I Read Newsweek Today, Oh Boy

by Bob Schwartz


If we hold a wake for each print publication that dies or goes digital-only, we’d be drinking all the time (which is not a bad response). Newsweek today announced, in spite of recent protestations, that it was indeed ending publication of its print edition this year.

Volumes have been written about this phenomenon, and more will be on the way. You can read them on your computer, e-reader, or mobile device. In the meantime, an observation.

Print media are in fundamental ways different than their digital counterparts as tools. Not better or worse, just different. This is not the conceit of old-school anachronists who defy the new guard to take the paper magazines or books from their (sooner than later) cold, dead hands. To understand how that could be so, read the increasingly unread Marshall McLuhan. The message of the medium is the message is that each medium is particular in granular ways (not sure if McLuhan would have loved, hated, or wished he had coined that buzzword). Those ways are not just meaningful, they are some of the most important meaning. If you can’t make a long list of conceptual, non-practical ways that identical content is deeply different in paper and digital form, you aren’t thinking hard enough, and you haven’t read McLuhan.

Suffice it to say that in ways that matter, the Newsweek that doesn’t require electrons is different than the one that does, even if the content is the same.

After saying all those important and noble things, a small confession of complicity. There was a time when a mailbox full of top-tier magazines was both a sign and a source of erudition. Many news junkies got their start when their parents subscribed to the newsweeklies—one, two or, if you were lucky, all three. Newsweek, Time and U.S. News and World Report every week, highly anticipated and absorbed cover to cover once they arrived.

The arrival of paper magazines is still a thrill. But one by one, the subscriptions were allowed to dwindle. It wasn’t just access to free and instantaneous alternatives; as far as expense, many print magazines priced themselves ridiculously low. It was like a relationship that lapses and fades, even if you know you might well be better off in keeping it alive. It was just the times, the way of the world.

Maybe Newsweek and other print editions would have lasted if subscribers had been willing to make an effort and work on the relationship. But they didn’t. We may look back and see these print magazines as the ones that got away, but we shouldn’t have let them. Just because it’s the way of the world doesn’t mean it’s for the best.