Newsweek at a Crossroads

By Meacham, Jon | Newsweek, May 17, 2010 | Go to article overview

Newsweek at a Crossroads


Meacham, Jon, Newsweek


Byline: Jon Meacham

We have a mission to fulfill, no matter how difficult the week.

Last Wednesday morning, in a meeting with the magazine's staff, our owner, Donald E. Graham, the chairman and CEO of The Washington Post Company, announced that NEWSWEEK was going to be sold.

The Post has owned NEWSWEEK since 1961, when Ben Bradlee, then the magazine's Washington bureau chief, helped persuade Philip Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, to buy us. I say "us" quite consciously: there has long been a sense of tradition as well as journalistic mission here. For half a century, the Graham family has been a faithful steward of NEWSWEEK, allowing us, in Phil Graham's phrase, to write the first rough draft of history. Now we are working on a new chapter, and while the precise shape of the future is unknowable, we do know some things.

First, NEWSWEEK was not closed last week. We were, rather, offered to the marketplace to explore whether a different owner (or set of owners) can help us combat the formidable forces that a lot of institutions like ours are facing: a difficult business climate, especially in advertising, and changing reading habits. The problems we must solve are not particular to NEWSWEEK, though we do offer a fairly vivid example of the general issues confronting historically print-centric publications, from magazines to newspapers to books.

Which leads us to a second thing we know. If the economic climate were different, if there were a consistently healthy national (and international) advertising market of corporations seeking to reach a large number of readers, then we would be in a very different place: one of profitability. NEWSWEEK is a business--an odd one, to be sure, and one with a significant sense of itself as a public trust--but it is still a business.

The task ahead, then, is an urgent one. What we do here, which is taking serious people seriously and engaging them on important issues, means something to the country. Whether it is a well-argued essay by Fareed Zakaria or an oral history of the Taliban or an investigation into the dismal state of the Afghan police or Maziar Bahari's riveting account of his 118 days in an Iranian prison--a drama that began because Maziar was reporting on the opposition to the theocratic regime in Tehran--we create content that matters. …

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