The Week is here to stay.
This upstart magazine publishes a compilation of the week's biggest news events, culled from media outlets all over the world. Like many mainstream media people, I wasn't bowled over when it was launched in April 2001. It looked busier than a Bloomberg TV screen and seemed to be filled with mostly quick-hitting headlines.
But gradually, The Week grew on me, as it has caught on with the public. Its circulation is now a robust 500,000. Business travelers, a conspicuous segment of the busy and affluent readers targeted by The Week, appreciate the compact way that it presents the news.
These days, The Week, headed by its chairman, Felix Dennis, is also looking strong partly because of troubles at the headquarters of its primary rivals.
When I perused Time's latest issue, I wondered whether the 56-page edition was the smallest one in its modern history. (Time also had the chutzpah to carry a cover blurb for Joe Klein's column proclaiming: "The Incredible Shrinking Democrats.")
Speaking of Newsweek, its employees' hot parlor game is asking one another, "Did you take the buyout?" Enough said on the state of morale at the Washington Post Co.'s newsweekly.
Targeting its readers
The Week is gaining on its established rivals by subscribing to the most basic tenet in business: Give people what they want.
"The Week is written by a method," said General Manager Steven Kotok. "In 2001, we sat down and asked ourselves, 'What does a busy person want to read?'"
That planning is paying off. The magazine has built a strong readership "during a time when the category showed a net circulation decline," said Kotok. On the ad front, "The Week has grown and is barely down [in the first quarter], while nearly all competitors are down double-digits or worse."
What's the tipping point?
"It's about utility, not achieving an apotheosis of beautiful journalism," he said. "If you write for the reader, you'll always have a job."
That faint sound you hear right now is a thousand establishment journalists reaching for their Maalox. What Kotok brags about is exactly what unnerves many pundits about The Week. They see it as something journalistically unholy because, they conclude, it dumbs down the news to fit a business model.
If this seems familiar to you, merely substitute the words "USA Today" for "The Week." Since its founding in 1982, Gannett Co.'s USA Today has been criticized for making news more palatable to a mass audience who wants the publication to do its thinking for it.
Plus, the naysayers fret, The Week utterly disdains traditional tenets of the craft such as ... original reporting.
The Week's Kotok, an affable fellow who seems to have a keen appreciation for great writing, makes no apologies. When he and I talked over lunch, he mentioned my recent series on the Economist. .
"I would cry if the Economist closed," Kotok said. "But The Week performs a different function. The Economist hears everything and gives you one perspective. The Week gives you all perspectives."
Kotok subsequently sent me an email that further points to The Week's DNA:
"My feeling is that The Week starts with what a busy, sophisticated person needs to be well-informed -- which we believe is multiple perspectives on today's current events. And we keep it to just that, and no more, because people today are busy. And because of our reader focus, our readers read every issue. The Economist and New Yorker put in all the content they think is important; in other words, they don't start with the reader's needs."
"We're a populist magazine," he explained. "We really are about the reader. The New Yorker is great to read and rightfully proud of great journalism -- but for its own sake."
The Week has a populist bent throughout ts structure, too. "When I was 20, I had 50 people working for me," Kotok, 37, said of his entrepreneurial roots. In St. Paul, Minn., he started by managing a falafel shop and built it up to be a Midwest regional wholesale food business.
"After that, nothing seems hard," he said. "If I get a resume from a college dropout who has an achievement record, he or she definitely will get an interview. I want to hire someone who is hungry, has raw talent and business sense."
To understand where Time and Newsweek appear to have gone wrong with their audiences, you can find an answer in the April 25 issue of The Week itself.
On page 21, it quotes esteemed journalist Herbert Bayard Swope, writing in the Naples (Fla.) Daily News: "I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure -- which is: 'Try to please everybody.'"
: What do you like or dislike about The Week?
: The Smoking Gun Editor Bill Bastone should have caused journalists to take notice when he chided news organizations for not trying harder to break stories on the Web. It's a fair commentary by someone who makes his living by getting juicy exclusives all the time.
to calling Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith the best magazine writer in America:
"Thanks for the piece on Gary Smith. Not being a regular SI reader, I was a latecomer to the best-writer bandwagon, but when I found his piece a few years ago on Mike Veeck and his daughter, I was floored. I used it in a nonfiction class as the pinnacle of profile writing. I tried to get in touch with him once but to no avail. So now I know more."
-- Steve Paul, senior writer and editor, Kansas City Star
"I share your admiration for Gary Smith and enjoyed your column. Funny, but just two days ago I was guest lecturing a local college feature writing class and, as always, I suggested that the students read him for insight on the art of the profile. He's had so many great pieces over the years, but it's hard to equal his opening of the story he did a few years ago on David Duval. Anyway, thanks for the column."
-- Kevin Simpson, The Denver Post
"Gary Smith is clearly at the top of long-form magazine writers in America. He brings to the reader all of the sublime qualities of Tom Junod and none of Tom's less-than-admirable ones. Gary provides a sense of relentless reporting and intellectual pursuit of his subjects, yet never burdens the reader with notebook dumping or endless fascination with minutia. Every word is earned, and every word seems incredibly well crafted. Thanks for letting us get to know him a little better this week."
-- Dennis McCafferty, Senior Writer, USA Weekend Magazine
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By Jon Friedman