By Amitabh Pal on October 19, 2012

As an editor at a fellow print publication, I should be more sorry for Newsweek.

The demise of a print publication that (along with Time magazine) defined news for decades does certainly leave me feeling a bit wistful. I’ve been reading Newsweek off and on since I was in my early teens (though my father subscribed to its main competitor). And unlike Time magazine with Henry Luce, Newsweek didn’t have an out-there eccentric owner fixated on Christianizing China.

Now, the magazine is not fading into oblivion. It is instead converting into a subscriber-based all-digital publication. Editor-in-chief Tina Brown is trying to put the best face on the change.

“We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” she stated in an e-mail to the magazine staff. “We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism. That is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.”

Brown was a major problem at Newsweek. In a desperate attempt at keeping the magazine in the spotlight, she made it more and more sensationalist. This resulted in some awful recent cover choices.

“In the Tina Brown era, supposedly the dawn of a new attitude, Newsweek has gyrated through a series of increasingly embarrassing attempts to goose its traffic by trying on different attitudes like cheap suits,” writes John McQuaid for Forbes. “There was the ‘if Princess Di were alive’ business, Niall Ferguson’s error-ridden attack on Barack Obama, Andrew Sullivan’s Obama hagiography, and most recently, a piece purporting to prove that ‘heaven is real,’ repeating about 50 bestselling mass-market books and Parade magazine covers of the past decade, but of course doing no such thing.”

But the worst culprit was a “Muslim rage” cover piece by Islamophobe Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Ferguson’s spouse) that in response to the recent Middle East protests engaged in the most tendentious and reductive analysis. Brown should be ashamed.

Brown’s gimmicks at Newsweek were a pity because I kind of liked her work at Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. She made Vanity Fair a fun mix of the serious and the gossipy and let out some of the stuffy air from the New Yorker. Her Newsweek stint has been lamentable, however.

The death spiral at Newsweek started when it was sold by the Washington Post after almost half a century of ownership to Sidney Harman, a multimillionaire who seemed dedicated to keep the publication going and merged it with the Daily Beast website. Unfortunately for the magazine, Harman was ninety-one years old and died soon after. His family decided to pull the plug.

“Pairing stock images and incendiary statements at random and slapping them on the cover did not, in the end, turn out to be a business-saving publishing model,” Vanity Fair snarkily commented.

Newsweek has exemplified another disturbing trend in the media: the lack of attention to facts. After Ferguson’s inaccurate hit job on Obama caused an uproar, the magazine admitted it did not fact-check its pieces.

“Newsweek's avoidance of fact-checking is just one example of a larger erosion of journalism, led by shrinking newsrooms, layoffs, and more,” the watchdog group Media Matters comments. “The erosion of the structures of journalism in turn fuels a growing lack of credibility for the media in general, and offers an opportunity for the conservative echo chamber to fill the gap.”

I’m not too sentimental about the pre-Tina Brown Newsweek either, though. In an attempt to be “with it,” much of its focus was on fluffy pop culture or lifestyle issues.

In the Internet age, the problem for both Time and Newsweek has been figuring out their purpose. The recipe for such publications to get readers’ attention is to smarten and deepen their content. Wallowing in sensationalism, as Tina Brown has done, isn’t the way to go. That’s why I bid farewell to the print Newsweek with not a completely heavy heart.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Pakistan’s Heartening Response to Hideous Attack."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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