That was the field in general. The section about Newsweek in particular, meanwhile, was introduced by the sub-hed “Staying hip while running scared,” and opened:

Whatever the case, U.S. News, assuming Zuckerman’s continued support, is probably in better shape than Newsweek, whose imminent sale by its parent, the Washington Post Company, is a subject of constant rumor. “People around here are so nervous,” one senior editor says, “that last week when the cleaners came in and vacuumed the carpet twice everyone freaked out. They thoughts the guys with the blue suits were about to come in to look over the merchandise.” Newsweek’s contribution to the earnings of its parent company dropped from 30 percent twenty years ago to 6 percent in 1987. And although the magazine boasted of a circulation increase in 1988 of 200,000, much of it was bought dearly. Insuring that cheap subscribers come back as renewals at regular rates always gives circulation directors headaches. To keep circulation from dropping requires the constant giving away of copies at bargain prices, which is an expensive proposition, especially considering that these days magazines are trying to shift some of their cost burden from advertisers to readers. Rather than paying the cost of trying to keep its own circulation up, for instance, Time decided last fall to lop 300,000 people off its lists.

Newsweek was responding to this pressure, Porter wrote, with staff reductions, and also with the “pursuit of a hip voice, a tone that would be familiar to readers of, say, Esquire or New York’s Spy magazine.” Its coverage of the 1988 Iowa caucuses was “notable for giving readers a surrealistic, heavily cynical view of the process… as if a curtain had suddenly been pulled back from a puppet show.” And, in an innovation that has survived through the most recent redesign, “a weekly column called Conventional Wisdom… tracked not how candidates were actually doing but how political pundits felt they were doing; arrows showed whether someone’s stock had risen or declined.” Of course, the supply of that sort of writing didn’t remain limited for long, either.

It wasn’t all woe-is-the-newsweeklies, though. Near his conclusion, Porter wrote:

For one thing, not everyone thinks the long-term newsmagazine economics are so gloomy. “Some say there’s just not room for three newsmagazines; I think quite the opposite,” says Mort Zuckerman of U.S. News. “In fact, I can imagine even more than three. When advertisers look at TV, with all the channel zapping and switching that goes on in that medium, I see continued and strong support for the high demographics at all three newsmagazines.”

Of course, U.S. News, as Shafer notes, became a monthly in 2008.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.