC has done the broadcast equivalent with its marriage of short- and long- form TV and radio.

If the ad model can be fixed to take the lead in revenue generation, while synching staff across platforms increases content expertise and reduces the costs of each story, then I think the media equation-at least at the national and international level-might be solved.

Apocalypse 16: What Recessions are good for

By , 10 February, 2009, 5 Comments

There’s been no shortage of hand-wringing and prognosticating about the fate of the news media in recent months, and I have certainly contributed by fair share of commentaries. But this last week I’ve seen more stories than usual.

I have maintained for some time that, conventional wisdom about the internet notwithstanding, the future actually bodes well for the big news brands, if they can buy up or successfully build niche-oriented digital subsidiaries. There have been many signs of that model emerging since I started this blog, but this week, almost all the media stories follow that trend:

1. Newsweek is finally giving up the hoax of pretending to break news, and adapting to its rightful role as an upmarket journal of center-left opinion. This fits well within the broader strategy of Newsweek’s parent company, the Washington Post Group, which can gradually turn Newsweek into the Sunday companion to the WaPo, which will become the daily pennant to/aggregator of content from the niche websites: Slate, The Big Money, The Root. Look through the bylines at these publications and you will already see signs of such staff consolidation.

2. The New York Times is doing better than Michael Hirschorn accuses them of, in part, because it is investing in such a model. Look at what is happening in the convergence with the Herald Tribune, now the Times’ international arm. Streamlining this way allows the Times to maintain its competitive advantage in the niche international political coverage while cutting costs to match the smaller revenue stream of web adverts.

3. Editor and Publisher, a trade mag that tracks these sorts of things, lays out precisely this model of the niche-specialized, cross-platform journalist (and thus implicitly of media companies set up to give specialists access to multiple platforms for their expertise). It’s certainly the most pragmatic, measured answer to the hand-wringing I have seen so far. E&P; differs from me in assuming that all the platforms are digital ones–I think print will survive as a sort of collectible that accompanies a core online model, but it’s a small point in comparison to the core issue of what kind of stories are produced and by whom.

Here’s what stands out about these stories. Amidst the very real fact of newspaper failures, these are stories about making new investments in forward-looking strategies. That makes them stories of risk-taking in the current economy but also hopeful. And that’s what recessions are good for–sometimes, a little creative destruction flushes the system and makes room, or provides cover, for companies to make positive changes. In media, for my own sake, I hope that’s right.