There's an interesting article in the NY Observer about a talk Newsweek Editor John Meacham gave at the Columbia school of journalism. When he asked which students read his magazine, none of them volunteered. This confirmed a frustrating fact for Meacham, that the new generation high brow intellectuals prefer publications like the Economist to traditional news magazines Time and Newsweek.
"Look, I need you," Meacham told his cosmopolitan audience. "And I need—I've got people out there risking their lives right now. The Economist is not, by the way. I've got four people in Baghdad who could be killed at any moment who are trying to tell the truth the best they can of that story. We have people in 13 different countries. We have a guy in Afghanistan who has Taliban sources who the federal government has asked about because we have better intelligence than government does—he's risking his life.
"And how to communicate that we have things to say that are both factually new and analytically new and to get you under the tent is a fact that scares me—not The Economist per se. It's an incredible frustration that I've got some of the most decent, hard-working, honest, passionate, straight-shooting, non-ideological people who just want to tell the damn truth, and how to get this past this image that we're just middlebrow, you know, a magazine that your grandparents get, or something, that's the challenge. And I just don't know how to do it, so if you've got any ideas, tell me."Apparently, the students offered only the vague idea of re-branding, which seems like more of the problem than the solution.
If it's any consolation to Mr. Meacham, I often read Newsweek at the gym, of course I'd decidedly "middle-brow" so that might not be too helpful.