Newsweek.com Zigs

As it prepares to revamp its print edition to serve a smaller, more affluent audience, Newsweek on May 15 will unveil a relaunched Web site that acknowledges that, just as the weekly can’t be all things to all people, it also can’t cover the entire waterfront when it comes to news online.

“It’s not what we’re born to do, and it’s not what the audience wants us to do,” said Geoff Reiss, an ESPN veteran whom Newsweek CEO Tom Ascheim hired last September as the new vp, general manager for Newsweek Digital. Instead, Newsweek.com is placing its bets on aggregation and graphical features with the goal of keeping visitors on the site longer.

Top News Sites

Site                                        Unique audience           
                                                (000)

MSNBC Digital Network    39,900
CNN Digital Network          38,724
Yahoo News                        37,902
AOL News                            23,604
NYTimes.com                      20,118
Time.com                                7,518
Newsweek.com                     7,120

Source: Nielsen Online, March 2009

Like the updated print edition, the Web site’s home page will feature a deep dive into four topics of the day. But rather than replicating the print content online as it did in the past, the site will present the news in more interactive ways. Blogs and aggregation will get more play.
Three more blogs are in the works, for a total of six. The site will prominently feature links to other news sites—even, possibly, archrival Time.com.

Reiss said he and his staff shared the belief that Newsweek.com had to present the best material out there, even if it meant sending visitors to its competition. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Are we in the business of delivering the best possible content or brands—or brands we favor or like?’” he said.

Reiss also hopes to increase the site’s stickiness with a new visual story treatment, a sort of graphical aggregator. Inspired by New York magazine’s The Approval Matrix, the feature will let the site present different reactions to a given story in a visual way. Editors also will have a new resource in Newsweekopedia, a feature that will point readers to archived Newsweek articles when relevant.

Newsweek’s print and Web relaunch comes amid uncertainty about the category’s future as a mass-reach vehicle. The three players that long dominated the field—Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report—have variously cut frequency or rate base, and Newsweek plans to reduce its rate base to 1.5 million by January 2010 from 2.6 million today.

With that decline as the backdrop, Newsweek is likely to at least get points for trying something different online. Barry Lowenthal, president, The Media Kitchen, said that while Newsweek is right to look for ways to keep visitors longer, it shouldn’t deemphasize breaking news too much.  “People aren’t going to read 3,000 words online,” he said. “People are going to go there because they want to find out what’s going on.”