Newsweek – Survival via Sustainable Finance?

“Newsweek for sale”,  it's like hearing that a distant relative has a serious, potentially fatal illness, but is there a cure to be  found somewhere in the world of sustainable finance?  As a Newsweek reader for nearly  fifty years, I hope so, but it won't be easy.

Newsweek's editor Jon Meacham sees the magazine as one of the last “Catchers in the Rye”, saving people at cliff's edge by running serious stories on important topics.  A little self-important maybe, but Meacham is no phoney (just can't hold down that inner Holden) and  he  has a point, even if Charlie Rose did catch him on a difficult night.  The serious print media is an endangered species, it's not sure how to survive and extinction will leave the world at the mercy of people like me, a comic who uses the word sustainable finance compulsively,  thinks research is trolling the Internet and a law review article is a primary source.

Most of the dinosaurs seek shelter on the Internet, but, so far, they aren't very good at finding revenue to offset the losses from the shrinking print business.  What general interest journal of any stripe can charge its Internet readers a subscription fee?  How much would you pay?  My answer is $0, even for Newsweek.  So far the Internet ad revenues just aren't enough.

European journals have had some success with high fees for print copies.  This seems like a temporary solution at best.  As the web generation ages the number of people willing to pay high subscription fees, for content delivered by any means, will dwindle.  If this is the  best  the  dinosaurs can do, only a few T-Rexes like The Economist, Wall Street Journal and NY Times will survive, picking up a few new readers each time a competing journal drops.

Meacham himself looks to an Internet first model.  Focus on getting good stories on the web fast and first, then compile a weekly print edition at the end of the week from the most successful web stories.  Maybe, but it's not clear that this will get readers over the hurdle of paying for content on the Internet and it will likely accelerate the decline in subscribers and ad revenues for what's left of the print edition.

Can the dinosaurs recast themselves as public servants and create a workable  business model drawing on the world of sustainable finance?  People may be caught up in that whole Internet is free thing, but they recognize in theory that  there is value in finding real news from first hand sources and reporting it objectively, thoroughly and accurately. Maybe the solution for Newseek is to reinvent itself as an L3C, a B-Corp or even a 501(c)(3).  Make the argument that real reporting is a public service, continue to collect advertising and subscription revenues, but only in support of the broader public function of reporting.  Instead of looking for investors who need a market rate of return on capital, look for investors who are trying to do some good and will settle for lower returns, or maybe just a tax deduction.  There are lots of issues here, grist for many a follow-up, but it's time for the dinosaurs to start exploring the full universe of sustainable finance.  The hope here is that Newsweek finds a home somewhere soon.

Phot Credit: TedsBlog