I find it absolutely amazing that the Washington Post would react to the cover story published by its sister magazine Newsweek by running the story in its Saturday editions. I have not seen the paper on dead tree, but more than a few folks at church said it ran there. As did reader C. Wingate, who wrote:
Those gluttons for punishment at Post-Newsweek decided they hadn't gotten enough abuse over this, and put Miller's essay in the Wash. Post Saturday religion pages, along with the four bits from the theologians.
I wonder who the four theologians are. Unfortunately my Google-fu and Washington Post site search are leaving me empty-handed.
And why isn't the story and theologian response on the Web site? Did they just think the On Faith site should handle it? Shouldn't readers be directed there somehow?
Meanwhile, the chorus of criticism about Newsweek is growing. MarketWatch's Jon Friedman published a commentary today with the headline "Newsweek looks like a magazine in decline":
Remember Newsweek, once widely recognized as one of the great brand names in the media world?
Yes, you read that correctly -- I wrote "once." I don't think it's true any longer, sorry to say.
This looks like a magazine in decline, both financially and journalistically.
He goes on to write that the magazines non-newsy covers don't resonate and that he misses the news. He goes on:
Conversely, when I see a provocative Newsweek cover like last week's "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage" -- the latest example of the magazine's infatuation with spiritual subjects under Editor Jon Meacham's watch -- I have to conclude that Newsweek is determined to be known as America's non-news weekly. I wonder if its editors' top priority is merely to jolt readers by offering a controversial treatment of a controversial subject.
What's odd about this criticism is that religious -- and secular -- debates about same-sex marriage are completely newsy. I mean, we just had the two most expensive campaigns in American history. One was for President of the United States, which makes sense. The other was a state ballot initiative over same-sex marriage. If that's not an indication that this is a hot button issue, your journalism sense isn't too hot.
Is the problem with Newsweek that they're covering spiritual subjects? Hardly. People love reading about spiritual subjects. I write about everything from economics to sex and religion is far and away the topic that gets readers most excited. The problem isn't covering religion -- it's covering religion poorly. And Newsweek didn't cover a spiritual subject. Its editors and reporters opined about a topic that they seemed to know little about -- religious arguments relating to marriage.
Anyway, Friedman looks at the issue of how well Newsweek is emulating the Economist:
It's no secret in publishing circles that Newsweek has been trying to mimic the success that the Economist is having in the U.S., by stressing news analysis in its cover stories. But the critical difference between the two magazines is that the Economist takes a wittier, whimsical, more sure-handed approach -- and has proven to be much better at this sort of thing than Newsweek.
He says that the magazine shouldn't have let some of its better reporters slip away. He also grants that the magazine industry is woefully challenged by advertising problems. He says the magazine's salvation might lie in joining forces with Slate:
Slate is everything Newsweek is at its best: clever, pointed, topical. On Friday, readers could click on that site and enjoy such thought-provoking headlines as Ron Rosenbaum's "Why Obama Should Keep Smoking", Christopher Beam's "The Obama School of Crisis Management", and Jack Shafer's "Blago: Sleazy, Yes, but Criminal?"
It sounds dreadful to me (other than my favorite Slate guy Jack Shafer) but beyond that, I fail to see how combining with one of the most partisan publications out there will help save the brand name of Newsweek.
And back to the beginning of this post, while Newsweek editor Jon Meacham may have published this cover story to force his dream that Newsweek become nothing more than a liberal opinion magazine (see TMatt's post about what Steve Waldman had to say about that), what is the Washington Post's excuse?