The Last Print Issue

January 12, 2013 

Holding the last print issue of Newsweek in my hands felt like holding the hand of a friend who was dying. Newsweek, the magazine, was gone. It will now change to an all digital format accessible only online.

Many of us may have once had a subscription to either Newsweek or Time. In the 1980s, Newsweek's circulation reached 3 million and as recently as 2003, 4 million issues still were published worldwide (before the rapid decline to 1.5 million in 2010).

My parents had a subscription. I remember it tossed on a coffee table or sitting in the bathroom. We had access to it at the library or the waiting room of our dentist. Often this was news you digested while waiting. Ironically, now news waits for no one.

In the last print issue, Newsweek describes their work as "group journalism." They describe how news was covered, behind-the-scenes meetings about how to best cover a story, divide the work among reporters, photographers, layout editors and designers. They described the process as "the first rough draft of history."

Contrast that with modern news and the race to break the story even if details are wrong. Recall the misinformation of the Sandy Hook school shootings, the shooter's initial identification was wrong and the mistaken connection of the mother with the school. Today, there's no time for group discussion and verification from multiple sources; news is no longer about drafts but about the immediate.

The old print version of Newsweek falls prey to the cult of instant news. Likewise, we readers lose the culture of the shared story.

I can remember engaging in conversations about major news events. I was informed via multiple sources, typically first heard on the radio and television, then read in newspapers and later in news magazines. These provided a tiered approach: We grew informed over time and were allowed to process the details and sort them out. We could reflect before another wave of information showered down. My mind likes working on a weekly basis; I'm given adequate enough time to digest and ask questions, to ponder and challenge.

Good stories teach and expose us to new ideas and perspectives. We make sense of experience gradually, connecting the authentic and rich details. When stories work, audiences engage in a shared experience; we connect with others. Armed with a commonality, we as a community, region and nation move forward.

I can recall first reading about the struggle for civil rights in Newsweek. The South could have been on another planet, the racism seemed distant and unimaginable. Yet, the stories gradually resonated with my own family's history -- Japanese-Americans judged by the color of their skin. The images of poverty and discrimination were not that foreign to our Valley.

A quiet conversation brewed across the land, first as whispers as we weekly witnessed the black and white photographs of church bombings, beatings, marches. The power of that story could not be denied; we gained an emotional understanding, a comprehension of history unfolding before us. Soon, we were part of a national conversation.

A weekly, in-depth magazine had the time to probe into the depth of a story and deliver it into our doctors' offices and mail it to our homes. A great story -- with images, interviews and opinion, could transform experiences. A farm boy who was born in Selma, Calif., would find common ground with a march for equality in another town in Alabama named Selma. The distances between people disappeared with a great news story. We shared a common metaphor, a cognitive map of life.

Of course, at times Newsweek and other major media institutions had too much power and control of information. Some will claim the media woke up much too late to the tragedy of racism. Also, in 1970, a major lawsuit was filed against Newsweek -- a gender discrimination case against the white male lords of the news.

The covers of Newsweek have always told the week's story. The first issue in 1933 had images of FDR's election, the Great Depression and Hitler. The cover of the last print issue was a stark black and white image of New York's skyline and the old Newsweek offices.

Perhaps part of me still sees the world in black and white, a nostalgic look into my past and the glory days of newspapers, weekly magazines and the birth of black-and-white TV. Today, with iPods, smart phones and earbuds, so much more of the world seems to target the individual.

The days of the village storyteller may be over as I witnessed the rise and fall of a news empire. Perhaps I'm a little too old to handle the information overload available today. I can't process it all, and find myself guilty of a journalism of affirmation: reading and listening to others who share my beliefs and perspectives.

I still enjoy reading hard copy and a time for reflection; I try to ignore the next avalanche of news that screams across my iPad or iPhone. New digital opportunities await online, but I miss the simple statement made by a magazine cover. Give me a few days to grasp the death of the last print issue of Newsweek. Maybe a week is just about the right time.

Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Send email to him at masmasumoto@gmail.com.

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