For many years, I’ve been a fervent subscriber of Newsweek magazine. Started in the midst of the Great Depression, the magazine always felt, to me, like a more settled yet liberal version of Time. Its stories were rich in detail, its editorial passionate, its photography and illustration solid. I always enjoyed getting my copy of it in the mail, and even after our move to Canada a few years ago, I kept up the subscription, despite the hefty additional cost and the extra time it took to arrive on these northern shores.
I eagerly waited and was very excited to see the new design that Newsweek, going through its own fits of journalistic and financial challenges, orchestrated. Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham, on Charlie Rose, a few weeks ago spoke eloquently about the need to reinvent journalism, to ensure that the magazine survives amidst the oncoming shakeups and shutdowns, and to find a new way to build circulation and revenues. I saw the website and, while it was less than stellar, I figured that the magazine had put most of its efforts into creating a new print style that would match its new editorial outlook.
Then “it” arrived. I call it “it,” because my first and ongoing reaction to the new print edition of Newsweek is one of profound disgust and mild horror. The thing is just ugly, from beginning to end. Here’s what’s wrong with “it”:
It’s almost impossible to discern (even with these discerning eyes) the editorial content from the advertisements and the advertisements from the advertorials. Everything, and I do mean everything, is fused into a wall of non-hierarchical content.
It’s primary new typeface used, Hoefler & Frere-Jones otherwise lovely Archer, is so over-used and inelegantly styled that reading the magazine is an exercise in futility. I started reading one article – and about half the way through I put the magazine down and closed its pages. I became so focused on the slabs and dots of Archer’s slab serifs that I could no longer focus on the meaning of the words. To me, it’s like reading a garden. (I even own and often use Archer for clients; it’s a great display face, but it doesn’t work for Newsweek.)
The cover is so tremendously overwrought, I thought I was looking at a 1980s throw-back. Putting the red solid banner at the top and center, lurking above the content looks wrong. The large photo beneath it is nice, but the transparent overlay of text is either illegible, cute, or worse, both. Oddly, I typically like this treatment of transparent text over color photographs; in this case, the designers took it too far.
I don’t know if Newsweek changed its printing facilities or is using a new paper throughout, but it doesn’t work. It’s a bit nicer quality of print and that is appreciated. But it goes against the grain of the entirely advertisement-like cheapness of the interior.
As a newsweekly with the name “Newsweek,” there’s no News section. As Jeremy Leslie writes in his review in magCulture.com: “Unlike rival Time, which relaunched last year, this weekly news magazine no longer has a News section. Brave stuff, and the decision is getting plenty of comment online, including a withering comment from US editorial design guru Roger Black to the effect that the magazine could now afford to change it’s name as it was no longer about news nor needed to be weekly.” In fact, Time did an utterly stunning job in its recent redesign; while the content is more shallow and temporal, the design is extremely functional and elegant in its use of space.
This brings up the last point: space and time. Given that, as citizens of the new world, we all feel cramped against so little time, it’s critical that the “idea space” our magazines provide is clear, compelling, and pleasurable to apprehend and understand. Most of us need help making sense of the world’s newsworthy complexity – and a newsweekly helps summarize and punch up what might be forgotten amidst the headlines on CNN.com and the increasingly boring NYTimes.com. As a Michael Kinsley writes his in his review of the newsweekly at TNR, Meacham says about the new magazine:
“We are not pretending to be your guide through the chaos of the Information Age,” which concedes a lot of ground from the get-go. Why not at least pretend? Why else would people pick it up, let alone subscribe?
I, for one, will give Newsweek one Newsmonth to get its visual and editorial act together. If it doesn’t succeed, I’ll be giving myself the gift of Time.