Memories

 

How News-Week Lost Its Hyphen

 

By Dick Bausch

 

   When we think about the history of Newsweek we usually zero in on two important years - 1933 when News-Week was first published and 1961 when Newsweek was acquired by the Washington Post Company.  But there was another important year in the magazine's history which involved the elimination of the "hyphen" in News-Week's title.  No big deal? It actually was. There were simultaneous changes in the ownership, management and editorial direction of the magazine.

   The year was 1937 and it's a story I happened to hear simply because I knew how to operate a tape recorder.

   Senior Researcher. I joined Newsweek early in 1952 as a senior researcher in the advertising marketing department.  The magazine was in its 19th year and I wasn't much older.  Somehow my department head learned that I was proficient in operating audio/visual equipment (a hobby of mine). I was occasionally pressed into service for sales presentations, etc.

   One day, very early in my "career", word came down from the executive floor that they needed someone to record a very important and highly confidential meeting. Naturally, for such an important task, they assigned the newest kid on the block.

   The meeting was held in the editorial conference room.  Everyone who was anyone at Newsweek was at the table. Did I feel intimidated? You bet. The meeting was chaired by Malcolm Muir, Newsweek's top executive. Mister Muir (everyone called him "Mister") was an austere, no-nonsense, patrician who scared the hell out of me. It didn't help matters either when he grumbled about the bulky equipment I brought - a big old reel-to-reel recorder. I quickly set up

 

and retreated to a quiet corner where I was promptly forgotten.

   The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a new tax law that allowed businesses to file for tax credits on early start-up losses - or something like that. In order for our tax lawyers to decide Newsweek's eligibility under the new law, it was necessary to review operations and financial results from 1937 forward. What followed was highly detailed, highly financial, and highly boring. Confidentiality of this information was certainly safe with me. Whether Newsweek eventually qualified for the tax dodge was never shared with me.

   Three Newsmagazines. What was interesting came later, when Muir was asked to recount how the "new" Newsweek came about and his involvement in the process. Muir took the group back to 1937, at which time, he said, there three newsweeklies being published - Time,  News-Week, and Today. The economic depression earlier in the decade was still having an impact of business. So much so, Muir said, that both News-Week and Today were struggling to stay afloat. It became known that both magazines were for sale.

   Vincent Astor, hotel mogul, swooped in and purchased both magazines. He planned to merge the two weeklies into, essentially, a new and stronger entity.   As Muir quipped, "I don't how he (Astor) thought he could take two sick cats and make one well one".  But that was his plan.  Lacking publishing experience,  Astor reached out for advice from friends in the industry - one of whom was Malcolm Muir. At the time, Muir was president of McGraw-Hill Publishing and among his many credits was the development of Business Week Magazine - one on the most successful business publications – ever.

   Astor met frequently with Muir.  How often they met and over what period of time, Muir did not say, but their talks culminated in Astor offering Muir the opportunity of creating what would essentially be a "new" magazine. That Muir accepted the challenge is a matter of history - but

 as to "why" he did - is the rest of the story.

   As mentioned, Muir already had a pretty good job with a fine record of success.  Why take on a new challenge and a risky one at that?   Obviously he didn't lay out all of his reasoning, but he was clear on what he had in mind. For some time, he said, he had felt there was a need for a more independent (read-unbiased) voice in the news reporting field.  He felt the reader should be able to clearly discern factual reporting from biased or opinion reporting.  His idea was to broaden the coverage of the news from a re-hash of the week's events to a more in-depth (factual) reporting style. In addition his plan was to include by-lined columnists from various disciplines to provide the "opinion" aspect of the news. I don’t know whether Muir considered launching such a newsweekly during his tenure at McGraw-Hill. But Astor's offer probably came at the right time and he took the plunge. As we now know, this basic format, greatly improved over the years, was uniquely Newsweek's for many years - until imitators came along.

   The first issue of the "new" Newsweek carried three columnists: Raymond Moley on politics, Sinclair Lewis on books and George Jean Nathan on theater.  They were the first of a long and prestigious line of contributors.

    Doubt. As the meeting wrapped up Muir offered one more insight. He indicated that he doubted the choice of "Newsweek" as title of the newly merged magazines and had retained reservations about the name further down the road.

  He felt the title somehow too limited, and didn’t fully represent the magazine's revised editorial product. He obviously was out-voted--he had a board to contend with--because the title went up on the cover and remained. But one decision was never contested: the "hyphen" had to go.

 

 Dick Bausch joined Newsweek as a senior advertising researcher in 1952.  He held a series of positions in ad sales and marketing and was Director of Advertising Sales Operations on retirement in 1988.