The demise of the print version of Newsweek gave me pause today to think about my own evolution on this topic.
I have been working as an independent writer for almost four years now, going back to my original career roots in journalism. (For thirty years in between I worked in healthcare marketing, primarily business, grant, proposal, and public relations writing.)
Since May 2009, I have been fortunate to be published in a number of local and regional magazines. I have thoroughly enjoyed the eclectic subjects I’ve reported on, but I didn’t enjoy the low compensation and difficulty in actually getting that compensation. To be fair, three of the publications I worked for moved to Ebyline in the middle of my tenure and pay was turned around within days of an accepted assignment. The old way was within thirty days after publication, with stories written three to four months in advance. You might want five months for several hundred dollars, or several piles of several hundred dollars. Not fun when starting out.
Today I continue to write travel and business pieces for two regional magazines that pay slightly high from the local publications, and I also enjoy working with the editor and the people I cover.
But six months ago I had this revelation that the world around me was changing and if I didn’t get on the train I was going to be standing at the tracks. I embraced my thirty years of healthcare and began to seek assignments in the digital world for healthcare organizations. Today I am doing well, learning a lot about digital marketing and improving my game.
As someone who took the “magazine” sequence at my journalism school, I never wanted to do anything but write for print. Things change. I left the newspaper business because of money. Now it was leaving me.
Newsweek had changed and eroded over the years. I stopped subscribing about two years ago and went back to Time, which I always felt was more conservative. Over the years, I believe Time came more to the middle. I also really enjoy Time’s photography which is second to none.
I’m reading Time both online and print (for the photographs), and I get other magazines on my Nook. I fully made the change when I found I liked The New Yorker better on the Nook. The interface for the Nook is very easy to use and I seem to read more of the magazine because (as a new AARP member, I can see it better.)
As part of this review I took a look at a piece I wrote about Newsweek for this venue more than two years ago. Reprinted for your reading here:
Newsweek and the Death of Print
image © Newsweek
As a Baby Boomer, I cut my teeth on print journalism, and with print, I shall die.
While I embrace technology, I cannot give up the old ways. Like a courageous captain, I will go down with the ship, hands stained with ink and a heart full of hot type.
Tell the orchestra to play “Nearer My God to Thee,” as periodicals are sinking into cold icy waters all around me.
While I no longer work full-time in the field, I am a frequent contributor to local magazines and newspapers, and I write newspaper columns for two Indiana newspapers. As long as there is work, I will ply my trade on paper.
On my first day of college, I heard a lecture by a journalism professor who was with Morley Safer and CBS News in Vietnam. He told the class, “Read The New York Times and the New Yorker. That’s where you will find the best writing.”
For a vehicle-deprived co-ed in 1975, there was no campus place to snag the Times, even on Sundays. The college bookstore carried The New Yorker. I bought my first copy that week and still read it (even suffering through the Tina Brown years).
Thirty-three years after I first learned about “Talk of the Town,” we moved our son into his freshman dormitory in an East Coast city. A sign promoting the Gannett “Newspapers on Campus” program hung in the lobby, offering students the daily choice of a free Times, Washington Post, or USA Today. I was impressed and excited about the opportunity for our son, who read everything in our house, including our Newsweek.
I pointed this out to our son, and he said, “So what? I can read them on-line anytime I want.”
That disdain for the printed word is the first Problem. We have access to information instantly at our fingertips, on a variety of devices.
Why bother when you can Google on your Blackberry, read NYT Mobile on your IPhone, or get Salon on your iPad?
Let us use the former Governor of Alaska to illustrate my point. Sarah Palin was asked by Alysin Camerota of Fox News what she thought about last week’s Lisa Miller Newsweek cover story. Palin said she had not read it and added, “I don’t trust their reporting all of the time. That’s one of the reasons they’re going down.”
Palin might want to start reading the magazine. She could not be more wrong about the content.
Far from damning, it praises her. The article outlines how Palin has become mainstream in American life and ends with “She’s a hardworking mom with too much on her plate.” Miller concludes the story with a reference to Palin’s self-confessed brief consideration of terminating her pregnancy with Trig, her child with Down syndrome.
This anecdote about Sarah Palin illustrates my second point, or why Newsweek and other long-published periodicals are in Palin’s faulty words, “going down.”
The news is that “Saintly Sarah” does not read the news. Problem Number Two.
Palin probably does represent the mainstream in her reading habits.
A 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Study reported by NPR showed that fewer people are reading in this digital age.
Newsweek’s format change last year reflects this new reality. The familiar news magazine format morphed into pages of “news bytes” followed by pundit essays. And the graphics seem like an Atlantic wannabe. wanting it both ways? Are we going to be an elitist, essay driven magazine? Or are we going to be for the masses?
Problem Number Three. I attribute the death of print journalism to the overexposure of print journalists.
A relatively new phenomenon, the world first saw journalists as movie stars in “All The President’s Men.” Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played Woodward and Bernstein, with Jason Robards as their editor Ben Bradlee.
Now, of course, Jon Meachem, editor of Newsweek, is everywhere from the Sunday talks shows to “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. He is a gifted author, and I am not suggesting he cloister himself, penning glorious prose with a quill pen and the Brandenburg Concertos in the background.
However, I am suggesting that Problem Three may be this: the joy of print – and the joy of reading – is learning the facts and formulating opinions on one’s own.
Today’s editors and writers are part of the 24/7 news culture. Even our own Joan Walsh from Salon is regularly appearing on “Hardball.”
I want to read what you write, folks. I want to form my own opinions.
As that same journalism professor said to the fledgling hacks the same year that “All the President’s Men” came out, “Show me, don’t tell me.”