By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Meet the new Big Three weekly news magazines

With the Washington Post Co. having put money-losing Newsweek up for sale, you’re going to hear a lot about how we’ve gone from three weekly news magazines to one (Time) if Newsweek isn’t rescued. (U.S. News & World Report lives, but it hasn’t been a weekly for years.) Cue the dirge.

Except that it’s not true. If Newsweek goes down, we’ll simply have a new Big Three: Time, The Economist and The Week. And unlike the Time/Newsweek/U.S. News trio, which at their peak were all more or less clones of each other, the three survivors have distinctly different missions. The Economist offers a smart, analytical take on the news. The Week is a digest. And Time is — well, who knows these days? Politics, pop culture and lists of stuff, I guess.

You’ll often hear people say that Newsweek and U.S. News were the victims of larger forces, and that the weekly news-magazine genre is no longer relevant. But if that were true, why were they overtaken by competitors within that genre?

And yes, I recognize that The Economist and especially The Week are bare-bones operations compared to the American news magazines in their prime. The fact is, they’re here — and they’re thriving. Newsweek and U.S. News were not done in by cable TV and blogs. They were done in by leaner, smarter competitors who had a better idea of what a weekly news magazine should be.

After all, their various owners never figured out how to overtake Time, either.

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  1. BP Myers

    I’m no expert, but magazines themselves seem to have an arc, a lifespan all their own. Perhaps the real story here is that Time and Newsweek have lasted as long as they have.

    Perhaps someone will see some value in their names, and buy them solely to publish them intermittently like the resurrected “Life” magazine, for special events and retrospectives and such.

    But if anyone does, my money’s on Time.

  2. Last year, as part of a fundraiser for our son’s preschool, my wife subscribed to Time and I have to say, after a year, I really enjoy reading it … enough to resubscribe. Admittedly, I skim most of it and then read what I want, not unlike most folks probably. I long ago dropped most of my magazine subscriptions – I used to get the Nation, GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Consumer Reports, PC World, along with CJR. When I was a kid, we always had Newsweek at the house. Now, I only get CJR, PC World, and Time.

  3. Michael Pahre

    I think a better description of The Economist would be that it is an intelligently-written, if not intellectual, news weekly with a decidedly pro-business slant and an excessively high subscription cost.

  4. Pat Daukantas

    I read a lot (because I live and work in the DC metro area) and I’m constantly getting that site’s pop-up ads for The Economist. Maybe if the Washington Post Company had pushed Newsweek as aggressively, it would be doing somewhat better.

    (The other major pop-up advertiser on that site is Netflix, which seems to have done significant damage to Blockbuster. Trends, anyone?)

  5. Linda Lowenthal

    James Fallows has a good analysis here:

    “Newsweek became a “better” magazine – but a kind of magazine whose natural audience is smaller by definition. It would be as if McDonald’s or Applebee’s became a tapas bar — yet still needed to fill the same number of seats.”

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