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What's Up with Newsweek?

Posted on Sunday, April 29, 2018 at 1:14 PM

A quick review of Newsweek's print edition leaves one wondering who's propping it up financially. This is a story of mystery and intrigue.

By William Dunkerley

Recently I saw the April 6 issue of Newsweek. It has 48 pages plus covers. From a quick glance I deduced that its only ads consist of a public service ad, a house ad, a UNICEF ad, and a whiskey ad.

Given that sparsity of ad content, I thought perhaps the magazine is being supported by subscription revenue. But when I went to look for the subscription price, I could find no subscription information.

Maybe the print edition is being generously subsidized by its digital counterpart. But that's hard to judge from the outside. And it leaves open the question of why.

The magazine seems well staffed. Its masthead lists 32 editorial and creative staffers plus 5 managerial figures. In addition, the publication boasts a stable of 43 writers. Despite an absence of visible financial support, Newsweek certainly is not scrimping on staff.

Assessing the Magazine's Quality

The editorial content of the April issue is almost 60 percent political, with an emphasis on foreign issues. Culture articles occupy 17 percent of the edit space, followed by 12 percent for opinion and 7 percent for science.

Glancing through the articles, the quality of writing seems okay. I stopped to read an article about the comedic actor Garry Shandling. What I saw is writing that appears interesting but is lacking in journalistic quality. It isn't until two-thirds down the third column that a reader learns that Shandling has been dead for two years. On page two it shows Shandling sitting at what I recognized to be his own ham radio station. But the disjointed caption makes no mention of that and instead comments on his college engineering major.

On April 4 the Washington Examiner had remarked, "Just when you think Newsweek has hit rock bottom, they prove you wrong. So very wrong." The Examiner's story goes on to detail how Newsweek tweeted an alert that grossly exaggerated the number of people hospitalized after an active shooter incident. It had gleaned its info from intercepted police radio conversations. The Examiner concludes, "Even cub reporters know you're not supposed to report police scanner chatter as fact, let alone tweet the alleged details from their newsroom's official social media accounts."

Our Previous Analyses of Newsweek

We originally started analyzing Newsweek back in 2010. It had gone from $30 million in profits in 2007 to losses that reached over $28 million by 2009. That's quite a swing. The Great Recession certainly played a role in that disaster. But these losses are completely out of whack with the kinds of setbacks that were experienced industry-wide.

After an astonishingly failed turnaround attempt waged by historian Jon Meacham, the magazine was sold to a 91-year-old retired stereo equipment manufacturer for one dollar. It then went through several iterations and ownerships before winding up in its present shape.

Here are the earlier analyses we presented regarding Newsweek:

Why Newsweek Magazine Failed
July 2010

Breaking News: Newsweek Sold Again,
November 2010

Lessons from Newsweek's Failures
October 2012

Is the Contagion of Failure Striking Publishing?
August 2013

Intrigue about Newsweek's funding is not new. In 2014 Mother Jones did an extensive piece titled "Who's Behind Newsweek? Why are the new owners so anxious to hide their ties to an enigmatic religious figure?" The enigmatic figure the article points to is a South Korean minister named David Jang.

Newsweek in Recent News

Newsweek has been in the news this year too. On February 5, 2018, CNN ran the story, "Chaos at Newsweek: Top editors suddenly out." In addition to reporting on precipitous staff departures, the story explained:

"Last month the Manhattan District Attorney's office raided the company's offices, taking several servers. Newsweek itself, in a story co-written by [Celeste] Katz and Josh Saul, reported that the raid was part of a long-running investigation into the company's finances."

Slate magazine took the matter further with its cover story titled "How Newsweek Collapsed." In addition to describing the role of Reverend Jang, the story also detailed a quizzical connection with Olivet University, which Jang himself founded.

Is There a Bigger Story Here?

So we have a South Korean minister, a university, and a national American publication. That combination eerily echoes the pattern of the late South Korean minister Sun Myung Moon and his controversial Unification Church. There's the minister (Moon), the university (University of Bridgeport), and the national publication (Washington Times). Does this pattern amount to a plan? And if so, for what purpose?

We see near-hysteria in our daily news over foreign influence in American politics. Shouldn't this South Korean connection be something that bears looking into? But that's beyond the scope of STRAT.

For us in the magazine publishing field there is an overall takeaway point, though. Newsweek serves as a model for how not to run a magazine business.

The core business objective of any honest publication should be to serve its natural constituents: the readers and the advertisers. Newsweek strayed far away from that and now seems to be reaping what it sowed. Let that be a lesson for us all.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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