Thursday, January 3, 2013

On Newsweek's final print issue or the ballad of the times (no pun intended for Time magazine)

The ballad of the times.
Newsweek’s final print issue and its digital voyage.
by rick olivares

Let me paraphrase Cameron Crowe (from his intro of the Pearl Jam Twenty book), who is one of the few people to have a profound effect on my life and career.

I collect stuff. I have my notebooks from my high school days. Receipts from purchases from more than a decade ago. I have every single letter I have ever received in my life. Even those love letters that sound so sappy now. I have comic books, books whose number can fill a library, magazines, certificates, awards, magnets, old vinyl long playing records, flyers, posters, buttons, pins, and old ID cards. I even my old uniform when I briefly worked in McDonald’s when I was in college. Even my old porn stuff are still there. I have every single ancient artifact in my life placed in balikbayan boxes or plastic bags. Some are inside my closets and quite a growing number have spilled over to my bedroom floor because I have run out of space.

One day, I hope to have a home big enough to house my own office where I can put on display everything so I do not have to turn my house inside out every time I look for something.

And that long introduction brings me to the final print issue of Newsweek magazine.

When I learned that Newsweek was publishing its final print issue, I had to pick it up. It is more than a collector’s issue. It represents the end as well as the beginning of a new era. They are the first major publication to practically end its print run and solely concentrate on online news reporting and the flexibility it gives.

It says a lot about how technology has changed many of the old ways. Print is going the way of the dodo bird (although many of my esteemed colleagues from that industry will protest that to save their jobs).

As a youngster living in the Far East with not much access to the New York Times, Newsweek (and Time magazine) was the best way for me to get a recap on the week’s news with it’s Asian edition. While my parents’ subscribed to Time -- that I also read -- I somehow preferred to read Newsweek. No, it wasn’t some Coke versus Pepsi thing. I simply liked how Newsweek broke down in great and thorough detail the news.

Case in point – the Falklands War.

I was only in second year high school when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982. The invasion sparked a sharp response from Great Britain that sent a naval task force to retake the distant colony. I saved my allowance just to buy Newsweek that when I first browsed, I thought provided great reportage on the war. They had maps, statistics, numbers, figures, troop numbers, info on warships and regiments, the works. Time may have used better photographs but Newsweek’s reporting was much more thorough. I skipped a few meals in order to buy the magazine but it was money well spent.

The style of comprehensive reporting had a huge influence on the way I prepared my reports or even did my research. And that still applies today.

As for the opinion pieces, I read them and digested them. They taught me how to mull over an issue, examine it from different angles before forming an opinion.

They were groundbreaking in their reports from their prescient report on the Japanese Imperial Army one week before Pearl Harbor was bombed to the American civil rights movement to that thought-provoking “What Vietnam did to us” piece.

Incidentally, I still have those issues of Newsweek on the Falklands War as I have every single magazine I have purchased through the years. Wrapped in plastic bags and stored in boxes to better battle the ravages of time (no pun intended). A collector I am, didn’t I say?

Of course, there were other influences – Life magazine taught me to look and think visually, Sports Illustrated made me look at sports writing from another and deeper perspective, Marvel Comics made me understand characterization better, the New York Times imparted upon me the power of several ounces of newsprint, and lastly, Reader’s Digest gave me points to ponder and improved my word power.

So it is obvious that I have always been a voracious reader.

Several years ago, while in correspondence with the New York Times’ George Vescey (whose work I always read), he told me that the time of the printed newspaper was coming to a close. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Times’ went completely digital within the next decade.

Newsweek beat them to the transition. It’s not out scooping another as reporters are wont to do. It does on the other hand, say something about the state of their finances as well as their change to better suit the ever changing tastes of a modern audience. News reporting has gone beyond the mere article to photojournalism to video to podcasting. Their merger with The Daily Beast, quality news outfit committed to great reportage, as headed by the talented Ms. Tina Brown will surely help and spur them into this new millennium.

Will I miss the printed magazine? Maybe because the tangible magazine that I could hold in my hands was filed for easy reference not to mention “a collector’s item”. The online version? As it has been my practice over the last several years, if there’s an online article I like, I simply save it in a folder where everything is properly labeled once more for easy reference.

Newsweek wasn’t just about news, it was a chronicle about the changing times. And now they have been caught up in those same winds.

I eagerly await the first ever exclusive online version.

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