Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Everyone has an opinion on how to save Newsweek; Politico gets into the act with a lengthy advice column

Clearly Newsweek had become an inside-the-beltway publication judged by the fact that the political website Politico would consider the sale of the magazine important enough to post a story that runs on to four web pages.

While Politico didn't offer any advice themselves, they wanted to make sure that the usual people were heard from, saying the usual things.
For Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism, it is all about returning to the past: "Go back to the newsweekly. Go back to the news that people can use. What’s missing in a lot of our publications now is, it’s not the five W’s and the H." Go back.

Jeff Jarvis, professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, as you would have expected, needed to make fun of the situation: “Audio guy bought Newsweek? Maybe he'll convert it to 8-Track. Cassette? Quadrophonic? Walkman? Album?” (He really said that? What was he trying to sound like, Lou Costello?)

Jarvis then proceeded to preach the digital sermon. “What I’d probably do is set a date very soon in the future when there is no print Newsweek, and figure out what it can be as a digital bring, and utterly remake it,” Jarvis said.

The magazines business is, like any industry, way too complicated to be summed up in any one catch phrase. "Go back!" may sound good to someone nostalgic for the golden age of magazines, but no matter what any publisher does they will not succeed if they are getting beaten up by the sales teams at Time and The Economist. And "go digital" works great . . . if you have the secret to creating a profitable digital property. If not, all you are doing is trading one failed model for another. Someone has to sell those medium rectangles, and for a price that will support a newsroom.

That is not to say that any of this advice is bad, and certainly a one or two line quote in a post probably doesn't give the full picture of what the person being interviewed actually thinks. But these advice stories rarely talk about the unsexy part of the business like sales and marketing. More magazines fail because of a lack of sales power and leadership than people want to admit. But if given a choice between hiring a consultant for six months and doubling their sales and marketing budgets, how many publishers would choose the latter? (OK, probably too many.)

Piling on with the advice, Romenesko links to two more Newsweek-should stories offering advice: One says Newsweek should be converted to a non-profit (from an unprofitable, I suppose), and another gives advice concerning the editor's position.

There is also this story in the L.A. Times: Newsweek sale a head-scratcher: California tycoon Sidney Harman, 91, who made his fortune in stereo equipment, has no experience in the media industry.

So TNM will get in on the act: What should Newsweek do to become a success? Sell out to a very rich person who doesn't mind losing money publishing a magazine.

See how easy that was.