AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   December/January 2009

Boiling It Down   

The Week finds its niche distilling the news of the week that was.

By Steven Mendoza
Mendoza is an AJR editorial assistant.     

A source that publishes punchy blurbs based on the work of other news organizations, without producing original reporting? Must be one of those hot blogs or online news aggregators, right?

Think again. The Week, a relative newcomer in the world of newsweeklies, has the motto, "All You Need to Know about Everything That Matters." While most of its peers try to distinguish themselves from the pack with in-depth reporting and analysis, The Week, owned by publishing mogul Felix Dennis, distills a week's worth of news for time-pressed readers.

Finding a navigable route between the news and opinion offered by umpteen media outlets can be overwhelming, says Bill Falk, The Week's editor in chief. "We're serving as people's guides for what to pay attention to and giving them a choice of ideas that will help them make sense of what's going on in the world."

Its staff of about 20 scours more than 200 American and international news sources, then boils their content down into items of 400 to 1,000 words. Most stories fall into the 400- to 500-word range.

"We respect our readers' time," Falk says. "We understand that they don't have an infinite amount of time to consume the information they need to know to function in their jobs and to be smart and to converse with other people. I think we're really totally conscious at all times that we need to be really concise in how we explain complicated things."

This approach sets The Week apart from its competitors, says Samir Husni, magazine expert and chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. "All the weeklies are now trying to be like The Economist. [They have] dropped their digest aspect, have dropped their summarizing aspect and gone into the more lengthy, in-depth, detailed information," he says. "On the other hand, The Week just took the opposite [path], and it's still in the business of condensing and giving you tidbits, giving you all the nuggets, but the way they put the nuggets together you feel very satisfied."

Although The Week would not reveal its Web traffic numbers, Falk says he is trying to transform its Web site into a destination for daily news analysis. To this end, Democratic political consultant Robert Shrum and conservative writer David Frum debate politics in Web-only columns, and The Week hired Frank Wilkinson, formerly of The Huffington Post, to "help us build up the Web site," Falk says. The majority of The Week's revenue comes from the print magazine.

The Week launched in Britain in 1995 and in the United States in 2001. Its Australian edition is scheduled to debut late this year. Its June 30 circulation was 503,075, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That pales in comparison to the numbers for Time (3,389,166), Newsweek (2,737,450) and U.S. News & World Report (1,828,293), but while those titles are trying to stem their declining circulations, The Week's has been growing every year.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism classifies The Week as a "non-traditional news magazine," like The New Yorker (1,043,931 circulation), The Economist (747,254), and the Atlantic (439,318). This group recorded gains in ad dollars in 2007, with The Week recording "a 5.3% increase in ad pages and a 15.8% jump in ad dollars," according to PEJ's 2008 State of the News Media report.

The magazine jumps in and out of complicated subjects with ease and focuses on hard news and opinion, but also dips into the arts, books, music, film and travel in its 45-page product.

"It's great editing," says Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News. "I think their story selections are excellent. It's a great one-stop comprehensive view of what happened last week."

Justin Smith, president of The Atlantic and former president of The Week, says that although news magazines can be handicapped because they sometimes miss late-breaking stories, he believes The Week's focus on opinion keeps it relevant. "The reason why it works on a weekly basis is that opinion actually takes a couple of days" to gel after a news event.

Because The Week isn't trying to scoop its competitors, but aims to give readers a sample of everything that's happening, it's "the timeliness and the selection of the stories that appear in every issue" that, for Husni, make it the genre's "Bentley or Rolls-Royce."