Newsweek and the 
(non)demise of print

Newsweek magazine made official Thursday what had long been rumored: The 80-year-old news magazine will cease publishing a print edition at the end of this year. It will go to an all-digital format beginning in January.

Some online sources are trumpeting this as further evidence that print news is rapidly dying and that all news will soon be delivered electronically. We disagree. And that’s not just an emotional response from people who have long made a living with ink and newsprint. It’s based on a variety of evidence.

To begin with, one must realize that Newsweek faced a unique set of problems. It provided once-a-week reports on news events that were also being reported in other sources with much more up-to-date information. It has been sold and resold the past few years, with each owner unsure of what to do with it. Finally, it recently changed to a format that focused primarily on opinion pieces, rather than news gathering and reportings. This in a world where radio, TV and millions of Internet sites offer all manner of opinion.

No wonder Newsweek’s ad revenue has fallen dramatically.

It’s also important to know that some weekly newsmagazines — notably The Economist — continue to thrive as primarily print products in a digital age.

This is not to say print journalism doesn’t face obstacles to surviving. It does, and some newspapers have already succumbed. Earlier this year, the New Orleans Times-Picayune cut back its print operations to three days a week and concentrated more of its efforts online.

Reports of declining readership and falling revenue, especially at large metro newspapers, are commonplace. But all is not doom and gloom in the world of print news.

A survey conducted last year by an institute affiliated with the University of Missouri School of Journalism concluded: “Newspaper readership remains strong in smaller cities and towns.” In such communities, the survey said, a healthy majority of citizens turn first to their local newspapers for news.

Surveys aren’t the only positive indicator. Last year Warren Buffett, one of the nation’s wealthiest and savviest investors, bought the Omaha World Herald. This year, he purchased 63 community newspapers and is in the market for more because he believes they have a sustainable financial model.

Here in the Grand Valley, The Daily Sentinel’s circulation has been steadily growing this year, even as viewership at GJSentinel.com also increases.

Remember, all those bloggers and Internet aggregator sites still rely on news generated primarily by print journalists (and a few key broadcast ones) to provide their content.

Obituaries for print newspapers were prepared when radio, television and the Internet all arrived on the scene, but they were premature then and they are premature now. We believe printed newspapers will be viable for many years to come.


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