It is no secret that the business of journalism is in trouble. Venerable American institutions are facing uncertain futures; once profitable enterprises are struggling to find ways to fund their operations. At an otherwise lighthearted White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, President Obama concluded his remarks on a serious note, expressing his sympathy for the trade's plight and quoting Thomas Jefferson, who remarked that he would rather have newspapers and no government than a government without newspapers.
The point, we believe, holds true for a magazine like ours. We think what we do is important, but in the end what matters more is whether you think so, and in so thinking, whether you find that our work repays the investment of your time. And so the magazine you are holding now—the first issue of a reinvented and rethought NEWSWEEK—represents our best effort to bring you original reporting, provocative (but not partisan) arguments and unique voices. We know you know what the news is. We are not pretending to be your guide through the chaos of the Information Age. If you are like us, you do not need, or want, a single such Sherpa. What we can offer you is the benefit of careful work discovering new facts and prompting unexpected thought.
Counterintuitively, perhaps, the weekly cycle is a promising one in a world running at a digital pace. The Internet does a good job of playing the role long filled by newspapers, delivering headlines, opinions and instant analysis. Many newspapers have long been forced into a traditional newsmagazine model, with longer-form reporting and more big-picture thinking, but they still have to do it every day, and there is only so much wisdom one can summon in a few hours. As we see it, NEWSWEEK's role is to bring you as intellectually satisfying and as visually rich an experience as the great monthlies of old did, whether it was Harold Hayes's Esquire or Willie Morris's Harper's, but on a weekly basis.
There will, for the most part, be two kinds of stories in the new NEWSWEEK. The first is the reported narrative—a piece, grounded in original observation and freshly discovered fact, that illuminates the important and the interesting. The second is the argued essay—a piece, grounded in reason and supported by evidence, that makes the case for something.
What is displaced by these categories? The chief casualty is the straightforward news piece and news written with a few (hard-won, to be sure) new details that does not move us significantly past what we already know. Will we cover breaking news? Yes, we will, but with a rigorous standard in mind: Are we truly adding to the conversation? When violence erupts in the Middle East, are we saying something original about it? Are our photographs and design values exceptional? If the answers are yes, then we are in business.
This first issue of the reinvented NEWSWEEK is, we hope, a model of the form. We have rethought the structure of the magazine, and there are now only four sections: SCOPE (for short-form pieces, including Conventional Wisdom and the rechristened Indignity Index); THE TAKE (our columnists); FEATURES (longer-form narratives and essays); and THE CULTURE. The magazine will close with a graphic feature titled Back Story, a visual dissection or explanation of an important issue or phenomenon that will satisfy one's curiosity or pique interest.
There is an exclusive interview with President Obama and reported pieces about George W. Bush in exile, Nancy Pelosi in trouble and African warlord Joseph Kony on the run. There is Fareed Zakaria on global stability, and the debut of the new two-page InternationaList, offering our views about the state of the world. In business coverage, there is Balance Sheet, assessing global commerce; Evan Thomas and Michael Hirsh on Henry Paulson and Lehman Brothers; and Daniel Lyons profiling the inventor Ray Kurzweil. Our cultural tastes—like yours, we suspect—range from high (Pulitzer Prize–winning author David J. Garrow on a book about espionage) to low (a roundtable with veterans of American Idol). And we urge you to check out the reinvented Newsweek.com.
In our interview last Wednesday afternoon on Air Force One, President Obama noted one of the key lessons he has learned: Americans, he said, "not only have a toleration but also a hunger for explanation and complexity, and a willingness to acknowledge hard problems. I think one of the biggest mistakes that is made in Washington is this notion you have to dumb things down for the public." We could not agree more.