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Time magazine comes out on top

Rick Stengel may have his shoulder in a sling, but when it comes to the newsmagazine wars, he's the last man standing.

The reason, says Time's managing editor, is that "we saw what was coming. We wanted to fix the roof when the sun was shining."

With the roof having fallen in on Newsweek (which is being sold to a 92-year-old business mogul) and U.S. News & World Report (which has mostly moved online), Stengel isn't just boasting when he says, "We've become a category of one." Time is a smaller magazine than when he took over four years ago, but its survival is no mean feat in such a toxic environment for print publications.

What's more, the constant drumbeat about the imminent death of newsmagazines -- building "since we were in short pants," Stengel says -- made the challenge especially tricky. And Time has done it mainly with serious journalism, moving away from the celebrity covers that were once a staple of the genre.

A cover story still has an impact: Time's recent "Is America Islamophobic?" helped broaden the "mosque" debate, and last week's "The Case Against Homeownership" was both contrarian and well-timed, given plummeting housing sales. (It "hit the zeitgeist," Stengel proclaims -- a bull's-eye in magazine-speak.)

The impact of such covers may not be as great as when Time asked "Is God Dead?" in 1966, but then again, media audiences everywhere are shrinking. And Time's Web site -- which no longer posts the magazine's stories until two weeks later -- has boosted its audience by 47 percent in the last two years, to 7 million monthly visitors, according to Nielsen.

By Howard Kurtz  |  August 31, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories , Top story  
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