Writer’s Room: Make It Hard on Yourself

The scarecrow was made of straw ... so it applies

Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a piece in The Atlantic a few days back about how to be the best kind of political-opinion journalist. His advise is well-suited for those many who make their livings opinionating throughout the Beltway mediaverse and blogosphere, but is also a good rule of thumb for writers in general:

…To paraphrase Douglass, a writer is worked on by what she works on. If you spend your time raging at the weakest arguments, or your most hysterical opponents, expect your own intellect to suffer. The intellect is a muscle; it must be exercised.

He’s talking about the bad habits of political writers, who tend to pick the most obvious strawmen to go after as a way of formulating their own beliefs. This is an attractive way of operating, but ultimately lazy.

But everybody who puts pen to paper or key to blog is well served with this advice: Don’t do what you’ve always done. This isn’t to say that all writers shouldn’t identify their areas of strength, but to never venture outside those safer realms is to risk creative calcification.

 

In Media: ‘Newsweek’ Going Web-Only

In one of the less surprising media announcements of late, Newsweek said last week that they were ceasing publication of their print magazine at the end of 2012. The magazine, which has already been merged of sorts with Tina Brown’s web site The Daily Beast, will go to an online-subscription model next year. According to Paid Content:

…the magazine is slated to lose $40 million this year and has seen its subscribers fall from 3 million to 1.5 million in the last decade. More broadly, the company faced a more existential problem in that a “weekly news” magazine has become an anachronism in the digital world.

It makes sense ultimately, as Newsweek hasn’t really been able to keep up with the relevance of publications like The Economist,  Time or The Atlantic, which have shown the ability to keep a very vibrant web presence while not damaging the print product. Brown has tried to tart up the magazine of late, with dubious results:

Readers and media analysts have been puzzled by some of the covers Ms. Brown had chosen in an effort to distinguish Newsweek from other magazines and make it a talked-about publication again. Last November, she featured a cover story about sex addiction, and in May President Obama was shown wearing a rainbow-colored halo with a headline that read ”The First Gay President.”

And while Daily Beast is an interesting creature, mostly for its mix of rehashed news and original opinion plus the handy daily Cheat Sheet aggregator, the design is somewhat atrocious, navigation a pain, and the writing, well….

Founded in 1933 or not, this is a magazine whose time may have passed. See the cover shown at right for proof.