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Thinner Time magazine still manages to stand out
Some of Time's reporting-driven covers this year: "Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry"; "The Broken States of America"; "The Best Laws Money Can Buy"; and a fascinating look back at the cultural impact of "The Pill." There were also such well-worn newsweekly compilations as "The 100 Most Influential People in the World" and "10 Ideas for the Next 10 Years."
Having cultivated a long relationship with Steve Jobs, Time landed an exclusive interview for a cover on the launch of the iPad -- and becoming the first news publication to have its app on the hot new tablet.
Of course, it's not possible to be original all the time. After the recent cover story titled "What Animals Think," Slate's Jack Shafer pointed out that Time ran a 1993 story ("Can Animals Think?") and a 1999 cover (also headlined "Can Animals Think?") on the subject. Stengel laughs off the history, saying: "It actually sold really well."
Backed by the resources of Time Warner, Stengel has also pursued such moneymaking ventures as a two-day conference in South Africa during the World Cup, staged with Fortune and CNN. The keynote speakers were Bill Clinton and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
One lasting change may have been the simplest. Stengel believes that switching publication from Monday to Friday -- he unveils the cover every Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" -- was important because the magazine became weekend reading.
Time.com now offers a news feed, a collection of links aimed at stopping such sites as the Huffington Post from cannibalizing its traffic. The company plans to offer tiered pricing for access to the Web site, the magazine or something in between.
Another upgrade is the Swampland blog, with reporters such as Klein contributing. "I thought it was important for us to have an interactive relationship with our readers," Klein says. But he still has reservations: "I'm sometimes too quick. I've made mistakes as a blogger that I would never make as a columnist." He says the feedback is valuable but that the posted comments tend to be dominated by extremists.
Buoyed by Time's recent success, Stengel uses a word not generally associated with plain old journalism: "We have the nirvana that people are looking for. We have a product that people actually like and are willing to pay for."
We are getting smaller
USA Today, once a newspaper success story, said last week it would lay off 130 employees, about 9 percent of its staff. The Gannett paper, whose circulation has dropped from 2.3 million to 1.8 million in recent years, plans to deemphasize its print edition and no longer employ separate managing editors for its News, Money, Sports and Life sections. Like most publications, USA Today wants to move more aggressively in the online and mobile markets, but the ink-on-paper product is what generates the greatest profits.
The Washington Post has a new op-ed columnist.
Dana Milbank, who has been writing the "Washington Sketch" feature for nearly six years, is moving to the editorial page, where he will be free to opine at will. But Milbank says his writing will still be rooted in reporting and observation.
"Anybody reading my column would make an informed judgment that I'm left-of-center, and I wouldn't quarrel with that," he says. "But strongly ideological people on the left do not recognize me as one of their own."
A former New Republic and Wall Street Journal staffer who once covered the White House for The Post, Milbank ran up against the limits of the scene-setting sketch format: "If something exciting is happening, I'm golden. If nothing is happening, I've got to make a column out of nothing. And anything out of the capital was off limits."
Milbank isn't putting his funny side -- which got him in trouble during the ill-fated "Mouthpiece Theater" videos -- in a blind trust. He says he will still write some sketches online and contribute to a Post humor blog.
Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."