The issue in your hand is the last edition of Newsweek in print. The next, in the first week of January, will be on your iPad or Kindle or phone. By late February, you will see the full evolution of the spanking-new, all-digital Newsweek Global, currently in development.
It’s been a turbulent two-year journey, culminating in our decision to leave print and take the leap into a digital future. In 2010 the 92-year-old audio tycoon Sidney Harman bought a moribund Newsweek from the Washington Post Co. for a dollar in a quixotic bid to save a legendary magazine. Shortly after, the incurable old romantic asked The Daily Beast, the news site I founded with Barry Diller’s IAC in 2008, for its hand in marriage. And it’s been a blast.
The first days were distinctly unpromising. Most of the boldface bylines and star writers who defined the brand had flown the Newsweek coop by the time the deal was done. There was no executive editor at Newsweek, no news editor, no managing editor, no features editor, no Washington bureau chief, no “back of the book” department still standing. Advertisers had peeled off, too, in droves. Where once Newsweek had been housed in its own building, its proud logo in the eye-line of its swaggering competitor in the Time-Life Building, it was now lurking in an office labyrinth near Wall Street reminiscent of the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin. The watchful eyes of the remaining Newsweek personnel who had or had not decided to “take the buy-out” peered from behind pale gray cubicle walls at the jaunty Daily Beast crew, crowded together down the other end. They were separate tribes, segregated as if at a soccer match.
This morose office comedy, however, was soon overpowered by one of the most amazing news cycles in my professional memory: the tectonic Arab Spring, the mind-boggling tsunami in Japan, the operatic killing of bin Laden, and the lynching of Gaddafi. There is no better way to judge the health of a news organization than by how it rises to unscripted examination. And what was gratifying was how our buffeted band of “NewsBeast” writers and editors, women and men who scarcely knew each other, swiftly became a ninja news army, packing as much heat for Newsweek as they did for The Daily Beast.
Newsweek’s Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor Chris Dickey spent the early part of 2011 as a one-man Arab Spring bureau. In January he co-wrote the gripping story of how the Tunisian president and his family had run a mafia state; three weeks later, in his authoritative account of Hosni Mubarak’s fall, he traced how the death of a grandson had knocked the stuffing out of the despot even before the revolution called for his demise. Mike Giglio, a young reporter recruited from the unlikely launchpad of the Newsweek licensing department, wrangled a series of scoops for the Beast and the magazine on the Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim. The end of Osama in May 2011 triggered a NewsBeast marathon. The newly combined staffs crashed out, in addition to a regular issue, a riveting Osama special in a day and a half.
Sami Yousafzai, Newsweek’s veteran correspondent covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, drove all night to Abbottabad to upload some of the first pictures of the bin Laden compound and extract information from the shell-shocked neighbors, even as CIA teams cordoned off the area to search for forensic evidence. Less than 24 hours after the attack, Daily Beast readers were treated to eyewitness accounts of the Navy SEAL operation. Three days later, Newsweek published the definitive account of bin Laden’s life on the lam. For the Beast, Yousafzai, along with our Islamabad bureau chief, the indefatigable Ron Moreau, went on to get a string of exclusive interviews with the Taliban high command on the new balance of radical power. This feat was pulled off while we were producing, at the very same time, a highly successful glossy souvenir issue on the royal wedding.
In the middle of all this mayhem, Sidney Harman, Newsweek’s peerless knight, suddenly died from complications of leukemia. We honored him in the way he would have appreciated best, by continuing to produce a great magazine. We also moved the now fully merged teams into IAC’s spectral, white-glassed Frank Gehry building in New York’s meatpacking district, where the pace continued unabated.
Newsweek readers have been among the best informed on the fallout from the terror wars, thanks to the superb reporting of Daniel Klaidman on Obama’s use of covert intelligence. Klaidman sometimes teams with Daily Beast national-security correspondent Eli Lake, whose deft untangling of the Benghazi raid in Libya that ended with the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens provides another example of our staff bringing its excellence to bear on a vertiginous, fast-moving story.
Another Newsweek triumph was the panache and unsqueamishness with which we covered the sex scandal that would redraw the political landscape in France. Two weeks after bin Laden’s assassination, with revolutions still upending the Middle East, a bombshell of a different kind hit New York: the arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of sexually assaulting a maid at a Manhattan hotel. Pursuing the story with old-fashioned journalistic doggedness, our team of writers eventually landed the exclusive interview with Nafissatou Diallo, the woman at the heart of the scandal, and the resulting cover story, “The Maid’s Tale,” captured the saga of a hapless woman from Guinea, caught in the vortex of a media storm, battling a Master of the Universe who had, until he encountered her in his hotel room, expected to become president of France. We took heat at the time for endorsing Diallo’s story, but the subsequent sordid revelations about DSK and his recent settlement of the case prove we were right.
There were other stories and events: the tale of Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who shook the Chinese state; Hurricane Sandy, which humbled America’s wealthiest city; our debonair Mad Men issue, for which we re-created the America—and the American mood—of the 1960s; our “Heroes” issue, chock-full of stories of military valor, none more so than Tony Dokoupil’s spine-tingling account of U.S. Air Force medevacs DUSTOFF 73; and the election, which returned to power a man whom we had dubbed on a cover, to accompany one of several brilliant essays by Andrew Sullivan, our “First Gay President.” Which brings us to our covers: yes, some kicked up some dust. Why deny it? But our aim, each time, was to engage the reader in ways that were intense and provocative. Newsweek has been many things in its storied history, but timid is not one of them. In the last two years, we were never, ever timid, and I write those words with great personal satisfaction.
This is not a conventional magazine, or a hidebound place. It is in that spirit that we’re making our latest, momentous change, embracing a digital medium that all our competitors will one day need to embrace with the same fervor. We are ahead of the curve. A magazine that will soon turn 80 will now be, when all the changes are unveiled in February, a vigorous young publication all over again, taking its readers to territory that is new and uncharted. One thing, however, will not change, and that is our commitment to journalism of the very highest quality. We would not be Newsweek if it were otherwise. So as we say sayonara to print, we thank our 1.5 million loyal readers, and ask you to wish us luck and join us next year in our all-digital future.