Journalistic Promise and Disappointment

A few weeks ago Newsweek launched a new format – involving a redesign of the magazine’s layout and content. The editor, Jon Meacham, wrote what I thought was a fantastic explaination of the changes they had made to improve to magazine and adapt to this challenging time in American journalism (http://bit.ly/Qb5lm). He outlined the goals of the new publication, he talked about what they had to cut to account for their new focus, he made clear what they were and were not hoping to acieve. Here is a sample: “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.”

Overall I was impressed – it’s rare that a mainstream media entitity like Newsweek makes these sorts of decisions, and rarer still that they decide to invest in journalism and quality reporting. Meacham seemed grounded in the facts of our time, aware of the challenges he was facing, and his essay seemed to refelct a real commitment to putting the news back in Newsweek. I finished reading his piece and thought about getting online and subscribing.

Then I turned the page.

The next page featured a full page picture of Miss California in a bathing suit and a quote from Donald Trump regarding whether she should be allowed to keep her crown after topless pictures surfaced on the web.

Seriously.

Is this really the first thing Meacham wanted to follow his weighty essay about the future of news? Is this a symbol of the new Newsweek? It struck me that this has been corporate media’s M.O. for years – talk about the important role they play in providing the news and informaiton we need, and then turn around and force feed us celebrity gossip and partisan bickering.

It’s a damn shame really. There is such a need for the kind of project that Meacham outlined. Meacham ended his essay with a quote from Newsweek’s Obama interview (which was the centerpiece of that edition). Americans, Obama 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.”

Meacham appended this quote with “We could not agree more.”

Just don’t turn the page.

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