MEDIA: NEWS WEEKLIES - Hard news challenge drives Americans. The role of the weekly news magazine has been redefined as the sector faces up to competition from new media

News that Time Europe's new editing team at its London headquarters is an American husband and wife duo should send shivers down the spines of UK PROs. Not because of the husband and wife bit - Donald and Ann Morrison have a long track record in journalism and haven't worked together before so the appointment is no headline-grabbing stunt. The problem for PROs reared in the British tradition is simply the couple's nationality.

News that Time Europe's new editing team at its London headquarters is an American husband and wife duo should send shivers down the spines of UK PROs. Not because of the husband and wife bit - Donald and Ann Morrison have a long track record in journalism and haven't worked together before so the appointment is no headline-grabbing stunt. The problem for PROs reared in the British tradition is simply the couple's nationality.

There's an old joke about the US media: how many Time/ Newsweek/New Yorker journalists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but (s)he can't do it until the fact-checker has traced the history of the lightbulb back to Edison and found out if it's a screw-in or bayonet.

This is a philosophy that carries through all aspects of US journalists' training. They are legendary when it comes to the strict rules applied to relations with the PR industry. Lisa Saunders, a Brit who worked in PR at three different New York firms and now runs her own agency, Cable, says she found it almost impossible to bring her free London ways to the US.

'You'd find it incredibly hard to get a journalist out to lunch,' she says. 'Some magazines felt it would compromise their writers' integrity if they accepted anything free at all, even a hot meal. Of course, this was in the business and news magazine market. Some entertainment magazines would give absolute copy and image control to PROs for Hollywood film stars, but the news media were a different story. They'd make our tabloid editors hang their heads in shame,' says Saunders.

Nonetheless, the Time appointments come as the international news market hots up. The internet is partly to blame, with news organisations such as CNN, ITN, the BBC, Reuters and PA all offering daily e-mail news, WAP phones text messaging headlines to users and allowing access to a variety of news organisations.

With 'gossip' web sites providing the news that respectable media does not deem appropriate to print, the American global magazines of Time and Newsweek are facing their toughest time in the last 100 years.

Each has reacted in a different way. About five years ago Time regionalised its output, setting up substantial bureaux in Asia, Latin America and Europe. This meant the different issues contained about 50 per cent local copy. Donald Morrison was responsible for setting up the Asian operation.

Newsweek, on the other hand, remained resolutely an American title and continues as such.

In the face of all this external competition, neither magazine has lost sales.



TIME EUROPE - Donald Morrison

Position: Co-editor

Publisher: AOL/Time Warner

European circulation: 620,000



'I know the reputation of US journalists is fierce, but I have a confession to make - I read every single press release that reaches me. I read every single paragraph.

'You never know if the fifth paragraph on that release is going to give you the connection you need to put a whole story together. It might not be the story on the release, it might not even have anything to do with the release - but you can't afford to ignore that possibility.

'I started my professional life as a business journalist and you can't function in that area without the PR industry. There's too much going on for you to pull it all together yourself. I haven't come over here with any huge agenda.

'The regionalisation of Time has been a great success. We were produced from New York for 50-odd years and we decided to get out into the areas where our readers were and produce magazines that reflected their concerns. I don't think you can do that if you're not out there living among them.

'If we're going to change anything over here, it'll be to increase our local coverage above 50 per cent. In Asia, that put on 50,000 readers for us. I'd also like to increase our business and technology coverage.

The breakdown of the Cold War and the increase in up-to-date news from sources like CNN has meant that we have redefined our role.

'In the old days, we were the main news source for millions of people around the world who didn't get accurate news from their government-controlled media. Now, that's possible almost everywhere.

'This means we don't have to cover every single election, natural disaster or cabinet reshuffle that takes place everywhere in the world. Instead, we can concentrate on the key elections and provide far better and greater in-depth coverage. Despite all of that, a good news story on our cover still boosts circulation so we're not planning to become just analysts.'



NEWSWEEK - Stryker McGuire

Position: London bureau chief

Publisher: The Washington Post

European circulation: 317,566



'We continue to be a global magazine because we think it's important for readers in the Atlantic edition to know what the readers in the Asian edition are reading.

'There are some differences. There's probably a different back page interview in the different regions and some different editorial dotted around the magazine. But it's almost entirely the same.

'We are in the era of globalisation and the same information affects all of our lives. Having said that, the internationalisation of the media doesn't seem to have affected us too much. The launch of CNN didn't affect us too much. In 1978, Newsweek's US circulation was 3.2 million and it's still that today.

'Obviously we've changed the product. It used to be a weekly news review but it's had to take on its own agenda. It was really the Sunday newspapers that did that when they launched supplements in the mid 1980s. We'd come out on Monday and we'd be doing exactly the same stories as them. That's our challenge - to continue to give people something different that they are willing to pay for.

'I think our credibility is the key. You can get any sort of information at all from a web site, but who's to say it's credible?

'We can sort good information from bad information. The PR industry can help here. There are people who are excellent, but there are others who send us the same pointless information that they send to the Liverpool evening paper saying that so and so has become the new vice-president of marketing for XYZ company. I guess they do it to tell their client that they're going to get it into Newsweek, but they're wrong. We're not in the business of telling people who's just been promoted in a company.

I get these e-mail press releases and I usually delete them after flicking over the first paragraph.

'Why can't they target stories better? There's something really obvious they're missing. Journalists like exclusives.

If the information is right for us and the story is an exclusive, we like it so much better.'



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