A new news beast: Newsweek goes digital

October 20, 2012 at 11:26 pm Leave a comment

In an interview that could easily have passed for Fox talking to Murdoch, the Newsweek Daily Beast Company sat down with its editor-and-chief and founder Tina Brown to discuss the end of print at the venerable magazine Newsweek.  Newsweek fell into the hands of Brown and Beast two years ago but have been unable to resist sliding circulation and rising costs. The last print edition will be December 31.

Brown was on “Newsbeast” this week seated next to the company’s new CEO Baba Shetty as they dissected the reasons why Newsweek was shedding staff and its print publication.  The theme of Brown’s remarks was the need for protection, both of journalists and content. Senior columnist John Avlon was all suited up as he lollypopped his bosses with the opening question phrased as a statement: “So we are taking the bull by the horns, going all digital…”

“We are,” replied Brown.  “We must embrace the future.”  Brown said Newsweek was 80 years old and it was time to start looking at the next 80 years.

 Brown, like many editors before her, conceded defeat for print.  The industry has reached a tipping point and it was no longer a case if but when. And “when” said Brown, might as well be “now”.

“We decided to take away the when and…embrace it, be ready for it.”

Avlon turned the discussion to Shetty with management speak.

“Being proactive not reactive is always a good idea…”

“Yes,” replied Shetty, who unlike Avlon, was dressed down with a jumper and shirt.

The new CEO, a “brand guru”, said Newsweek was a great brand and a powerful media icon but was encumbered by “the form factor” and its economics. Take away issues of physical printing distribution and circulation, Shetty said, by porting the core product to digital would be “incredibly liberating”.

Consumers were moving to digital and advertisers would want to be there to grab these audiences.

Tablet devices, web usage for news, and social news meant it made perfect sense for Newsweek to now go “completely native on digital”.

Brown gave an economic rationale to back it up. She said it cost Newsweek $42m a year to print, manufacture and distribute before you’ve even paid one writer or one intern.

“That’s an enormous albatross,” Brown said.

“We thought it was more important to protect the journalists, the contents, the photographers, the ideas.”

Brown said she wanted a digital Newsweek to focus on the marketplace of ideas.

But how then, would it be different to the Daily Beast, also entirely online, asked Avlon.

Shetty stepped in to say they were “incredibly complementary”.

In four years, the Beast had gone from a start-up to a site with 15 million visitors a month, up a 70 percent since 2011, a huge spike in readership and engagement.

Many were “lean forward, participatory, multiple visits a day,” Shetty said. “The Daily Beast is indispensable many people’s information diet.”

A healthy portion of this traffic was generated each week by Newsweek’s strong original journalism. Newsweek, said Shetty, “a step removed”,  offering more considered, thoughtful, long-form journalism.

Brown said the the Daily Beast and Newsweek spoke to “the same reader in different moods”.  The Daily Beast offered news that was “hot and happening” while Newsweek appealed to the ipad reader on the train home. But, she said, they offered the same sensibility: reflection, context and “a thorough look at what was happening in the world”.

Avlon steered the conversation to the new brand: Newsweek Global.  CEO Shetty called it a terrific new perspective and described who the product would appeal to: “The mobile, highly informed, highly engaged, person very aware of what is happening over the globe.”

He said removing legacy print, meant Newsweek could re-interpret what it could be in pure digital form. Brown said the Daily Beast now appealed to a similar global reader who lived in India, London or Brazil.

Brown said one of the focuses was on “really powerful live events” including ones they had organised like Women in the World. which has an associated foundation which last week launched a campaign for education of girls in Pakistan with Angelina Jolie, hot on the heels of the shooting of 14-year-old education campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

All aspects of the company, said Brown were “now playing together” but print was the anomaly. Getting rid of it went with “enormous regret” as some “incredible brilliant talent” would be leaving the company but it was “the right decision for the company.” Avlon concluded that in terms of content that was “good news for journalists” and an exciting new opportunity” before nodding to the camera to end the interview.

The Daily Beast article that went with the video, gave some statistics to back up the “tipping point” :

There are now 70m tablet users in the US, up from 13m in two years. A further explosion of use is likely, especially as two in five Americans get their news online, a number that is also growing.

“Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” the article concluded. “But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purpose—and embrace the all-digital future.”

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