Tina Brown, the founder of the Daily Beast and editor of Newsweek, announced this week that the print magazine was headed to the morgue file, dead after nearly 80 years. A digital offering called Newsweek Global will take its place. Those of us who worked at Newsweek through the turn of the century wish the new venture well, but we can't escape the feeling that there's been a death in the family.
Until the Washington Post Co. sold the magazine in 2010, I qualified as a "lifer," a concept that no longer exists in the American workplace. Over nearly three decades at Newsweek in the pre-tweet era, I was the magazine's media critic and later a columnist. I interviewed and wrote about five American presidents and authored more than 50 stories, almost all of them on domestic affairs.
I was never stationed abroad, and I stand in awe of legendary bureau chiefs like Chris Dickey, Melinda Liu, and Ron Moreau who still write for Newsweek and still can set the pace in covering the world. They and many others were (are?) in a league of their own.
But during the fat years, when Newsweek had a readership of 15 million, my indulgent editors let me pretend to be a foreign correspondent for a week or so a year. I got to parachute into some of the biggest stories in the world without having to uproot my family and move. My international reporting, the luxury of a bygone age, was not especially distinguished, but it sure was fun.
From the start, I was too chicken to dodge bullets. The only battlefield I ever saw was when I stood five feet away from President George W. Bush on Sept. 14, 2001, as he spoke through a bullhorn atop the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center.
But the beneficence of a world-class news organization allowed a homebody like me to get a piece of proxy wars in Central America, the fall of communism, the emergence of China as a world power, U.S. recognition of Vietnam, President Bill Clinton's Mideast peace efforts, and the run-up to the Iraq war, among other international stories. I was Walter Mitty in a trench coat.
Newsweek opened doors. For decades, mentioning my affiliation carried more weight abroad than had I worked for the New York Times or the Washington Post, which -- before the Internet --circulated in foreign capitals only through the International Herald Tribune. Like my colleagues, I could land in a country and within a few hours arrange important interviews that would be impossible at the same level in the United States: The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, the top general in Guatemala (a man responsible for mass killings of civilians), the soon-to-be president of Nicaragua. All talked. And when they came to New York, I had no trouble sitting down with leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev (by then out of office), Hugo Chávez, and Ehud Barak.