Oldweek — the new, new Newsweek

Michael Kinsley has a delicious evisceration of Newsweek‘s frantic attempt to re-invent itself. Sample:

What, for example, is this graphic on the letters page? Why, for that matter, is there still a letters page? It’s the first page of content you come to. Five one-paragraph comments on the issue published two weeks ago–room for little more than a thumbs up or down. On the Internet, thousands of people have their say immediately and at length. And, then, a self-parody: “Your thoughts on swine flu”–the cover story two weeks ago–“in six words.” Hali McGrath of Berkeley, California, submitted, “Blah, blah, swine flu, blah blah.” And Newsweek published it.

But back to the graphic. It lists what I guess are five articles from the issue two weeks ago, each attached to a percentage. A thin line heads east from the second item (“16% ‘The Path of a Pandemic'”), turns south, and ends up at a pie chart (38 percent neutral, 21 percent positive, 41 percent critical). A tiny footnote says, “Does not add up to 100 due to letters received on other topics.” Oh, I get it, I think. This is a breakdown by topic of letters–letters!–received about the issue two weeks ago, plus a breakdown of one topic (possibly the cover?) by approval. So now you know that twice as many people who wish to comment on “The Path of a Pandemic” than those who wish to comment on “Tom Daschle and Mitt Romney on Health Care” know where to find a stamp. Fascinating…

Actually, the ‘new’ Newsweek is so feeble that one almost feels sorry for its staff. What it illustrates, I think, is how difficult it is for journalists trained in the print tradition to make the transition from the old, privileged, we-know-best, ecosystem to one in which you’re only as good as the value you add to what we already know. The only print magazines I read that are still succeeding to add value are: the Economist, the New Yorker, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books.