More Could be Less

By Kara Miller


by Kara Miller, 89.7 WGBH
Monday, June 7, 2010
"Though it’s fine for big names like George Will, David Brooks, and Tom Friedman to dominate the landscape, it would be a shame if they stood alone."

The Washington Post Company announced last month that they were putting Newsweek up for sale. The Post claimed it had no choice, that the magazine was hemorrhaging money.

And, in fact, they were right. Newsweek lost more than $13 million in 2008 and more than $28 million in 2009. I’m sure that’s not the kind of earnings trajectory that excites the Post – or potential buyers.

But, as a writer, it’s sad to watch a high-quality magazine in peril, a magazine that has spread the powerful voices of Fareed Zakaria, Anna Quindlen, Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, and Michael Isikoff, just to name a few.
There are a bunch of reasons, of course, why Newsweek may disappear. First, consumers are loathe to pay $5.95 – a pretty staggering sum – for a skinny, shiny little magazine. Second, it no longer makes much sense to chop down trees in order to disseminate the work of reporters and columnists. And, third, even the short window between the writers’ deadline and the magazine's publication is now a mark of obsolescence.

Plus, there are lots of online outlets to replace Newsweek: Salon, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Real Clear Politics, for example.

But, for writers, there’s a problem: online outlets tend to pay very little. The Huffington Post, for example, only pays some of its writers. And Tina Brown, who once ran The New Yorker and now heads up The Daily Beast, has said that she doesn’t pay her writers much. “The fact is,” Brown said in a recent interview, “that writers can hardly make a living right now because they can't get paid.”

And so good writers and researchers are being driven away from journalism. And those consumers who would have read their work are now surrounded by a smaller and smaller circle of high-quality, well-edited pieces.

Diversity is disappearing. Though it’s fine for big names like George Will, David Brooks, and Tom Friedman to dominate the landscape, it would be a shame if they stood alone.

The pages of Newsweek have brought us the thoughtful liberalism of Jonathan Alter, the international perspective of Fareed Zakaria, and the incisive Washington analysis of Howard Fineman, all of whom have helped shape the American conversation.

If Newsweek fails, these storytellers and opinion-makers–and many others like them–may lose their voices. And we will all be poorer for it.

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