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31 December 2012 - 7:57am | posted by | 1 comment

Can Tina really get a digital Newsweek back on the rails?

Newsweek:Final print issueNewsweek:Final print issue
First issue: Nazis on the march

Newsweek dropped into my mailbox on Saturday with what seemed a heavier "thunk" than usual.

This was the last print issue of the famous news magazine and advertisers were in there, booking their place in history. Now Newsweek is going all-digital - and the hope is that readers will want to carry on paying for it. Hmmm.

News magazines were very much an American invention of the 1930s when geography meant that the metropolitan dailies were unable to give their readers the bigger picture. Time, Newsweek and
others plugged the gap and in doing so created therir own news agenda.

Time is now the sole print survivor. Round-the-clock TV news, the internet, and the broad reach of the modern big dailies have all but removed the reason for the old-fashioned news weeklies.

This final print issue gives us some Newsweek Page Ones of the past, featuring personalities such as Bette Middler and Steve Martin. Disappointingly - though Hitler's Nazis are on page one of that first issue in 1933 - there are few historic Page Ones. It's a missed call by Tina Brown and her team.

Brown writes of how in 2010 , 92-year-old audio tycoon Sidney Harman bought Newsweek from the Washjngton Post for one dollar in what she called "a quixotic bid to save a legendary magazine."

Now she hails the magazine's digital rebirth, to be seen in all its glory in February, Then , she says, "a magazine that will soon turn 80 will be a vigorous young publication all over again."

Brown has made a success of the Daily Beast , but in an environment where Rupert Murdoch has just folded his Daily tent, she will have to produce something extra out of the hat to make the new Newsweek work.

The Daily was to be the first iPad newspaper but artificially restricting its circulation in this way helped kill that dream . Murdoch is now reportedly eyeing the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, with bankruptcy behind them. Let's hope Rupert still has some shots in his locker, driving forward his new print business.

The American newspaper business has been in the doldrums for years - the Washington Post's fire sale of Newsweek itself was clear evidence of that. This year we have seen the New Orleans Times Picayune stop daily publication, contenting itself with three issues a week. .

At the New York Times, still with an astonishing 1000-plus journalists on the payroll , ex-BBC chief Mark Thompson is settling in, hopefully with Savile-gate behind him, and concentrating on securing a digital future for the Old Grey Lady. I look forward to reporting developments there.

Tina Brown insists, "Sometimes , change isn't just good,it's necessary."

She says at Newsweek she is embracing a digital medium, "that one day all our competitors will have to embrace with the same fervour. We are ahead of the curve."

Journalists everywhere will hope that the curve isn't so tight that the train jumps the tracks. We will all be rooting for her - and for Rupert Murdoch and Mark Thompson.

The news business is undergoing a gut-wrenching transformation. We need some good news.

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