'Time' Magazine: The Last Of The Big Newsweeklies With profits and a growing circulation, the 87-year-old Time magazine is holding out against the assertion that big weekly newsmagazines -- printed on paper -- are a thing of the past.
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'Time' Magazine: The Last Of The Big Newsweeklies

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'Time' Magazine: The Last Of The Big Newsweeklies

'Time' Magazine: The Last Of The Big Newsweeklies

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The recent revelation that Newsweek magazine is on the auction block has again raised questions about the viability of the weekly news magazine.

Yet NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik found editors at another venerable weekly, Time, who are telling a very different story about profits and growing circulation.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: On the 23rd floor of the historic Time-Life Building, in a conference room looking out over Midtown Manhattan, editors are vying for space within the nation's leading news magazine.

Unidentified Man: I'm in the baseball.

Mr. RICK STENGEL (Managing Editor, Time Magazine): Yeah, I'm not - I don't want to do baseball. Let's do Afghanistan. We've got a dirty pelican on the cover and we'll have Afghanistan in the moment...

FOLKENFLIK: Time managing editor Rick Stengel is guiding a team of editors in pinning down what stories will go into the print edition and, for that matter, what will appear in the special edition that's shipped electronically to Apple.

Mr. STENGEL: So let's talk about what iPad-only stuff is. The Haiti video...

FOLKENFLIK: Rick Stengel says Time re-engineered itself a few years ago, changing its publication date to Fridays, ginning up more content for the Web and reducing its circulation to a core audience that's more appealing to advertisers: 3.2 million paid subscribers.

Mr. STENGEL: It's not so much people who are trying to find out the latest bit of information about how many points did Blanche Lincoln win by, but people who are looking for context, who are looking for larger meaning.

FOLKENFLIK: Editors say their subscriber base has grown in the past year. But there is a school of thought gaining currency in journalism circles that says that's just a mirage.

Alan Mutter is a news consultant and Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Mr. ALAN MUTTER (News Consultant): The idea of a magazine that waits till the end of the week and wraps it up, that's an anachronism in a world when people are consuming news left and right. If you aim to be informed, it's pretty hard not to be informed.

FOLKENFLIK: The problem is, Mutter says, by the time it's in Time, everything new is old news.

Mr. MUTTER: I'm in the media soup every day of the week. I find out about things that are important one way or another. And if Time has the important story, I will find out about it very quickly. But do I sit and go through Time either in print or on the Web to make sure I know everything they have in it? I do not.

FOLKENFLIK: Time doesn't release its profits, but it made an estimated $40 million last year, and Stengel says it will make more money this year than last.

Time's competitors are in rough shape. Businessweek was sold to Bloomberg News for a few million dollars; U.S. News & World Report, it's now a monthly, not a weekly. Newsweek was losing tens of millions of dollars a year, so it reinvented itself to be more of a journal of opinion and analysis. But last month, Newsweek was put up for sale.

According to Mutter and others, Time still can make money for a while in a diminished field, but has few prospects for the future.

Mr. STEPHEN SHEPARD (Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, City University of New York): Well, that's the conventional wisdom. I don't agree with it.

FOLKENFLIK: Former Businessweek editor-in-chief Stephen Shepard is now dean of the Graduate School of Journalism for the City University of New York.

Mr. SHEPHARD: They have to do original stories, they have to do enterprising journalism, they have to do trend stories, they have to do investigative stories. They have to do things that people can't get elsewhere. And if they do that a significant amount of the time, they can be successful.

FOLKENFLIK: Shepard points to the success of The Week, The Economist, and even Time's sister publication, People.

Time executive editor Nancy Gibbs, a revered writer there for 25 years, says the magazine has always been a curator of news first reported by others and has always picked the news readers should know.

Ms. NANCY GIBBS (Executive Editor, Time Magazine): The discipline has always been, not what do you cover, but what do you not cover. It has always been an exercise in ignoring things, in saying that's not important enough, or that's not interesting enough, or that's not surprising enough. And this was true 80 years ago and it's true now.

FOLKENFLIK: So Time draws on deep journalistic resources to cover wars, the economy and the BP oil spill, but has also served up cover stories on Glenn Beck, Jay Leno and the value of exercise.

Time managing editor Rick Stengel says Time is more relevant than ever.

Mr. STENGEL: I mean, I'm a big believer that nothing actually ever goes away. I mean, people still make pottery. They still write epic poetry. Beautiful print magazines will always exist. But you will have a lot of different options to get Time's content.

FOLKENFLIK: In the future, Stengel says, he'll be happy even if most readers know little more about Time's print edition than they do about ancient Greek verse, as long as they're paying for the magazine's electronic touch tablet editions.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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