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.