…but even if he gets it, it won’t be enough.
The Wall Street Journal (via memeorandum) expands on last weeks news that audio-equipment magnate Harman has bought Newsweek for $1 (and other valuable considerations, such as assuming both a gigantic debt and the responsibility for continuing most of the “journalists” in their positions while the magazine continues to lose money). From the story:
Mr. Harman says his plan for Newsweek is evolving, but he has plenty of ideas. He sees an enterprise with some glaring inefficiencies that hasn’t done enough to exploit its name. He envisions a magazine with higher-quality paper, better graphics and subscriber perks like discounts on books written by Newsweek writers.
Harman expands on those themes in the story and interview, but you will look in vain for anything whatever that questions the editorial direction of the magazine. That means he’ll need a lot of luck. Folks attempting to combat a tidal wave by turning firehoses on it need luck in gobsmacking amounts.
People read newsmagazines (and newspapers, and look at teevee news) to get information. If they discover that the information they get isn’t reliable and/or useful — stale or otherwise — it isn’t “information” at all, and they discount that source as a purveyor. Repeated instances of unreliable “news” appearing in any outlet will eventually totally discredit that outlet in the minds of consumers as a source of information. That, not a deficiency in snazzy graphics or a lack of follow-on marketing opportunities, is why Newsweek and most other “news” sources are faltering if not outright failing.
No, it’s not the Internet, although that’s a useful and facile excuse — certainly its influence is large and growing. But regardless how convenient the iPod or “reader” may be, no matter how useful the data aggregators or interesting the polemicists, when it comes down to it print has an advantage no other medium can boast: it can be consumed without batteries, connection to the electric mains, or (usually) eyestrain from the inverted presentation — screens that emit light rather than reflecting it. The Internet may be, in fact is, influential, but it doesn’t attack magazines where they live.
Bluntly: If people go to a TEA Party rally or organizational meeting, they know what went on there from personal experience. If they then read in Newsweek or Time or the New York Times, or see on CNN or MSNBC, an account of that event that diverges materially or completely differs from what they, personally, witnessed there, they do not substitute that account for their own memories, they discount that source as a font of information — and wonder what else they see there that might be false. As more and more people have that experience, fewer and fewer of them are willing to expend resources in gaining access to that source of “data”.
Bluntly: If the Media and governing class declare with one voice that going on three-quarters of Americans are irredeemably racist, the people look in their hearts, find no such motives present, and proceed to assume that those assuming them are at best mistaken, and at worst hostile to them; the result is not to change minds, but to induce media consumers to assume that the source of the accusation is worthless on that subject and suspect on others. At the moment, well over two-thirds of Americans have had that experience; a market containing only the exceptions is much smaller than a general-interest source needs.
And if the magazine’s editorial direction makes it useless as a source of information and perceived as hostile, why would anybody pay for it? –even when “pay” is only expressed as a willingness to take the time to page through the advertisements that are the magazine’s real, immediate support?
If Mr. Harman were to take a tip from Fox News he might have a hope of succeeding. Fox, subject to the constraints every other non-Internet news source labors under, including competition from the Internet, has become far and away the most successful cable news network and bids fair to catch up to the Big Three, simply by allowing occasional questioning of the dogma which the elitist class wishes to be taken as Absolute TRVTH. That translates into enraged attacks on “Faux news” from the elitists, grudging accommodation from the Right, and enormous and growing revenues. The same path is available to Sidney Harman. Probability that he will go that way: epsilon, defined as the smallest possible number which is not zero.