It was a little over a year ago that Newsweek redesigned itself to look like a cross between a paper version of Slate and those “Special Advertising Supplements” that interrupt huge chunks of a magazine with advertorial content that doesn’t fool a single human being on earth into thinking it’s part of the magazine.
*gasps for breath*
I noted back then that I thought the magazine had taken a step toward obsolescence with its redesign. Here we are a year later and the magazine has a new editor and a new look. Actually, Tina Brown took over a few months back. I didn’t think the attempt to resurrect the once venerable newsweekly with a change of blood warranted another post, but I’ve seen a spike in visitors to my blog looking for discussions about the old design and I thought Might as well prod the jellyfish once again.
Tina Brown came to Newsweek by way of Talk, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and, most importantly, Tattler, the gossip magazine of the rich and famous. Along the way every thing Tina Brown touched turned to gold, or at least a shade of gold called Tina Brown because rather than updating the images of the magazines she converted them into another facet of Tina Brown. Newsweek doesn’t look new so much as it looks like a semi-hard news version of her previous magazines. Some of the spreads could be pulled and inserted into old issues of Vanity Fair and fit right in. The magazine – and every magazine she works for – should just insert her name above the title, as in Tina Brown’s Newsweek.
I get it, print media is suffering. People had dozens of places to gather the information they want in this digital age, and for a magazine to remain profitable it need to deliver eyeballs to advertisers. But for Newsweek to survive it’s going to need to deliver on the first part of its name in way it hasn’t done since a time before it saw itself in competition with People magazine: it needs to deliver the news of the week. Real news, in-depth news summaries. Remove the page of quotes out of context and give us the context. Let’s read less about famous people and more about the people who are making the news but aren’t in front of cameras for a living. Sure, clean up and modernize the design, but there are ways to make a layout breathe without making white space take up 60% of the page.
In the end, a newsweekly should be the place to go for background and details. We spend our weeks catching a bit of story here, a tease of news there. Let the newsweekly return to its roots, to give us a place that pulls all those breaking news fragments into a cohesive narrative that helps us better understand what’s been coming at us in tags and tweets. Let the internet give us the bits and pieces, let Newsweek show us the whole picture down the road when we can take a moment to digest it.
Newsweek‘s problems aren’t in the design, they’re editorial, and it’s going to take someone with a solid view of the past to bring us the future.
If the magazine lasts that long.