A conversation about survival

amid Capeci, the AME/Design of Newsweek and Arthur Hochstein, the design director of Time, are midtown rivals. I've worked with both designers. Amid was at Esquire when I got there in the early 90s, and I persuaded him to move to Newsweek during one of the four redesigns I've been involved with. He left for a while to go to Rolling Stone, so we have a lot in common!

Arthur Hochstein has been at Time since 1985. He was doing covers when I helped rethink their logo and cover layout c. 1993, and became chief art director in 1994. Both have implemented redesigns in the last year. I asked them, via e-mail, a few hard questions starting with the hardest:

The death of the newsmagazine has been predicted regularly for at least 30 years. What is their role in 2008? - RB

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AMID: When I returned at Newsweek last year after Jon Meacham was made editor, and we were thinking about the design changes we wanted to implement, we felt strongly that we needed to get more stories in the magazine and at greater length. What the newsmags still do best is take the blizzard of news and events of the week and put them in context, separate what’s important from what is not, advance the story, and with great journalism, visuals and writing — creating an experience you can’t get on the web.

Last summer we ran a cover story “Slaughter in the Jungle” about a family of silverback gorillas that were murdered in the Congo. We had a portfolio of amazing pictures by Brent Stirton to go along with the exclusive reporting in the field. We received the photography Wednesday evening after receiving some e-mails that they were some powerful images. By Friday morning, it was the cover story. We still have the resources to do these types of important stories. But the newsmags have to bring their own content to the table. The days of rehashing the week’s news is long gone.

ARTHUR: Of course, rumors of our death have been greatly exaggerated. First it was national editions of newspapers, then 24-hour TV news, then then the Internet, then mobile phones, feeds, etc, etc. Last time I checked we’re not only still here, but still making money for our parent companies. That said, we’ve made changes, some seismic, some incremental, that have allowed us to adjust to the rapidly changing environment. Since Amid and I are fighting the same war, it’s not surprising that our respective magazines have similar outlooks about what we need to do. That is, push the print magazine toward being a companion to the dotcom version — not its mirror image — while enhancing the brand power of each venue. Newsweek is taking one tack; Time’s is a bit different.

One thing that really struck me about our Person of the Year this year was that before one copy of the print issue was in readers’ hands, the announcement, the story, and the reaction to the story in the mainstream media and the blogosphere had already taken place. Before the ink is dry, we've been through two or three news cycles. Does that mean the large-circulation newsweekly is bound for extinction? No, but it certainly suggests that some harsh realities must be accepted and that all of our ingenuity and effort will be needed for us to embrace change and take risks to survive.

I just realized I didn’t really answer your question — I should go into politics! The short answer is that the print magazine shouldn’t try to be a website, and the website shouldn’t try to be a print magazine. I think the extent to which we accomplish that will have a lot to say about how successful we are going forward. I agree with Amid about original content, both in stories and visuals. Whenever I see anything in the print magazine that has been all over the internet, it makes me really crazy. But we do have such a diverse readership that we can’t marginalize ourselves either.

RB: How closely should your magazine’s website resemble the print edition?

AMID: I think it is imperative that Newsweek speak with one visual voice no matter what medium you may be using to consume our content. When we started to examine the look of the magazine, I wanted to revive and focus the most fundamental elements of Newsweek’s design. The logo of the magazine is one of the most instantly recognized in publishing, but it certainly needed a trip to the gym. It was unreadable online, and a blob on your Blackberry. Jim Parkinson, who drew the original logo in 1985, did a fantastic job slimming down and modernizing the logo without losing any of it’s integrity. In this case, the logo also represents an institution and there was a certain amount of caution from the corner office that we had to navigate through. We also had Jim produce a complimentary slab serif that we could use in all media for rubrics, headers and graphics that would be recognized quickly as Newsweek content.

Another reason for visual linkage is that many times an online reader may not know that they are at They started at Google or MSN and clicked on “World’s Largest Squid Found” (nine million hits and counting!) and that sent them to our content. Newsweek’s largest online audience is usually during breaking news and many of these users also read the weekly magazine. Also, there are always great stories that thrive online (see “New Dehli’s Monkey Invasion!” in’s top photo galleries of 2007). Finally, one of the great aspects of having the web and the mag is that we can post more news, commentary and photography than can possibly fit in the magazine.

ARTHUR: This is a simple question with a complicated answer. It all depends on philosophy. Basically, on the level of branding and sensibility, they should be similar, while on the level of content, they should be different.

For instance, when you have a brand as strong and entrenched as Time or Newsweek, parts of that that brand identity that help in print may be counterproductive on the internet. Because the internet is a 24/7 medium, it may hurt that readers associate our brands with a weekly product-they may think, “why read Time on the internet when their news is a week old,” not realizing that the website is an ever-changing news and information site. At one time I actually proposed changing the name of to, a name that would evoke the Time brand but tell the reader that this is a very different rendition of our product. Of course it went nowhere. On the other hand, certain attributes associated with our brands-authority, thoroughness, comprehensiveness-are assets on any platform. So they need to be the same and different simultaneously.

In my admittedly limited experience with our online product, I have been frustrated by the number of limitations placed on design detailing and graphic inventiveness. Our print redesign imparted a great deal of graphic purity and modernity that has been hard to translate to the online product. While I understand that this is an almost universal phenomenon in multi-platform publications, I do think some magazines, newspapers and merchants do a better job of keeping their visual branding consistent than others, and we need to constantly examine our own product to attain a higher standard. And of course, the two media are vastly different in terms of user experience. The simplistic (and idealistic) answer is that I’d like to see our print version gravitate toward and leverage the strengths of the medium-dynamic and beautiful photography, longer-form stories that feature deep reporting and analysis, while our website gets easier to navigate, less overwhelming in terms of the barrage of content we expect a viewer to absorb, and more interactive.

There’s a broader issue here as well that I’d like to throw back at you two: In terms of my own reading habits, I’m certainly no Luddite-the vast majority of my media consumption is online. But in terms of the rewards and intrinsic satisfaction of design, print has it all over the internet. Do you see a talent drain, or at least the phenomenon where the kind of talents that used to be drawn to print design are simply pursuing other fields because web design is so much more utilitarian?

RB: There is definitely a brain drain. It’s harder and hard to find young designers who want to go into magazines or newspapers. But I find some kids who share my frustrations with the web, which is an imperfect medium for narratives of any kind. Eventually we will have platforms that create a better story-telling experience, and we’ve seen interim steps with The New York Times Reader and Indigo. The question is, can the print organizations who are now paying for the narratives survive long enough to make the transition. The market guarantees nothing. And in the meantime, editors are trying to make their publications more “webby”, which may be the wrong idea. What if they became more narrative? Time and Newsweek are grappling with that idea. But they are never going to run the 10,000-word John McPhee thumpers or the 7,000-word Hunter Thompson screeds that we used to see in The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

The illustrator’s sketchbooks have disappeared. We don’t see any big “side-of-beef” infographics. And what about picture stories? All we get are galleries of celebrities. Where are the “Day in Life” narratives? Is there a risk, at a time when there is less and less room for visual content, that we’ll forget how to assign, edit and design picture stories?

AMID: It’s all about less room and less time. It is not uncommon that a photographer on assignment will send us amazing images after the issue is essentially closed, as we did recently, from Kenya. We then fight to clear pages and get those pictures in the magazine during those final hours. Stories burn so fast that by the next week the Kenya pictures would be too late. We got it in, and the result was a dramatic, efficient photo presentation that otherwise may never have been published.

Concerning the “brain drain,” a new generation of designers that is living through the digital revolution, can’t and won’t commit to one narrowly focused design medium, especially a shrinking one. I’m often surprised and slightly jealous at how fluent young designers are in so many more media from photography and web graphics, to “branding exercises,” typography and filmmaking. They love the history and romance of magazine design and the newsweeklies (the traveling bar cart ended years ago), but view print as one form of visual communication in an ever expanding toolbox. I also think the explosion in the other design disciplines such as architecture, fashion and furniture also led to less soldiers in print. Look at House Industries, which started as a type studio and took their philosophy about type culture and applied it to clothing, music and luggage. It is also harder to find designers that want to embrace a journalistic aesthetic, where the visuals and editorial exist together on a more balanced plane.

That said, there is a finite amount of space in the magazine, but infinite space on the website. My editor’s mantra these days is, “If the reader has finished the magazine before the plane takes off, we haven't done our job.” So there is lively, heated debate each week on how long each story should run, what do we have that is exclusive, what’s the web extension and how many pages to commit for photography and graphics. The goal is to create a magazine experience that a reader is going to commit some time to. As more web users go to mobile and handheld, will stories on the web get even shorter? A big hit on is a video called “the run-through” where Jon Meacham goes behind the scenes and previews the weeks issue. As the video model moves front and center on many news sites, will photojournalism be marginalized? This campaign year you will see both Time and Newsweek serve the electorate in ways that no other organization can. It will be interesting to see which platform gets the most attention.

ARTHUR: I do think I see a significant talent drain. I know if I were 25 years old again (hmm . . . don't get me going on that!) I would not be thinking at all about print design. Especially in graphics, where there has always been a relatively small talent pool. I think your points about magazines too “webby” are right, but most editors and publishers have the mindset that nobody wants to read long pieces anymore, that magazines do them to win ASME awards and have bragging rights at Michael’s. That may or may not be true. Plus, there’s a perception-whether accurate or no-that there’s more money to be made working for an online product.

And for news/information publications, I think that the failure to leverage the advantage of print in the presentation of certain kinds of photography and graphics could really damage their chance for long-term survival. But I think if the best minds were still entering publishing entities that have both print and online components, we might see better coordination between the two, which would then not force young designers to make the obvious choice.

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