Do you remember Newsweek?
Time and Newsweek in a print-dominant age were the titans of weekly news magazines – sold by legions of industrious schoolchildren to raise money for their schools (my parents in the late 90s had a subscription that ran into the distant future – the mid-2000s!), at airport newsstands and even street newsstands (yes, they existed). I was a long-time subscriber and read a lot of great articles from Newsweek, an outlet that once shared ownership with the Washington Post.
Have you read Newsweek recently?
Newsweek today exists, if barely. The magazine is currently in litigation with its former parent company over money-laundering charges. While messy, this is just the latest in Newsweek’s sad state of affairs. The company was caught buying web traffic to boost ad rates in 2018, and in 2019, it was reported that it incentivized reporters to write clickbait stories. And, clickbait stories continue to dominate its social media stream.
Why Does it Matter?
Newsweek’s editorial devolution outpaces its reputational one.
For the media and PR professionals, the publication’s value is clearly greatly diminished, and its editorial stance – argued to be far more right-leaning than before – should give pause when pitching or responding to requests for comment. (While all outlets and reporters have biases, heavy leans to any direction, are generally best avoided.)
But, if Gen X and older organization leaders are surveyed, the past reputation of Newsweek often carries through to today. While they will likely not recall the last time they read it, they will insist that it’s a national outlet and quite prestigious.
This is the danger zone.
As media outlet economics continue to evolve, more titles will change hands and attempt short-term clickbait and awards-driven strategies to stay afloat. They will lend their hard-earned name to stories and honors that would make their original editors and reporters cringe – and none of these moves will actually lead to better journalism or growing circulation.
Separating the Remaining Wheat From the Growing Chaffe
A favorite tactic by pushy awards organizers it is to blanket email or cold call professionals. As PR and marketing reps, we get forwarded inquiries that say, “I’ve been nominated by this national weekly magazine as a ‘Top Accountant.’ Is this real?” More and more the answer is no. Though sometimes the fishing expedition works: a busy professional signs on to a dinner show circuit thinking they have won a major award.
It is critically important that professional services organizations have resources to scrutinize these offers in place. Without these safeguards, companies and professionals are apt to spend money for basically nothing and are prone to lending commentary to formerly middle-of-the-road outlets that now have clearly hard ideological bents.
We’re seeing moves by Newsweek and other fading media stars – destined to burn out into total irrelevance. However, until they do, their name and reputation will be strip-mined of all remaining goodwill.
Don’t be fooled.