After about an hour, there seemed to be no more questions for him, so Newsweek editor Jon Meacham turned to his audience—about 100 graduate students at Columbia journalism school—and said he had a question for them: Did anyone in the room read Newsweek or Time? There was a small, awkward rumbling before finally, a man shouted, “No!”
Mr. Meacham scanned the audience for his quarry and then asked the journalism student, clad in a black turtleneck, whether he read The Economist. Yes, he did.
“It’s the most talked about and least read magazine,” said Mr. Meacham. “Have you looked at Newsweek?”
“Sure,” said the J-schooler.
“And it’s not up to your standards?”
“I find less useful honestly. The news? I don’t get it from Newsweek. The Economist is more courageous,” he answered.
“The success of The Economist—the fact that you read it, a black-turtlenecked guy at Columbia,” Mr. Meacham began. But then he changed tack.
“Look, I need you,” said Mr. Meacham. “And I need—I’ve got people out there risking their lives right now. The Economist is not, by the way …” He changed tack again. “I’ve got four people in Baghdad who could be killed at any moment who are trying to tell the truth the best they can of that story. We have people in 13 different countries. We have a guy in Afghanistan who has Taliban sources who the federal government has asked about because we have better intelligence than government does—he’s risking his life.”
“And how to communicate that we have things to say that are both factually new and analytically new and to get you under the tent is a fact that scares me—not The Economist per se. It’s an incredible frustration that I’ve got some of the most decent, hard-working, honest, passionate, straight-shooting, non-ideological people who just want to tell the damn truth, and how to get this past this image that we’re just middlebrow, you know, a magazine that your grandparents get, or something, that’s the challenge. And I just don’t know how to do it, so if you’ve got any ideas, tell me.”
The grad student suggested they try re-branding. Mr. Meacham said thank you, and a few moments later, the lecture was over.