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Opinion | Newsweek going back to print: Sheer business disaster or magazine comeback kid?

Nicole's Two Cents

Editorial Editor

Published: Friday, January 31, 2014

Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 01:01

Jim Impoco sat quietly at the end of his conference table, with 20 or so quiet college students surrounding the room, staring at him as though he didn’t really exist.

“Newsweek was a huge risk — why did you decide to become editor and chief?” asked someone at the end of the table, curiosity oozing from the entire room in its collective silence.

He was taking a while to answer the first question of the morning interview. It was a rather obvious one that he had fully expected, and one he had been asked countless times since taking the job in September 2013.

Impoco looked ahead through his glasses, at no one in particular and tapped his thumbs on the table. “With the biggest risk comes the bigger reward,” he said matter-of-factly. “I took a pay cut — it was a no-brainer.”

The room laughed at the icebreaker and Impoco cracked a nice smile. I wondered though, was this just a rehearsed media play-by-play, or was Impoco really finding something to smile about? Considering the past reputation of the brand he was trying to re-imagine and revive, he must really have something up his perfectly pressed sleeve.

What’s this history and reputation Impoco is trying to leave behind? Well for starters, Newsweek ceased its print edition in 2013, marking the end of 80 years of being one of the leading news weekly magazines, right behind TIME.

Revenue dropped significantly from 2007 to 2009, due to shifts in its focus and audience in order to fix its finances. It went through a series of buyouts and ended up combining with breaking news website The Daily Beast in 2010, forming The Newsweek Daily Beast Company.

In 2013 Cofounder of the The Daily Beast Tina Brown announced Newsweek in print was over; it would remain digital however and was renamed Newsweek Global. This move was made in an effort to save the 40 million in annual losses it was accruing from the print edition. Layoffs ensued to a loyal staff, signaling possibly the end of an era of a magazine that once had 1.39 million paid subscriptions.

IBT Media, publisher of the International Business Times, bought the Newsweek brand in August of 2013 from The Daily Beast and Brown, and announced it would be re-launching the weekly print edition sometime in this month or the next.

The Guardian called Newsweek “the poster child of magazine journalism failure,” MediaBistro made a list of what not to say to someone who works at IBT Media about Newsweek going back to print, including “I hear they’re canceling the Internet next year anyway,” “You know we still have TIME, right?” and “make a list of all the other business ideas that you have. Once you’re done filling out the list, burn it.”

Ouch, is probably an appropriate word at this point.

Impoco probably knows all of this already, but he didn’t seem to care during his half-hour chat with students in the winter NYC media class from Miami.

After working as an editor for Reuters, Conde Nast Portfolio and running the Sunday business section of The New York Times, he knows what he is doing, at least on the editorial side of things.

Newsweek will be following a new, often criticized business model, where the magazine will depend more on subscribers than advertisers and become a “boutique or premium product.” It’s also going to cost readers more to subscribe, and according to Impoco, it will become an “indispensable read, not an optional read.”

He has already hired “a bunch of people,” including Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald, Portfolio senior editor Bob Roe and blogger/columnist Jeff Stein of The Washington Post.

Even though Impoco is creating an all-star staff once again for the publication, there is still some doubt to how he will make Newsweek an “indispensable read” and how it will compete with leading news weekly TIME.

Well, grabbing Matt Cooper from TIME to work at Newsweek is a start, since Cooper has been involved in huge stories in Washington involving the CIA leak of Valerie Plam, where he was threatened with imprisonment for refusing to testify before a grand jury, along with Judith Miller of The New York Times.

“Our coverage is deeply global, there is really an audience for it,” Impoco said, after speaking about their January story on Ecuador and it’s on going genocidal war over oil exploration in the Amazon.

That’s what Newsweek has always been great at — deep investigative journalism on global and political issues with descriptive writing that jumps off the page. This is all great and fantastic when it comes to print, but what about the digital front?

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