When A Magazine Falls In The Forest, What Takes Its Place?

What is a Magazine?

The question may seem deceptively straightforward, or even incredibly confusing. But it is a real issue, one that many of the longest-running magazines face. The most recent publication to face it is Newsweek that announced this week that the 80-year-old magazine would move into a fully digital format. The final print issue will come out on Dec. 31.

The issue’s final edition will be a journal by anyone’s definition. It will have printed pages with text and photographs and will be held together with staples and folds. Is the issue to come out next week remain a magazine when it’s available on browsers as well as iPads and Kindles? Will it be something other than what it is?

I’m not averse to the decision by Tina Brown, Newsweek’s editor, to kill the paper edition. Digital delivery is certainly the future of news and information. I’m wondering what the term “Newsweek” (or “Newsweek Global” for the way the digital magazine is going to be referred to) will mean in the years to come.

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The majority of Newsweek users have shifted from print to digital, or found their news analysis elsewhere. Humorist Michael J. Nelson tweeted following the announcement “Newsweek magazine to be taken off of print. This caused millions to shout, ‘Newsweek was still printed?” (1) While it’s an absurd joke, it can have the ring of truth in the magazine’s dramatic decline in subscribers – a 31.6 percent decline in just 2010 according to Pew Research.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan, whose column “The Dish” appears on The Daily Beast published a more detailed and thought-provoking reaction to the shift in Newsweek’s format in which he asked “But because every website is today as accessible as every other page how do you bring writers with staples and paper instead of having readers choose individual writers or pieces and not look at the rest?” (2) He believes that what differentiated magazines was the relationship between writers that was managed by an editor and put together in one bundle. Even though writers are nominally housed together on websites, readers pick and choose much more easily than before the advent of internet-based media.

The typical weekly newsmagazine’s job was to be much more thoughtful or logical as compared to a daily newspaper. Back in the days when daily newspapers were an essential part of the daily routine newspapers were an option for readers who didn’t have the time or the desire to read the morning paper all the way through to keep up with special or noteworthy events around the world. News magazines allowed such readers to become as informed as – or even more informed than their daily paper-reading counterparts.

It’s unclear how this slower and more analytical style will change to a digital future. What happens if the digitally-driven “Newsweek” revisit the event, like one of the recent presidential debates and significantly after the event? What time? A day? A few days? A week? Will journalists reflect on events by taking a step back chronologically, or will they feel the pressure to present their findings in the same time as CNN?

Making the car itself is probably the easiest part of the process. Newsweek already offers an online version, and its presence on tablets is expanding rapidly, as per Brown. The process of remaking the content of the publication to remain relevant and relevant in a digital world, and to an audience with an almost limitless choice of information sources from which to choose, will be a much greater challenge.

Americans don’t seem to have lost their hunger for news. They’ve just lost their appetite for news that is delivered through dead trees. USA Today reported recently on the findings of a Pew Research Center study that revealed that only 23 percent participants in spring 2012 reported that they read a print newspaper on the day prior to the study; while in 2000, that figure was 47 percent. Readers of magazines in the same study decreased by a factor of 18% to 26 percent.

Newsweek isn’t the only publication to go digital. switch to digital exclusively. SmartMoney went all-digital in September. New Orleans’ newspaper, The Times-Picayune, transitioned to printing just three days per week earlier in the year. Detroit’s newspapers, although they continue to be on newsstands daily, are only available for delivery to homes three days a week.