Howard Kurtz: Your Latest Newsweek Piece, Edited

Howard—saw your latest piece on Newsweek; our edits below. Best, N

While journalists get into the business for various reasons — vicarious thrills, investigative zeal, outsize ego — ultimately they’re at the mercy of the marketplace.[ED-as opposed to who? Bricklayers? Florists? Bond traders? This lede is a pretty obvious cliché, Howard; pls rework] And that marketplace seems [‘Seems’ is pretty squishy. Has the marketplace sent a message or not?] to have sent a very discouraging message to Newsweek.


With Post Co. executives refusing to discuss the process, the other possible bidders remain shrouded in secrecy. They may or may not wind up pursuing a purchase, but for now, the discussion centers only on those who have confirmed their interest, perhaps for the publicity value. [Wait. We’re four grafs in, and already underwhelmed: You go from claiming in the first paragraph that ‘the market seems to have sent a very discouraging message’ re Newsweek to here acknowledging that there may be many other, nondisclosed buyers, and that the ones who have publicized their bids may be doing it primarily for the publicity value. Why is this a story again?]


Based on what has been made public, Michael Parker, managing director of AdMedia Partners, which specializes in media mergers, says: “I’m a little surprised that, shall we say, major players haven’t come into this arena, at the very least to take a closer look. Newsweek has huge brand equity in the marketplace, a wonderful reputation editorially.” But, he says, potential buyers must be asking: “Who’s going to do it better if The Washington Post Company can’t figure this out?” [This is a great quote, but nonsensical—why does it follow that, by virtue of simply having owned Newsweek for a long time, the Washington Post company is the corporate entity best able to make Newsweek profitable? Also, is it logical to assume that your employer, the Washington Post Company, whose flagship newspaper division reported a first quarter loss this year of $13 million, is somehow the smartest business side on the planet?]  The company has owned the magazine since 1961.

The lack of information has bothered some Newsweek staffers, some of whom describe the mood as ranging from stunned to funereal to angry — the latter emotion fueled by a sense [Who has this sense? These unnamed ‘Newsweek staffers? Or are you conflating this with the criticism of others? This is unclear.] that Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine. Meacham has said that in the face of mounting losses — $44 million since 2007 — he had no choice but to seek fewer subscribers who would be willing to pay more.

On one level, the situation is a paradox. Here you have a magazine loaded with talent — from the Pulitzer-winning Meacham (who is pursuing his own bid to buy the magazine) to such media stars as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Mike Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and Robert Samuelson [Howard—Apparently your knowledge of Newsweek’s staffers begins and ends with these men; see David Carr’s piece today for an example of a journalist who has actually read Newsweek in the past five years] — and few seem willing to bet on its financial future [again, ‘seem’—how do we know this? For all you know, 100 Arabian princes are lined up with their petrodollars right now, begging for the chance to buy Newsweek.] That amounts to a no-confidence vote not just on the category of newsweeklies [What’s your evidence here? Are you asserting that the three ‘unimpressive’ bidders are the only ones out there, and thus this amounts to a vote of no-confidence? This seems like a logical leap, unless you are saying Washpost is lying when they say there are other interested parties.], which have long been squeezed between daily papers and in-depth monthlies, but on print journalism itself. The lucrative properties these days are digital [Really? Then why is it that every old-media print property is struggling with the fact that their Websites pull in a fraction of the revenues they’re accustomed to getting in print?], and Newsweek’s Web site has long been a flop, both creatively and commercially. [Oh. OK. So, Howard, how exactly has Newsweek’s Web site “long been a flop”? Start with the commerce part. Here’s our numbers, in case you missed them: Online ad revenue for 2007, 2008 and 2009 was $8.7 million, $11.3 million, $9.2 million. Not world-beating, and we’re disappointed last year was down, but in case you haven’t noticed, last year was a bad one for everyone, including your publication. Is a flop because it didn’t bring in $20 million last year? What’s the right number here?

On the “creative” side, well, we suppose it’s all in the eye of the beholder, and if you’ve just been reading this Tumblr for your impression of Newsweek you’ll get no beef from us; we freely admit our obsessions tend toward the juvenile. But our colleagues have done some reallyimpressiveworkthatwe’recompletelyproudof; we encourage you to take a look]

The best bet for Newsweek, whose losses dropped to $2.3 million in the first quarter of 2010, would be a savior such as Bloomberg News. The company founded by New York’s mayor recently bought the ailing Business Week for $2.5 million to $5 million and is integrating the weekly into its business empire. [H-How is the fact that Bloomberg is integrating BizWeek into its empire evidence that the purchase was a success? What’s the metric you use for this assertion?] The Post Co. publishes no other magazines — unlike, say, Time Warner, which can sell advertising across multiple titles.[Wait—you just said that the Post Co. was the only company in the world who could make Newsweek work—now you say Newsweek would be better off at Time Inc? We’re confused]

With their silence, Post executives are playing by the cloistered rules of investment bank Allen & Co., apparently concerned that premature disclosure might spook some bidders. The result is a conventional wisdom, to use a phrase popularized by Newsweek, that the magazine smells like a loser. [Ah, the classic newsmagazine kicker, in which you sum up your case as if it were fact. Sadly, we don’t buy it. This is a straw argument, and a thin one at that. It’s true that things don’t look good for Newsweek; only a fool would argue that this company’s in great shape. But there’s a lot of daylight between acknowledging that and claiming, as you do, that “the magazine smells like a loser,” especially if you provide very little evidence to back up your words. Please rework, and get back to us. Cheers, N]