Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

How To Save A Newsweekly in 5 Easy* Steps

Newsweek is for sale. While sad, it’s also an amazing opportunity to reinvent what a newsweekly could be. And it got me thinking.

If I was in charge of a newsweekly, here’s what I would do:

  1. Make the website a central watering hole for people who care about the news. That means more than simply shoveling stories online (though that’s a start). It means really empowering your community, and including them in the news gathering and creation process. Invite participation. Realize that you’re not the only ones deciding what’s news anymore.
  2. Change the print publication to a high-quality monthly, containing the best of the best from the month. Create mouth-watering design that you can’t do online. Use the best paper you can find. Make something worth saving, collecting, and being proud of. Charge what it’s worth.
  3. Create the best iPad/iPhone app anyone ever’s seen, with design that’s specific to the device, and special content (video, audio, community interaction). Make the app free, but sell upgrades and digital versions of the issues. Remember that the app isn’t just a content consumption avenue, but also a content creation device. Include ways for the community’s voice to filter back to the website.
  4. Rely on members for revenue. Create member classes. Anyone can sign up online, but the free account has limited features (like, say, one comment per day, no profile page, etc). Add a paid Subscriber level that comes with more online access and includes getting the print version, a Supporter level that costs more but comes with more access and more goodies, and a Superhero level that costs the most and comes with yet more swag and status. (We did this on Fray and it helps.)
  5. Reach into the network. If your members use Flickr, Twitter, or Facebook, you should, too. Don’t expect everyone to come to you – you have to go where they are.

Moments like this tend to cause flare-ups in the old print vs. web debate, which is as tedious and pointless as it’s always been. Different mediums have different strengths. The web is just better than paper at delivering time-sensitive news. It’s idiotic to pretend otherwise. And paper is still good at things the web is not, especially in getting people to actually pay for it. The solution is to use each medium for what it’s good at.

It’s never been print vs. web – it’s attention vs. apathy. A bunch of people who care about the same thing is the most powerful, rare, and wonderful thing in the universe. It doesn’t matter how they find each other – web, print, a great disturbance in the force – it only matters that they find each other, and that they can do something with that shared attention to make the world a better place.

The real enemy is apathy. When no one cares, things get ugly. And the good news for newsweeklies is that there are more people who care about what’s going on in the world now than ever. They’re more connected than ever. And they want to put that energy toward accomplishing something.

If you can’t figure out what to do with that, someone else will.

* Okay, so it’s not easy. It’s actually very hard. That’s why Heather and I want to help. Hopefully it’s easier to change than to put yourself up for sale.

UPDATE: Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, on the Daily Show tonight:

We have had it backwards. We produce a magazine all week, we close it Friday and Saturday, and it begins to go out online…. It’s probably time to flip that. You are solely focused on the digital, and by the end of the week you take the best of … then you print that magazine.

The whole interview is great. Watch it: Part 1. Part 2.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.