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The role of newsmagazines in the 21st century: the evolution of a journalistic genre and how it can stay relevant in the digital era

The Reuters Institute has published a timely study by one of its journalist fellows on the past and future of news magazines. Written by Brazilian journalist Leticia Sorg, the research paper analyses the strength and weaknesses of several different magazines, including Newsweek, when faced with the challenges of the Internet and declining revenues.

Although the paper was completed before the announcement last week by Newsweek's owner, the Washington Post Company, that Newsweek was up for sale, Ms Sorg writes in her foreword that:

"While it is true that the digital era certainly throws up major challenges to the journalistic business, it is also true that there are other important factors to determine one publication’s vulnerabilities when compared to another's. This paper highlights some of Newsweek’s weaknesses, some of which date from the birth of the magazine.

Among the most important ones are the constant changes in editorship, the lack of a consistent editorial formula throughout its history and an unclear editorial culture. Alongside its editorial flaws, Newsweek shared with Time, its main competitor, an important question about its business model: whether it is still possible to have a mass magazine sustained by advertising revenues."

Ms Sorg's paper includes analysis of why some news magazines like The Economist and The Week continue to flourish, whilst others like Newsweek do not.  She also includes chapters on Time, Der Spiegel, Unica, Politico and FLYP, and ends with twelve recommendations about what any newsmagazine should be bearing in mind for their future stability.   This study is a 'must read' for anyone concerned that other magazines could go the same way as Newsweek.