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News Investment

News Investment

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

The trend lines at the two biggest news magazines in recent years have traced different paths. The newsgathering resources at Time have been shrinking. Newsweek, the smaller of the two, has bounced up and down.

In 2007, those trends continued.

Time made further cuts, reducing its staffing to new lows and replacing those people with high-profile opinion columnists, and shifting resources to the Web.

Newsweek, although it is harder to gauge, appears to be holding steady and making fewer changes in personnel.

U.S. News and World Report, stable for the past two years, saw a marked drop in 2007.

All this stands in contrast to a fourth entrant in the newsweekly competition.

The Week, a digest of accounts from other news sources, has editors but no reporters. It is built on the implicit notion that the news is now a commodity in such large supply that distilling it, rather than gathering it, is the key task.

Using the same measures we use for Time and Newsweek (counting staff box personnel that are involved in the week-to-week editorial production), The Week’s staff count would be 20. And that’s a deliberate move on the part of its publisher, Felix Dennis. “The American magazine industry has been massively overstaffed for years,” Dennis told the New York Times. “It is one of the most inefficient industries in the history of the world. And you know what? The chickens are coming home to roost.”.1

The biggest question heading into 2008 for news magazines is what is the relative value of reporting, distillation and analysis and commentary? And what role in those three tasks does a fee-based print magazine play vs. its free companion online?

Staffing at Time and Newsweek

As a part of a steady decline since 1983, the first year for which PEJ has data, total staff at Time in 2007 dropped below 200 for the first time.

Over all, its staff box included 181 people who put out the magazine week to week. That is down 20% from the 2006 figure of 226. That is a particularly steep decline compared with previous years, which mostly saw drops of around 10%.

The biggest hits came in correspondents, which dropped to 31 from 48. The number of staff writers and senior writers each fell by four.

The figures did not come as shock to anyone who follows the industry. The magazine had announced it would eliminate 50 jobs across the business and editorial departments and close some bureaus, as it took a new approach to its content: analysis in the printed magazine and coverage of events on the Web site. The numbers by this count come in under that.

News Magazine Staff Size Over Time
Time and Newsweek Select Years, 1983-2007
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism, from magazine staff boxes

And, according to the staff counts, the magazine indeed augmented its commitment to its Web site. The number of people listed as working for Time.com doubled, from seven to 14.

At Newsweek, tracking staff is even more complicated. The last staff box to appear in the magazine was in the June 4 edition, and, since that is the only reliable way to track news staff changes at the magazine, it is difficult to get a clear picture of where the publication was headed as of the end of 2007.

The June figures suggest a small increase of three people. That followed a steep decline in 2006 after two years of modest increases. Wherever the magazine may be heading into 2008, the up-and-down numbers suggest that it is relatively close to the staffing level it wants to maintain. The longer-term trend shows a bumping along between a staff of 176 and 168 over the past five years.

It is also noteworthy that unlike Time, Newsweek does not separate out its Web site staff. Other than a managing editor, Newsweek does not yet list any employees of Newsweek.com, which, although based in New York, is part of Washington Post Newsweek Interactive (www.wpni.com), with offices in Arlington, Va. It is worth watching, once Newsweek again publishes a staff box, whether it decides to reflect the 2007 redesign of its Web site.

U.S. News, according to figures supplied by the magazine, saw its editorial staff fall to 168, down by 20 from 2006.

Correspondents and Bureaus

One major change over the past year lies in the number of correspondents Time and Newsweek place in bureaus.

For the first time since this report has tracked staffing at the two magazines, Newsweek’s staff accounting lists more people in its bureaus than Time – and by a fairly sizable margin, 44 vs. 31 – at least as of June 2007. For all other years that PEJ has data, except 1993, Time’s bureau staff outnumbered Newsweek’s. In 2006, the two were fairly close, with Time having 48 staffers in its bureaus to Newsweek’s 42.

Time’s cuts came through both a reduction in bureaus ( see below) and a reduction in the number of staff in those bureaus. For instance, the magazine cut by one its staff in its Hong Kong and Beijing offices.

Number of Correspondents in Bureaus Over Time
Time and Newsweek Select Years, 1983-2007
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism, from magazine staff boxes

Time also shuttered offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The closing of domestic bureaus resulted in 13 fewer staffers in 2007, a reduction of almost 30%.

At Newsweek, bureau staff climbed to 44 from 42, and with one noticeable addition – the creation of a bureau in Cape Town, South Africa.

The location of the bureaus, however, suggests something more nuanced than simply cutbacks. Time, at least at the moment, is more international.

News Magazine Bureaus Over Time
Time and Newsweek Select Years, 1983-2007
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism, from magazine staff boxes

Newsweek has one more bureau over all, with 18 compared to Time’s 17. But as of December 2007, Time had 14 bureaus internationally to Newsweek’s 11. Time also has fewer domestic bureaus (three to Newsweek’s seven). In particular, Time was alone in having bureaus in three countries: India, Germany and Egypt.

It is unclear as yet whether this bigger global footprint is part of Time’s new strategy or the vestiges of a once-extensive bureau network. As the magazine goes forward with its online focus, this question may be answered.

Contributors

News magazines can use the Contributors or Contributing Editors listed in their staff boxes in different ways. Sometimes magazines use the category as a way to bring in celebrity names (well-known journalists, professors, doctors, etc.), who add cachet to the magazine’s reputation and write occasionally. Contributors also might be former staffers who, whatever the reasons for their departures, may still contribute pieces from time to time.

Time and Newsweek had tended toward different approaches.

Time primarily had tapped well-known outsiders. Newsweek leaned toward former staffers. Following Time’s staff cuts in 2007, that began to change.

Newsmagazine Contributors Over Time
Time and Newsweek Select Years, 1983-2007
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism, from magazine staff boxes

The number of contributors for Time grew by five to 36, but several of those new faces moved from elsewhere in the staff box, former full-time employees moved to this new part-time status. Contributor Cathy Booth Thomas, for instance, used to be in the magazine’s Dallas bureau, while new contributor Douglas Waller had been a senior correspondent.

Thus this could be a signal of cost cutting. Or moving these names to the Contributors area may signal the magazine’s desire to let them write (contributors usually write essays or special pieces in a particular area where they have knowledge) and keep their voices as a part of Time. Bringing more writers’ voices to the magazine – with a less uniform style for the magazine over all – was described as a goal in Time’s redesign and Web re-launch. The test will be how many of their bylines show up in the magazine’s pages and Web site.

Time did lose two neoconservative voices in December 2007 with the exodus of columnist William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Charles Krauthammer, an occasional but long-time Essay contributor. Kristol, who was introduced into the commentary pages just 11 months earlier as a star columnist, and Krauthammer both were staunch supporters of the Iraq War.

Newsweek’s Contributing Editor area remained essentially unchanged, with only one name dropping out, bringing the total to 16.

What seems clear is that the days of news magazines with extended bureau networks, at least for the time being, is over. And the other constant, the notion that Time, whatever else its differences with Newsweek, had more boots on the ground, appears to be a thing of the past.

Footnotes

1. “A Magazine Challenges the Big Boys,” David Carr, the New York Times, November 26, 2007.