Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The New Newsweek

The redesigned (and redefined?) Newsweek magazine debuted this week, and there are many welcome developments in it.

No longer a Time clone, the revamped magazine also avoids making the mistake of being an Economist clone. That had been one of my big worries when I heard that the magazine was going for a smaller audience and refocusing on being a thought leader, like The Economist. We've already got an Economist; we don't need two of them. Newsweek's traditional strength is as a trusted new source with high standards that gets the inside story. I think they've built on that strength in the redesign, for the most part.

There are a lot of columns -- a bit of overkill, in my opinion, but not fatal. (Let's not bicker about whether "overkill" isn't inherently "fatal," okay?) There are the expected voices of Fareed Zakaria (the man who's single-handedly dedicated to calmly reminding Americans that the rest of the world exists and that it's okay) and George Will (the man who's single-handedly dyspeptic). There's also a religion column that features public relations specialists telling the pope how to improve his street cred; it's a weak article that misses the point of organized religion, as does most religion reporting (and no, I'm not Catholic). More interesting to me was, opposite the religion column, a full-page advertisement from the United Methodist Church. That raises the important question: The Methodist Church has money?

I could have done without four pages devoted to inane chatter with American Idol contestants. Leave that to People or In Touch Weekly. But more welcome (and more useful and important) are a lengthy article on futurist Ray Kurtweil, a profile of a man with Asperger syndrome, and a report on an African warlord. Add to that the expected newsweekly content (a report on George W. Bush returning home after leaving office, an interview with President Barack Obama, in which we learn that he can do the Vulcan hand salute), and you get a magazine worth reading while you put your feet up and dig in.

The editors and publishers of Newsweek have understood the most important thing about revamping a magazine for the internet age: A print publication needs to be wordy; designed for readers, not lookers; provide in-depth material that people are unlikely to read online; be high-value, not cheapened low-value.

I used to do weekly counts on this blog of the numbers of pages in Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, and Focus, as a way of noting how few pages and how little substantive content American news magazines were delivering, compared to the thick and substantive German newsweeklies. The new Newsweek doesn't come in at a table-thumping 170-something pages, like Der Spiegel (which is actually a relatively thin issue of Der Spiegel), but at 96 pages (including covers), the May 25, 2009, Newsweek is worth a look.

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