"I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords."
That is the Kent Brockman line from "The Simpsons" that Newsweek staffers fear they might have to repeat in some form if their magazine is purchased by NewsMax aka "insect overlords." To make all the nervous liberals out there feel better, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post which owns Newsweek has given some reassurances that the NewsMax purchase might not happen. The problem for Newsweek staffers and liberals is that Kurtz doesn't sound exactly confident plus he sure doesn't make that magazine seem like an appealing property:
While journalists get into the business for various reasons -- vicarious thrills, investigative zeal, outsize ego -- ultimately they're at the mercy of the marketplace. And that marketplace seems to have sent a very discouraging message to Newsweek.
But the picture is more complicated than the downbeat media reports last week, perhaps best captured by this Gawker headline: "Bunch of Wackos Bid on Newsweek."
Gawker of course meant NewsMax.
Kurtz tells us that only three companies have placed preliminary bids for Newsweek but "reassures" us with the "inside info" that a supersecret source (his editor?) stated that there are really other substantial bidders out there as well...even though they failed to put in a bid when they had a chance:
Three companies have been identified as having submitted preliminary bids to The Washington Post Co. by Wednesday's deadline, and none of the firms is particularly impressive in national reach and resources. But a source familiar with the Newsweek situation, who would not be identified discussing private negotiations, says a number of other substantial suitors -- both corporations and wealthy individuals -- have formally expressed interest as well.
With Post Co. executives refusing to discuss the process, the other possible bidders remain shrouded in secrecy. They may or may not wind up pursuing a purchase, but for now, the discussion centers only on those who have confirmed their interest, perhaps for the publicity value.
One can easily picture Kurtz griping to his editor about having to write this piece obviously shilling the Newsweek sale. Kurtz then shifts gears by denigrating the potential buyers...not exactly a great idea if you really want to sell Newsweek:
One is Newsmax, a conservative Web site and monthly favored by Sarah Palin and founded by Christopher Ruddy, who once investigated conspiracy theories that Clinton administration officials Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered. Another is Thane Ritchie, an Illinois hedge-fund manager and Ross Perot fan who is angling to start a new political party. The third is OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm that two years ago bought TV Guide for $1. It's hard to imagine any of them supporting Newsweek as a vibrant weekly that could compete with Time.
I would love to see Kurtz attempt to sell a car while mocking his potential customer who expressed intested in buying it. It doesn't work selling cars and even less when selling magazines even though Kurtz makes a weak attempt to pretend that Newsweek is really a great property:
Based on what has been made public, Michael Parker, managing director of AdMedia Partners, which specializes in media mergers, says: "I'm a little surprised that, shall we say, major players haven't come into this arena, at the very least to take a closer look. Newsweek has huge brand equity in the marketplace, a wonderful reputation editorially." But, he says, potential buyers must be asking: "Who's going to do it better if The Washington Post Company can't figure this out?" The company has owned the magazine since 1961.
Potential customers must also be asking if they want to get stuck with this money-losing lemon. And one reason why Newsweek has turned into a colossal flop is due to "genius" editor Jon Meacham at whom Kurtz takes a not very subtle dig:
The lack of information has bothered some Newsweek staffers, some of whom describe the mood as ranging from stunned to funereal to angry -- the latter emotion fueled by a sense that Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine. Meacham has said that in the face of mounting losses -- $44 million since 2007 -- he had no choice but to seek fewer subscribers who would be willing to pay more.
To Kurtz's credit he signs off on the story by ditching the shill routine and giving us a final line chock full of brutal honesty:
The result is a conventional wisdom, to use a phrase popularized by Newsweek, that the magazine smells like a loser.
And because that magazine "smells like a loser" it doesn't look like there will many offers pouring in at this point. Therefore, my advice to Newsweek staffers is to prepare for the the day of the "insect overlords" takeover that they dread by designing a magazine cover featuring the Kent Brockman graphic above.