There is a type of NEWSWEEK story that I used to love. In the 12 years that I have been an editor here, we have done hundreds of them. When the stock market plunged on a Friday (back when that was rare) or a gunman opened fire on Capitol Hill or a celebrity contracted a fatal disease, we "scrambled the jets," sending reporters out into the field with orders to file dispatches to writers waiting in New York or Washington. We killed ourselves to dig up one or two exclusive news nuggets and find a few fresh photos. We stayed up all night, writing, editing and producing stories, pushing up against our deadlines. It was fun—thrilling, really. We told ourselves it was NEWSWEEK at its best. And for a long time, it was.
And now it's not. In a world of endless Yahoo headlines, Wall Street Journal e-mail alerts and 24/7 cable coverage, scrambling the jets isn't enough. News has become a commodity. You can find the kinds of stories that we used to do as covers—scientific breakthroughs or trends like white-collar layoffs—on the front page of The New York Times. Web sites like The Huffington Post and Politico.com are siphoning off readers. And even as the daily buzz of information rises around us, our advertisers have turned away, or fallen on hard times themselves. Revenue and ad pages have declined. We reduced our workforce by 160 people to around 400, mostly through a voluntary retirement program. Last year, the magazine's 75th, NEWSWEEK slipped into the red.
These problems are hardly ours alone. Industrywide, magazine ad pages declined 11.7 percent last year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, and this year isn't looking any better. But unlike many of our rivals, we intend to do something about it. This issue of NEWSWEEK will be the last before we relaunch with a new design on May 18, a new editorial strategy and an entirely new business model. Newsweek.com will undergo a similar transformation. Some of these changes spring from what we learned from all of you during extensive market research. Some of them reflect our own editorial goals and financial needs. Within a few years, the magazine again will be profitable, according to Tom Ascheim, NEWSWEEK's chief executive, who arrived in 2007 from Nickelodeon.
In the midst of all this change, one thing will remain constant: our dedication to original reporting. We will no longer reflexively cover the week's events if we don't have something original to add. But readers will still find reported pieces like our recent cover story on Eliot Spitzer's life after politics. We remain committed to narrative journalism, including NEWSWEEK's election project. Every four years we detach a team of reporters to follow the presidential candidates from announcement speech to victory speech, publishing their inside account only after Election Day—surely one of the more expensive stories in American journalism. "We will always be about the news, and we will always break stories that are important to the country and to the world," says Jon Meacham, NEWSWEEK's editor. "Reporting—that is, finding out things you don't know but will profit from learning—is essential."
We'll aim to be provocative, but not partisan. Readers will find more essays like Jon's recent cover story "The Decline and Fall of Christian America," or Evan Thomas's profile of Paul Krugman, the toughest liberal critic of President Obama. If we succeed, these well-argued essays will make you feel vindicated—or maybe outraged. But they'll draw you in. Because while there is no shortage of information out there, we believe there is a scarcity of insight. We will ask some of the best writers and thinkers—Fareed Zakaria, Christopher Hitchens, Michael R. Bloomberg and Jon Meacham (winner of a Pulitzer Prize this year for his biography of Andrew Jackson)—to wrestle with some of the most pressing issues of our time.
(One thing you'll find less of: celebrity news. Our research told us you didn't want it, which is a relief since we were doing it only because we thought we had to.)
Nearly everything about the way the magazine looks will change. Our new design, created by the graphic-design firm Number 17, is meant to be less daunting, more entertaining and easier to navigate. It will be divided into four clear sections: short newsy items, essays and commentary, longer features and cultural coverage. It will be printed on higher-quality paper, which instantly will make it feel better in your hand. I think the new design is sophisticated and airy, and makes the stories we work so hard on seem more inviting. "We tried to maintain the DNA of NEWSWEEK, while bringing it up to date," says Bonnie Siegler, cofounder of Number 17.
In some ways, the changes that readers don't see will be even more profound. For decades, NEWSWEEK has succeeded because advertisers wanted to reach our vast audience. That strategy is no longer working. Advertisers are seeking more targeted demographic groups. We will drop our guaranteed circulation from 2.6 million to 1.5 million by next January. We will focus on a smaller, more devoted, slightly more affluent audience. Over time, we will increase subscription prices. Right now, we're charging about 47 cents an issue for a product created by hundreds of people around the world, some of whom have risked their lives in places like Baghdad. Good journalism is expensive to produce, and we need to make our business profitable in order to continue producing it. "Repairing NEWSWEEK the business is more than an intellectual challenge," says Ascheim. "As corny as it sounds, I really believe that our republic will not thrive without healthy, self-sufficient journalism."
Newsweek.com, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2008, will also debut a new look on May 15. The redesigned home page will be easy to navigate and introduce new features, such as an interactive version of CONVENTIONAL WISDOM. The site already has 6.8 million unique monthly visitors, according to Nielsen, which means more people read NEWSWEEK stories online than in print. We'd like to increase that number significantly, while keeping users on the site longer. We'll be offering a mix of our own content, aggregated content and content generated by our users. If we were to do a magazine piece on nukes in Iran, for example, we would post it along with links to the best stories we can find at other Web sites—including our direct competitors'—while encouraging our readers to ask questions and comment via Twitter. We will continue the cutting-edge work of our video team, which created a viral sensation with "The District," our political sendup of MTV's hit show "The Hills." And we'll launch more blogs like Pop Vox, our entertainment offering, which recently debuted a track off Bob Dylan's new album.
Will any of this work? I honestly don't know. But I am optimistic, a rare condition for a journalist. In part, that's because NEWSWEEK has succeeded with a similar strategy overseas, where the magazine's profits and ad pages both rose in 2008. And our research indicates there is a large domestic audience—17 million strong—of smart, educated readers who are looking for a publication that can help them put the flood of news into perspective. I am also hopeful because we are lucky enough to be owned by The Washington Post Co., which is dedicated to journalism, and which is giving us time for our plan to work. (It is also a firm that was wise enough to invest in Kaplan Inc., an educational services company that now accounts for more than half of corporate revenue.)
NEWSWEEK is a strong and venerable brand, and the coming redesign and strategic shift will only make it stronger. When the magazine was launched in February 1933, the country was in the vise of the Great Depression—one worker in four was unemployed. Angry citizens were banding together to protest, sometimes violently, a wave of mortgage foreclosures. The world has changed dramatically since then, and yet some things remain the same. One of them is our commitment to providing what Philip Graham called "a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never understand," after he bought NEWSWEEK for The Washington Post Co. in 1961. We're planning some great stories for the new magazine and they will look fantastic. I hope you will join us for our grand experiment.