The demise of Newsweek was almost inevitable. While it is not complete – the 79-year-old magazine will only be available in digital form from 1 January 2013 – the thinning of the once-powerful newsweeklies has been dismal to watch. To be on the cover of Newsweek – and more especially, its older rival, Time – was to be on a billboard throughout the world.
Even to the late 1960s, when TV news footage of important events such as the moon landing had to travel in film canisters to New Zealand, the newsweeklies could be up to date with a week’s events. For all their regurgitated prose, there was some great writing: Newsweek journalists were awarded bylines first, while at Time, Jay Cocks on film and music, and Robert Hughes on art, were stylists at the height of their game. Newsweek may have had a circulation of 3,130,600 in 2006, falling to 1,524,989 by 2011, but it has been on the ropes for years. Sometime in the 1980s, the Australian and New Zealand edition was subsumed into The Bulletin, itself now dead for five years.
In my archive I have a collection of “pony” Time and Newsweek magazines from the Second World War. They were given to me in 1977 by Bill Alexander, a friend of my father. These are miniature versions of the real thing, just 21cm x 15.5cm, that were available to Allied troops on subscription. As a clever reaction to a changing market, they are not unlike the decision to go digital. (Though whether the subscription model will work is doubtful.) The Newsweek featuring the Allied leaders comes from 13 December 1943, while the Time with Field-Marshal Fritz Von Manstein is dated 10 January 1944. (The cover caption reads, in Time-ese: “Retreat may be masterly, but victory is in the opposite direction.”) Click on the image to see Boris Chaliapin’s great illustration in detail: he turned out one of these most weeks.
Both magazines were slow to cover the pop music revolution of the 1960s. The Beatles didn’t appear on the cover of Time until 1967, although Jay Cocks wrote an excellent cover story on the Band at the time of Stage Fright in 1970, and an influential cover featuring James Taylor would follow in 1971. Both Time and Newsweek famously featured Bruce Springsteen on the cover in the same week in 1975, which must have caused some boardroom teeth-gnashing. My favourite story of pop and the newsweeklies comes from 1969, when a planned cover story on Janis Joplin was bumped from Newsweek when the former President Eisenhower died. Joplin wailed: “Fourteen f----- heart attacks and he had to die in my f------ week. In MY week!” She eventually made the cover two months later, on 26 May 1969.