Newsweek’s Diana Cover Story a Crass Attempt to Sell Magazines

COMMENTARY | Between 2007 and 2009, according to Brent Bozell at Real Clear Politics, Newsweek magazine saw a circulation drop of 52 percent. In November of 2009, Tina Brown took over being editor-in-chief in a redesign of sorts, but circulation did not improve, as noted by Erik Sass with Media Daily News, with Newsweek reporting a 25.4 percent decline in paid subscriptions for 2010.

Newsweek‘s cover “Diana at 50: If She Were Here Now” has done nothing to acquire support for the magazine or Brown. The story has an interesting premise: if Princess Di were still alive today, what would she be doing? This is an interesting question, but what is also interesting is such an article is printed in Newsweek, a news magazine.

The article is fluid, well-written, imaginative…and awkward. On the cover, a time-enhanced Princess Diana appears next to daughter-in-law Kate. At first I appreciated the idea of this article, but my opinion changed.

Three specific things about this article bothered me. First, the speculation was strange. Brown took Diana’s habits and interests and threw them into a time machine, going so far as to develop a Facebook page. Brown’s statement, “There is no doubt she would have kept her chin taut with strategic Botox shots…Remarriage? At least two, I suspect…” hit me as terribly flippant, though it was meant to be taken with lighthearted laughter. Why do we need to give Diana botox? Why another bad relationship, let alone two?

Additionally, Brown’s declaration that Diana and her ex husband Charles would end up BFFs was head shake worthy. Brown imagines Camilla, Charles, and Diana coexisting, Diana suddenly a fan of Camilla while still making fun of her (notably at Will and Kate’s wedding when Camilla wore a “galleon-size Lady Bracknell hat”).

While I could pardon the ill-advised trip down an impossible future memory lane, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the incredible high school reunion feel of the whole piece. It reeks of uncomfortably spread gossip where nobody really knows what the truth is. What-ifs and gauche speculation render this piece something I might read for entertainment, but I would never consider it news.

While I understand Newsweek‘s desire to appeal to a larger audience and garner some much-needed income, I’m not sure this story was the way to do it. With the trend of the magazine headed in a completely different direction, this story may have put the proverbial nail in their coffin. I don’t think the article was meant in a cruel manner, but it made me uneasy. It seems to me that the editor may have put the magazine in bigger trouble, though I guarantee this issue sells.