Newsweek greeted the coming of Easter with a black cover, and the headline "The Decline and Fall of Christian America," spelled out in red in the shape of a cross. Inside, it was more declarative: "The End of Christian America." Why? Because they found that the percentage of self-identified Christians had fallen 10 points since 1990. OK, then let's compare. How much has Newsweek's circulation fallen since 1990? Just since 2007, their announced circulation has dropped by 52 percent. It would be more plausible to state "The End of Newsweek."
At the end of 2007, Newsweek reduced its "base rate" (or circulation guaranteed to advertisers) from 3.1 million to 2.6 million, a 16 percent drop. At the end of 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that Newsweek, faced with an estimated 21 percent decline in ad pages, could soon drop that circulation number by another 500,000 to 1 million readers. In February, the magazine confirmed the million-issue drop, saying it would drop to a base of 1.9 million in July and 1.5 million readers by January 2010.
"Mass for us is a business that doesn't work," Tom Ascheim, Newsweek's chief executive, told the New York Times. "Wish it did, but it doesn't. We did it for a long time, successfully, but we can't anymore." Now that U.S. News and World Report waved a white flag and said it would only publish monthly, the evidence is much stronger for wondering about the decline and fall of the American "news magazine" -- as if Time and Newsweek haven't already shed that label in everything but name.
Newsweek's strategy in the midst of all its financial decline is to double and triple the amount of editorializing, cast aside all semblance of "news" in favor of long, liberal essays by self-impressed Newsweek editor Jon Meacham and his international editor Fareed Zakaria. Is that really a business solution, or is it the captains performing violin solos on the deck of the Titanic?
One has to wonder whether Newsweek's financial gurus really think it's a smart business strategy to greet the Easter season with funerals for "Christian America," and greet the Christmas season by making the "religious case for gay marriage"? (That's not to mention all the reverent Obama worship in between.)
Christianity, in contrast to Newsweek, is in decent demographic shape. The American Religious Identification Survey that Newsweek touted -- from Trinity College in Connecticut -- estimated there are now 173.4 million self-identified Christians in America, up from 151.2 million in 1990. The percentage declined, but the actual number increased.