A Philosopher's Blog

And then I stopped Reading Newsweek…

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on June 30, 2011
Cover of the May 13, 1940 issue of Newsweek ma...

Remember when Newsweek used real images?

I’ve read Newsweek for decades. As I recall, my mother subscribed to it and I also read it at school. I eventually subscribed to it myself and found it to be of reasonably good quality with some top notch contributors. Like much of the printed media, Newsweek began to fell victim to the rise of the internet and, although the magazine created a web page, it seemed to have difficulty keeping up with the times. Some of its top people moved on to other venues and the magazine struggled to remain relevant and profitable.

Since I have been involved in a home improvement marathon, I just got around to looking at the latest issue of the magazine. For some strange reason, they decided to add a computer-aged image of Princess Di to a photograph featuring Kate Middleton and used this as the cover. The feature story, by editor Tina Brown, is a counter-factual piece that speculates what Princess Di would be like now, if she had not died.

While such alternative timelines can be interesting as science fiction or as academic exercises in what might have been, they generally seem to be out of place in the context of the news. After all, fiction and speculation deal with what might have been. The news is supposed to deal with what is (or was).

True, there can be some merit in including some speculation about what might have been if certain things had been different. However, for the news this should remain a small part of the whole (specifically in the editorial realm), rather than a major focus of the story. Otherwise, it will cross over from being news to being science fiction. The fact that Newsweek is engaging in this sort of thing is a clear indicator of what the magazine has become.

This sort of speculative story could, perhaps be forgiven as a lame attempt to cash in on what would have been Lady Di’s upcoming birthday. However, creating a doctored image for the story certainly crosses an important line.

As noted above, a publication that purports to be a news publication needs to remain within the realm of news. This is supposed to be the realm of facts. As such, images used by a news source should be real images, not modified. While Newsweek did not stoop quite to the level of a tabloid (the level at which one might claim that Princess Di is still alive and offer up a doctored photo as evidence), this is certainly a step down from legitimate news.

This need not be a fatal blow to Newsweek, but recovering from this sort of thing will be difficult. Of course, this assumes that they want to remain a news magazine rather than descending into the realm of tabloids. That still seems to be a profitable realm, so perhaps it is worth going there.

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4 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on June 30, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Read The Economist, Mike. It makes everything else look fluffy.

    • frk said, on June 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      Better yet, read the online edition. It’s. . . “less expensive”. Most of what’s important in the print edition is there. And, depending on your browser (Firefox?), you can increase the font size for easier reading.

      The feel of a real magazine in one’s hands is nice, but why suffer unnecessary eye strain?

  2. magus71 said, on June 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    The covers of Newsweek always bothered me. The magazine is so intent on pushing a certain view, vice just reporting facts. TIME isn’t much better.

    On the other hand, I admit they have some writers that provide alternative views to what I believe is the editors’ party line; Niall Ferguson, George Will and a couple others.

    There probably isn’t a more balanced piece than The Economist, though I prefer a little more pizzaz in writing style. But my intelligence report writing improved significantly after I read The Economist’s “rule book” for their writers. It’s a great book for improving clarity and providing the reader with a certain tone.

    Whatever you do, please don’t start reading the Huffington Post.


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