Judging Newsweek by its current incarnation is like judging a man’s life after visiting him in the Alzheimer’s ward. The Newsweek of today is a pale imitation of the magazine I grew up with in the 70’s and early 80’s, and it played an important role in that era’s media environment.
Back then, there was no Internet, CNN had just started, and you couldn’t get the New York Times outside of New York. The local paper was dull and mediocre, and TV news was a quick half hour. When something big happened, Newsweek would have a well-sourced summary of the event, usually from an angle that wasn’t covered in any other publication. Their major coverage was always accompanied by good color photos and quality infographics. For most of us in middle America, Newsweek was as good as it got, and it wasn’t half bad.
Of course, outside of the major news story, Newsweek was mediocre at best. The thumbsucker pieces (“Is God Dead?”), the bad opinion columnists, and the laughable arts section have been beaten to death elsewhere. The only defense I’ll offer is that the Newsweek of old used those crappy think pieces as filler when there wasn’t a major event to cover. Today’s Newsweek seems to revel in churning out that crap.
The reason Newsweek comes to mind today is this story in the Post. It’s a first-person account of the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and it’s the kind of story that would have been featured in Newsweek. Today, we take a story like that for granted. A few decades ago, Newsweek was one of the few places where the vast majority of Americans would be able to get that kind of angle on an important national event.