Business Week’s Problems

The New York Times has an article today on the hard times that have befallen Business Week magazine.  (Full disclosure: I write a column for Forbes.)  As a longtime reader and subscriber, I thought I would explain why I decided to drop my subscription.

I started reading BW in the high school library.  It was sober and bland, but informative.  It hit the highlights of the week’s business and related news.  In those days (the 1960s), business publications had an expansive view of what sort of news was relevant to business decision making.  BW, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal all ran articles on a wide variety of topics ranging from popular culture to politics to history and even deep philosophy.  I think they all thought that businessmen should be broadly informed so that they could understand the world around them and because one never knew where the next great business idea would come from.

I particularly liked Fortune back in the days when it was an oversized monthly.  You never knew what you would see in it.  Sometimes it was a big photo essay on the coal industry or an in-depth biography of some important business executive or the history of a major corporation.  I loved that stuff.

The major business publications had both a hierarchy and a division of labor.  Fortune was at the top covering big picture stuff; Forbes was oriented toward investors, both individual and institutional, with a sideline of glorifying wealth and the things it could buy–sort of like Vogue for men; The Economist was the same then as now but more obscure; and BW was the newsweekly, filling readers in on the latest economic data, industry trends, labor contracts and whatever other business-oriented news came out that week.  BW’s articles were short and to the point and there were a lot of them, meaning a lot of news.

Over the years Forbes and The Economist stayed true to their niche but Fortune and BW have changed radically.  Fortune dropped the big picture stuff decades ago, became a semi-monthly and oriented itself entirely toward corporate executives.  It seemed like every issue carried some new managerial technique that only took five minutes to learn or something. I finally gave up on Fortune a year or two ago and dropped my subscription.  I only renewed it because it made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: $10 for three years.  I figured if I read one decent article it would pay for itself.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found that article yet. (Another disclosure: I’ve had a couple of articles in Fortune over the years.)

Coming back to BW, it has evolved in recent years from being a news publication into something I don’t know how to describe.  A year or so ago it dropped almost all of its coverage of politics and economics, sharply cut all of its news coverage, vastly increased the meaningless graphics that fill huge amounts of magazine space, and basically made itself totally worthless as far as I am concerned.  Apparently, I am not alone, which is why BW is on the block.  Its new owner will probably cut the reportage even more to save money and fill the space with boring columnists or more pretty pictures.  In a year or two it will be sold to someone else.  I won’t care because my subscription will have run out by then.

About Bruce Bartlett 76 Articles

Affiliation: Forbes

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist for Forbes.com, the online side of Forbes, the nation’s premier financial magazine.

He served for many years in prominent governmental positions including executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush Administration, and as a senior policy analyst in the White House for Ronald Reagan.

Bruce is the author of seven books, including the New York Times best-selling Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, and thousands of articles in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Fortune and many others. He appears frequently on CNN, CNBC, C-SPAN and Fox News, and has been a guest on both the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report.

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