A Defense of Newsweek.com
It’s always nice to wake up and find out in the Times that your job is doomed. As they put it on Saturday morning, quoting the new CEO of the so-called Newsweek Daily Beast Company, Stephen Colvin: “Newsweek.com will cease to exist after the merger, and anyone who types the URL into their browser will be redirected to TheDailyBeast.com.”
This, of course, was news to Newsweek.com. So rather than going out and celebrating our merger after six months of uncertainty—and hopefully some stability after a year that saw four Newsweek.com editors-in-chief come and go—we’re spending our weekend bombarded by a flurry of emails, wondering how this could have happened. And writing this.
The thing you have to understand about Newsweek is that it would only be fitting that its Website would be the first to go. Like most print publications, Newsweek magazine has been led by people who deep down don’t understand the Web, and because they don’t understand it, they fear it and don’t value it.
While high-level print editors were taking sleek black towncars to and from the office (and everywhere in between, including, on at least one instance, from DC to New York), this was a staff who slept on grimy couches while reporting on the road; forking out their own funds, at times, just to produce good work. The disparity in work hours, in pay, in resources—it was comical. And it was only telling that not so long ago—let’s say five years—one high-level company executive had to be corrected about the Website’s URL: no, Newsweek.com wasn’t the same thing as the internal Newsweek intranet.
Newsweek.com may have always remained an ugly stepchild to its print grandparents, who were too busy burning money to notice. But it was a team who—despite top-level management turmoil that resulted in a whopping seven editors over the past four years; in the face of wildly-inconsistent business priorities, three redesigns and three different content management systems—consistently produced high quality journalism and multimedia, drawing in audiences far larger than its print counterpart, and double that of the Daily Beast. Over the last five years, Newsweek.com has received dozens of honors for its enterprise reporting, including several ASME nominations. It earned the first Emmy nomination of any U.S. magazine, in 2008. And over the past year, with a staff that’s now just just 18 (read it again: eighteen) editorial employees—that means writers, editors, photo and video—Newsweek.com has managed to bring in at least a dozen awards.
If Newsweek.com should cease to exist, here’s what we wonder: What will be the ramifications for Newsweek’s Web presence in terms of SEO? For branding? For our partnerships with MSNBC and MSN? What happens to Newsweek’s (still-unleveraged) archives? How do you preserve a “national treasure” (as Harman has called it) without a Web presence bearing its name?
By rolling Newsweek.com into The Daily Beast, the hope—at least according to the Times—would be to absorb the some of the 5 million unique visitors Newsweek clocks each month. But at least 60 percent of those visitors come in through the back door, through Newsweek’s partnership with MSNBC, links on MSN, Newsweek’s Twitter feed, its Tumblr, and elsewhere. If less than half of Newsweek readers log onto Newsweek.com’s actual homepage, how much traffic will really be gained? Certainly not five million uniques.
Tina Brown is a legend, and we’re excited for her, and the future of Newsweek. But if she does make the decision to fold Newsweek.com, here’s what we hope everyone remembers.
In the face of indifference, condescension and even outright hostility from its print counterpart; with little to no resources; with more high-level hires and fires over the past couple of years than anybody could possibly count—and a revolving door of editors—the small but tireless staff at Newsweek.com consistently created editorial work that made waves: via a Website, on video platforms, through multimedia, photo and social media. Whatever happens to Newsweek, we are all proud to have played a part in that.