“I don’t think anything could have saved it,” said Evan Thomas, a writer and editor for Newsweek from 1986 to 2010. “The economic model was just broken, and there wasn’t enough advertising to sustain the enormous staff that Newsweek had to have to be a comprehensive global news organization.”
Newsweek was owned by The Washington Post Co. for five decades before being sold in 2010 to the late stereo magnate Sidney Harman, who bought the magazine for $1 and liabilities.
Newsweek was founded in 1933, after the creation of its longtime rival, Time. Newsweek slowly grew into the nation’s second-leading non-pictorial newsmagazine during an era dominated by mass-circulation, photo-centric publications, such as Life and Look, that were eventually eclipsed by television.
Newsweek gained prominence in the 1960s as the magazine began covering the civil rights movement and the emergence of modern liberalism.
“It was, for many years, a place that millions of people could go to get intelligent, thoughtful, informed news,” Thomas said. “It was a little bit forward-leaning and edgy — for better and for worse.”
At its height, Newsweek had a circulation of more than 3 million and rivaled top newspapers and evening news shows in global influence. But it always remained the scrappy second to Time.
“Time’s goal during its heyday was to recap the news of the week and put it in some perspective,” said Ann McDaniel, senior vice president of The Post Co. and a longtime Newsweek journalist. “Newsweek tried to break more news and also to look forward to what would be happening in the following week, when readers were getting and reading the magazine.”
The magazine also had an outsize role in Washington.
Benjamin Bradlee, who socialized with the Kennedys while Washington bureau chief of Newsweek, persuaded then-Post Publisher Philip Graham to buy the magazine in 1961. The magazine emphasized news and analysis and expanded its array of correspondents and bureaus around the world.
In the 1990s, Newsweek learned first of the Monica Lewinsky scandal but held back from publishing while editors waited for more verification. The online Drudge Report scooped the news of the scandal involving President Bill Clinton — an early warning about the disruptive power of the Internet. Yet the magazine still dominated the story.
Newsweek will publish its last issue in the United States on Dec. 31.
“In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format,” Editor in Chief Tina Brown and chief executive Baba Shetty said on the Daily Beast Web site Thursday.
Over the past decade, Newsweek has lost about half its readers. Advertising in the magazine plunged, as businesses sought customers in a more vibrant and dynamic medium. The relevance of a weekly news publication faded as consumers got their news in real time — on Web sites and through social media. The third-ranked weekly, U.S. News & World Report, suspended its print edition years ago.
Not long before his death last year, at age 92, Harman merged Newsweek with the Daily Beast, owned by Barry Diller’s IAC. (Diller is on The Post Co.’s board.) As Newsweek struggled, reportedly eating up $40 million a year in costs, Diller made clear he would not tolerate endless losses.
Under Brown, a famously provocative editor who also oversaw the New Yorker and the now-
defunct Talk, Newsweek tried to return to the national zeitgeist with edgy covers — including a recent crowd-sourced piece on “Muslim Rage” and a piece on President Obama as “The First Gay President.”
Going all digital will enable the magazine to save on printing, paper and postage costs, but it of course means that Newsweek will lose its print advertisers, who pay far more for ads than online advertisers.
In Thursday’s announcement, the magazine said it intends to make new cuts to its newsroom, but it did not spell out the extent of those cuts. Brown and Shetty said that the print magazine would be replaced by a paid digital publication, Newsweek Global, some content from which will be featured on the Daily Beast.
“Today’s a sad day for those of us who have worked at Newsweek and long loved Newsweek,” McDaniel said. “I’m very hopeful that the digital version will live on.”