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After 80 years in print, Newsweek is embracing a digital-only future. Its editor, Tina Brown, announced today that in 2013, the magazine will abandon print.
As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, the plan is to reformulate the brand for a paying audience on tablets and online.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Baba Shetty has been CEO of Newsweek and its sibling website, The Daily Beast, for just two weeks. He says the new digital publication, to be called Newsweek Global, will be...
BABA SHETTY: Really focused on highly mobile opinion-leading and worldwide audience, kind of recognizing that today, you know, there's great commonality between a certain kind of person in Mumbai or San Francisco or, you know, Belfast.
FOLKENFLIK: Two decades ago, Tina Brown reinvigorated Vanity Fair and then the New Yorker to a significant degree of acclaim. More recently, the late billionaire inventor, Sidney Harman, brought her in to do the same after he bought Newsweek for a dollar from The Washington Post Company. Today, Brown bowed to the laws of gravity. Her announcement, confirmation that her weekly printed magazine could not compensate for plummeting circulation and advertising amid a 24/7 digitally driven news cycle.
Josh Tyrangiel is editor of Bloomberg Business Week.
JOSH TYRANGIEL: We're in a very difficult reality for printed products, no doubt, that the expenses for manufacturing are just remarkable. And look, any process that begins with go up a mountain and find a tree is not a particularly efficient process.
FOLKENFLIK: Until recent years, that didn't matter. Matthew Cooper used to be deputy Washington bureau chief for Newsweek.
MATTHEW COOPER: I think it's hard for people who are entering journalism now to recognize, A, how sort of influential these magazines were and, B, how flush with cash they were just by virtue of being who they were. You know, I think people really waited on Sunday or Monday to see what would be on the cover of Newsweek and Time.
FOLKENFLIK: Each had millions of readers in living rooms, corporate board rooms, and of course, dentist waiting rooms, helping to reflect and shape the nation's political developments and cultural sensibilities.
COOPER: One of the things that propelled Bruce Springsteen to stardom, when "Born To Run" came out, was that he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek the same week.
FOLKENFLIK: Cooper reported later for Time magazine. He says Newsweek was a scrappy number two. And Brown brought to Newsweek her particular brand of British brio.
COOPER: You know, it's a fine line between playful and seriousness. I think the alter Newsweek balanced that pretty well. I don't think the current rendition did.
FOLKENFLIK: One cover called President Obama the first gay president, another one by the conservative scholar Niall Ferguson shouted, Hit the Road, Barack. A third was titled Muslim Rage, suggesting an entire religion's hostility to the West and especially the U.S. That one prompted widespread derision on Twitter and a sense that Newsweek had not figured out a core mission other than the creation of controversy. Again, Josh Tyrangiel of Bloomberg Business Week.
TYRANGIEL: The people who are still printing and still printing successfully have found a way to own a corner of the information market and it's a real challenge to be a general interest publication in this day and age. Your readers are willing to pay for indispensible information. You have to own some piece of the market and the broader you go, the harder the challenge.
FOLKENFLIK: And if global sophisticates are the intended subscribers, the question is why pay for a tablet edition of Newsweek and not instead, say, The Economist or The New Yorker or The Wall Street Journal or consume any of a thousand blogs or news sites that don't charge. Shetty, the publication's CEO, says Newsweek is not simply shedding costs of publishing, producing and distributing a magazine, not simply retreating, but advancing into a new news age demanded by its readers.
SHETTY: We felt this was the time to make a commitment to say, look, the Newsweek brand is something that we fundamentally believe in, but the form factor that we believe in is digital, not printed paper-based magazine.
FOLKENFLIK: The print magazine's final edition will be published at the end of the year. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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