Thursday, December 11, 2008

Printed blogs?

I guess you could call this another nail in the coffin of print culture, but in this case, the magazines are the ones shooting themselves in the foot with the nail gun. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)

As a magazine junkie of long standing, I've stayed faithful to--and subscribed to-- some of the old standards for years: Newsweek, The New Yorker, The Atlantic. I've bought subscriptions for family members year after year. I stuck with The Atlantic after it stopped publishing fiction. I even stuck with The New Yorker when the only articles it published were the ones about Hollywood deals (aka the Tina Brown years).

But lately, I've noticed something about the writing in Newsweek: it seemed familiar, somehow. That tone of knowing smartassery. The factual errors in the snarky opinion pieces that pass as cultural criticism. Beginning every story with a long personal anecdote, preferably one that emphasizes the writer's snark credentials or (if it's a serious story) something that Makes the Reader Empathize with the situation being described. (I've taken to skipping the first five paragraphs routinely, just to get to the news.) Trying to be provocative and fun, even if it means asking supremely stupid questions in the interview section. Then it hit me: Newsweek is trying to be a blog. News blogs started out by imitating and modifying print culture, and now print culture is imitating online culture.

You can't blame Newsweek for trying. Readership is down, and the magazine is " trying to be more provocative." It's the same impulse that The Atlantic is now following: it ran a long article about Britney Spears earlier this year and a medium-length article about a boxer in the most recent issue, and its redesign makes it look like Esquire without the ads.

But wait--don't we already have blogs? For free? The Wall Street Journal article says that Newsweek wants to have fewer readers and charge a higher price. The media critics (of which I am obviously not one) can better predict how this business model will work out, but as a longtime subscriber and a blog reader, I'm not convinced.


Mel said...

I've been noticing the same thing with Newsweek, plus the irritating redesign a few months ago. What really irks me are the constant reminders, requests, whatever, to go the the website to read other content. Or the list about what items were popular on the website. I'm pretty sure that the website readers are not the same as the print ones...

undine said...

Mel, I think you're right about the two audiences. I don't look at Newsweek online; of course, I'm cranky enough to be really annoyed at all the "visit our website!" nagging that goes on in magazines these days, especially the ones in PCWorld.