Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BusinessWeek Should Celebrate Its 80th Birthday

The first issue, Sept. 7, 1929

Most publications would haul out all the trumpets for their 80th birthday, but BusinessWeek, ailing and for sale, has confined its trumpeting (so far, at least) to an online feature a couple of weeks ago. I think that's a shame.

It's not too late, and I hope BW comes out with an 80th Anniversary issue. It has a tradition to be proud of, even if the magazine under its recent management has clearly lost touch with its readers, perhaps, as Bruce Nussbaum suggests, through misinterpretation of reader surveys. (Note the interesting dissent in the comments section of the item just linked.)

There's a practical reason for BW to do a bit of chest-beating. The magazine is for sale, and buyers need to be reminded that they're not buying just any old print-web combo, but an American institution that once was a significant player in the national dialogue. It can be revived, in theory.

As a practical matter, however, BW's prospects are grim. It needs to find a sugar daddy "vanity buyer"--that's not happening--or a wealthy buyer who will twist the magazine/website to its will. That seems to be the most likely possibility, with Bloomberg bidding for Businesseek, and, as previously reported, Joe Mansueto apparently dropping out.

That means it now seems likely that the nation's biggest business magazine will be owned by Mike Bloomberg's ever-growing information empire. Now, that's not perdition. Bloomberg Markets magazine is a solid if stodgy property, and I've heard good things about its editor. One glimmer of hope, for sentimentalists, is that the point person for Bloomberg is Norm Pearlstine, veteran of the Wall Street Journal and Time, Inc.

In an ideal world, BW would become a kind of print ProPublica, reverting to nonprofit status, tossing out its celebrity columns, fluff and other crap instituted in recent years, and devoting itself entirely to hard-hitting journalism. The Hill reported yesterday that President Obama is "'happy to look at' bills before Congress that would give struggling news organizations tax breaks if they were to restructure as nonprofit businesses." I've been arguing for years that the news business is just not compatible with public ownership. Sure would be nice if Terry McGraw would just donate the magazine to some foundation that would run it as a public service, and profits be damned.

If that happened, hell, the magazine might become so good that it would be appealing to advertisers again.

But I'm just fantasizing. That's not even remotely in the cards. BW will either be closed or folded into the Bloomberg kingdom. Happy Birthday.

UPDATE: A rumor of BW closing, spread on Twitter by a Time.com tech reporting named Peter Ha, reminds me of the rumors of Portfolio's demise that preceded the actual event. Except this one has been denied by McGraw-Hill spokesman Steve Weiss (no relation), and seems totally bogus.

© 2009 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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