Skip to Content View Previous Reports

Magazines – Intro

Introductione model finally collapsed.

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

For American news magazines, 2008 may be seen as the year when the traditional mass audience model finally collapsed.

U.S. News & World Report has effectively abandoned the print news magazine format in favor of producing monthly guides, leaving news coverage to its website. Newsweek, following multiple layoffs and tweaks to its print and online editions, announced in February 2009 that it was remaking itself into a niche publication aimed at a smaller, high-end subscriber base.

Time continued to straddle two worlds, keeping a smaller but still large audience base while shifting to more thematic coverage driven more by columnists and analysis.

And the trend favoring a more elite readership continued. In a difficult year, magazines such as The Economist, The New Yorker and The Atlantic again saw readership gains, although the economics were still difficult.

In the main, all this represented structural changes already under way being accelerated by the devastating downturns in the economy. By year’s end, big declines in ad spending among the retail, automotive and financial services industries had pushed news magazine revenues downward and some publications into the red.

To some degree the same pressures challenged all magazines aimed the general public. For most, certainly, 2008 was a very rough year, and 2009 promises to be equally — if not more — difficult.

For many, particularly news magazines, it is unclear whether the major players are governed more by plan or reaction.

In particular, the move by mass-market publications to a niche magazine model begs two questions. How many elite news magazine readers are there in America who are not already served by publications such as The Economist or The New Yorker?

And, second, can the old news magazines really shift not just their personality but their purpose as well? The niche publications have always been different fundamentally than the larger news magazines in one important regard: They were aimed at people who had already read the news, and so they focused on targeted analysis, not on re-reporting and general interpretation. The traditional news magazines, by contrast, were something of a hybrid — part basic reporting, part interpretation, a model they apparently can no longer sustain. It is unclear, however, how many of their readers will remain if their reporting shrinks and their analysis is not as strong as the more elite publications.