Alex Massie

The Perils of Weighing In

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Newsweek, facing declining sales and losing money and advertisers, has decided to move away from it's wrestling match with TIME and try and be a gutsier, more opinionated, less-soporific enterprise. This is pretty daring stuff, really. This is part of it:

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

This is sensible: one of the problems the news weeklies face is that they're terribly predictable. This is, of course, a problem they now share with British Sunday newspapers. The formula, essentially unchanged in 20 years or more, has become rather dull and predictable hasn't it? Nor is there much to choose between the Sundays: you know that each of them will cover pretty much the same stuff in pretty much the same way they always have. There's rather too much "we need to weigh in on" and not, perhaps, enough, "what can we do better or more interestingly?" (Coupled with the fear that you might look silly if everyone else covers an event you ignore: never under-estimate the impact of peer pressure upon editorial decisions.) No wonder, then, that the papers sometimes seem more dutiful than inspired.

So much so in fact that the marketing departments seem to have given up on newspapers. Now it's all "Buy a DVD and get a free newspaper" which always leaves me thinking that if the people selling the paper don't think there's anything in it worth promoting it's hard to see why I should be interested in buying it. Besides, I really don't want to own a DVD of "On Golden Pond" or "Ordinary People".

As always, however, the diagnosis is easier to find than the cure.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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