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Magazines

Magazine Content

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Introduction

The most basic data on news magazine content are derived from Hall’s Media Research, which analyzes magazines page by page to determine what topics are receiving coverage.

In previous years, the Hall’s data revealed that both Time and Newsweek had broadened and lightened the range of topics they covered. There was less focus on national government news and more of lifestyle topics. U.S. News & World Report, the outlier, had maintained a comparatively stronger orientation to traditional national, international and business news.

In 2008, however, that trend line changed. At Time and Newsweek the presidential election helped turn the focus firmly back to national affairs, at the expense of international, health and lifestyle coverage. U.S. News & World Report focused its editorial more on consumer-oriented features and stories on health and personal finance. The magazine greatly reduced its national and international affairs as well as its business news.

News Magazine Topics Over Time
1980-2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: Hall’s Media Research, unpublished data
Data for Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report

At Time, coverage of national affairs grew by nearly a quarter (8 percentage points) to 35% of all editorial space during the year. Moreover, that was 22 percentage points more than any other topic, and led, in turn, to declines in nearly everything else. International news fell by a nearly a fifth to 13% of editorial space, business by more than a third (to 5%) and culture news by a quarter to 10%.

The level of health coverage was basically unchanged in 2008.

At Newsweek, national affairs made up an even greater portion of the coverage, 39%. Business held at 7%, up a point, while health decreased nearly a third to 7%, and international news dipped by nearly a fifth to 11%.

One common denominator at both publications was a shift away from international coverage. (Link to News Investment.)

At U.S. News, the transitioning focus toward being a lifestyle guide led to a different profile—a boost in health and personal finance coverage at the expense of the hard news topics that once defined the magazine.

After offering more national and business news than its two main competitors for many years, U.S. News was now about on par with them in 2008. National news made 35% of the coverage (it was 36% in 2007); international news fell by nearly a third to 9%; business news was down slightly, to 8%, from 9% a year earlier.

News Magazine Topics, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: Hall’s Media Research, unpublished data

In their place, the magazine gave small boosts to several consumer-oriented topics. Health news increased 2 percentage points, to 14%, personal finance grew a point to 8% and cultural coverage edged up a point to 12%. Slighter increases were seen in the amount of news on entertainment, travel, leisure, sports, home and garden and fashion, food and beauty.

Newshole by Topic at Time, Newsweek, U.S. News

Topic

Time

Newsweek

U.S. News

(%)

(%)

(%)

National Affairs

34.9

38.5

35.3

International News

13.3

10.6

8.9

Business

5.4

7.4

7.8

Health

5.5

6.8

12.1

Personal Finance

2.4

2.4

8.2

Electronics

1.4

1.4

0.7

Culture

9.9

11.7

13.8

Entertainment/Celebrity

11.0

9.1

0.7

Travel/Leisure/Sports

4.4

2.0

0.3

Home & Garden

0.2

0.1

0.1

Fashion/Food/Beauty

2.1

1.2

0.7

Children

0.6

0.4

0.3

General Interest

4.0

3.8

3.4

Miscellaneous

4.3

4.1

5.5

Source: Hall’s Media Research, unpublished data

On the Covers

Another indicator of the content and personality of the news weeklies is how they sell themselves at the newsstand: their covers.

The cover pictures and text not only tell readers what is inside, but they also set a tone and evoke a personality.

Newsweek leaned more heavily on national and international affairs. Time addressed a broader range of topics, including health, education and volunteerism.

Comparisons with U.S. News & World Report here were more difficult, but also indicate the magazine’s direction. In July 2008, U.S. News transitioned to an every-other-week schedule and in 2009, cut back to monthly publication. U.S. News turned out fewer issues than Time or Newsweek, and yielded a much higher proportion of cover stories related to its topical focus — many on single topics, such as choosing a college — though not necessarily addressing news trends and events. For that reason, our cover analysis concerns only Time and Newsweek.

At Newsweek, 54% of the covers were about national affairs — 23 of those 27 about the election. At Time, 20 of 21 national affairs covers concerned the election.

Cover Story Topics in Time and Newsweek, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ research

Newsweek had slightly more covers on foreign affairs, seven, up from five in 2007. Time had five, up one from the previous year.

But the magazines’ approach to world affairs differed. Newsweek, at least in promise, took a more thematic view, with covers on diplomacy (“The Post-American World”), Barack Obama’s post-election challenges (“The Global Agenda”) a special year-end issue (“The New Global Elite”) and two covers on China, both featuring Chinese athletes, but whose stories mostly concerned the nation’s economic influence.

Time’s covers focused more on events, such as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, the Russia-Georgia conflict and the war in Afghanistan.

The war in Iraq was almost entirely absent on both magazines’ covers in 2008, the exception being Newsweek’s cover story in April on young men from the Libyan town of Darnah who were recruited to be suicide bombers in Iraq. Each magazine also had one cover about the military.

The magazines each had five covers on the economy, two of them for each before the economic crisis in September.

Newsweek was more likely to features topics related to lifestyle (three). Time focused more on health (four covers), addressing such subjects as childhood vaccination, juvenile obesity and the state of healthcare in the U.S.

While both magazines each featured the environment twice, the approach differed. Newsweek’s angles were more political, one assessing which presidential candidate was “the greenest of them all” and the other, featuring a polar bear, dubbed “The Politics of Endangered Species.”

Both sets of covers, though, were consistent with a move toward more analysis. A reporter for the New York Times, Richard Perez-Peña, wrote of Time and Newsweek: “ They still produce some deep, original reporting. But these days, they are more likely to offer a comprehensive survey of a subject to present an argument or offer a prescription.”1

Road to the White House

And which candidate for president appeared on the covers most?

In a runaway: Obama — 13 times in Time (10 prior to election) and 12 for Newsweek (9 pre-election).

In all, Time featured just four people associated with the campaign on its cover, Obama, John McCain (six times), Hillary Clinton (three) and Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (once). In Clinton’s case, two of her three cover appearances were with Obama.

Newsweek spotlighted seven people: Obama 12 times, McCain 4, Palin 3, and Clinton 2. It seemed to go in rushes—Clinton and Obama in January, McCain twice in February, and Palin three times in September and October (plus a fourth mention, on a cover boldly entitled “What Women Want” on a commentary suggesting she be placed on the Supreme Court.)

Campaign Newsmaker Appearances on the Covers of Time and Newsweek, 2008

Campaign Newsmaker
Time
Newsweek
Barack Obama
13
12
John McCain
6
4
Joseph Biden
0
1
Sarah Palin
1
3
Hillary Clinton
3
2
Michelle Obama
0
2
Cindy McCain
0
1

Source: PEJ research

The New Yorker

Hall’s data also track one of what might be considered an alternative to the news weeklies, The New Yorker. As we have seen in past years, The New Yorker’s topic range stands in contrast to the traditional U.S. news weeklies.

As it has done during past elections, The New Yorker also stepped up its national affairs coverage in 2008. The amount of national news coverage, measured in editorial pages, nearly doubled, to 13%, up from 7% in 2007.

A pitched presidential primary battle between home-state Senator Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was closely followed by the liberal magazine with its trademark commentaries, profiles, articles and Talk of the Town vignettes.

New Yorker Magazine Topics
1980-2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: Hall’s Media Research, unpublished data

But, while other magazines that cover the news reduced international reporting, the amount of foreign affairs coverage stayed remain basically unchanged (at about 7% of the newshole) at The New Yorker from 2007 to 2008. Coverage tilted toward Pakistan, with reporting from Steve Coll; Iran, with continued article by Seymour Hersh; and numerous other long-form pieces on China, Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan.

The magazine’s culture coverage, a staple of The New Yorker, fell in 2008 to 22%, from 26% in 2007. Similarly, coverage of arts and entertainment receded slightly, to 23%, from 24% in 2007.

More space for national affairs coverage could be one reason arts and culture coverage was down in 2008 compared with previous years. But as we have seen in past years, these shifts in topic range are more regular at The New Yorker than at Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

Footnotes

1. Perez-Peña, Richard, “The Popular Newsweekly Becomes a Lonely Category,” New York Times, January 17, 2009